Weddings and Wisdom

My sister recently got engaged to a friend with whom I graduated high school, and I have been asked to perform the wedding ceremony. I was aware that I would likely be serving in such a capacity, so while attending SBL, I was particularly interested as I listened to Christine Roy Yoder deliver her lecture, “Watch Daily at My Gates”: The shaping of Erotic Desire in Proverbs 1-9.” The conclusion of her abstract reads:

This paper considers how the parent of Proverbs 1-9 understands erotic desire (as about sex and as a potent metaphor for how one learns) and characterizes that desire rightly and wrongly directed. By desiring “right” objects, the wise gain knowledge and flourish; they become interdependent with God, wisdom, and others. Conversely, the fool’s misplaced desires result in isolation and alienation from others, and spark violence and rage in the community. Finally, I reflect briefly on some implications of desire so conceived for thinking about moral formation.

Her paper and presentation were exceptional, and it has provided for me a direction in constructing my own thoughts for what I am calling the “wedding sermon” (is there traditional terminology for this??). What has particularly shaped me is the role that Wisdom plays in the marital relationship in Proverbs (1-9). Wisdom is, if you will, the “spiritual head,” turning traditional gender roles on their head. In thinking through this, I was struck by another reversal of these traditions also common to weddings, Genesis 2:24:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall bond with his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

I wonder if there is not a connection to be made between this verse and the wisdom tradition. The overarching goal of Proverbs 1-9 is that the son would leave the instruction of mother and father (or better yet implement their instruction) and join himself to lady wisdom. While this might prove problematic given the larger narrative context in Genesis, it seems to fit the spirit of this editorial remark. I surveyed some of the more technical commentaries on Genesis, and I found none that made this connection. Nahum Sarna writes:

The fashioning of the woman from the man’s body explains why his bond to his wife takes precedence over his ties to his parents. It accounts for the mystery of physical love and the intense emotional involvement of male and female, as well as for their commonality of interests, goals, and ideals. (23)

This may be all good and true, but it doesn’t explain the odd portrayal of the male (as opposed to the female) leaving father and mother. There is very little linguistic evidence to build upon. The verb עזב is typically used in Proverbs with negative undertones, whereas the sense is at least neutral (if not outright positive) in Genesis. The verb דבק appears in Proverbs only in 18:24. The best linguistic connection I can make is between the poem in verse 23 and Proverbs 3:8 where wisdom (not personified here) will be healing to the son’s flesh (שׁר, similar to Genesis’ בשׂר) and bones (עצם as in Genesis). Though the linguistic evidence is weak, the unique reversal of roles in these two passages intrigues me. I’d be interested to know if any others find this compelling.

References

Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

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