The class of sages to whom we owe the Wisdom Books did not arise till a change had come over the national fortunes and life.
When Edom is renowned for wisdom and a small Judaean family boasts of sages whose names have south Palestinian affinity (1 Chron.
II) which seems to be meant as a commendation of the teaching of the sages in general: their words are said to be like goads (inciting to action) and like nails driven in a building (giving firmness to character); they issue from masters of assemblies,3 heads of academies (but not of the Sanhedrin).
The extant writings of the Jewish sages are contained in the books of Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Ben-Sira, Tobit, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, 4th Maccabees, to which may be added the first chapter of Pirke Aboth (a Talmudic tract giving, probably, pre-Christian material).
Nor do the sages go beyond the old position in their ethical theory: they have no philosophical discussion of the basis of the moral life; their standard of good conduct is existing law and custom; their motive for right-doing is individual eudaemonistic, not the good of society, or loyalty to an ideal of righteousness for its own sake, but advantage for one's self.