The Wisdom of Solomon (Greek name)

Alternative names

The Book of Wisdom (Latin name)

Probable languages of composition

The Book of Wisdom was written in Greek.

Probable date(s) of composition

No consensus has thus far emerged regarding the date of Wisdom, and various scholars have placed it anywhere between 220 B.C. and 50 A.D. There is virtual agreement that the author made use of the LXX version of Isaiah, which would carry us at least to the end of the 3rd century B.C. Some considerations seem to point to the reign of Gaius “Caligula” (37-41 A.D.) as the likeliest setting for Wisdom. These considerations include the apocalyptic vision in which the author describes the annihilation of the wicked with such ferocious passion (5.16-23) that it is likely called forth by a desperate historical situation in which the security of the Jewish community of Alexandria was dangerously threatened by a power against which it was hopeless to put up any serious resistance. It must be noted that although this view is held by many scholars other scholars vehemently deny its likelihood (specific threat) while agreeing with the time frame suggested for composition.

Probable place(s) of composition

Several factors point to Alexandria in Egypt as the place of composition: the use of Greek, the philosophical concepts, the focus on the exodus, and the polemic against Egyptian animal-worship.

Authorship

The author of the book claims to be Solomon. The claim was questioned by Origen, Eusebius, Augustine, and Jerome, and it is clear that the claim was merely a literary devise, conventional in OT wisdom literature. The author of the book remains anonymous, and the most we can say is that he was a learned Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher, and that he was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric, and culture. Claims have been made that the book is the product of more than one author primarily due to the composition of the book in more than one main section. The majority of scholars however defend the unity of authorship on the grounds of homogeneity of vocabulary and outlook. Many of these scholars postulate that the work could have been written over an extended period of time.

Any peculiarities of canonical status

St. Jerome recognized that Wisdom was a pseudepigraphon and placed it among those books formally excluded from the Canon (PL 28:124). St. Augustine, who quotes Wisdom close to 800 times, at first attributed it to Ben Sira but later declared the author to be unknown. In his De Praedestinatione Sanctorum 14.26-29, he nevertheless came out in favor of the canonicity of Wisdom. The Council of Trent (1545-63), decided the issue of canonicity raised by the reformers by decreeing the book’s canonical status. For the Greek Church, the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 introduced Wisdom and other deuterocanonical books to a place in Holy Scripture. From the time of the Reformation, Protestant Churches, following the example of Luther, separated the so-called Apocryphal books from the rest of the Scripture.

Dependencies and influences upon work

The discourse in Wisdom readily lends itself to the incorporation of diatribe; the popular moral invective so characteristic of the Hellenistic period, and Wisdom contains a number of diatribal features. As was noted above the author of Wisdom also almost assuredly used the LXX version of Isaiah to fashion his work.

Later uses and influences

There are close affinities that exist between the Teachings of Silvanus (late second or early third century), the only non-Gnostic document in CodexVII of Nag Hammadi, and Jewish wisdom literature, particularly The Wisdom of Solomon. It has been pointed out that Silvanus is dependent on three main literary genres: classical Jewish wisdom, the Stoic-Cynic diatribe, and the Hellenistic hymn. These three literary strands are characteristic features of Wisdom. In one of Silvanus’ hymns we have an explicit allusion to Wisdom 7.25-26:”For he (the Logos) is a light from the power of God, and he is an emanation of the pure glory of the Almighty, and he is the spotless mirror of the activity of God, and he is the image of his goodness. For he is also the light of the Eternal Light”. This emphasis on immortality is the writer’s (of Wisdom) most original and influential contribution to biblical theology. This idea, which was common in some Greek philosophies but barely present in the Hebrew Bible, allowed him to acknowledge the reality of innocent suffering in the present, while defending the omnipotence and justice of God. In this way he deferred the vindication of the righteous to their life after death or to the Last Judgment. He interpreted the present sufferings of faithful Jews as a test or temporary discipline, while holding to the conviction that the ancient Egyptians and Canaanites got what they deserved (because they were idolaters and sinners).

Christian understanding of both the Christ event (personification of wisdom) and the idea of wisdom as a “spirit” (The Holy Spirit) with cosmic, personal, and historical dimensions contributed greatly to the continuance of the wisdom tradition within Christianity.

As strange as it may seem, The Wisdom of Solomon has even influenced modern Christian hymnody. Ideas included in the Christmas hymn, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” are traceable to Wisdom. In the NT accounts of the Nativity, nothing is said of the exact time of Jesus’ birth. The subsequent identification of the hour of his birth as midnight is doubtless due to the influence of a remarkable passage in Wisdom. At an early century in the Christian era the imagination of more than one Church Father was caught by pseudo-Solomon’s vivid reference to the time when God’s “all powerful word (the Logos) leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,” namely when “night in its swift course was now half gone” (Wisdom 18.14-15). Despite the context of the passage, which speaks of the destruction of the first-born Egyptians at the time of the Exodus, the words were interpreted as referring to the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ. Thus by a curious, not to say ironical, twist of fortune, a passage that tells of a stern warrior with a sharp sword filling a doomed land with death has had a share in fixing popular traditions concerning the time and circumstances of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Genre of work

The Wisdom of Solomon is a wisdom book. The literary genre employed by the author of Wisdom is the exhortatory discourse. An exhortation is an attempt to urge people to some line of speech or action and one delivering an exhortation must prove that the courses to which he exhorts are just, lawful, expedient, honorable, pleasant, and easily practicable (Wisdom 6.12-14, 8.7,10, 16, 18). Wisdom is a practical appeal that one’s learning should have an impact on one’s moral life.

Content

A.	Wisdom’s Gift of immortality (1-6.21)
I.	Exhortation to Justice which brings immortality (1-1.15)
II.	Speech of the wicked who have covenanted with Death (1.16-2.24)
Problems of reward and retribution (III-V)
III.	Sufferings of the immortal just only a trial (3.1-12)
IV.	Sterility of the virtuous will ultimately be converted to fruitfulness (3.13-4.6)
V.	Early death a token of God’s solicitous care (4.7-20)
VI.	Vindication of the just and final judgment (5.1-23)
VII.	Exhortation to Wisdom which is easily found and brings immortality and 
sovereignty (6.1-21)

B.	The Nature and Power of Wisdom and Solomon’s Quest for Her (6.22-10.21)
VIII.	The nature of Wisdom and her mysteries will be revealed (6.22-25)
Solomon’s Speech (IX-XI)
IX.	Solomon is only a mortal (7.1-6)
X.	Solomon prefers Wisdom above else (7.7-14)
XI.	God is sole source of all-encompassing Wisdom (7.15-22a)
XII.	Nature of Wisdom: her twenty-one attributes (7.22b-24)
XIII.	Fivefold metaphor describing Wisdom’s essence and her unique efficacy 
(7.25-8.1)
XIV.	Solomon sought to make Wisdom his bride (8.2-16)
XV.	Wisdom a sheer gift of God’s Grace (8.17-21)
XVI.	Without Wisdom no human enterprise can succeed (9.1-6)
XVII.	Without Wisdom Solomon could not reign (9.7-12)
XVIII.	Divine Wisdom brought men salvation (9.13-18)
An Ode to Wisdom’s Saving Power in History (XIX-XX)
XIX.	From Adam to Moses (10.1-14)
XX.	The Exodus (10.15-21)

C.	Divine Wisdom or Justice in the Exodus (11-19)
XXI.	First Antithesis:  Nile water changed to blood, but Israelites obtained water 
from the desert rock (11.1-14)
Excursus I: Nature and Purpose of Divine Mercy (XXII-XXIV)
XXII.	God’s Mercy toward the Egyptians and its causes (His Might the source of his 
merciful love) (11.15-12.2)
XXIII.	God’s Mercy toward the Canaanites and its causes (12.3-18)
XXIV.	God’s Mercy a model lesson for Israel (12.19-22)
XXV.	Return to theme of measure for measure and transition to second Excursus 
(12.23-27)
Excursus II: On Idolatry (XXVI-XXXI)
XXVI.	Mindless nature worship (13.1-9)
XXVII.	Wretched wooden-image making (13.10-14.11)
XXVIII.	Origin and evil consequences of idolatry (14.12-31)
XXIX.	Israel’s immunity from idolatry (15.1-16)
XXX.	Malicious manufacture of clay figurines (15.7-13)
XXXI.	Folly of Egyptian idolatry (15.14-19)
XXXII.	Second Antithesis: Egyptians hunger through animal plague, but Israel 
enjoys exotic quail food (16.1-4)
XXXIII.	Third Antithesis: Egyptians slain by locusts and flies, but Israel survives a 
serpent attack through the bronze serpent, symbol of salvation (16.5-14)
XXXIV.	Fourth Antithesis:  Egyptians plagued by thunderstorms, but Israel fed by a 
rain of manna (16.15-29)
XXXV.	Fifth Antithesis:  Egyptians terrified by darkness, but Israel illuminated 
with bright light and guided through desert by a pillar of fire (17.1-18.4)
XXXVI.	Sixth Antithesis:  Egyptian firstborn destroyed, by Israel protected and 
glorified (18.5-25)
XXXVII.	Seventh Antithesis:  Egyptians drowned in the sea, but Israel passes safely 
through (19.1-9)
XXXVIII.	Retrospective review of God’s wonders through which Nature was 
refashioned for Israel (19.10-12)
XXXIX.	Egypt more blameworthy than Sodom (19.13-17)
XL.	Transposition of the elements (19.18-21)
XLI.	Concluding doxology (19.22

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Purpose

The author is primarily addressing his fellow Jews in an effort to encourage them to take pride in their traditional faith. He seeks to convince them that their way of life, rooted in the worship of the One true God, is of an incomparably higher order than that of their pagan neighbors, whose idolatrous polytheism has sunk them into the mire of immorality. Moreover, he attempts to justify their present suffering through the promise of immortality as a reward for their steadfast perseverance in the pursuit of righteousness His accusing finger is especially pointed, however, at the pagan kings (Roman rulers) who have abandoned the principles of divine justice and who will therefore suffer the consequences of their lawlessness. He insists that the king must, above all, pursue wisdom (6.21,24). Wisdom emphasizes the king’s lowly and mortal nature while identifying all the philosophic ideals of Greek thought with the teachings of Judaism. Here the author attempts to revive the flagging spirits of the hard-pressed people.

Sources used

  1. The Anchor Bible Dictionary: The Wisdom of Solomon.
  2. The Anchor Bible Commentary: The Wisdom of Solomon, by David Winston.
  3. Invitation to the Apocrypha: Daniel j. Harrington.
  4. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom by Addison G. Wright.
  5. The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on The Bible, edited by Charles M. Laymon, The Wisdom of Solomon by Robert C. Dentan.
  6. The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha NRSV, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy.

This page written 2001 by Mark Taylor Grant.
Listing of summaries of Deuterocanonical books.
Deuterocanonical Books start page.
Comments to: gto@nashotah.edu
This page last modified 28 March 2001. Copyright is claimed jointly by the author, the instructor, and Nashotah House.