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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.
This chapter introduces the book’s argument and provide the necessary context for it, addressing ethics in the Old Testament, virtue ethics, objections to this project, the moral philosophers used therein, including Aristotle, Aquinas and MacIntyre, as well as an outline of chapters and methodology.
Interpreters assume not only that the moral concepts of Proverbs constitute virtues as defined by Aristotle but also that theological concepts in Proverbs resemble Aquinas’ theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. According to the Summa Theologica, these virtues correspond to the human actions of intellectual assent to God, trust in him, and love for him. The questions asked are twofold: how does Proverbs portray human apprehension, trust, and love in or for God, and how do these conceptions relate to the theological virtues of Aquinas’ moral philosophy? I argue that Proverbs contains concepts that meet Aquinas’ criteria for theological virtue. The biblical concepts appear explicitly, as in passages that mention “hope” and “love,” and implicitly, as in passages that portray humans exercising faith in God without mentioning “faith.” I explore texts in Proverbs that most clearly feature the theological virtues (Proverbs 1-3; 30:1-9) and material that supports and qualifies my initial conclusions (Proverbs 10-29).
After a brief summary of the book’s argument, I suggest how understanding Proverbs as a tradition of virtue helps to address other questions about the ethics of the book, such as recent discussions about character. Specifically, I draw together and draw out the book’s conception of human nature, moral action and character, the relation of moral and theological virtue, the human problem, and how Proverbs relates to its moral rivals.
The list of Proverbial virtues produced in Chapter 3 is 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 honor, shame, humility and pride. 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?
Biblical interpreters assume that the moral concepts in Proverbs resemble virtues as understood by moral philosophers, especially Aristotle. No study, however, has considered how the moral-philosophical criteria for defining virtue compare to the concepts in Proverbs. I argue that Proverbs’ moral instructions (focusing on Proverbs 10-29) cohere with Aristotle’s understanding of moral virtue and vice in the Nicomachean Ethics, including his notion of the mean. That is, certain concepts in Proverbs are virtues and vices in the Aristotelian sense. To demonstrate this, I argue that (1) virtues of action and emotion in Proverbs are identifiable through praise and blame; that (2) the vices reflect excess and deficiency in action and emotion; and that (3) the virtues “hit the mean” of these actions and emotions.
In this book, Arthur Keefer offers a new interpretation of the book of Proverbs from the standpoint of virtue ethics. Using an innovative method that bridges philosophy and biblical studies, he argues that much of the instruction within Proverbs meets the criteria for moral and theological virtue as set out in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. Keefer presents the moral thought of Proverbs in its social, historical, and theological contexts. He shows how these contexts shed light on the conceptualization of virtue, the virtues that are promoted and omitted, and the characteristics that make Proverbs a distinctive moral tradition. In giving undivided attention to biblical virtue, this volume opens the way for new avenues of study in biblical ethics, including law, narrative, and other aspects of biblical instruction and wisdom.
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