The Old Testament is a great book of universal human significance. Apart from its religious value, it can be analyzed by its political and legal aspects, since it carries information about the state and power structure. The Old Testament can be called a treatise on the government and order that reflects the main principles of societal development and the formation of the structure of power and the judicial system. By doing so, the text creates an image of a competent leader on many levels, one of them being the “wise men”. Unlike kings or prophets, their role is still actively present in modern society. This paper will analyze the importance of the wise men in the Old Testament through Jesus Christ and King Solomon, and determine how this role is still relevant in modern society.
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The Role of the Wise Men in Hebrew Society
The Old Testament contains ideas about the gradual formation of the desired state for Jewish people that fled from Egypt. For such an evolutionary development of social relations to happen, leaders of people had to direct them to the “true path”. These kings, prophets, and priests laid the political, moral, and legal foundation of a society and a healthy state (Wolak 14). Undoubtedly, the Old Testament assigns a special place to the leaders of Israel for the building and strengthening of the government. Among the different classes of leaders, the group is known as “wise men” stands out in their contributions to the creation and the management of Hebrew society. As men that were relatively far from the divine connection seen in prophets and kings, they tried to understand the concept of religion from a more philosophical, mortal viewpoint.
Among the variety of leaders in the Old Testament, there was a class known as “wise men”. Their role in leading the people of Israel is, for the most part, different from the other categories. From the available text, it can be determined that their most common responsibilities were related to administration and government (Keehn 140). Although wise men undoubtedly were present since the first Hebrew communities, they only acquired a significant role in the power structure of the states during the reign of David and Solomon. At this point in history, the borders and the population of the empire were growing to such an extent that it had to be controlled with a proportionately large office.
The wise men had two distinct roles: one in the government, as administrators, and one in society, as teachers. The responsibilities of these people in the office required a high level of education since their tasks were riddled with math, literature, and documentation (Keehn 140). They managed taxes, accounting and were trusted diplomats who knew multiple languages. As the most academically knowledgeable and experienced class in society, they also took on the role of teachers. The exact means by which knowledge was passed down generations is unclear because there are very few mentions of schools and tutoring in the Old Testament. However, their role as teachers was undeniable as well as their importance in the development of Jewish society.
Solomon: The King, the Prophet, the Wise Man
There is no character (other than Moses with his “Pentateuch”) who has a more prominent and impactful presence in the Bible than King Solomon. His “Song of Songs”, “Proverbs of Solomon”, and “Ecclesiastes” are part of the third chapter of the Old Testament – The Scriptures. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, was the eleventh of the seventeen sons of David and, according to tradition, had almost no chance at claiming the paternal throne (Mehlman and Limmer 110). David understood that it would be difficult for Solomon to ascend to the throne after his death, so the father proclaimed the son king, while still being alive. Solomon’s reign was a golden age for Israel, whose wealth and power reached unprecedented heights.
Solomon designed and put into action a well-thought-out state system. Israel conducted a lively trade by developing diplomacy: Solomon established friendly relations with the Egyptian pharaoh, strengthened by dynastic marriage (Mehlmar and Limmer 111). During the fourth year of his reign, Solomon began to build the temple of Yahweh, the construction of which lasted seven and a half years. The significance of this temple went beyond the creation of a purely ritual complex: with its construction, the Jews had a single religious center. Inside the temple, there was only the Ark with the Tablets of the Covenant, but the main attraction of this room was that it housed the Shekhinah – the Presence of the Lord.
Putting aside the tragic end of Solomon’s reign, it is not difficult to see why Solomon is considered to be wiser, wealthier, and more powerful than any other ruler of the Israelite land. In a kingship lasting approximately 39 years, any other ruler would manage to complete only one reform equal in magnitude to the reforms Solomon made. He was, obviously, a king, but he also played the role of a priest when he reignited the spiritual idea among his people by building a temple. Moreover, according to Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, he was one of the 48 prophets (Mehlman 114). However, besides taking on the three major roles, he was indisputably one of the wise men.
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There is no doubt that Solomon was a man of great intelligence and wit, but those are just the superficial qualities of a “chakram”. He was a responsible, sharp leader with a remarkable talent in organizing and managing and had been chosen by God (Forrest 32). His advancements in diplomacy and trade are another sign of him being a wise man, because, as mentioned earlier, they were mostly bilingual and had prudence as one of the prioritized skills.
Jesus Christ: A Teacher Like no Other
Among the multitude of people, it is always relatively easy to accurately identify a good leader, because they are always different from others. Thus, having the gift of a leader, the humble carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus Christ, called and organized twelve ordinary ingenuous people, fishers, and commoners, who seemed to have no interest in religion at all. In the teachings recorded by his students, the word “must” directed towards the Son of God appears rather often, and it does for a reason (Keebler 92). Jesus Christ was the purest example of what is known as “servant-leader”. By his definition of a leader, he was not only in the position to rule and order, but was also responsible for caring and raising the followers of God to be good people. Being both a servant and a mentor to his students, Jesus was yet another example of a “wise man”.
Through the teachings of Jesus, his followers were able to influence the lives of many people. It was not the role of a prophet or a priest that helped him achieve that, but rather owing to his position as a mentor and a teacher in the lives of his disciples. Many centuries have passed between the times of Solomon and Jesus, and yet the historical impact of the “wise man” role has not dwindled in the slightest.
Wise Men and Their Immortality as a Concept
By exploring how King Solomon and Jesus Christ were representatives of the role of a “wise man”, an idea about how the position can be relevant today can be expressed. This place in society is an immovable pillar that will hold humanity until the very last day. Pastors, social activists, volunteers from the modern church still have an irreplaceable part in bringing up new generations and consulting the old. While not officially called “wise men”, they fit most of the position’s characteristics. By accepting confessions and providing support, they will remain humble leaders under any reconstruction of social ideas and principles (Cavins 270). One of the primary abilities exclusive to the human species is teaching, being able to accumulate and pass the experience down to the following generations. That is precisely the role of modern representatives of the church, especially considering they have become much more accepting. Solomon, in his early years, and Jesus alike are still sources of inspiration even outside of the religion, and so can be any representative of the modern church with the right intentions.
Anyone has the potential to be a “wise man” because the experience and knowledge that can be endowed is not limited to academic information. A person can share their ideas of goodness, their principles on what it means to be a good son, father, mother, friend, member of society, and so on. Every time someone accepts the role of a mentor, with the right intentions, of course, the future of humanity seems a tiny bit more promising.
Cavins, L. Andrew. “The Ethics of Authentic Leadership: Exposing Limitations and Refining Core Variables.” Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership, vol. 9, no. 1, 2019, pp. 266-285.
Forrest, K. Benjamin, and Chet Roden (Eds.). Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader. Kregel Publications, 2017.
Keebler, W. Daniel. “Leadership of Jesus Revealed in the Gospel of John.” Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership, vol. 8, no. 1, 2018, pp. 89-98.
Keehn, Dave. “The Old Testament Roots of Jesus’ Leadership Development Methodology.” Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership, vol. 9, no.1, 2019, pp. 133-148.
Mehlman, H. Bernard, and Seth M. Limmer. “Parables of King Solomon.” Medieval Midrash, vol. 52, 2017, pp. 107-125.
Wolak, J. Arthur. Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership. Anthem Press, 2016.