Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who is Lady Wisdom and who is Lady Folly in the Wisdom Literature?

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

Lady Wisdom is the personification of the spirit of Wisdom—Hokmah in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek. According to Ashley, Lady Wisdom is presented as a beautiful mother, one who teaches her children how to live well. By contrast, Lady Folly is the prostitute, who teaches her children recklessness and shortsightedness.[i] We first encounter these two figures in Proverbs 1 and 2. Lady Wisdom speaks to warn sons away from the “loose woman” or “adventuress” whose “house sinks down to death and her paths to the shades” (2:16–18), where as the understanding that Lady Wisdom offers is like silver or hidden treasures (2:4). Lady Wisdom builds up her house, while Lady Folly tears her house down with her own hands (14:1). Each attempts to lure the simple on a different path, Lady Wisdom to the path of life, and Lady Folly to the path of destruction. Interestingly, when Wisdom speaks, it is from “the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals” (Proverbs 8:3), place of judgment and counsel in ancient Israel. Folly speaks in the shadows and on the street corners (7:8–9), clearly associated with prostitution and clandestine evil.

The Navarre Bible commentary on Proverbs notes that the person of Wisdom in the New Testament is closely connected to Jesus.[ii] The Gospel According to John makes this connection most clearly in chapter 1, verses 1 through 3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” These words seem to echo the words of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22–30. The path of life and path of folly also find parallels in the life and death, blessing and curse in Deuteronomy 30:18. Wisdom, then, is connected with the Word and the Law, while folly, the negation of them.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 5A—Lesson Nine,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010 http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00309.htm.
ii. “Proverbs,” The Navarre Bible: Widsom Books, (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2004), 165.
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