Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week Seven: Why does the Torah rise in prominence in wisdom literature in the Second Temple period?

          During the Second Temple period, the sages were connected to the Zadokite priesthood, which was extremely focused on Torah and temple worship (Brenneman). With the completion of the Second Temple in 520-515 BCE, the temple and the priesthood stood at the center of Jewish life and faith. During this time, with the Zadokite priesthood serving in the temple, Perdue explains that “a new type of scribe emerged who served as the interpreter of Torah and eventually of other parts of Scripture” (148). Since the Zadokite priesthood of the Second Temple period emphasized Torah and temple, the scribes and sages of the time period followed their lead. As a result, sages and scribes took on the role of interpreting the Torah. As the Torah became associated with the sages and scribes, the Torah became “theologically understood as equated with wisdom” (Perdue 138). Of course, sages and scribes who were composing wisdom literature during this time would have emphasized Torah in their writing. Ben Sira is an example of wisdom literature that integrates Torah into the traditional wisdom theology. Perdue expands upon this point by saying, “by the time Ben Sira’s text is composed, the Torah’s assimilation into creation’s cosmological and anthropological spheres is at the heart of sapiential understanding” (160).
          The Torah’s rise to prominence during the Second Temple period is also illustrated by certain redactions made during this time period by the dominant P school, which was made up of Zadokite priests and scribes (Brenneman). The P school emphasized word as the primary metaphor for God’s wisdom (Brenneman), which reflected the increased importance of Torah. In light of this emphasis on Torah as God’s revealed word and God’s word as wisdom, the P school placed Genesis 1 at the beginning of the canon (Brenneman). The P school also placed Psalm 1 at the beginning of the book of Psalms, which emphasizes the importance of God’s law (Torah). It amazes me that these redactions by the P school, still reflected in our canon today, were direct results of the Torah’s rise in prominence during the Second Temple period. More specific to wisdom literature, a redaction by the P school of Psalm 19 combines the traditional sapiential theology and the Torah-centered theology of the Second Temple period (Perdue 154). Perdue explains that “presumably the composer of the second psalm or perhaps a later redactor brought the two poems together to portray two types of revelation: natural revelation through creation and the revealed will of Yahweh contained in the Torah” (154-155). Clearly, Torah’s rise in prominence had a lasting impact on wisdom literature and biblical literature as a whole.
          It fascinates me how the sages’ association with the Zadokite priesthood resulted in this radical shift of the role of the sage and the theology of the sages. In associating with this priesthood which place Torah and temple at the center of theology and practice, the sages assumed a decidedly more Torah-centered role and their theology came to reflect this as well. This association with the Zadokite priesthood had an enduring impact that we still see today in the redaction of the canon! In the same way, the people and groups with whom we choose to associate impact our theology and identity. I have seen this play out in my own life and the lives of others. For example, my choosing to study Biblical Studies at Bluffton is a choice that has impacted and will continue to impact my theology and understanding of Scripture. If I had chosen a secular university or a conservative Christian college, I would be learning very different things. This is much like the impact of the sages choosing to be closely associated with the temple and Zadokite priesthood, resulting in the emphasis on Torah (and eventually all of Scripture) as God’s revealed wisdom.

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