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Book of Wisdom or Wisdom of Solomon or simply Wisdom is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Bible. It is one of the seven Sapiential or wisdom books of the Septuagint Old Testament, which includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach).

According to St. Melito in the second century AD, it was considered canonical by Jews and Christians,[1] and a Hebrew translation of the Wisdom of Solomon is mentioned by Naḥmanides in the preface to his commentary on the Pentateuch.

The Book of Wisdom should not be confused with Sirach, by Ben Sira, also known as Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, Wisdom of Ben Sira, (or Sirach) or Ecclesiasticus, a work from the second century BC, originally written in Hebrew.


Date and authorship

The book is believed to have been written in Greek, but in a style patterned on that of Hebrew verse.[2] Although the author's name is nowhere given in the text, the writer was traditionally believed to be King Solomon because of references such as that found in IX:7-8, "Thou hast chosen me to be a king of thy people, and a judge of thy sons and daughters: Thou hast commanded me to build a temple upon thy holy mount..." The formulation here is similar to that of Ecclesiastes I:12, "I, Koheleth, was king in Jerusalem over Israel," which also fails to denote Solomon by name, but leaves no doubt as to whom the reader should identify as the author. The early Christian community showed some awareness that the book was not actually authored by Solomon, as the Muratorian fragment notes that the book was "written by the friends of Solomon in his honor." The traditional attribution of The Book of Wisdom to Solomon has been soundly rejected in modern times. Says the Catholic Encyclopedia: "at the present day, it is freely admitted that Solomon is not the writer of the Book of Wisdom, which has been ascribed to him because its author, through a literary fiction, speaks as if he were the Son of David." Although the book of Wisdom is also called the Wisdom of Solomon, it was most likely composed centuries after the death of King Solomon.[3]

Scholars believe that the book represents the most classical Greek language found in the Septuagint, having been written during the Jewish Hellenistic period (the 1st or 2nd century BC). The author of the text appears well versed in the popular philosophical, religious, and ethical writings adopted by Hellenistic Alexandria.

Religious views

Although purported to have the same author as Ecclesiastes, the beliefs on afterlife are significantly different. Chapter II in particular seems to be in direct response to the futilism of Ecclesiastes: "For they (the ungodly, in KJV) said within themselves, reasoning not aright, Short and sorrowful is our life; And there is no remedy when a man cometh to his end" (Wis. 2:1). Compare this, for example, with Ecclesiastes VI:12, "For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun." It is clear that if not a direct response to the text of Ecclesiastes, the Book of Wisdom is at least taking issue with the philosophy of uncertainty and despair that Koheleth appears to preach.

In its place, Book of Wisdom offers the much more traditional and pious philosophy that trust and fear of God provide the path to redemption, e.g., (Wis. V:15) "But the righteous live for evermore; their reward also is with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most High." This is not the only such rejection of Koheleth's philosophy to be found in the Apocrypha. Ben Sira offers a direct rebuttal to the intellectualism of Koheleth's quest to "seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven" (Ecc. I:13). Ben Sira writes "Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee, think upon with reverence; for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret. Be not curious in unnecessary matters: for more things are shewed unto thee than men understand" (Ben Sirah 3:21-23).

Philosophical influences

The philosophical influences on the Book of Wisdom may include those of classical and Middle-Platonism. Some religious and ethical influences may stem from Stoicism, also found in the writings of the Alexandrian Jew, Philo, to whom Book of Wisdom has on occasion been wrongly attributed. (This is evident in the use of the four Stoic ideals which are borrowed from Plato.) A sorites appears in Chapter 6 (v. 17-20). This logical form is also called chain-inference, "of which the Stoics were very fond."[4]

One passage (Wis. 8:2-18) has notable similarity to Virtue's speech to Heracles in Xenophon's Memorabilia, Book 2, 1:37.

Relation to other Jewish writings

Although the Book of Wisdom is non-canonical in the Rabbinical Jewish tradition, the work was at least known to medieval Jews, as Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Ramban) attests. That it was known to ancient Jews as well is trivially true, as that was the milieu of its composition.

Passover Hagaddah

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the last section (9:18-19:22) is devoid of all connection with what precedes it. The speaker is no longer Solomon, but the author or the saints (16:28, 18:6 et passim), who recite the history of Israel's redemption from Egypt and other enemies. In like manner, the words are not addressed to the kings of the earth (9:18; 10:20; 11:4, 9, 17, 21; et passim), but to God, the deliverer from the Red Sea. The whole appears on close observation to be part of a Passover Haggadah recited in Egypt with reference to Gentile surroundings, and it accordingly abounds in genuine haggadic passages of an ancient character.

Jewish Liturgy

It is of some interest that the philosophy which the Book of Wisdom in Chapter II puts in the mouths of the "ungodly," presumably the Epicureans, bears strong literary resemblance to a prominent passage from the Jewish High Holiday liturgy, "Man begins from dust and ends in dust" (אדם יסודו מעפר וסופו לעפר) from the Unetanneh Tokef prayer (cf. Genesis 3:19: כי‏ ‏עפר‏ ‏אתה‏ ‏ואל‏ ‏עפר‏ ‏תשוב). The relevant verses from Book of Wisdom (II:2-5) read in part, "the breath in our nostrils is as smoke... our body shall be turned to ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air... our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud... and shall be dispersed as a mist... for our time is a very shadow that passeth away." The Unetanneh Tokef prayer seems to offer a close parallel: "As to man, his origin is dust and his end is dust... he is like a broken vessel of clay, like withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shadow, a drifting cloud, a fleeting breath, scattering dust, a transient dream."

If this similarity is more than coincidence or the common citation of a third text, such as Isaiah 40:7, it would not be the only instance of Apocryphal influences on the Jewish liturgy. Elements of Ben Sira are also found in the High Holiday service and other prayers.

Messianic interpretation by Christians

Personification of Wisdom

There are found in the Book of Wisdom and other books of the wisdom literature to Wisdom as a personification with divine attributes. These have long been taken by Christian exegetes as references to Christ, who is called the wisdom of God by Paul the Apostle.

In chapter seven, Wisdom is said to be “the fashioner of all things” (v. 22). Because she fashions all things, is “an associate in his [God’s] works” (8:4), and is a “pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (7:25), Wisdom is eternal and one in being with the Father. Because Wisdom is God’s “creative agent”, she must be intimately identified with God himself.[5] For Christians, the most definite indication that personified Wisdom refers to the Messiah is the paraphrasing of Wis 7:26 in Heb 1:3a.[6] Wis 7:26 says that “she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” The author of Hebrews says of Christ: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.”

Furthermore, Wisdom speaks of personified Wisdom in a Trinitarian way at 9:17: “Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?”. The next verse says that salvation is an act of Wisdom. In Christianity salvation is an activity reserved for God, but it is here given to Wisdom, thus identifying them with one another.[7]

Wisdom 2

The second chapter of the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom 2) builds up to a prophecy of Christ’s passion. First the ungodly men are described (Wis 1:16-2:9), followed by their plotting against the righteous man (2:10-20). The passage describes in detail the treatment of Jesus by the Jewish authorities. The first indication for Christians that it is a prophecy of the Messiah is in verse 11. Where the RSV reads weak, the Greek has achrestos, a play on the title Christos. Verse 12 is a quote of the LXX version of Is 3:10; Is 3:10 has been taken to refer to Jesus since the first-century Epistle of Barnabas.[8] On the whole, this treatment of the suffering of the righteous man is heavily indebted to Isaiah; particularly the fourth Suffering Servant song (Is 52:13-53:12).[9] Verse 13 uses pais (child, or servant), from Is 52:13. Verse 15 says his very sight is a burden, referencing Is 53:2. In verse 16 he calls God his father, which is thought to be based on a poor understanding of pais as in Is 52:13. Verse 18 is comparable to Is 42:1. Verse 19 makes reference to Is 53:7. A final reference to the Messiah is the righteous man’s “shameful death” in verse 20. This death has been identified with Jesus’ death on a cross, a cursed death hanging on a tree.

The Gospel of Matthew contains allusions to the Wisdom of Solomon. Parallels between Wisdom and Matthew include the theme of testing, and the mocking of a servant of God's claim to be protected by God. Matthew's gospel teaches that Jesus is the suffering servant of God. Wis 2:17-18 (Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.) lent itself to Mt 27:43 (He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”).[10]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Zeller, Stoics, p. 216 note
  5. ^ David Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon: The Anchor Bible, (New York, Doubleday, 1979), 194.
  6. ^ Robert Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 95.
  7. ^ David Winston, op. cit., 208.
  8. ^ David Winston, op. cit., 119.
  9. ^ M. Suggs, “Wisdom of Solomon 2:10-5”, Journal ofBiblical Literature 76:1 (March 1957): 30.
  10. ^ David Winston, op. cit., 120. W.F. Albright, Matthew: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1979), 348.

External links

Preceded by
Song of Solomon
Roman Catholic Old Testament Followed by
Eastern Orthodox Old Testament
see Deuterocanon

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BOOK OF WISDOM, or Wisdom Of Solomon (Sept. /041a 1 aXcei. ovos; Lat. Vulg. Liber sapientiae), an apocryphal book of the "Wisdom Literature" (q.v.), the most brilliant production of pre-Christian Hebrew philosophical thought, remarkable both for the elevation of its ideas and for the splendour of its diction. It divides itself naturally, by its contents, into two parts, in one of which the theme is righteousness and wisdom, in the other the early fortunes of the Israelite people considered as a righteous nation beloved by God.

The first part (ch. i.-ix.) falls also into two divisions, the first (i.-v.) dwelling on the contrast between the righteous and the wicked, the second (vi.-ix.) setting forth the glories of wisdom. After an exhortation to the judges of the earth to put away evil counsels and thus avoid death, the author declares that God has made no kingdom of death on the earth, but ungodly men have made a covenant with it: certain sceptics (probably both Gentile and Jewish) holding this life to be brief and without a future, give themselves up to sensuality and oppress the poor and the righteous; but God created man to be immortal (ii. 23), and there will be compensation and retribution in the future: the good will rule (on earth), the wicked will be hurled down to destruction, though they seem now to flourish with long life and abundance of children (ii.-v.). At this point Solomon is introduced, and from the following section (vi.-ix.) the book seems to have taken its title. Solomon reminds kings and rulers that they will be held to strict account by God, and, urging them to learn wisdom from his words, proceeds to give his own experience: devoting himself from his youth to the pursuit of wisdom he had found her to be a treasure that never failed, the source and embodiment of all that is most excellent and beautiful in the world - through her he looks to obtain influence over men and immortality, and he concludes with a prayer that God would send her out of his holy heavens to be his companion and guide.

The second part of the book (x.-xix.) connects itself formally with the first by a summary description of the role of wisdom in the early times: she directed and preserved the fathers from Adam to Moses (x. i - xi. 1). From this point, however, nothing is said of wisdom - the rest of the book is a philosophical and imaginative narrative of Israelite affairs from the Egyptian oppression to the. settlement in Canaan. A brief description of how the Egyptians were punished through the very things with which they sinned (though the punishment was not fatal, for God loves all things that exist), and how judgments on the Canaanites were executed gradually (so as to give them time to repent), is followed by a dissertation on the origin, various forms, absurdity and results of polytheism and idolatry (xiii.-xv.): the worship of natural objects is said to be less blameworthy than the worship of images - this latter, arising from the desire to honour dead children and living kings (the Euhemeristic theory), is inherently absurd, and led to all sorts of moral depravity. In the four last chapters the author, returning to the history, gives a detailed account of the provision made for the Israelites in the wilderness and of the pains and terrors with which the Egyptians were plagued.

1 President VanHise (b. 1857) graduated at the university of Wisconsin in 1879, became instructor in geology there in 1883, in 1897 became consulting geologist of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, and in 1900 became geologist in charge of the Division of Pre-Cambrian and Metamorphic Geology, U.S. Geological Survey. He wrote Correlation Papers - Archaean and Algonkian (1892), Some Principles Controlling the Deposition of Ores (1901). A Treatise on Metamorphism (1903) and several works with other authors on the different iron regions of Michigan.

It is not easy to determine whether the book is all from the same author. On the one hand, it may be said that one general theme - the salvation and final prosperity of the righteous - is visible throughout the work, that God is everywhere represented as the supreme moral governor of the world, and that the conception of immortality is found in both parts; the second part, though differing in form from the first, may be regarded as the historical illustration of the principles set forth in the latter. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the points of view in the two parts are very different: the philosophical conception of wisdom and the general Greek colouring, so prominent in the first part, are quite lacking in the second (x. i - xi. 1 being regarded as a transition or connecting section inserted by an editor). While the first has the form of a treatise, the second is an address to God; the first, though it has the Jewish people in mind, does not refer to them by name except incidentally in Solomon's prayer; the second is wholly devoted to the Jewish national experiences (this is true even of the section on idolatry). It is in the second that we have the finer ethical conception of God as father and saviour of all men, lover of souls, merciful in his dealings with the wicked - in the first part it is his justice that is emphasized; the hope of immortality is prominent in the first, but is mentioned only once (in xv. 3) in the second. The two parts are distinguished by difference of style; the Hebrew principle of parallelism of clauses is employed far more in the first than in the second, which has a number of plain prose passages, and is also rich in uncommon compound terms. In view of these differences there is ground for holding that the second part is a separate production which has been united with the first by an editor, an historical haggadic sketch, a midrash, full of imaginative additions to the Biblical narrative, and enlivened by many striking ethical reflections. The question, however, may be left undecided.

Both parts of the book ignore the Jewish sacrificial cult. Sacrifices are not mentioned at all; a passing reference to the temple is put into Solomon's mouth (ix. 8). Moses is described (xi. I) not as the great lawgiver, but as the holy prophet through whom the works of the people were prospered. (It may be noted, as an illustration of the allusive style of the book, that, though a number of men are spoken of, not one of them is mentioned by name; in iv. 10 -14, which is an expansion of Gen. v. 24, the reader is left to recognize Enoch from his knowledge of the Biblical narrative.) In the second part of the book there is no expression of "messianic" hope; in the first part the picture of the national future agrees in general (if its expressions are to be taken literally) with that given in the book of Daniel: the Jews are to have dominion over the peoples (iii. 8), and to receive from the Lord's hand the diadem of beauty (v. 16), but there is no mention of particular nations. The historical review in the second part is coloured by a bitter hatred of the ancient Egyptians; whether this springs from resentment of the former sufferings of the Israelites or is meant as an allusion to the circumstances of the author's own time it is hardly possible to say.

The book appears to teach individual ethical immortality, though its treatment of the subject is somewhat vague. On the basis of Gen. i.-iii. it is said (ii. 23 f.) that God created man for immortality (that is, apparently, on earth) and made him an image of his own being, but through the envy of the devil death came into the world, yet (iii. 1-4) the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and, though they seem to die, their hope is full of immortality. The description, however, appears to glide into the conception of national immortality (iii. 8, v. 16), especially in the fine sorites in vi. 17-20: the beginning of wisdom is desire for instruction, and devoted regard to instruction is love, and love is observance of her laws, and obedience to her laws is assurance of incorruption, and incorruption brings us near to God, and therefore desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom (but the nature of the kingdom is not stated). The individualistic view is expressed in xv. 3: the knowledge of God's power (that is, a righteous life) is the root of immortality. This passage appears to exclude the wicked, who, however, are said (iv. 20) to be punished hereafter. The figurative nature of the language respecting the future makes it difficult to determine precisely the thought of the book on this point; but it seems to contemplate continued existence hereafter for both righteous and wicked, and rewards and punishments allotted on the basis of moral character. Angels are not mentioned; but the serpent of Gen. iii. is, for the first time in literature, identified with the devil ("Diabolos," ii. 24, the Greek translation of the Hebrew "Satan"); the role assigned him (envy) is similar to that expressed in "Secrets of Enoch," xxxi. 3-6; he is here introduced to account for the fact of death in the world. In iii. 4 the writer, in his polemic against the prosperous ungodly men of his time, denies that death, short life and lack of children are to be considered misfortunes for the righteous - over against these things the possession of wisdom is declared to be the supreme good. The ethical standard of the book is high except in the bitterness displayed towards the "wicked," that is, the enemies of the Jews. The only occurrence in old Jewish literature (except in Ecclus. xiv. 2) of a word for "conscience" is found in xvii. Ii (am/flawÆs): wickedness is timorous under the condefnnation of conscience (the same thought in Prov. xxviii. I). The book is absolutely monotheistic, and the character ascribed to the deity is ethically pure with the exception mentioned above.

The style shows that the book was written in Greek, though naturally it contains Hebraisms. The author of the first part was in all probability an Alexandrian Jew; nothing further is known of him; and this is true of the author of the second part, if that be a separate production. As to the date, the decided Greek colouring (the conception of wisdom, the list of Stoic virtues, viii. 7, the idea of pre-existence, viii. 20, and the ethical conception of the future life) points to a time not earlier than the 1st century B.C., while the fact that the history is not allegorized suggests priority to Philo; probably the work was composed late in the 1st century B.C. (this date would agree with the social situation described). Its exclusion from the Jewish Canon of Scripture resulted naturally from its Alexandrian thought and from the fact that it was written in Greek. It was used, however, by New Testament writers (vii. 22 f., Jas. iii. 17, vii. 26; Heb. i. 2 f., ix. 15; 2 Cor. V. I-4, xi. 23; Acts xvii. 30, xiii. 1-5, xiv. 22-26; Rom. i. 18-32, xvi. 7; I Tim. iv. 10), and is quoted freely by Patristic and later authors, generally as inspired. It was recognized as canonical by the council of Trent, but is not so regarded by Protestants.

LITERATURE. - The Greek text is given in O. F. Fritzsche, Lib. Apocr. Vet. Test. (1871); W. J. Deane, Bk. of Wisd. (1881); H. B. Swete, Old Test. in Grk. (1st ed., 1891; 2nd ed., 1897; Eng. trans. in Deane, 1881); W. R. Churton, Uncan. and Apocr. Script. (1884); C. J. Ball, Variorum Apocr. (1892); Revised Vers. of Apocr. (1895). Introductions and Comms.: C. L. W. Grimm in Kurzgef. 'Exeg. Hdbch. z. d. Apocr. d. A. T. (1860); E. C. Bissell in Lange-Schaff (1860); W. J. Deane (1881); F. W. Farrar in Wace's Apocr. (1888); Ed. Reuss, French ed. (1878), Ger. ed. (1894); E. Schurer, Jew. People (Eng. trans., 1891); C. Siegfried in Kautzsch, Apocr. (1900); Tony Andre, Les Apocr. (1903). See also the articles in HerzogHauck's Realencyclopadie; Hastings, Diet. Bible; Cheyne and Black, Encycl. Bibl. (C. H. T.*)

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