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The Wisdom of Wine:
A Study of Wine in Wisdom Literature

by Meghan Sullivan

WisdomThe wisdom literature of the Bible, which includes books like Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach, is full of references to wine. Wisdom literature seeks to instruct people about ways to ensure personal wellbeing in everyday life. In addition to offering age- old wisdom, the ancient sages who contributed to these biblical books also pondered the meaning of life, death, suffering, and justice. The result of their instruction and musings is a complex mosaic of, well, wisdom. Here’s what those thoughtful advice-givers had to say about wine.

The scribes who contributed to the book of Proverbs warn against the dangers of wine: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (NRSV, Proverbs 20:1). The scribes continues, “Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want; whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich” (Proverbs 21:17).

Ben Sira, writer of the apocryphal book of Sirach, also warns against wine; however, he expounds both the advantages and disadvantages of the beverage. “Wine is very life to human beings if taken in moderation,” he writes. “What is life to one who is without wine? It has been created to make people happy. Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul. Wine drunk to excess leads to bitterness of spirit, to quarrels and stumbling” (Sirach 31:27-29).

The author of Ecclesiastes, who viewed life with a “live as though today is your last day” attitude, also champions the pleasures of wine. “Go,” he advises. “Eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7). The author also mentions wine in a discourse on laughter and money: “Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life, and money meets every need” (Ecclesiastes 10:19).

Ben Sira offers us arguably the most precious gems of wisdom when he compares wine to friendship. “Do not abandon old friends,” he writes, “for new ones cannot equal them. A new friend is like new wine; when it has aged,
you can drink it with pleasure” (Sirach 9:10). He later adds, “Wine and music gladden the heart, but the love of friends is better than either” (Sirach 40:20).

It is important to remember that biblical quotations should not be taken out of context. However, I think few would deny the truth present in this rich sampling of wisdom on wine.

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