Law and Wisdom in the Bible is the second volume of David Daube’s Gifford Lectures, and like the first volume (The Deed and the Doer, Templeton Press, 2008) contains ten lectures and has been edited by Calum Carmichael, his former student. In this volume Daube surveys the relationship between law and wisdom in ancient literature, and has a contemporary interest: what is right and how can we know it?
Daube’s partial answer is that neither of the concepts are static, wherefore he invites his readers into a land somewhere in between law and wisdom. This is also where especially the book of Deuteronomy dwells; it is neither a law book nor a wisdom book. Deuteronomy adapts the previously given law wisely to its contemporary challenges, and makes use of wisdom.
The volume begins with an exegesis of the Fifth commandment (to honor your parents) as an example which, according to Daube, draws from ancient wisdom and is not verbally even a proper commandment. Rather, it shows that a wise man who values the law cannot not do what is right (46). Wisdom, therefore, informs what is true law. Accordingly, law informs what is true wisdom.
Daube’s method is first to recognize a wisdom element in the text, then do a literary comparative analysis, find similarities, and finally arrive to a conclusion. Daube recognizes, for example, a wisdom element in the Hebrew narrative where Jethro wisely instructs Moses to elect helpers in the task of administering to the people when Moses cannot anymore deal with the growing demands alone. Daube finds a similarity with the New Testament text where the apostles needed to appoint assistants. He notices that not only is the theme same (growth, discontent, solution, election, appointment, satisfaction), but that the stories have common rare vocabulary, and are therefore closely related.
His further exegesis shows that the NT narrative lacks the element of wisdom, which is inherent in the Hebrew counterpart. According to Daube, “Wisdom realizes the enormous importance in human society of the giving and receiving of help” (128). Though the resolution in Acts is similar, the process does not rely similarly on wisdom. Daube explains the wisdom literature does not flourish in a radically different milieu,” and concludes that, “the wisdom flavor of the original Old Testament models becomes all the more striking by comparison” (143). This is partially the reason why his main data is in the Old Testament. He listens to wisdom in other literature, too, and the Sermon on the Mount is, for him, the epitome of law and wisdom.
The book insists to be read as a whole; Daube often develops his discussion from previous chapters without notice, a feature that speaks of engaging live communication. The last chapter of the book is “Torah”, but it is far from a summary. It points to Deuteronomy, and doing so reminds of the principle of faithful reapplication. Law and Wisdom are to be sourced from the Bible where the spirit of Law and Wisdom dwells.