The Books of Wisdom

In this section, you can read the introduction to the Books of Wisdom. The Books of Wisdom can be split into seven sections.

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This group of books joined together under the heading of Wisdom Literature is quite varied.   The five proto-canonical books are: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth) and Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles) and the other two writings are Wisdom and Ben Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus).

  • The Book of Job needs to be given special attention, as it struggles with finding answers to the problem of undeserved suffering.
  • The Psalms were written by the poets of God’s people over a period of a thousand years. The 150 Psalms in the Jewish Bible were collected for worship in the Temple built by the exiles who began to trickle back to Jerusalem after 538 BCE.
  • Proverbs sought to provide guidelines on what to do and not to do, and confidently summed up the way to wisdom as ‘fear of the Lord’.
  • The Book of Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth) is surely the most sceptical book in the Bible; it has its doubts whether it has any basis in human experience.
  • Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles). It is a collection of love songs and wedding poems, with here and there vivid descriptions of the bride’s beauty. These poems were taken as allegorically describing Yahweh’s love for Israel as a beloved bride!
  • The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, a deutero-canonical book, is known only in Greek. It is perhaps the last book of the Old Testament to be written (1st century BCE), although its authorship was credited to Solomon. The main interest of the book is to reassure the Jewish community living in Egypt that keeping their faith is worthwhile despite the hardships in a pagan land.
  • Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) is with its 51 chapters the longest of the wisdom books. It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on themes such as use of speech, self-control, evil friends, the value of work, death, sickness, etc. Above all, Sirach stresses the ethical aspects of everyday life. He exalts the role of law and fear of the Lord as true wisdom.


Download the introduction to the Books of Wisdom.