What Is Wisdom Literature?

Five books are generally categorized as wisdom literature: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Although the literary style between these books varies, much of wisdom literature is characterized by short, pithy sayings like “Pride goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The general focus of wisdom literature is a reflection on the realities of life, for example: how to cope with suffering (Job), finding order amidst what appears to be random, and dealing with the ambiguities of life. Wisdom literature attempts to pass on advice, warnings, insights, or moral exhortations that have proven to be helpful to others in the past, for example: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1) or “Help your father in his old age,” (Sirach 3:12).

Although there are no books in the New Testament that are categorized as wisdom books, the sayings and parables of Jesus are clearly influenced by his knowledge of the wisdom tradition and he is rightly considered a supreme “wisdom teacher.”