Sylvia Schroer’s collection of nine essays on the figure of Divine Wisdom, translated from the German 1996 publication, is a rich resource, making available her work on Wisdom in English for the first time. Wide ranging in scope, these essays, written over a period of ten years, pull together a wealth of research on the figure of Divine Wisdom in the First and Second Testaments as well as the Deuterocanonical literature. One of her contributions to German scholarship was to make groundbreaking ideas from North American scholars available to a lay German audience. Taken together, these essays form a comprehensive treatment of the figure of Wisdom and her importance in postexilic Judaism and early Christianity. In them Schroer discusses the ancient Near Eastern backgrounds of the figure of Wisdom; the various wise women and their functions in pre-exilic ancient Israel, and how those aided in the development of Divine Wisdom in the postexilic period; the figure of Divine Wisdom in the Book of Jesus Sirach and the Book of Wisdom; Jesus Sophia in the Second Testament; and how the figure of Divine Wisdom both intersected with and influenced post-exilic monotheism and early Christianity.
Written for a broad audience (one of her essays, “ ‘And When the Next War Began … .’ The Wise Woman of Abel of Beth-maacah [2 Samuel 20:14–22],” for example, contains a section of “suggestions for practical Bible study”), Schroer attempts to make the figure of Divine Wisdom available as a resource for feminist spirituality. Indeed, this is one of her major contributions. In almost every essay she includes suggestions for how the figure of Wisdom may be appropriated (or not, in the case of the Book of Jesus Sirach) for feminist spirituality.
Included in this group of essays are two small gems: close readings of often neglected texts about wise women in the First Testament, Abigail and the wise woman of Abel of Beth-maacah. Together with a third article, “Wise Women and Counselors in Israel: Models for Personified Hokma,” these two articles show the office of Wise Woman in ancient Israel provided some of the background to the development of Divine Wisdom.
Also included are two new essays written especially for this volume: “Wisdom on the Path of Righteousness (Proverbs 8:20),” and “Personified Sophia in the Book of Wisdom.” The latter breaks the most new ground. In this essay Schroer argues that the figure of Divine Wisdom in the Book of Wisdom is not only the most developed of the Divine Wisdom constructions of the Wisdom Literature, but reflects a societal structure in which women held positions of power and enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. Schroer argues that the figure of Wisdom here is “Israel’s God in the image of a woman and a goddess” (p. 110). From this investigation she concludes that “Wisdom can rescue women; she could be the one to initiate the exodus from the complex webs of patriarchal domination. As an integrative religious symbol Sophia is well suited to create unity among religions; as a cosmopolitan symbol she can also contribute to the combating of nationalism through national identities that are open to the world” (p. 109).
A final article deserves mention: “The Spirit, Wisdom, and the Dove: Feminist-Critical Exegesis of a Second Testament Symbol Against the Background of its History in Ancient Near Eastern and Hellenistic-Early Jewish Traditions,” the article cited by the Roman Catholic Church to deny her a license to teach theology. In it, Schroer convincingly argues that the background to the image of the dove descending on Jesus at his baptism was actually a goddess symbol, well-known throughout the ancient Near East at the time these texts were written. The image, then, is that of Goddess descending on and uniting with Jesus. What is so controversial about her approach is her assessment that this image has erotic connotations as well. As she herself recognizes in her notes, the article is weakest in its consideration of the Gnostic writings and Church Fathers. However, she brings a formidable amount of iconographic and other evidence in the history of interpretation to bear on this subject.
There is a lot of overlap and repetition amongst the articles, and Schroer occasionally makes sweeping historical reconstructions that require much more evidence for this reader to be convinced. Yet this book brings together much of current scholarship on the figure of Sophia, with the added bonus for English readers of bringing us up to date on the research and current debate pertaining to this figure in European scholarship. Moreover, the book is accessible for both university and seminary contexts. Its challenge, calling readers to an appropriation of the image of Divine Sophia, is timely and welcome in the field of biblical studies.