Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012 Litany Lane Blog: apocryphal, Mt 12:1-8, St Margaret of Antioch, Womens Wisdom Literature

Friday, July 20, 2012
apocryphal, Mt 12:1-8, St Margaret of Antioch, Women's Wisdom Literature

Good Day Bloggers! 
Wishing everyone a Blessed Weekend! 

P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens). It has a remarkable way of producing solace, peace, patience and tranquility and of course resolution...God's always available 24/7..

We are all human. We all experience birth, life and death. We all have flaws but we also all have the gift knowledge and free will as well, make the most of it. Life on earth is a stepping to our eternal home in Heaven. Its your choice whether to rise towards eternal light or lost to eternal darkness. Material items, though needed for sustenance and survival on earth are of earthly value only. The only thing that passes from this earth to Heaven is our Soul, our's God's perpetual gift to us...Embrace it, treasure it, nurture it, protect it...

"Raise not a hand to another unless it is to offer in peace and goodwill." ~ Zarya Parx 2012

Today's Word:  apocryphal   a·po·cry·phyl   [uh-pok-ruh-fuhl]

Origin:  1580–1590; apocryph

1. of doubtful authorship or questionable authenticity.
2. Ecclesiastical
a. ( initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to the Apocrypha.
b. of doubtful sanction; uncanonical.
3. false; spurious: conterfeit

Example Sentence: He told an apocryphal story about the sword, but the truth was later revealed.

Today's Gospel Reading - Matthew 12: 1-8

Gospel Reading - Matthew 12,1-8
At that time Jesus went through the cornfields one Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, 'Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the Sabbath.'But he said to them, 'Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry - how he went into the house of God and they ate the loaves of the offering although neither he nor his followers were permitted to eat them, but only the priests? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath day the Temple priests break the Sabbath without committing any fault? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of man is master of the Sabbath.'

• In today’s Gospel we see that there are many conflicts between Jesus and the religious authority of that time. They are conflicts regarding the religious practices of that time: fasting, purity, observance of the Sabbath, etc.  In normal terms, they would be conflicts regarding for example, matrimony between divorced persons, friendship with prostitutes, the acceptance of homosexuals, communion without being married by the Church, not to go to Mass on Sunday, not to fast on Good Friday.  The conflicts were many: at home, in the school, in work, in the community, in the Church, in personal life, in society. Conflicts regarding growth, relationship, age, mentality.  So many of them! To live life without conflicts is impossible!  Conflict is part of life and springs up since the time of birth. We are born with birth pangs. Conflicts are not accidents along the way, but form part of the journey, of the process of conversion. What strikes us is the way in which Jesus faces the conflicts. In the discussion with his enemies, he was not trying to show them that he was right, but wished to make the experience which he, Jesus, had of God, Father and Mother, prevail. The image of God which others had was that of a severe Judge who only threatened and condemned. Jesus tries to have mercy on the blind observance of the norms and of the law, prevail, since it had nothing to do with the objective of the Law which is the practice of Love.  

• Matthew 12, 1-2: To pick ears of corn on the Sabbath day and the criticism of the Pharisees.  On a Sabbath day, the disciples went through the corn fields and they opened their way picking ears of corn to eat them. They were hungry. The Pharisees arrived and invoke the Bible to say that the disciples were transgressing the law of the Sabbath (cf. Ex 20, 8-11).  Jesus also uses the Bible and responds invoking three examples taken from Scripture: (1) that of David, (2) that of the legislation on work of the priests in the temple and (3) from the action of the Prophet Hosea, that is, he quotes a historical book, a legislative book and a prophetic book.

• Matthew 12, 3-4:  The example of David.  Jesus recalls that David himself did something which was forbidden by the Law, because he took the sacred bread of the temple and gave it to the soldiers to eat, because they were hungry (1 S 21, 2-7). No Pharisee had the courage to criticize King David!

• Matthew 12, 5-6: The example of the priests.  Accused by the religious authority, Jesus argues beginning from what they themselves, the religious authority, do on the Sabbath day. On the Sabbath day, in the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests worked very much, more than the other days of the week, because they had to sacrifice the animals for the sacrifices, they had to clean, sweep, carry burdens, kill the animals, etc. and nobody said that this was against the Law, they thought it as normal! The Law itself obliged them to do all this (Nb 28, 9-10).

• Matthew 12, 7: The example of the prophets. Jesus quotes the phrase of the Prophet Hosea: I want mercy and not sacrifice.  The word mercy means to have the heart (cor) in the misery (miseri) of others, that is, the merciful person has to be very close to the suffering of the persons, has to identify himself/herself with them. The word sacrifice means to have (ficio)  a thing consecrated (sacri), that is, that the one who offers a sacrifice separates the sacrificed object from the profane use and placed it at a distance from the daily life of the people.  If the Pharisees had had this way of looking at the life of the Prophet Hosea, they would have known that the most pleasing sacrifice for God is not that the consecrated persons lives far away from reality, but that he/she placed totally his/her consecrated heart in the service of the brothers and sisters in order to relieve them from their misery. They would not have considered guilty those who in reality were innocent.    

• Matthew 12, 8: The Son of Man is the master of the Sabbath. Jesus ends with this phrase: The Son of Man is the Master of the Sabbath!  Jesus himself is the criterion of interpretation of the Law of God.  Jesus knows the Bible by heart and invokes it to indicate that the arguments of the others had no foundation. At that time, there were no printed Bibles like we have them today. In every community there was only one Bible written by hand, which remained in the Synagogue.  If Jesus knew the Bible so well, it means that during the thirty years of his life in Nazareth, he had participated intensely in the life of the community, where Scripture was read every Saturday. The new experience of God the Father, made Jesus discovered much better the intention of God in decreeing the Laws of the Old Testament. Having lived thirty years in Nazareth and feeling as his own the oppression and exclusion of so many brothers and sisters, in the name of the Law, Jesus must have perceived that this could not be the sense of the Law. If God is Father, then he accepts all as sons and daughters. If God is Father, then we should be brothers and sisters among ourselves. Jesus lived this and prayed for this, from the beginning until the end. The Law should be at the service of life and of fraternity. “The human being is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for the human being” (Mk 2, 27).  Because of his great fidelity to this message, Jesus was condemned to death.  He disturbed the system, and the system defended itself, using its force against Jesus, because he wished that the Law be placed at the service of life, and not vice-versa.  We lack very much in order to know the Bible at depth and to participate deeply in the community, like Jesus did.  

Personal questions
• What type of conflicts do you live in the family, in society, in the Church?  Which are the conflicts which concern religious practices which today, cause suffering to persons and which are a cause of discussion and polemics? Which is the image of God which is behind all these preconceptions, behind all these norms and prohibitions?
• What has conflict taught you during all these years? Which is the message which you draw from all this for our communities today?

Reference: Courtesy of Order of Carmelites,

Featured Item of the Day from Litany Lane

Saint of the Day:  Margaret of Antioch,  (St. Marina)  Martyr

Feast Day: July 20
Died: 304 Antioch, (Central Turkey)
Patron Saint of : kidney disease, peasants, exiles, falsely accused people; Lowestoft, England; Queens' College, Cambridge; nurses; Sannat and Bormla, Malta

CARRACCI, Lodovico
The Martyrdom of St Margaret
1616 Oil on canvas
Cappella di Santa Margherita, Mantua
Margaret the Virgin, also known as Margaret of Antioch (in Pisidia) and Orthodox as Saint Marina, virgin and martyr, is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on July 20; and on July 17 in the Orthodox Church. Her historical existence has been questioned; she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions; these no doubt helped the spread of her cultus.

According to the Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. She was scorned by her father for her Christian faith, and lived in the country, which is now modern day Turkey, with a foster-mother keeping sheep. Olybrius, the praeses orientis (Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East), offered her marriage at the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal, she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical moment of scepticism, describes this last incident as "apocryphal and not to be taken seriously" (trans. Ryan, 1.369). She was put to death in A.D. 304.

St Margaret c. 1400
Brush, Chinese ink, red chalk, 214 x 140 mm
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
The Eastern Orthodox Church knows Margaret as Saint Marina, and celebrates her feast day on July 17. She has been identified with Saint Pelagia – "Marina" being the Latin equivalent of the Greek name "Pelagia" – who, according to a legend, was also called Margarita. We possess no historical documents on St Margaret as distinct from St Pelagia. The Greek Marina came from Antioch, Pisidia (as opposed to Antioch of Syria), but this distinction was lost in the West.

It has been argued that the legends of Saint Margaret are derived from a transformation of the pagan divinity Aphrodite into a Christian saint. The problem of her identity is a purely literary question.

The cultus of Saint Margaret became very widespread in England, where more than 250 churches are dedicated to her, most famously, St. Margaret's, Westminster, the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament in London. Some consider her a patron saint of pregnancy. In art, she is usually pictured escaping from, or standing above, a dragon.

"St. Marina came from a wealthy family of pagans in the city of Antioch. She was raised with no knowledge of Christ in her life. Yet at the tender age of fifteen, Marina defeated the devil and all his snares, through the faith in Jesus Christ. A child born a non-believer, became a believer and defeated the Devil. At a young age Marina’s parents passed away and she went to live with a nanny, who was a practicing Christian. Each and every night Marina would hear the stories of how ordinary people, with faith in Christ, became martyrs for Christ’s sake. The nanny spoke with such reverence for these “saints” that Marina was inspired and yearned to taste the sweet mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though men were drawn to her beauty, she was drawn to a life with God – to be the Bridesmaid of Jesus Christ. And it came to pass that one day Marina was indeed tested and tempted by the Devil’s snares. The governor of Antioch, a rich and powerful man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted, fancied Marina and desired her. But when his soldiers came to her, she told them that she belonged to Christ. When the governor heard this, he was distressed for he lusted after her with blinding fire. So he had her brought to him by force and offered her to worship his idols and to forsake God. But she refused. He demanded to know of her that she could defy him. To which she replied, " I am Christian. I believe in the Lord Christ, and my name is Marina." He made many promises and promised to marry her, but she still did not heed to his will. When she cursed his idolatry ways and insulted him, he grew angry and ordered her body scraped with iron combs, and then rubbed with vinegar, salt and lime. For to his selfish and greedy view, if he could not have her, then let no one have her. But the governor only saw her from the outside, but God sees us from the inside. God cares not for the beauty of the ever-dying flesh – but for the eternal growth of our spirit inside. And through this spirit, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, she endured with patience. Disgusted by their futility, the governor ordered her to be tossed into prison. Their thinking was that she would die from the wounds they had created. But the Lord God sent an angel to heal all her wounds. This is the glory of God. For in our faith and trust of God’s will are we reborn and renewed - that through Him all things that are imperfect are made perfect. This of course angered the Devil. While she was standing up praying, with her hands extended in the form of a cross, a huge and terrifying serpent came forth. When she saw it she was frightened and her whole body trembled. The serpent swallowed her up, and her soul almost departed from her. She made the sign of the cross and prayed while she was in the belly of the serpent. It split open and fell on the ground dead. St. Marina went out unharmed. There are many times you will feel that the world has swallowed you up, and you have no strength to defeat it. Let not the darkness on the outside of you, penetrate the light inside you. Call upon God to save you, to give you strength and He will make all things impossible – possible. The next morning, the governor ordered her to be brought before him. When he saw that she was well, he marveled and told her, "Your sorcery has become evident today, so listen to me. Worship our gods and much good would be for you, and I will give you all that I have promised you." To the unbelieving governor, Marina’s healing was the act of sorcery – for that is all he knew of. In your struggle to unite with God, you will often find people around you with no knowledge of God, Jesus Christ and a life with Christ. They will mock your efforts. Have faith and believe. For in you may the Lord God work His grace to save not just you, but (God willing) those who mock you. After the governor called God’s work “sorcery”, Marina looked at him and at the dumb idols with contempt and proclaimed, " I worship the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, the God of heavens and earth, and whatever you wish to do with me, do, for I will not heed you." The angered and frustrated governor ordered her hanged on the wheel, the squeezing wheel, and squeezed very tightly. They did and then again cast her in prison, assuming she would die. The angel of the Lord came to her, and healed her yet again. Then the Devil appeared to her and said, "O Marina, if you obey the governor that would be for your good for he is merciless, and he wishes to erase your name from the face of the earth." She realized that he was the Devil. Straightway she caught the hair of his head, and she took an iron rod and started to beat him, saying, "Stop it O Satan." Then she bound him with the sign of the cross, not to depart from before her until he told her all about what he does to the human race. When she pressed him, he told her, "I am the one who makes adultery, stealing, blasphemy, and earthly desires, good and desirable to the human. And if I do not overcome him, I steer sleep and laziness against him, so he will not pray and ask for the forgiveness of his sins." Here in is the powerlessness of the Devil. Only if we give the Devil power over us, through the temptations of the flesh, does he have influence. But if we ignore his trappings, he tries to cast doubt into our prayer efforts. Faith and doubt are exact opposites. Marina did not care for the death that was to come to her for she knew that her faith in Jesus Christ was greater than anything in this world. Lend her story to your own life, to show how the faith and trust of the Lord God can save and grant you strength to fight all darkness of your present day. When the governor again saw her healed, he again marveled much, then he ordered to uncover her body, and to fill a large cauldron with melted lead, and to immerse her in it. When they did so, she asked the Lord to make this a baptism for her. The Lord sent his angel in the form of a dove. While being immersed in the boiling cauldron, she prayed, " In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God Amen." A voice from heaven called her and said, "O Marina you have been baptized in the baptismal water." She rejoiced exceedingly, and those who were present heard what had happened to the saint. Many of them believed, and the governor ordered to cut off their necks, and afterwards ordered to cut off St. Marina's holy head. The executioner took her and went outside the city, then told her, "My lady Marina, I see the angel of the Lord and with him a crown of bright light." She said, "I ask you to tarry on me until I have prayed." She extended her arms and prayed fervently. Then she told the executioner, "Do what you have been ordered to do." She bowed her neck to the executioner who told her, "I could not do so." The saint told him, "If you do not do so, you would not have a share in the Kingdom of God." When he heard what she said, he took the sword and cut her neck off then he cut his neck also while he was saying, "I believe in the God of St. Marina." He fell down beside her and he received the crown of martyrdom in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord had manifested from her body many signs and healing miracles. "

She is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, being listed as such in the Roman Martyrology for July 20. She was also included from the twelfth to the twentieth century among the saints to be commemorated wherever the Roman Rite was celebrated,but was then removed from that list because of the entirely fabulous character of the stories told of her. Margaret is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and is one of the saints who spoke to Joan of Arc. Her body is presently located in the church of the Lady the Virgin Mary in Haret El-Roum.

References: Courtesy of the Catholic Online, and Courtesy of Wikipedia, and Coptic Church of St Marina,
    • "Margaret of Antioch" The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. David Hugh Farmer. Oxford University Press 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed 16 June 2007
    • MacRory, Joseph. "St. Margaret." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 20 Jul. 2012 <>.

    Featured Items from Litany Lane



    Today's Snippet:  Wisdom Literature - Women Wisdom


    Wisdom literature is a genre of literature common in the Ancient Near East. This genre is characterized by sayings of wisdom intended to teach about divinity and about virtue. The key principle of wisdom literature is that while techniques of traditional story-telling are used, books also presume to offer insight and wisdom about nature and reality.

    Women Wisdom

    There are instances in the book of Proverbs where Wisdom is personified as a female. Female imagery begins the book of Proverbs in Chapters 1-9 and also ends the book in chapter 31. In Proverbs 9:1-6 she is depicted as a figure with a home inviting those in need of wisdom to enter. She says "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight."  In Proverbs 8:15-21, she not only identifies herself as the divine companion, but also as the source of order in society and success in life. In chapter 31:10 she is personified as the ideal woman for an Israelite man in a section titled Ode to a Capable Wife. There is debate about the status and place of Woman Wisdom in relation to the divine. Some have interpreted her as a companion to the divine, an abstraction, an extension to the divine, or a Goddess. Further information about the nature of Wisdom is found in Proverbs 8:22-30. In these verses "wisdom speaks of herself as having been created before anything else and as Yahweh's companion and even assistant at the creation of the ordered world." It has also been argued that personifying Wisdom as a woman adds a mythical nature to proverbs. This would line up with the ancient Near Eastern view that every male deity had a female counterpart.

    It may be easier to understand the personification of wisdom as a woman if she is placed in comparison to the other female mentioned in Proverbs 7. In contrast to Woman Wisdom, she is portrayed as a prostitute, adulteress, and a woman with much seductive speech. She is given the designation of being a "foreign" or "strange" woman. The victim she claims are among the simple ones, young men without sense. The young man of Proverbs 6:7 is repeatedly warned to avoid such a woman. Michael Coogan suggests that "aside from being good advice, this may reflect the biblical insistence on marriage within the community." Furthermore, interspersed in the passages are admonitions for the young man "to rather seek after Woman Wisdom instead." In this way, the "foreign woman is a counterpart to Wisdom and can be interpreted symbolically as her alternate designation, "foolish woman" found in Proverbs 9.13-14." The Woman Wisdom becomes that which one comes home to and the Strange Woman that which you run from. An important distinction in this context is the "foreign or strange woman" is a non-Israelite woman such that during this period of history there is a "biblical insistence on marriage within the community".

    Additional Biblical References to Women Wisdom

    • Proverbs 1-9
    • Job 28
    • Wisdom of Solomon 7-9 (Apocrypha)
    • Sirach 24

    Wisdom in Proverbs and Job


    The books of Proverbs and Job, along with Ecclesiastes and the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, are classified by scholars as “wisdom literature” because of their interest in this fundamental human attribute and its relationship to the divine, and because of their similarities to other ancient Near Eastern literature with similar forms and concerns. Notable in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon (and to a lesser degree in Job and Sirach) is the personification of the concept of wisdom as a woman (here referred to as Woman Wisdom to distinguish the personified figure from the more general use of the term). Why the female personification? Perhaps in part because, in Hebrew, wisdom is a grammatically feminine noun. Grammar does not fully explain, however, Proverbs’s interest in repeated and varied development of the female persona, which contrasts with the only incipient personification in Job. The female imagery for Woman Wisdom is also closely connected to her negative counterpart in Proverbs, that embodiment of evil referred to as the “loose woman” (“strange woman,” or “Woman Stranger”).

    Job 28, perhaps originally an independent poem, now serves as an interlude within Job’s final discourse of self-defense. The poem begins with the image of mining—humans’ difficult but successful search for precious things in earth’s depths—to highlight by contrast the negative answer to its central question: “But where shall wisdom be found?/And where is the place of understanding?” (28:12; compare v. 20). Although the mythological entities Abaddon and Death have “heard a rumor of it,” only God understands the way to it” (vv. 22–23). Here, the NRSV appropriately translates the pronoun referring to wisdom as a neuter, because, although the concept is accorded a high degree of independent existence, it has yet to be personified. As in Proverbs, wisdom is associated with God’s creative and ordering activities. Surprisingly, wisdom seems to be something even God has to “search out” (28:27; is there a hint of personification here?), though God’s successful search concludes with a conventional instruction: “Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (28:28).

    The female personification of wisdom in Proverbs is dramatic, exalted, and varied, leading scholars to draw correlations both to ancient Near Eastern goddesses and to the roles and literary portrayals of women of the time. It is particularly notable in a book that feminist scholars generally acknowledge as perhaps the most androcentric in the Bible, its instructions addressed clearly to a “son” or “sons” (the NRSV’s efforts at the inclusive “child/ren” notwithstanding) from, presumably, a father-teacher (4:1–4). Brenner, however, argues for the possibility of a mother-teacher’s voice and interests as well, patriarchally conditioned though these may be.

    Reflections of traditional women’s roles—especially aspects of the role of wife—may be seen in the characterizations of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 3:13–18, 4:5–9, 7:4–5 and 9:1–6. Lest the modern reader think “only a wife,” one must note the real, if behind-the-scenes, social power wielded by the wife as manager of an extended and productive family household and as counselor to husband and children (see Proverbs 31:10–31). Just as the husband of this capable wife “will have no lack of gain” (31:11), so also Woman Wisdom will exalt and honor the man who prizes and embraces her (3:13–18; 4:8). Both bring the trusting husband a “crown” (4:9; 12:4). Just as the wife provisions “her household” (31:21) with both moral and material well-being, so also Woman Wisdom builds her house, sets her table, and teaches “the way of insight” (9:1–2, 6; 14:1). Both wife and Wisdom are, moreover, desirable sexual partners: Proverbs 5:15–19 urges husbandly faithfulness and satisfaction in his wife’s body, while 7:4 tells the seeker of Wisdom to call her “sister,” a term of endearment common in the Song of Solomon.

    Public imagery and domestic imagery both appear in passages on Woman Wisdom. A variation on the human imagery occurs in Proverbs 1:20–33 and 8:1–21, where she appears as a prophet, calling out for followers in the most public places of human interaction: in the street and squares, at the busiest corner and the city gates (1:21–22), on the heights, beside the way, and at the crossroads (8:2). Her rhetoric of persuasion offers both carrot and stick. To one who chooses her way, she offers wealth and power, as well as “fruit … better than gold” (8:15–19). To those who ignore her counsel, she promises mockery when panic strikes and ultimately death (1:26, 32). Woman Wisdom’s vocabulary, especially in Chapter 1, is reminiscent of prophetic language (she “calls,” is “refused,” “stretches out her hand,” needs to be “sought” and “found”; 1:24, 28, 8:17; compare 2 Chronicles 15:2, Isaiah 6:9–10, 65:1–2; Hosea 5:6, Amos 8:12. The prophets, however, use such terminology to describe Israel’s relationship to God; Wisdom speaks of relationship with herself!

    This at first subtle shift from the prophet’s role as speaker for God to more intimate identity with God takes a dramatic turn in Woman Wisdom’s self-description in 8:22–36. Translation of the verb in 8:22a is debated. The NRSV’s “The Lord created me” (from the Septuagint) is less likely correct than either “acquired” or “conceived” (in the biological sense; compare “I was brought forth” in vv. 24–25). A similar ambiguity occurs in 8:30a, where the NRSV’s “master workman” could also be “darling child.” In either case, Woman Wisdom is present with God before and during the process of creation, as a playful child (see 8:30b) or a wise architect, or, in the artful ambiguity of poetry, both! It is this primordial relationship that authorizes her claim in 8:35: “whoever finds me finds life/and obtains favor from the Lord.”

    This near-deification of Woman Wisdom in 8:22–36 cannot help but recall certain ancient goddesses, in this case especially Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice, who was also understood both as the child of the creator god and (especially in Egyptian wisdom literature) as the ordering principle of creation. Allusions to Ma’at may also be seen in Wisdom’s claim to establish just rule (8:15–16) and in the depiction of her with long life in her right hand and wealth in her left (3:16), for Ma’at also appears with the ankh, symbol of life, in one hand and a scepter in the other. Parallels may also be drawn to the Egyptian Isis, the Sumerian Inanna, and the (related) Babylonian Ishtar/Canaanite Astarte. Some of these parallels depend on a related analysis of Proverbs’s strange woman (loose woman) as representative of the love and fertility practices of the Ishtar/Astarte cults. Lang has suggested that Wisdom was worshipped as a goddess of scribes, though this remains speculative. New archaeological evidence for the ongoing Israelite worship, well into the monarchic period, of the Canaanite goddess Asherah alongside YHWH has led McKinlay to argue that female-personified Wisdom is part of a complex dynamic of theological convergence, wherein YHWH took on attributes of Asherah as worship of the goddess was repressed. Asherah, associated symbolically with trees, was reduced, in effect, to the wisdom of YHWH personified, who is “a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Proverbs 3:18).

    Attempts to understand the significance of Woman Wisdom in ancient Israelite life and in the canonical and deuterocanonical traditions underscore her deep ambiguity: to feminist thought, whether historically or theologically inclined. At worst she represents the domestication of a powerful goddess into a good wife who supports her man and whose honor depends on his willingness to give her public recognition. Along with her counterpart, Woman Stranger, she may be seen as part of patriarchy’s perennial classification of all women as either all-good or all-evil, and her apparent power but a mouthpiece for the voice of the fathers. On the other hand, it is difficult to read Proverbs’s paeans to the power of both wisdom personified as woman (Chapters 1–9) and of woman as the ideal representative of wisdom (Chapter 31) without imagining some related social reality at their base. One likely context for such open recognition of women’s contributions—as well as perceived danger from “loose women”—is the period after the Babylonian exile, as the Judeans struggled for a new definition of “Israel” as a people identified by family households rather than a monarchic polity. Especially notable is the editor’s choice to open and close the Book of Proverbs with female imagery. Whatever one might make of it—whether ultimate co-optation or ultimate subversion—this quintessentially male book is framed with a woman’s voice.

    Wisdom in Sirach and Baruch

    Like Proverbs, Sirach personifies and praises wisdom. Unlike Proverbs, Sirach’s wisdom is not found in the streets or by the gates; she is found in “the assembly of the Most High” (Sirach 24:2). While it would be easy to label Sirach as misogynistic, the beauty of its poetic language, and the author’s more cohesive structure soften the misogynistic leanings somewhat (Murphy 70). There is no Woman Folly in the text. Folly’s role is exemplified instead with the dangers of woman herself. In a twist, Ben Sira urges his readers to actively pursue Woman Wisdom like a man might pursue a potential lover, yet Wisdom also “actively beckons her pursuer, much as the dangerous seductress” (Newsom and Ringe Eds., Eisenbaum 304) of Proverbs. These ambiguous leanings are explained by Pamela Eisenbaum as “Desire … redirected … [where] … male sexual desire has been, in psychological terms, sublimated in the pursuit of Woman Wisdom” (Newsom and Ringe Eds., Eisenbaum 304).
    Unlike Sirach and Proverbs, wisdom in Baruch is something that can’t be had, or found, by mere mortals. Only Yahweh knows her, and unlike the previous wisdom texts there is no opposing Folly. Baruch is unique in that it personifies both Wisdom and Zion/Jerusalem. Here we see Israelite monotheism again modifying borrowed pieces of neighbouring cultures while “maintaining both their gender and intercessory roles” (Newsom 307). Future generations “are invited to reclaim … Torah Wisdom… [and] … Mother Zion … [who] … will once again fulfill their divine calling” (Newsom 308).
    According to Bernard Lang, Woman Wisdom, despite a great deal of scholarly research, is still a mystery where “we have no clear conception of her identity and origin” (Lang 113-14). Whether she is taken from a pagan tradition, or is “a half-independent figure … revealing the deity itself”, or simply the result of  “poetic imagination” (Lang 114), Woman Wisdom’s mystery remains an integral part of Wisdom Literature. The enigma as to why wisdom is frequently described as female in these texts especially in the context of a patriarchal society can only be understood if one could decipher the ancient mind – something we, in our modern understanding, are unlikely to comprehend

    Bibliography: Courtesy of Jewish Women Encyclopdia

    Brenner, Athalya. “Some Observations on the Figurations of Woman in Wisdom Literature.” In Of Prophets’ Visions and the Wisdom of Sages: Essays in Honour of R. Norman Whybray on His Seventieth Birthday, edited by Heather McKay and David J. A. Clines, 192–208. Sheffield, England: 1993.
    Camp, Claudia V. Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs. Decatur, Georgia: 1985.
    Fontaine, Carole. “Proverbs.” In Harper’s Bible Commentary, edited by James L. Mays, 495–517. San Francisco: 1988.
    McKinlay, Judith E. Gendering Wisdom the Host: Biblical Invitations to Eat and Drink. Sheffield, England: 1996.
    Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: 2000.
    Newsom, Carol A. “Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom; A Study of Proverbs 1–9.” In Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, edited by Peggy L. Day, 43–57. Minneapolis: 1989.

    Recommended reading:

      • Crenshaw, J. L. (2010). Old Testament Wisdom: an introduction. ISBN 0-664-23459-3.
      • Murphy, R. E. (2002). The Tree of Life: an exploration of biblical wisdom literature. ISBN 0-8028-3965-7