Saturday, October 27, 2012

Who Is Hokmah/Wisdom?

Hokmah/Wisdom and Yeshua

In Yeshua’s Kin-dom of Heaven, Chapter 7, Matthew 11:16-19, Yeshua refers to a mysterious figure named Hokmah, which in English is Wisdom. Here again is the passage:

[Mt11:16-19] 16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions 17 and say,
‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance.
We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.’
18 For Yohanan came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 I came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But Hokmah (Wisdom) is justified by her children.

Hokmah/Wisdom was known to Yeshua through the Books of Job, Proverbs, Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon in the Septuagint.  The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and the Deuterocanonical books which were written in the time between the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scriptures.  Hokmah/Wisdom is most completely described in the Wisdom of Solomon.  Here is chapter 10 from Wisdom. I’ve placed the names of the persons referred to in brackets rather than footnotes:

1 She [Wisdom] guarded to the end the first formed father of the world, that was created alone [Adam],
And delivered him out of his own transgression,
2 And gave him strength to get dominion over all things.
3 But when an unrighteous man fell away from Her in his anger [Cain],
He perished himself in the rage wherewith he killed his brother [Abel].
4 And when for his cause the earth was drowning with a flood,
Wisdom again saved it,
Guiding the righteous man's course by a poor piece of wood [Noah].
5 Moreover, when nations consenting together in wickedness had been confounded [the Tower of Babel],
She knew the righteous man, and preserved him blameless to God,
And kept him strong when his heart yearned toward his child [Abraham].
6 While the ungodly were perishing, She delivered a righteous man [Lot],
When he fled from the fire that descended out of heaven on the region of the five cities [Sodom & Gommorah].
7 To whose wickedness a smoking waste still bears witness,
And plants bearing fair fruit that comes not to ripeness;
Yes and a distrustful soul has a memorial there, a pillar of salt still standing [Lot’s wife].
8 For having passed wisdom by,
Not only were they disabled from recognizing the things which are good,
But they also left behind them by their life a monument of their folly;
To the end that wherein they stumbled they might fail even to be unseen:
9 But Wisdom delivered out of troubles those that waited on Her.
10 When a righteous man [Jacob] was a fugitive from a brother's wrath [Esau], She guided him in straight paths;
She showed him God's kingdom, and gave him knowledge of holy things;
She prospered him in his toils, and multiplied the fruits of his labor;
11 When in their covetousness men dealt hardly with him,
She stood by him and made him rich;
12 She guarded him from enemies,
And from those that lay in wait She kept him safe,
And over his sore conflict She watched as judge,
That he might know that godliness is more powerful than everyone.
13 When a righteous man was sold [Joseph], She forsook him not,
But from sin of his brethren She delivered him;
She went down with him into a dungeon,
14 And in bonds She left him not,
Till She brought him the scepter of a kingdom,
And authority over those that dealt tyrannously with him;
She showed them also to be false that had mockingly accused him,
And gave him eternal glory.
15 She delivered a holy people and a blameless seed from a nation of oppressors.
16 She entered into the soul of a servant of the Lord [Moses],
And withstood terrible kings in wonders and signs.
17 She rendered to holy men a reward of their toils;
She guided them along a marvelous way,
And became to them a covering in the day-time,
And a flame of stars through the night.
18 She brought them over the Red sea,
And led them through much water;
19 But their enemies She drowned,
And out of the bottom of the deep She cast them up.
20 Therefore the righteous spoiled the ungodly;
And they sang praise to your holy name, O Lord,
And extolled with one accord your hand that fought for them:
21 Because Wisdom opened the mouth of the dumb,
And made the tongues of babes to speak clearly.

As you can see Hokmah/Wisdom and God's actions are the same. As Elizabeth A. Johnson states in She Who Is:

“Sophia (Greek for Wisdom) is a female personification of God’s own being in creative and saving involvement in the world.  The chief reason for arriving at this interpretation is the functional equivalence between deeds of Sophia and those of the biblical God”1

So Hokmah/Wisdom is the female personification of the Spirit of God, and as I said before the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is God. The Spirit aspect of God emphasizes her presence and action in salvation history. The Jews used circumlocutions around directly “encountering” God, at least initially, by conceptualizing her working through semi-divine manifestations or beings like spirit or angels. The Christians went the other way and fragmented the interior life of God into three “persons,” although they retained angels and seraphim as well.

I did not use the name Hokmah/Wisdom for the Holy Spirit because, at the time of Yeshua, that would have been recognized to be Shekhinah.  Hokmah may or may not have been seen as the same being at that time. Jewish concepts of God and the heavenly beings were evolving over time and, as noted above, these heavenly beings were often circumlocutions for God. 


Holy Spirit Wisdom and Saint Hildegard of Bingen


Here I would like to share two beautiful and insightful poems about the Holy Spirit Wisdom written by Hildegard of Bingen, (1098 – 1179 CE), who was a German woman religious, Benedictine abbess,  Christian mystic,  visionary,  writer,  composer,  philosopher,  artist, and  polymath.

The Holy Spirit as Caritas (Grace/World Soul)

St. Hildegard von Bingen
trans. B. Newman (mod.)
She is Divine Wisdom.  She watches over all people and all things in heaven
and on earth, being of such radiance and brightness that, for the measureless
splendor that shines in Her, you cannot gaze on Her face or on the garments
She wears.  For She is awesome in terror as the Thunderer's lightening, and
gentle in goodness as the sunshine.  Hence, in Her terror and Her gentleness,
She is incomprehensible to mortals, because of the dread radiance of divinity
in Her face and the brightness that dwells in Her as the robe of Her beauty.
She is like the Sun, which none can contemplate in its blazing face or in the
glorious garment of its rays.  For She is with all and in all, and of beauty so
great in Her mystery that no one could know how sweetly She bears with
people, and with what unfathomable mercy She spares them.

The Holy Spirit as Sapientia (Wisdom/Creatrix)

St. Hildegard von Bingen
trans. B. Newman (mod.)
I am Wisdom.  Mine is the blast of the resounding Word through which all
creation came to be, and I quickened all things with my breath so that not one
of them is mortal in its kind; for I am Life.  Indeed I am Life, whole and
undivided -- not hewn from any stone, or budded from branches, or rooted in
virile strength; but all that lives has its root in Me.  For Wisdom is the root
whose blossom is the resounding Word....
I flame above the beauty of the fields to signify the earth -- the matter from
which humanity was made.  I shine in the waters to indicate the soul, for, as
water suffuses the whole earth, the soul pervades the whole body.  I burn in
the sun and the moon to denote Wisdom, and the stars are the innumerable
words of Wisdom.
From Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine, B. Newman (1987).


Hokmah/Wisdom, the Fullness of God

Sophia Wisdom by Hildegard of Bingen


In concluding this post, I want again to quote Elizabeth Johnson and make a final and most important point. First the quotation:

"We must be very clear about this. Speech about God in female metaphors does not
mean that God has a feminine dimension, revealed by Mary or other women. Nor does
the use of male metaphors mean that God has a masculine dimension, revealed by Jesus
or other men; or an animal dimension, revealed by lions or great mother birds; or a
mineral dimension, which corresponds to naming God as a rock. Images and names of
God … intend to evoke the whole.2

… The point for our interest is that the female deity is not the expression of the feminine
dimension of the divine, but the expression of the fullness of divine power and care
shown in a female image. The mystery of God transcends all images but can be spoken
about equally well and poorly in concepts taken from male or female reality.3”

And here is my point. When we refer to the Holy Spirit4 using a female image we are expressing the fullness of the divine. Just as when we talk of the Father or Yeshua Mashiah, in each case we are talking of the fullness of the divine not a dimension and certainly not a mathematical third of the Triune God. So the fullness of God is found in the Holy Spirit Shekhinah, also known as Hokmah/Wisdom or Sophia/Wisdom.

SHE WHO IS: the Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, Elizabeth A Johnson. - New York: Crossroad, 1993.
1 P. 91, (Greek for Wisdom) added.
2 p.54
3 p.56, Emphasis added.
4 The Holy Spirit in Hebrew is Ruach HaKodesh but the phrase was only used three times in the Hebrew Bible (Found once in Psalm 51:11 and twice in Isaiah 63:10,11), and that is why I do not use it.


  1. I enjoyed this post.
    I first became aware of Wisdom from Proverbs 8. I was especially intrigued that in Proverbs 8:30 Wisdom is both with God "as one brought up with Him," i.e., a Sister to Him, and also "daily His delight," which seems more like a Lover. For that reason in my own personal understanding of spirituality I conceive of Sophia as a sort of sister-spouse to Logos. I agree with what you are saying about each term referring to the Whole, and not a fragment or fraction of the Godhead. I think that thinking of Sophia as the Sister-Spouse however is not so much making Her into a separate Person as it is emphasizing a certain relational aspect of God's fullness. In both the brother-sister and the Lover-Lover relationships, as well as of course in the Parent-Child relationships and many, many others, there is a pathway toward understanding the Being of God.

    1. K thanks for your comments which have a lot of profound insights. Sophia as Sister-Spouse to Logos is a beautiful image, as well as the Lover relationship. I'm sure you're aware Song of Songs has that imagery.

      You've hit on the point that we often limit our metaphors for God even when the scriptures abound in them. Yeshua probably did not use the Father-Son metaphor nearly as much as our tradition indicates if you judge by comparing its frequency of occurrence between the earliest and latest gospels. With the exception of Luke, the use of "Father" for God increases dramatically from Mark to John, i.e. earliest to latest written. The term Father for God is used in Mark 4 times, in Luke 16 times, in Matthew 44 times, and in John 123 times!