REL 205
Ancient Wisdom Literature Spring 2022
Division II
Cross-listed JWST 205 / REL 205 / COMP 217 / CLAS 205

Class Details

The Biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are often grouped together under the Hebrew category of hokhmah, ‘wisdom.’ Although these books are very different in content, they can all be interpreted as meditations on ethical and practical philosophy. In this way, they represent the Hebrew Bible’s canonical embrace of a widespread Near Eastern literary phenomenon. From the instructional literature of Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greek didactic poetry and fables, ancient Mediterranean cultures offer a wide range of texts that engage the issues of personal behavior, leadership, and justice. Starting with the central wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible and moving through relevant material from the Apocrypha, New Testament, and the Egyptian and Babylonian traditions, this course will examine the literature of wisdom throughout the ancient world with an eye toward understanding its various social, political, and philosophical contexts. We will then consider the Greek wisdom tradition in such texts as Hesiod’s Works and Days, Aesop’s fables, and fragments from the pre-Socratic philosophers. Finally, we will explore the influence of these ancient sources on later expressions of wisdom in medieval European literature, as well as more recent examples such as Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. All readings are in translation.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3682
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: class participation, short written assignments, and two longer papers
Prerequisites: none
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
JWST 205 Division II REL 205 Division II COMP 217 Division I CLAS 205 Division I
Attributes: JWST Core Electives

Class Grid

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