Words of Wisdom

In a completely unrelated context to last week’s creation question, though it was the cause of my delay in responding to Sister Hintze, and entirely related in content, one of the texts for one of my Jewish Studies classes was discussing the Jewishness of the fourth gospel, John, which according to many is not Jewish at all. 

However, this text’s author presents compelling evidence to the contrary, discussing the Hebrew hermeneutics and patterns of language, thought, and voice used that provide much evidence of how very Jewish it really is after all. 

There is much I want to share of this after completing the class and processing my response, for I found it very informative and exciting, but specific to the question posed is this quote from page 97 of Boyarin’s Borderlines in regards to the creation account in the New Testament:

John 1:1 can be compared with the Palestinian Targum to this very verse, which translates “in the beginning” by “with Wisdom God created,” clearly also alluding to the Proverbs passage [Proverbs 8].  “Beginning” is read in the Targums sometimes as Wisdom, hukmeta, and sometimes as the Logos, memra: By a Beginning – Wisdom – God created.  To this midrash should be compared the famous Latin version of John 8:25, so beautifully read by Augustine as “your Word, the Beginning who also speaks to us,” once again reading “Beginning” twice [so as emphasizing the chaism of John 1:1].  As Augustine paraphrases this tradition: “Wisdom is ‘the Beginning’: and it is in the Beginning that You made heaven and earth.”  For Augustine, as well, it was clear that Word and Wisdom were synonymous parallels.

This brings up a new question for me, just as an LDS girl, which I promise to tie back to the original question, but could not not-include as part of this exploration.  If “word” and “wisdom” are synonymous in this ancient Hebrew context, then why would we receive modern revelation that has come to be known as the “Word of Wisdom” since something cannot be of itself exactly?  And what does that have to do with creation through organization?

In speaking of the creation of Israel as a nation, Numbers 11:12 reads:

הֶאָנֹכִי הָרִיתִי אֵת כָּל־הָעָם הַזֶּה אִם־אָנֹכִי יְלִדְתִּיהוּכִּי־תֹאמַר אֵלַישָׂאֵהוּבְחֵיקֶ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא הָאֹמֵן אֶת־הַיֹּנֵק עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָיו

Have I conceived all of this People; did I give birth to it, that you should say to me: “Carry him in your bosom, as the nurse carries the child?”

Boyarin goes on to connect this translation of in the context of Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8 as part of explaining the midrash in John 1 as part of “the common practice… of building on a verse that is not cited in the text at all” (p. 129).  He points out how in this verse in Numbers 11:12, the nursing parent is the active participle of the passive verse in Proverbs, which switches “the child” with the “infant child”, or to be true to the chiasm pattern, the “nurseling”.

“Moreover, from the verse in Numbers we learn that the nurse carries the nurseling in her/his bosom, exactly as in the verse in John and the midrashic text.  In other words, the text from Numbers connects the word in the Proverbs 8 verse referring to “Wisdom” as “nurseling” to the image of being carried in the bosom of her father.  For the rabbinic text, however, it is the Torah that is the beloved child that the Father carries in his bosom, the son, or daughter of God.  For the earlier midrash of the Fourth Gospel, she was the Logos, the Son” (p. 130).

This brings me back to the “Word of Wisdom”.  If “the Word” is that by which creation begins to be organized into something new, and “wisdom” is really just me as a “nurseling”, then the effect is rather humbling.

I think we often consider “the Word of Wisdom” to mean some wise words that would be a good idea for us to heed.  Maybe we sometimes try really hard at understanding it’s a good guide to follow, and so consider ourselves “smart” to be so “wise”.  Maybe sometimes we are super dedicated, and even say out loud that it’s law-ish, knowing we need it to get in the door and all.

But maybe there is something more.

Maybe “the Word” of “Wisdom” is the “beginning of the process of creating as designed” the “nurseling” that I still am but with potential to become something more yet.

It explains kashrut, or the laws of cooking and eating kosher as Jews, and makes sense that if we are going to also become His children by covenant that similar laws of physical setting apart via what actually enters our bodies would be required of us.

It explains also the old discourse talk about revelation coming to us through our nervous system:

“The nervous system seems to be a sort of connecting link between our spirit and our tabernacles.”

~ Erastus Snow, JoD, vol 7, p. 353

“The temporal salvation of the children of men is a most important thing, but sadly neglected by many religious teachers. The truth is that the spiritual salvation is dependent upon the temporal far more than most men realize. The line of demarcation between the temporal, or physical, and the spiritual, cannot be definitely seen. The Lord has said that he has not given a temporal commandment at any time. To men some of these commandments may be temporal, but they are spiritual to the Lord because they all have a bearing on the spiritual or eternal welfare of mankind.”

~ President Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:383

Every commandment of God is spiritual in nature. There are no carnal commandments… We have learned this from modern revelation. While the commandments have effect upon the body and temporal things they are all in essence spiritual. The Word of Wisdom is spiritual… So I say, every commandment involves a spiritual growth. So I say, every commandment involves a spiritual principle.”

~ President Stephen L Richards in Conference Report, Apr. 1949, p. 141

President Packer recently taught in General Conference that:

The Word of Wisdom does not promise you perfect health, but it teaches how to keep the body you were born with in the best condition and your mind alert to delicate spiritual promptings.

There is something literal and spiritual that happens to us, or within us, as we follow the Word of Wisdom, and it has to do with initiating the initial phases of transformation that begin in us as we prepare to return to Him and begin celestial lives. We are “nurselings” compared to what and who we will become, but the effect of our choosing begins now. It is how we begin to receive “health in their navel and marrow to their bones” and “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C 89:18, 20).

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Comments are closed.