Tony Biondi

Tony Biondi is a doctoral student at the University of Winchester. His research considers ancient Jewish wisdom and philosophy in relation to Liberal Arts education. Tony received a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Winchester in 1999 and an MRes in Jewish History and Culture from the University of Southampton in 2010. His MRes dissertation focused on the exegetical encounter between rabbinic and patristic interpretations of the Book of Ruth. Since September 2012 he has been teaching an undergraduate module entitled ‘Athens and Jerusalem’, which reflects his research interests. Tony is blessed with a wonderful wife and three lovely children.

An Awesome Woman: Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord in the book of Proverbs

Leo Strauss defined wisdom as the highest notion conveyed in both the Bible and Greek philosophy. However, he also highlighted the divergence in the biblical and Greek claims to represent true wisdom: ‘According to the Bible, the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord; according to the Greek philosophers, the beginning of wisdom is wonder.’ If the prerequisite for biblical wisdom is theism (in particular, ‘the fear of the Lord’), then does that exclude it from philosophical discourse on the grounds of the revelation versus reason debate? As Yoram Hazony recently pointed out, theism amongst the Greek philosophers has not precluded them.

This paper seeks to explore how wisdom and ‘the fear of the Lord’ can be spoken of in a philosophical context, by drawing primarily on the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs presents us with wisdom personified beyond the feminine noun חָכְמָה (‘hokmah’), enjoining the reader to love wisdom as if she were a woman and not an ideal, and thus giving us a radical sense of ‘philo-sophia’. Within the theme of ‘Human Action’, wisdom is inseparable from ‘Justice, Righteousness, Love and Awe’. She demands equity and righteous action from those who would embrace her, and in turn offers the same to all-comers – she is not the exclusive property of ‘philosopher kings’. She demands love – she must be courted and is not easily won. Wisdom is relational, and she manifests in human relations. Finally, wisdom is, at the outset, awesome – in chapter eight of Proverbs she recounts the part she played in the creation of the cosmos. Here, יִרְאָה (‘yirah’) can be seen as an awesome reverence and humbling beneath the enormity and beauty of the heavens, rather than the fear of terror. The understanding of fear as terror obviously has its place, for example, as a response to danger or, in theistic terms, a response to God’s wrath. However, it is the understanding of fear as awe which allows a philosophical discourse for theists and non-theists alike, by pointing not just to a creator but to the cosmos and life in all its forms. An awesome respect for one another, for all life, for the earth and the universe brings about the beginning of wisdom evidenced in human action.