Positive Psychology and Ancient Israelite Wisdom

Carol A. Newsom

in The Bible and the Pursuit of Happiness

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199795734
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979691 | DOI:
Positive Psychology and Ancient Israelite Wisdom

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This chapter considers Israelite Wisdom literature via the lens of Positive Psychology. She finds the book of Proverbs to present a eudaimonic vision of happiness, in no small part because the book is predicated on the belief that the world is well ordered and that that order can be understood by human minds. The book of Qoheleth presents a very different perspective. Here the existence of any cosmic order is seriously questioned, and, even if it exists, the book challenges whether human minds can ever know of it. This leads to Qoheleth’s embrace of a kind of hedonic joy. Without the crucial role played by healthy institutions and social structures, people in Qoheleth’s position may be tempted toward a hedonism of despair that is ultimately nihilistic and self-destructive. So, while both hedonia and eudaimonia are elements of the happy life, it is crucial that both dimensions of happiness are realized within a larger, encompassing eudaimonic framework.

Keywords: happiness; Israelite Wisdom Literature; Proverbs; Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes; positive psychology; eudaimonism; hedonism

Chapter.  8795 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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