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Arthur Jan Keefer discusses the relationship of wisdom literature and virtue ethics. Posing questions of both method and substance, the chapter proposes how interpreters might make use of virtue theories for reading biblical wisdom literature. Of foremost importance are precise definitions for concepts of ‘virtue’, a selection of particular texts that set out an understanding of virtue, and an appreciation of traditional methods of biblical interpretation, all of which guards against vague conclusions and artificial comparison. Within the last decade, several scholars have pioneered the study of virtue ethics and wisdom literature, most notably through Proverbs and Job. Keefer presents this work and then suggests some inroads for similar studies of Ecclesiastes and Ben Sira, which have received less attention with respect to virtue. Lastly, he considers how the possibilities of virtue within each of these books link up with notions of ‘the good’ and a teleological orientation for ethics.
Study of the wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible and the contemporary cultures in the ancient Near Eastern world is evolving rapidly as old definitions and assumptions are questioned. Scholars are now interrogating the role of oral culture, the rhetoric of teaching and didacticism, the understanding of genre, and the relationship of these factors to the corpus of writings. The scribal culture in which wisdom literature arose is also under investigation, alongside questions of social context and character formation. This Companion serves as an essential guide to wisdom texts, a body of biblical literature with ancient origins that continue to have universal and timeless appeal. Reflecting new interpretive approaches, including virtue ethics and intertextuality, the volume includes essays by an international team of leading scholars. They engage with the texts, provide authoritative summaries of the state of the field, and open up to readers the exciting world of biblical wisdom.
As in Chapter 4, the list of Proverbial virtues produced in Chapter 3 is again compared with Aristotle’s list of moral virtues in order to discover the underlying factors that explain both. Assessing in depth the similarities and differences between the virtue lists of Proverbs and Aristotle, this chapter focuses on their notions of courage, work, speech and friendship. I examine apparent and actual differences in these virtues and discuss the historical, social and doctrinal factors that underlie them. Why, for instance, do Aristotle and Proverbs show marked interest in honor? Or how might Proverbs’ focus on work and Aristotle’s omission of the subject be explained?
Chapter 2 covers the key figures in the history of virtue ethics, including Socrates, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Alasdair MacIntyre. For each figure, several conceptions integral to moral philosophy are examined, such as the definition of virtue, its source and cultivation, anthropology, the human problem, and theology. This chapter consequently provides an introduction to virtue ethics, one tailored to my purposes, and may be dispensable for readers fluent in the subject. Nevertheless, debates and questions are raised here that shape the rest of the study, contributing to the bank of philosophical resources necessary for establishing the book of Proverbs as a moral tradition, and for that reason are indispensable to its argument.