From my youth I have been taught from, and chose to drink deeply from the wisdom literature of my culture, namely The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price among many others.
What is Wisdom Literature
The first time I heard such works referred to as Wisdom Literature was from “First Things First” (1994) a self-help book written by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill. In Appendix C: Wisdom Literature, they write:
We define “wisdom literature” as that portion of the classic, philosophical, proverbial, and inspirational literature that deals specifically with the art of living. Some of the literature available now predates formal science and philosophy and was originally passed from one generation to another through oral tradition, proverbs, and symbolic art, as well as through the written word.
Some of the oldest written literature is “the Wisdom of Ptah-hotep” (Egyptian, 2500 B.c.), which, along with other Egyptian writing, had significant effect on Greek culture. The Greek and Hebrew traditions have had remarkable effect on shaping modern Western thought. Eastern Wisdom literature such as the writings of Confucius (551-479 B.C.) and Mencius (371-289 B.c.) along with Indian works such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Dhammapada are more widely known and read in the West. Native American literature is also becoming more known and available.
Not all of this literature would be considered wisdom literature—the more practical, almost “how to” flavor is what characterizes this group of writings from its wider inspirational and philosophical context. From the Hebrew tradition, for example, the books of Job, Proverbs, Psalms, and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon would characterize the wisdom literature.“First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy“ Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill published by Simon and Schuster, New York, New York, 1994
What is the Value of Wisdom Literature
They then discuss common themes found in much of the wisdom literature, such as choice and its value, reflectiveness, truth, basic needs, nature, relationships, contributions, and perspective.
They concluded with, “What is remarkable about ‘wisdom literature’ is that, to the the degree we find patterns, consistencies, and themes, it represents the most validated database in all human experience. To ignore it–not to try to learn from it–would seem an absurd disregard of resource. Certainly regular immersion in the great database of living is a powerful course in conscience education.”
Covey and Merrill Bibliography
We realize that there are many issues in the study of wisdom literature, including the definition of wisdom literature itself. We recognize and honor those scholars who have devoted years to study and contribution in this area. As they, and others well versed in literature, will immediately recognize, the bibliography that follows is in no way comprehensive. Our purpose in listing these books at this point is to give a feeling for the variety and scope of such literature, to illustrate the commonality of some of the general themes we’ve suggested, and to provide a useful starting place for those who are interested in using this vast body of human experience as a resource in educating the conscience.
We’ve divided the list that follows into “basic works” and “collections” and alphabetized them by title. Those who are familiar with some of these works will recognize that some basic works are collections in the technical sense. But for the purpose of this bibliography, “collections” are essentially proverbial quote books.IBID. p. 344
- The Analects of Confucius. Translated by Arthur Waley. Vintage, 1938.
- The Art of Virtue. Benjamin Franklin. Acom, 1986.
- As a Man Thinketh. James Allen. Running Press, 1989.
- As a Man Thinketh, Volume 2. James Allen. MindArt, 1988.
- The Bhagavad Gita. Translated by Eknath Easwaran. Nilgiri Press, 1985.
- Book of the Hopi. Frank Waters. Ballantine, 1963.
- The Book of Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1986.
- The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Caims. Princeton University Press, 1961.
- The Dhammapada. Translated by Eknath Easwaran. Nilgiri Press, 1985.
- The Essential Gandhi. Edited by Louis Rischer. Vintage, 1962.
- The Holy Bible.
- The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep and the Instruction of Ke’Gemni: The Oldest Books in the World, Translated by Battiscombe Gunn. London: John Murray, 1912,
- The Lessons of History. Will and Ariel Durant. Simon & Schuster, 1968.
- The Meaning of the Glorius Koran: An Explanatory Translation. Translated by Mohamad Marmaduke Pickehall. Mentor Books, n.d.
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by George Long. Avon Books, 1993.
- The Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle. Oxford University Press, 1991.
- The Opening of the Wisdom-Eye. H. H. Gyatso, the Dalai Lama Tenzin. Quest Books, 1966
- Ramayana. R. K. Naryan Penguin, 1972
- The Sayings of Confucius. Translated e Lionel Giles. London: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993
- The Sayings of Mencius. James R. Ware. Mentor Books, 1960.
- Siddhartha. Hermann Hesse. New Directions, 1951.
- Sufism, The Alchemy of the Heart. Labyrinth Publishing, 1993.
- Tao Te Ching. Lao Tau. Penguin, 1963.
- Tao, to Know and Not Be Knowing. Labyrinth Publishing, 1993,
- The Torah. Translated by W. Gunther Plaute. Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1981.
- The Upanishads. Translated by Eknath Easwaran. Nilgii Press, 1987.
- Walden, Or, Life in the Woods. Henry David Thoreau. Shambhala, 1992.
- The Way of Chuang Tzu. Thomas Merton. Shambhala, 1965,
- The Wisdom of Confucius. Peter Pauper Press, 1963.
- The Wisdom of the Vedas. J. C. Chatterji. Quest Books, 1992.
- Wisdomkeepers: Meetings with Native American Spirit Elders, Steve Wall and Harvey Arden, Beyond Words Publishing, 1990
- World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts International Religious Foundation. Paragon House, 1991
- Zen, The Reason of Unreason. Labyrinth Publishing, 1993,
- The Art of Peace. Morihei Ueshiba, Translated By John Stevens. Shambhala, 1992.
- The Art of Worldly Wisdom. Balthasar Gracian. Translated by Joseph Jacobs. Shambhala, 1993.
- The Book of Virtues. William J. Bennett. Simon & Schuster, 1993.
- The Enlightened Heart: An Anttley of Sacred Poetry. Edited by Stephen Mitchell. HarperCollins, 1989
- The Enlightened Mind: An anthology of Sacred Prose, Edited by Stephen Mitchell. HarperCollins, 1993
- Light from Many Lamps. Edited by Lillian Eichler Watson. Fireside, 1979,
- Native American Wisdom, Running Press, 1993.
- Oneness. Jetrey Moses, Faweett Columbine, 1989,
- The Pocket Aquinas. Edited by Vernon J. Bourke. Pocket, 1960
- Prayer of the Heart, Writings from the Philokalia. Translated by EH. Palmer, Philip Sherard, and Kallistos Ware, Shambhala, 1993.
- The Sayings of Muhammad. Allama Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy. Charles E. Tuttle, 1992.
- Spiritual Illuminations. Edited by Peg Streep. Viking Studio Books, 1992.
- Thoughts in Solitude. Thomas Merton. Shambhala, 1993.
- Wisdom: Conversations with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day. James Nelson. Norton, 1958.
- Wisdom Is One. B. W. Huntsman. Charles E. Tuttle, 1985.
- Words of Wisdom. Ariel Books, 1992.
- Words of Wisdom. Thomas C. Jones. Chicago: J. G. Ferguson, 1966.
- A World Treasury of Folk Wisdom. Reynold Feldman and Cynthia A. Voelke. HarperCollins, 1992.
Commentary & Analysis
- Proverbial Philosophy: A Book of Thoughts and Arguments. Martin Farquhar Tupper. E. H. Butler, Philadelphia, 1892,
- Ways of Wisdom. Edited by Steve Smith, University Press, 1983.
- Wisdom. Edited by Robert J. Sternberg. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
End of Merrill and Covey Bibliography
Lest the foregoing lead one to believe all religions teach the same thing, an excellent resource to gain more clarity on the subject of the differences in religions is “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World” by by Stephen Prothero.
There are other books that I might add to this list of wisdom literature; that will have to be done another time. I aspire to write something worthy someday to be included in such a list.
Here are some links to my analysis of the wisdom literature of my cultural tradition.