Wisdom

“Do not court death by the errors of your ways,
Nor invite destruction through your own actions.
Death was not God’s doing,
He takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living” (Wisdom 1:12-13, Jerusalem Bible).The Wisdom of Solomon passionately urges the reader to seek God and attempts to answer life’s biggest questions, such as the origins and impact of evil.

The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of the Greek Septuagint Bible (LXX), positioned between Job and Ecclesiasticus or Sirach. Solomon’s name does not feature in the book, but it is evident that the author speaks in the person of the renowned monarch. The prayer found in chapter 9 is an amplification of the reverent portrayal of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:6-9.

Canonicity

The book is not a genuine work of Solomon, and its canonicity was disputed in antiquity. Jerome and Augustine held different views concerning the issue with the latter holding the book in high esteem. Eventually, it was accepted as a book of the Bible in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The nineteen chapters of the book fall into three sections. The first (chapters 1 – 5) is composed of parallel verses. The second (chapters 6 – 9) and the beginning of the third (10 – 12:18) are also by and large written in poetry, interlarded with occasional passages of prose. The remainder of the third (12:19 – 19:22) is almost completely in prose with sporadic poetic tones. The first section deals with the superiority of the pious and wise over the godless. The second section is a song of praise about wisdom, commencing as an exhortation to kings to seek for it (6:1-11) and closing in a prayer for it (chapter 9). The third section depicts the miracles of wisdom, as they were revealed in Israel’s history from Adam up to Israel’s entrée into the holy land. This topic is interspersed in chapters 13 – 15 with a discourse on the folly of idolatry.

Date and authorship

The limits of dating are set between the 1st century BCE and the first half of the 1st century CE The internal evidence of the book points to a Jewish author, who was familiar with the customs of his nation but also well trained in the Greek language and culture. The passion with which the Jewish tradition is expounded in the text may also signal Jewish origins (chapters 10 – 19). The author used the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew Bible. According to some, all these aspects are in favour of the idea that the author was a Jew from Alexandria. Other scholars surmise an origin among a pietist group in a Judean retreat. There is a consensus that it is the work of one person.

Interpretation

The Wisdom of Solomon occupies an elevated position among the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books for its exalted thought, artistic style and innovative synthesis of Greek and Hebrew elements. The unifying topic is the praise of Wisdom, which is personified as in Proverbs. The book belongs to the class of wisdom literature, although it differs from other such works in form and character. As distinct from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, it is not composed in brief proverbial sayings but is fluid and varied in style.

Its nearest parallel is 4 Maccabees. Both works display a form of a spoken discourse in artistic Greek style using Hebrew and Greek manners of thought and expression. In both, the style fluctuates between exposition and lyrical enthusiasm. Unlike 4 Maccabees, which retains the sermonic form all through and targets a cultured Jewish audience, Wisdom employs different styles and addresses a Jewish, mixed, and even Gentile public at various sections. The discourses are interspersed with prayers, historical summaries, definitions, etc. Like 4 Maccabees and other apocryphal writings (and most clearly in the additions to Daniel and Esther), the impulse is entirely religious and any nonreligious material is used for a religious object.

New Testament parallels

The New Testament contains no direct quotations from Wisdom. However, some conspicuous echoes suggest that Paul and John utilized it. It may well be that the Christian and Jewish authors were influenced by the same religious ambience and the same modes of discourse. Various New Testament passages may be mentioned, which seem to parallel Wisdom: Romans 1:18ff (11; 13; 15); 2:4 (11:23; 12:10, 19); 9:21 (15:7); 2 Corinthians 5:5, 7 (9:15); Ephesians 6:11-17 (5:17ff); Hebrews 1:3 (7:25-26); 12:17 (12:10); James 3:17-18 (7:22-23); 1 Peter 1:6-7 (3:5-6). The teaching of John regarding the Logos also displays parallels: John 1:1, 18 (8:3; 9:4); 1:3, 10 (7:21; 8:6; 9:1, 9); 5:20 (8:4; 9:9ff). Furthermore, it is probable that the blowing of the Seven Trumpets in Revelation 8-9 and the following signs mirror the literary arrangement of divine visitations in Wisdom 11:16-19.

Qumran parallels

Some scholars surmise that if the first section (chapters 1 – 9) stems from a pietist group such as that at Qumran, then the rest also exhibits their theology. In Wisdom 7:1 Solomon declares:

I also am mortal, like everyone else,
a descendant of the first-formed child of earth;
and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh,

This declaration bears similarities with the egalitarian ideal stressed in the Manual of Discipline from Qumran.

Reception history

The text of Wisdom is repeatedly quoted by the early Christian fathers and later writers, mostly as inspired. The Council of Trent (1546) granted canonical status to it and Roman Catholic liturgy makes full use of it. The first nine chapters especially contain many intellectual and spiritual rewards to the contemporary God-seeking mind. Its sections concerned with idol worship (chapters 12 – 15), in convergence with other similar passages from the Hebrew Bible, recently attracted the interest of modern Hebrew Bible scholarship.

Further reading

Clarke, Ernest G. The Wisdom of Solomon. CBCEB. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Geyer, John. The Wisdom of Solomon: Introduction and Commentary. Torch Bible Commentaries 27. London: SCM Press, 1963.
Hadas, M. “Wisdom of Solomon.” Pages 861-63 in vol. 4 of The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 4 vols. Edited by George A. Buttrick. New York: Abingdon, 1962.
Murphy, Roland E. “Wisdom of Solomon.” Pages 1382-84 in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Winston, D. The Wisdom of Solomon. AB 43. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979.