C. Hassell Bullock, Franklin S. Dyrness Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, has offered a very interesting study of the canonical relationship between “Wisdom” (ketuvim?) and Torah (“Wisdom, the ‘Amen’ of Torah,” JETS 52/1 [2009]: 5-18). Bullock’s thesis is that wisdom literature functions as “the ‘amen’ of Torah” (p. 5). What he means by this is that wisdom literature functions in a dialogical relationship to Torah that affirms the major tenets of Israelite faith from the Torah. 

He examines three Pentateuchal themes that “wisdom” affirms: 1) the creator God, 2) monotheism, and 3) the theme of the “fear of the Lord/God.” In each section he examines texts from Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes to show how they affirm these Pentateuchal themes to varying degrees of success. 

For the most part I enjoy these kinds of intertextual and pan-biblical studies. However, a thesis of this kind always over simplifies the issues. I think Bullock is right to insist that “Wisdom” is in dialogical relationship with Torah (as well as the Prophets), but I think it is too simple to say that “Wisdom” merely affirms the Torah’s truths. It seems to me that the “Wisdom” literature, in several key places, is trying to wrestle with the truths from Torah. An example of this is Bullock’s oversimplification of Ecclesiastes to fit his paradigm. He argues that Ecclesiastes offers an “amen” of the creator God not by engaging in creation language but by observing “the universal system that turns in endless cycles of time and human experience. And his ‘amen’ of the God who stands behind this system is one of resigned acceptance, devoid of enthusiasm” (p. 10). One begins to wonder if Ecclesiastes does not break Bullock’s paradigm. Further, Bullock even admits that “Ecclesiastes as a whole does not fit comfortably within Torah theology” (p. 15). Even so, he speaks of “Qoheleth’s muted but distinct ‘amen'” (p. 15). Would it not be better to speak of the Wisdom tradition as wrestling with and trying to understand and live with Torah, rather than simply offering an “amen?” It seems to me that this is likely.

Another contention I have will Bullock’s work is his lack of clarity on what he means by “wisdom.” He begins his article by arguing that the tripartite structuring of Scripture could be described as a equilateral triangle, “The vertex represents Torah, and the two flanking angles represent prophecy and wisdom” (p. 5). One assumes from this, that when Bullock refers to “wisdom” he means the ketuvim, the third part of the Hebrew tripartite canon. But if this is the case, where is his interaction with Chronicles, Lamentations, Ruth, Daniel, Esther, Song of Songs? Did these not fit into his thesis?

Ultimately, reflection on the relationship of the parts of the canon is a very helpful enterprise and I am a full supporter of it. However, Bullock’s thesis seems over simplified, so while I learned from it, I don’t think I could endorse it.

Advertisements