In the history of wisdom literature, few traditions match the solace and profundity found in the teachings of the Bible. For centuries, people have taken comfort and insight from the familiar yet eternally resonant writings of the Bible’s wisdom literature. Through their inspirational teachings, the sages of the biblical wisdom tradition offer time-honored advice about some of life’s most difficult questions: What is the reward of virtue? What is the best way to raise one’s children? How can we best deal with the uncertainty of life?
- “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” (book of Qoheleth)
- “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!” (book of Proverbs)
- “A faithful friend is beyond price. No sum can balance his worth.” (book of Sirach)
- “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Beatitudes of Jesus)
For countless people, these ancient writings have offered consolation and insight into the very meaning of existence.
And yet, few of us realize that these great teachings are part of a larger tradition—a rich and complex body of writings that have influenced theologians, philosophers, and everyday men and women for millennia. The insights offered in this tradition and their efforts to integrate faith and reason, revelation and human wisdom rival those of the renowned philosophical schools of ancient Greece.
In Biblical Wisdom Literature, award-winning professor Father Joseph Koterski takes you deep inside this tradition. In 36 thought-provoking lectures, you explore enlightening teachings that have inspired the world and that continue to speak to life’s most important questions.
Throughout the course, you benefit from Father Koterski’s ecumenical perspective, as he presents these teachings within the Jewish and Christian traditions and compares the varying versions of these texts. He places each book in its historical and cultural context but also examines its place in today’s world, describing how these teachings can be applied to everyday dilemmas.
The result is an enriching journey that is as rewarding for members of the Jewish and Christian faiths as it is to those who simply wonder: What do these writings have to say about the great philosophical problems people seek to understand?
From the Trials of Job to the Teachings of Jesus
The course begins with the well-known story of Job from the Jewish Bible, in which a righteous man struggles to understand why he suffers loss, illness, and despair. Father Koterski uses this story to probe one of the most compelling themes of the biblical wisdom tradition: What is the cause of suffering? Should we interpret suffering as a punishment for wrongdoing? Or is it sometimes a test, designed to shape our character?
The book of Job contends with some of the most enduring questions of theology and philosophy—questions that echo and re-echo throughout the stories of the Bible and the philosophy of the ancient world. But through this course, you also explore many other crucial themes:
- In the book of Proverbs, you ponder the value and nature of wisdom itself and encounter sayings and tales that offer a moral exhortation to live according to God’s covenant.
- In the book of Qoheleth, you find a pithy, sometimes skeptical meditation on the ultimate meaning of this life, qualified by a faith in divine providence.
- In the book of Sirach, you encounter wisdom teachings similar to those found in Proverbs—with advice on friendship, fidelity to God’s law, and the nature of sin—as well as a perspective on God’s role in history.
- With the Song of Songs, you watch as the meaning of love unfolds on many levels—literal, spiritual, and allegorical—in a sublime piece of poetry.
- In the book of Daniel, you encounter a new avenue to wisdom—prophetic insights revealed through the divine revelation of dreams.
- In the Wisdom of Solomon, you contemplate the place of wisdom both in the highest courts of the land and in daily life.
In the final unit, you return to the theme of suffering in the figure of Jesus Christ, who through his teachings, death, and resurrection permits us to reconsider Job’s meditation on suffering from a distinctly Christian perspective—one in which Jesus’s ordeal appears as a means of redemption through sacrifice.
The “Interludes”: An Opportunity to Pause and Reflect
Interspersed throughout these lectures, Father Koterski provides moments to reflect on these teachings through his consideration of another source of biblical wisdom—the wisdom psalms. Through these “interlude” lectures, you experience the wisdom tradition in a more personal way, through the study of a selection of psalms that underscore key themes covered in each unit.
For example, after exploring the book of Qoheleth, with its concern about life’s absurdities and calamities, you’ll reflect on Psalm 49, which helps put these uncertainties into a divine perspective:
“Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life…”
Through these interludes, you also consider the act of prayer itself. Father Koterski shows how these psalms serve as a versatile tool for personal meditation, and he offers practical advice on how to develop a habit of prayer. For those who are not part of a prayerful faith tradition, Father Koterski provides a glimpse into the benefits and rewards of this spiritual practice.
Explore a Treasure Trove of Literary Riches
As you delve into this tradition, you also encounter a feast of literary treasures. Father Koterski provides generous excerpts from the original works, showcasing the remarkable depth, richness, and diversity of these writings. Consider, for example, one of the most famous poems of the biblical tradition, the renowned Song of Songs, with its lyrical, moving representation of a love that is both spiritual and sensual:
“My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh…
This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
In addition to the beautiful lyricism found here and in the psalms, you also encounter a wide range of literary genres, including
- the engaging dialogue format of drama, exemplified in the many debates that make up the book of Job;
- the pithy, thought-provoking proverbs found throughout the tradition, which rely on rhetorical concision to aid the reader in cultivating wisdom;
- the riddle-like, often paradoxical form of the parable, employed in the teachings of Jesus Christ to help demonstrate the mystery of God’s wisdom; and
- some of the first examples of biography in the Bible, as seen in the book of Sirach, which recounts the workings of divine providence in the lives of Israel’s great leaders.
Profound Insights from an Expert Scholar
In Biblical Wisdom Literature, you encounter a rare opportunity to study an important but often overlooked tradition of wisdom teaching. And there’s no better guide than Father Koterski. Intellectually incisive yet engaging and accessible, he offers both the expertise of a philosophy and theology scholar and the insights of an ordained priest who has experienced the power of these teachings in everyday life.
Join Father Koterski for this journey into Biblical Wisdom Literature and delve deeply into profound teachings that have shaped the faith of millions for centuries and still apply to our lives today.
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