The Catholic University of America

 John F. Kartje Defense

Final Examination of Rev. John Kartje

For the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology

Friday, September 3, 2010 2:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125




Rev. Christopher Begg, S.T.D.


Wisdom Epistemology in the Psalter: A Study of Psalms 1, 73, 90, and 107

Recent biblical scholars have increasingly employed methodologies drawn from epistemology (the theory of knowledge) to investigate the biblical portrayals of how human beings acquire knowledge.  Such scholarship has yielded valuable insights into the nature of Biblical Wisdom Literature.  This ongoing discussion within the scholarly community, however, has given relatively little consideration to the underlying epistemology of the wisdom motifs found in the Psalter.

In this dissertation, I present a comparative epistemological analysis of the wisdom motifs in Psalms 1, 73, 90, and 107.  These texts were selected on the basis of two primary criteria: (1) epistemological content (each raises the issue of the relationship between virtuous living and prosperity), and (2) canonical placement within the Psalter (each psalm begins one of the Psalter’s five “Books”).  I am thus able to explore the implications of their respective epistemological features for our understanding of the canonical structure of the Psalter.

I first develop a diagnostic method for the identification and analysis of the epistemological features within a biblical text.  Next I apply this method to analyze Proverbs 1–9 as a “case study” of a text which has already received considerable scholarly epistemological investigation.  I then present a study of the four selected psalm texts, followed by a discussion of their epistemological qualities with respect to their canonical placement in the Psalter.

I find that an epistemological progression develops across the canonical ordering of the four psalms.  The psalmists are increasingly more forthright in acknowledging the moral paradox that the righteous can be the victims of hardship and suffering, while the wicked can be prosperous for a time.  At the same time, the psalmists confront and engage this paradox with increasingly more complex and sophisticated responses while indicating that personal responsibility is required for growing in wisdom.  Although Yhwh is ultimately the source of all wisdom, human beings can facilitate their acquisition of knowledge by seeking out Yhwh intentionally, by questioning him directly, and by observing him with a heart focused on learning.