Journey Through the Deuteroncanonicals: (The Book of) Wisdom (of Solomon)

apoc_Wisdom

Introduction

This is part of a series I am writing on my first reading of the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible. As I said in the initial post, the Catholic Bible includes those books and writings that are (usually) removed in Protestant Bibles (helpful comparison chart), and I figured it was about time to start reading them. I am recording my initial thoughts here (you can follow along at Apocrypha.org if you do not have your own copy).

Variously referred to as “Wisdom,” “The Book of Wisdom,” or “The Wisdom of Solomon,” the book contains the most classical Greek in the Septuagint, and is usually dated to the 1st or 2nd century B.C. The author seems well versed in philosophical, religious, and ethical writings of the day. The title of the book is taken from the oldest headings of the book (early Church writers often assumed authorship on the basis of the title of a book) and the fact that the author sometimes speaks in the voice of King Solomon – the wisest man of his day, and the Hebrew representative of divine wisdom.

triumphofaquinasThe Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas
The central figure is St. Thomas Aquinas holding The Book of Wisdom open to 7:7-8 –
“And so I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than scepters and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing.”

 Outline and Summary

  1. Exhortation to Uprightness
  2. Errors of the Unrighteous
  3. Destiny of the Righteous and Unrighteous
  4. Effects of Unrighteous Living on Children
  5. Judgment of the Unrighteous and Reward of the Righteous
  6. Seeking Wisdom
  7. Solomon and Wisdom
  8. Solomon’s Relation to Wisdom
  9. Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom
  10. Wisdom’s Historical Acts (Adam to Moses)
  11. Wisdom’s Historical Acts (Moses’s Miracles)
  12. God’s Sovereign Judgment
  13. God’s Creation and the Foolishness of Idolatry
  14. The Foolishness, Cause, and Judgment of Idolatry
  15. Worship of God vs. Idols
  16. God’s Wise punishment of Idolatry
  17. Egypt’s Terror in Darkness
  18. Israel’s Light and the Egypt’s Final Plague
  19. Israel’s Escape from Egypt

In Chapter 1 the author points out that God knows all and exhorts people to live upright lives. God, who created all things, will not miss anything! In Chapter 2 the wrongheaded thinking of the unrighteous is revealed (it mirrors modernism to a startling degree), and how it leads to persecution of the righteous.  Chapter 3 discusses various rewards and punishments for righteous and unrighteous living. Chapter 4 continues this theme with some specific words about the children of unrighteous parents as well as a discussion over the mercy of God concerning various ages. Chapter 5 focuses on the final judgment of the  righteous and unrighteous.

With Chapter 6 we reach a new section. Due to what has been said above about  righteous and unrighteous living, the author says wisdom is to be sought – first by kings (who will be judged more harshly than others). At 6:12 the author begins describing and praising wisdom personified. In Chapter 7, “Solomon” makes his appearance – rightly acknowledging his place in the world and extolling wisdom greatly (and in some Neo-PLatonic terms!). In Chapter 8, Solomon continues his exaltation of wisdom, especially due to “her” influence on rulers. In Chapter 9, Solomon reveals his prayer for wisdom. Chapters 10-11 present a historical account of wisdom’s (the Lord’s – cf. 10:20) workings over time – especially with regard to God’s judgments. Chapter 12 begins with a particularly interesting explanation of the “Canaanite Genocide” (see below), and presses the issue of God’s sovereignty. Chapter 13 continues the theme of God’s righteous judgment, especially over those who refuse to acknowledge Him. It begins with an exhortation against those who know God exists from creation (cf. Rom. 1:18-32) and then – in some majestic biblical sarcasm –  turns to the folly of worshiping creation (idols). This continues into Chapter 14, which also discloses the creation of idols. There is a brief contrast with worship of the true God at the beginning of Chapter 15, but the author quickly goes back into idol bashing after just a few verses. Chapter 16 continues with the punishment motif – this time illustrating God’s wisdom by his appropriate punishment of those who worshiped animals (i.e., the Egyptians). Chapter 17 tells more of the story of God’s wrath against the idolatry of Egypt during the plague of darkness. This is contrasted in Chapter 18 with Israel’s light from God. The author goes on to contrast the deaths of Egypt’s firstborn with the wanderings in the wilderness as God’s judgments. The book finishes with Israel’s escape from Egypt.

Content Comments

WisdomSolomon

Theistic and Messianic Themes

Wisdom includes many Old Testament themes such as God’s justice, wisdom, mercy, and providence despite Israel’s idolatry. As well as a commentary on the Exodus. Like Proverbs (e.g., 3:19), wisdom is personified as divine: it is “the fashioner of all things” (7:22), a “pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (7:25), and an associate of God’s works (8:4). Wisdom 9:18 says that salvation is an act of Wisdom.

Wisdom also provides a historical and prophetic background for the teaching of and about Jesus. For example, in Herod’s decree of slaying innocent children was prophesied in Wis. 11:7, and Wisdom 2 seems to be a prophecy of Christ’s passion. So much so that some consider it to be a possible source used in the gospel of Matthew (e.g., cf. Mt.27:43 and Wis. 2:12-20 – “Son of God” appears in Wisdom but not in the Psalm Matthew quotes.) Wisdom 2:12-20 says, “For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With refinement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” Matthew 27:42-43 reads, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, I am the Son of God,'”

Indeed, NT parallels appear in abundance in Wisdom.

 

NT Parallels

wisNT

Contrary to the claims of many Protestant polemicists, numerous New Testament references to the Book of Wisdom can be listed. St. Paul alludes to Wisdom chapters 12 and 13 in Romans 1:19-25, and is clearly quoting Wisdom in Romans 9:19-21.

Others paralells include:

  • Wis 2:17-18 cf. Mt. 27:43
  • Wis. 4:5  cf. John 15:6
  • Wis. 5:18 cf. Eph. 6:14; 1 Thess. 5:8.
  • Wis. 6:3-5 cf. Rom. 13:1-6
  • Wis 7:26 cf. Heb. 1:3
  • Wis. 9:15 cf. 2 Cor. 5;1-4
  • Wis. 12:10 & 15:7 cf. Rom. 9:19-23
  • Wis. 13:1-19; 14:2 cf. Rom. 1:18-32
  • Wis. 13:3 cf. 1 Cor. 8:5-6
  • Wis. 14:12,24-27 cf. Rom. 1:24-27
  • Wis. 16:13 cf. Mt.. 16:18; Rev. 1:18;
  • Wis. 17 cf. Eph. 6:2

Theology and Apologetics

There were several theologically interesting statements made in Wisdom. It proclaims that God fills the world and holds all things together (1:7), indicates that the dominion of Hades (“the grave”) is not on earth (1:14), and Open Theists are wrong according to the Catholic Bible: “But the ungodly were assailed to the end by pitiless anger, for God knew in advance even their future actions.” (Wisdom 19:1)!

Further, an answer to the problem of the “Canaanite Genocide” is found in Wisdom:

“Those who lived long ago in your holy land you hated for their detestable practices, their works of sorcery and unholy rites, their merciless slaughter of children,
and their sacrificial feasting on human flesh and blood. These initiates from the midst of a heathen cult, these parents who murder helpless lives, you willed to destroy by the hands of our ancestors, so that the land most precious of all to you might receive a worthy colony of the servants of God. But even these you spared, since they were but mortals, and sent wasps as forerunners of your army to destroy them little by little, though you were not unable to give the ungodly into the hands of the righteous in battle, or to destroy them at one blow by dread wild animals or your stern word. But judging them little by little you gave them an opportunity to repent, though you were not unaware that their origin was evil and their wickedness inborn, and that their way of thinking would never change.” (Wisdom 12:3-10)

Quotable Gems

There were so many awesome quotes in Wisdom, that I simply started listing them:

  • “Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin” (1:4)
  • “Beware then of useless grumbling, and keep your tongue from slander; because no secret word is without result, and a lying mouth destroys the soul.” (1:11)
  • “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. . . . the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.” (1:13, 16)
  • “Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness.” (2:21-22)
  • “In the eyes of the foolish they [the righteous] seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.” (3:2-3)
  • “Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.” (3:5-6)
  • “The memory of virtue is immortality, because it is known both by God and by mortals.” (4:1)
  • “The fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.” (4:12)
  • “For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested.” (6:6)
  • “For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike.” (6:7)
  • “There is for all one entrance into life, and one way out.” (7:6)
  • “May God grant me to speak with judgment, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received; for he is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise.” (7:15)
  • “Against wisdom evil does not prevail.” (7:30)
  • “We can hardly guess at what is on earth, and what is at hand we find with labor; but who has traced out what is in the heavens?” (9:16)
  • “You tested them as a parent does in warning, but you examined the ungodly as a stern king does in condemnation.” (11:10)
  • “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.” (11:24-26)
  • “For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works.” (13:1)
  • “He takes thought for it [an idol], so that it may not fall, because he knows that it cannot help itself, for it is only an image and has need of help. When he prays about possessions and his marriage and children, he is not ashamed to address a lifeless thing. For health he appeals to a thing that is weak; for life he prays to a thing that is dead; for aid he entreats a thing that is utterly inexperienced; for a prosperous journey, a thing that cannot take a step; for money-making and work and success with his hands he asks strength of a thing whose hands have no strength.” (13:16-19)
  • “One preparing to sail and about to voyage over raging waves calls upon a piece of wood more fragile than the ship that carries him.” (14:1)
  • “For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes.” (14:7)
  • “With misspent toil, these workers form a futile god from the same clay—these mortals who were made of earth a short time before and after a little while go to the earth from which all mortals are taken” (15:8)
  • “For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld, but by you, the Savior of all.” (16:7)
  • “For their enemies deserved to be deprived of light and imprisoned in darkness, those who had kept your children imprisoned, through whom the imperishable light of the law was to be given to the world.” (18:4)
  • For by the same means by which you punished our enemies you called us to yourself and glorified us.” (18:8)

Conclusion

As should be clear from the above, Wisdom is simply an amazing book – one that Protestants ignore to their own loss. It also refutes the notion that these so-called “apocryphal” books do not belong in the canon because they are not quoted (If they’re good enough for Paul, they’re good enough for me!). This book was my favorite of the deuterocanonicals so far.

“For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth.” (Wisdom 18:14-16)

 

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6 thoughts on “Journey Through the Deuteroncanonicals: (The Book of) Wisdom (of Solomon)

  1. Wisdom is also one of my favorite books among the deuterocanonical texts. Other notable texts are as follows:

    “For not without means was your almighty hand, that had fashioned the universe from formless matter, to send upon them a drove of bears or fierce lions, Or new-created, wrathful, unknown beasts to breathe forth fiery breath, Or pour out roaring smoke, or flash terrible sparks from their eyes.” (Wisdom 11:17-18, NAB)

    The author of Wisdom was clear that he believed that the universe was created from formless matter rather than ex nihilo. Curiously, the Latin of 2 Maccabees 7:28 also had its explicit statement of fiat ex nihilo adjusted in the latest revision of the Vulgate, Nova Vulgata. Was Wisdom’s teaching part of that reason, or was it that the oldest Greek texts of 2 Maccabees did not teach a creation from nothing? Not being privy to the editors’ notes I would not know, but it is interesting.

    “Now, I was a well-favored child, and I came by a noble nature; or rather, being noble, I attained an unsullied body.” (Wisdom 8:19-20, NAB)

    I like this quote better from the original Greek of the passage, for the English translation masks the actual meaning in the Greek. I am not sure why that took place, or why the translators felt the need to gloss this over as they did. The Greek of verse 20 says “mallon de agathos on elthon eis soma amianton” which says “or rather, being good I came into an undefiled body” of “or rather, being good I went into an undefiled body.” The NAB version drops the range and direction of motion found in the preposition and translates came/went as “attained” when the Greek words lambano or katalambano would have been better suited to that meaning, had they been there in the original, that is. It is similar to an instance I came across once in a Catholic translation of one of the writings of Justin the Martyr. The translators rendered a word “shall have bliss” that really meant “shall be deified.”

    Could the original Greek passage have been where Origen got his idea of souls obtaining certain kinds of bodies based on merit because they existed prior to their bodies rather than the later Catholic teaching that the soul is newly created in each individual?

  2. I neglected to say that I agree with you that Wisdom is an amazing book, and suspect that its being amazing is why it was included in Greek and Latin Bibles for many centuries.

  3. D. Charles,

    I am not sure that 11:17-18 implies a denial of creation from nothing. In Geneisis, God both created-from-nothing (‘bara‘) and made-from-something (‘asah‘). During “the creation” God both “formed” (e.g., 2:7 cf. “formless” in 1:2), adn created (Gen. 1:1). I think “fashioning” in 11:17-18 was the author’s way of describing the making-from-something that God did (especially since it mentions God’s creation of beasts).

  4. Bara’ doesn’t really seem to me to imply creation from nothing. While it does refer to a new thing that is made, and it pretty much refers only to Divine activity in the Bible (in most but not all places, for there are a handful involving the actions of man), it does not actually have within its meaning the concept of fiat ex nihilo. That is something that has to be read into the passages wherein the Hebrew word occurs. And, it is a difficult admission to be made in the footnotes of some Bibles, including some Catholic Bibles. I’d like to think it was tough to modify the only explicit reference to creation from nothing in the Vulgate to what it now is. But, at least it now reads more correctly the actual sense of the passage in the old Greek of 2 Maccabees.

    The cognates of the word bara’ in other Semitic languages also do not convey the meaning of creation from nothing. For the Hebrew, even in the passages in question in Genesis, several times that word refers to the creation of beasts and of man, and man was not created out of nothing but from the dust of the ground. I doubt that a word that inherently meant ‘creation from nothing’ would have been used to indicate a creation from something if it really had inherent in its meaning a concept of creation from nothing. In Isaiah 43:15 we find that God refers to himself as the “Creator of Israel”, and indeed he did create Israel but he did it through Israel’s parents and ancestors, and when he moved the people into the land originally belonging to the Canaanites before them.

    It really indicates inherently in its meaning a creation of something new by shaping, fashioning, cutting, founding (such as colonies, cities, etc), building, or otherwise related concepts, and is much like the Greek ktizo and its forms and derivatives. Even the Greek katartizo has within it the meaning of perfecting something already there, organizing, repairing, and so forth, and that is another word applied in the divine scriptures to the creation “of the worlds” in Hebrews 11:3. The note for Genesis 1:1-2:4a in the NAB (in my copy, at any rate) also says: “This section introduces the whole Pentateuch. It shows how God brought an orderly universe out of primordial chaos.” See also the notes for the New Jerusalem Bible, and so forth. Bringing an orderly universe out of chaos isn’t a creation from nothing.

    The teaching in Wisdom, in any case, probably is one of the reasons why Justin the Martyr held no concept of creation out of nothing but rather said pretty much what Wisdom states about being formed from unformed matter, which former teaching did not really come about until the late second century. I seem to recall the very first mention of the concept of creation from nothing originating in A.D. 177, or thereabouts. But, Justin certainly did not hold the later view.

  5. Bara’ doesn’t really seem to me to imply creation from nothing. While it does refer to a new thing that is made, and it pretty much refers only to Divine activity in the Bible (in most but not all places, for there are a handful involving the actions of man), it does not actually have within its meaning the concept of fiat ex nihilo. That is something that has to be read into the passages wherein the Hebrew word occurs. And, it is a difficult admission to be made in the footnotes of some Bibles, including some Catholic Bibles. I’d like to think it was tough to modify the only explicit reference to creation from nothing in the Vulgate to what it now is. But, at least it now reads more correctly the actual sense of the passage in the old Greek of 2 Maccabees.

    The cognates of the word bara’ in other Semitic languages also do not convey the meaning of creation from nothing. For the Hebrew, even in the passages in question in Genesis, several times that word refers to the creation of beasts and of man, and man was not created out of nothing but from the dust of the ground. I doubt that a word that inherently meant ‘creation from nothing’ would have been used to indicate a creation from something if it really had inherent in its meaning a concept of creation from nothing. In Isaiah 43:15 we find that God refers to himself as the “Creator of Israel”, and indeed he did create Israel but he did it through Israel’s parents and ancestors, and when he moved the people into the land originally belonging to the Canaanites before them.

    It really indicates inherently in its meaning a creation of something new by shaping, fashioning, cutting, founding (such as colonies, cities, etc), building, or otherwise related concepts, and is much like the Greek ktizo and its forms and derivatives. Even the Greek katartizo has within it the meaning of perfecting something already there, organizing, repairing, and so forth, and that is another word applied in the divine scriptures to the creation “of the worlds” in Hebrews 11:3. The note for Genesis 1:1-2:4a in the NAB (in my copy, at any rate) also says: “This section introduces the whole Pentateuch. It shows how God brought an orderly universe out of primordial chaos.” See also the notes for the New Jerusalem Bible, and so forth. Bringing an orderly universe out of chaos isn’t a creation from nothing.

    The teaching in Wisdom, in any case, probably is one of the reasons why Justin the Martyr held no concept of creation out of nothing but rather said pretty much what Wisdom states about being formed from unformed matter, which former teaching did not really come about until the late second century. I seem to recall the very first mention of the concept of creation from nothing originating in A.D. 177, or thereabouts. But, Justin certainly did not hold the later view.

  6. Looks like my other post vanished into cyberspace. Incidentally, the word “fashioning” in that passage in Wisdom is an English mistranslation. The Greek word should be translated “created” there, and is the Greek word ktizo that is the equivalent of the Hebrew bara’.

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