God's Twilight Zone: Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. By T. A. Perry
Article first published online: 27 NOV 2008
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 1, pages 137–138, January 2009
How to Cite
Madigan, P. (2009), God's Twilight Zone: Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. By T. A. Perry. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 137–138. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00438_20.x
- Issue published online: 27 NOV 2008
- Article first published online: 27 NOV 2008
Pp. xxi, 208 , Peabody, MA , Hendrickson Pub. , 2008 , $19.95 .
According to Perry the Book of Genesis is less about the beginning than it is about a second beginning – after some catastrophe such that the environment is one of desolation and confusion –‘and this time let's do it right!’ The defining trait of the creator-God is righteousness (Deut 32:4), and the key to man's survival and flourishing is now held to be righteousness as well, for ‘the righteous person is the foundation of the world.’ (Prov 10:25)
This creates the basic paring and opposition – the righteous vs. the wicked –tsaddig vs. rasha– that runs through all wisdom literature. Basically man must stop his dalliances and oppositions that place obstacles in the path of God's intention in creation as announced in Genesis – fertility, expansion, inclusion, justice, and assistance for all, especially the weak and unprotected – until the entire world is one family (Gen 12:3). Access to the divine patterns was thought to devolve from three sources: the priests, the prophets, and the sages (Jer 18:18). When prophetic revelation dried up after Malachi and priestly duties expired with the destruction of the Temple, there was no one left to govern but the sages.
With the ‘judges’ God continues his habit of chosing odd-balls and misfits, and ‘educating’ them – through twists of fate, odd natural occurrences, dreams, oracles, etc – that exploit their ‘outsider's’ sensitivity and lead them eventually to a heightened consciousness whereby they are qualified to become a ‘saviour’ for their people. Following Henry James' advice to aspiring novelists, they are the kind of people ‘on whom the significance of nothing is lost’.
Samson is a loner and outcast who criss-crosses the boundary separating Philistines and Israelites. At home in neither camp, he is plagued by low self-esteem. On one trip to the Philistines he surprisingly kills a lion; on his next crossing he revisits the carcass and is surprised to see bees making honey in the now-empty skull. What to make of it? Joseph begins as a spoiled brat but evolves in Egyptian exile to stature but also to forgiveness towards his brothers. He becomes the family saviour and the sustainer of all Israel. Saul's moody gift for prophetic inspiration disqualifies him from being a fully successful king, but he is still able to unify his people. Solomon, by grasping the basic mandate of creative righteousness toward preserving life, recognizes who deserves to be ‘mother’, whether she is in fact the biological mother or not.
Perry eschews discussion of time or place of composition, crisis or situation that may have prompted particular stories, intended audiences, etc., but he excels at describing the ‘twilight zone’– half natural, half supernatural – by which sensitive people at all times may become aware of God's invitations and addresses, and thereby win access – for themselves and for us – to the divine spark in their own lives.