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The Beasts of Wisdom: Ecological Hermeneutics of the Wild

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image of Biblical Interpretation

The role of beasts in the Hebrew Bible’s wisdom literature differs from that in the Torah and Prophets. Rather than the often-plural and domesticated animals of the latter, wild animals represented in the singular and with greater diversity characterize the wisdom material. Wild animals in the Torah and Prophets typically signify potential danger outside the inhabited domain or divine wrath and punishment. In wisdom literature, however, they become sources for human guidance (Job 5:22). In Proverbs, they are enlisted to address a lack in human understanding. But in later wisdom texts, the use of animals to illustrate beneficial behaviors gives way to a more radical theme, that of human incomprehension of the world. The otherness of animal presence is deconstructive of wisdom and human knowledge more generally. In biblical wisdom, beastly, silent faces expose the limits of human comprehension.

Affiliations: 1: Villanova University, USA


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