In Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom we have two books belonging to the Wisdom Literature, each of which is, in its own way, unique. Details of their subject matter and the like will be discussed below.
Here it is our purpose to say something about the Wisdom literature as a whole.
While restricting ourselves, in the main, to the books of the Hebrews, it is quite necessary that some reference should be made to those of other peoples. The Hebrew Wisdom literature is only a department of a much larger entity comprising books belonging to Sages of other nations. And when this larger body of literature is examined it is seen that national boundaries offered no obstacles to the interplay of thought between like-minded men who were concerned with matters of general human interest, and between whom there was much mutual sympathy and reciprocal influence.
Not that the books of the Writers of different countries lack individual distinctiveness - far from that. Nothing is more striking than the difference in the presentation of Wisdom as between writers of different nationalities, - differences in conception and modes of thought, of literary form, and so on. But in spite of all such differences, one cannot fail to see an underlying unity of purpose common to all. It is this, primarily, which compels us to recognize a principle of fellowship among the Sages of the various countries, and therefore to see in the Wisdom literature of the ancients a world-literature.
Our first concern, however, is with the Wisdom literature of the Hebrews.
The books of Hebrew Wisdom constitute a body of literature in regard to which the distinction so far as the books of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha are concerned, between canonical and uncanonical books, may be ignored. To make such a distinction is unscientific, and was originally, in part at any rate, due on the one hand, to misconception, and on the other, to arbitrariness. Misconception as to what should constitute canonicity, arbitrariness as to the conception of inspiration.
Just as in the Old Testament, so in the Apocrypha, there are, in addition to those books that are wholly concerned with Wisdom in its various forms, single wise sayings, sometimes, whole sections found elsewhere, which are of a Wisdom character. The former were current proverbs, the latter may possibly have been taken from some specifically Wisdom book, or they may be isolated compositions purposely added by the writer of books belonging otherwise to a different category.
Thus, for example, proverbs are quoted, in I Sam.xxiv.13 "Out of the wicked cometh forth wickedness"; "Let not him that girdeth on (his armour) boast himself as he that putteth it off " (I Kgs.xx.11); "They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind" (Hos.viii.7); "Do they plough the sea with oxen?" (Am.vi.12 emended text); "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezek.xviii.2), and others.
Of isolated compositions, though of quite limited extent, we have, for example, such a piece as Jotham's parable of the trees (Judg.ix.8-15), and a shorter one on the thorn and the cedar in II. Kgs.xiv.9.
Further, Wisdom compositions are incorporated in collections of psalms belonging to different periods.
The earlier ones are xx.8-11, xxxiv.11-22 (12-23 in Hebr.), xxxvii, xlix, lxi, cxxvii, cxxviii, cxxi. Of later date are i, xix.7- 14 (8-15 in Hebr.), xciv.8-23, cxi, xcii, cxix. In addition, there are numerous Wisdom sayings interspersed elsewhere among the psalms. (See Gunkel-Begrich, Einleitung in die Psalmen, pp.381 ff.(1933); Fichtner, Die altorientalische Weisheit in ihrer israelitisch-juduschen Auspragung, pp.9, 90 ff.(1933).]
Similarly in the Apocrypha, apart from the specifically Wisdom books, there are Sections containing Wisdom material, viz. 1 Esdr.iii.1-iv.63, Tob.iv.5-19, .6-11, Bar.iii.9-iv.4, iv.5-19.
All these, both in the Old Testament and in the Apocrypha, must be regarded as belonging to the Wisdom literature in addition to the Wisdom books proper: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, and Wisdom.
For completeness' sake we may add the four following writings that belong
to the Hebrew Wisdom literature, though not included either in the canonical
or deutero-canonical collections:
The Letter of Aristeas ii.187-294, [Thackeray, The Letter of Aristeas (Engl. Transl. 1917);
Greek text in Swete, Intr. To the OT in Greek, pp.519-574 (1900).)
IV Maccabees, [Emmet, The
Third & Fourth Books of Maccabees (Egl. Transl. 1918); Greek text in Swete, The
OT in Greek iii. Pp.729-762 (1899).)
Pirke Aboth, [Taylor, Sayings
of the Jewish Fathers (Hebr. Test & Engl. Transl. 1897)); Oesterley, The
Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Engl. Transl. 1919).)
and The Poem of Phokylides. (Bernays, Uber das phokylideische Gedicht (1856).]
Since, as already remarked, the Hebrew Wisdom literature forms part of a world literature, it will be well to enumerate briefly the various non-Israelite writings which are known and have been published.
The Wisdom literature of Egypt must at one time have been very extensive; the writings that have so far come down to us have for the most part been collected and translated into German by Erman, "Die Literatur der Agypter" (1923); they are as follows: The Teaching of Ptahhotep (pp. 86 ff.); The Teaching of Kagemni (pp. 99 f.); The Teaching for King Merikare (pp. 109 ff., the most important of the older Egyptian Wisdom writings); The Teaching of King Amenemhet (pp. 106 ff.); The Teaching of Duauf (pp. 100 ff.); The Wisdom of Anii (pp. 294 ff.). [The respective pages in the Engl. Transl., are: 54, 66, 75, 72, 67, 234.) The most recently discovered Egyptian Wisdom book is The Teaching of Amenemope. This writing is of deep interest and importance for the study of the Hebrew Wisdom literature, on account of its influence on parts of the book of Proverbs. (See Lange, Das Weitsheitsbuch des Amen-em-ope (German transl. (1925); Ranke, in Gressmann's Altorientalische Texte zum Alten Testament, pp.38 ff. [1926); & the present writer's The Wisdom of Egypt & the Old Testament (1927), for further literature.) Of later date are the tomb inscriptions containing The Teaching of Petosiris, [Lefebvre, Tombeau de Petosiris (Service des Antiquites de l'Egypt, Le Caire, 1923 f.).) and The Insinger Papyrus, which has a number of religious and moral precepts. (Boeser, Transcription und Ubersetzung des Papyrus Insinger (1922).) This last is as late as the first century AD.
There are, further, a few other writings of a quasi-Wisdom character, which should be noted. These are also included in Erman's work mentioned above: The Controversy of One Tired of Life with his Soul (pp.122ff.); The Sorrows of the Peasant (pp.157ff.); Monitions of an Egyptian Sage (pp.130ff.); The Plaint of Cha-cheper-re-seneb I (pp.149ff.); The Song of the Harpist (pp.177f.)
[On all the Egyptian Wisdom books see also Humbert, Recherches sur les sources Egyptienne de la Litterature Salientale d'Israel, pp.5-16 (1929).]
Babylonian Wisdom literature, so far as its writings have come down to us, is represented in a far less degree. A collection of Babylonian Proverbs is given by Meissner in "Babylonien und Assyrien", i. 21-29 (1920). Another collection of Wisdom Sayings is published in a German translation by Ebeling in Gressmann, Op.Cit., pp.291ff.; see also Langdon, Babylonian Wisdom, p.89 (1923). The most interesting writing is The Story of Ahikar, containing the Proverbs of Ahikar (Chap.ii), and the Parables of Ahikar (viii.1-41). *[See Harris, Lewis, & Conybeare, in Charles, Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha of the OT, ii.653-784; Sachau, Aramaische Paryrus ?, pp.148 ff. (1911); Cowley, Jewish Documents of the time of Ezra, pp.81-95 (1919), Engl. Transl.] Further, there is the so-called Babylonian Job; [This is not the title, which the writing does not possess; but this name has been given it because it deals with problems similar to those in the Book of Job; Engl. Transl., by Ball, in The Book of Job, pp.12-30 (1922; Germ. Transl., by Ebeling, in Gressmann, op. cit., pp.273 ff.) The Bilingual Book of Proverbs also called the Babylonian Koheleth; [There is no title; it is so called bacause it shows affinities of thought with Ecclesiastes (Koheleth in Hebr.); see Langdon, op. cit.; Ebeling, Ein Babylonischer Koheleth (1924), & in Gressmann, op. cit., pp.287 ff.) And A Sage's Plaint over the Wickedness of the World. [There is no title, that given is descriptive of its contents, see Ebeling, in Gressmann, op. cit., pp.284 ff.]
The many points of contact between these Egyptian and Babylonian Wisdom books with those of the Hebrews are sufficient to show that all three collections form parts of a cosmopolitan whole.
And it is well to emphasize the fact that the Old Testament writers fully recognized the existence of Wisdom teachers, outside their own borders, from quite early times.
Thus, in Num.x.5 it is said that messengers were sent "unto Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children of his people". Balak, the king of Moab, for the purpose of procuring a diviner to curse the Israelites, does this. Instead of this he utters wise prophecies concerning Israel. Whatever may lie behind this, it is clear that the writer recognized in the alien from Babylonia a speaker of wise sayings.
Another reference to extra-Israelite wisdom occurs in II Sam.xx.18, where it is said:
"They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel."
This place is to be identified with Abel-beth-Maacah (see II Sam.xx.14; 11 Kgs.xv.29), and was situated on the slopes of the Hermon, in Syria therefore.
Again, in I Kgs.iv.30, 31 (10, 11 in Hebr.), we read that
"Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol."
By the "children of the east" are meant Arabians and Edomites, as the context shows, and also doubtless Babylonians.
The tradition of the wisdom of Edom is referred to in Jer.xlix.7, where Edom is spoken of in the words:
"Is wisdom no more in Teman? Is counsel perished from the prudent? Is their wisdom vanished?"
Moreover "the wise men of Edom" are spoken of in Obad.8.
And once more, in Job ii.11 the names of Job's friends show that they were non-Israelite - and this book makes it clear that these men are represented as Wisdom teachers. Thus, Teman, where Eliphaz came from, was in Edom; Bildad the Shuhite was a native of Shuah in Assyria; in the case of Zophar the Naamathite, it is probable that he was thought of as an Edomite, because although Naamah lay to the southwest of Judah, the clan which settled in Naamah, namely the Calebites (see I Chron.iv.5, where Naam is the same as Naamah), was of Edomite extraction.
It is also possible that in the corrupt text of Prov.xxx.1, "The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, the oracle", we should read for the last word (in Hebr. Massa, "oracle") " the Massite", i.e., an inhabitant of Massa (see I Chron.i.30), or one belonging to the tribe of Massa, which was, according to Gen.xxv.14, an Arabian tribe.
Even apart from this last reference, it is quite clear that the Israelites were acquainted with the wisdom of Babylon, Egypt, Syria, Arabia and Edom. And so far as Babylonia and Egypt are concerned, we have seen that material of the Wisdom type, with which the Hebrew Sages were doubtless familiar, must have been abundant in these two countries.
In one of his essays Emerson writes [In the Essay: "Considerations of the Way."]: "Nature makes fifty poor melons for one that is good, and shakes down a tree full of gnarled, wormy, unripe crabs, before you can find a dozen dessert apples. And she scatters nations of naked Indians, and nations of clothed Christians, with two or three good heads among them." Somewhat over-stated as these words are, they nevertheless reflect what must often have been in the minds of the Hebrew Wisdom writers. For it is evident from their writings that they regarded the great majority of mankind as lacking sense. One is led to this conclusion by observing how frequently they address themselves to "fools." These "fools" are of various types. Thus, there is the type designated Pethi. This denotes one who is not necessarily wicked in the worst sense, but one who is simpleminded, stupid; but the Wisdom writers regard stupidity as wrong in God's sight. Indeed, stupidity is sin because out of harmony with the mind of God. It is worth noting that the word Pethi, in its root meaning, is "to be open" - which indicates the type. For the idea of being open here applies in the first instance, to the literal opening of the lips:
He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets; Therefore meddle not with him that openeth wide his lips. (Prov.xx.19.)
Such a one was in the mind of Ben-Sira when he wrote in his blunt, yet pointed way:
Hast thou heard a thing? Let it die with thee; Be of good courage, - it will not burst thee. (Ecclus.xix.10.)
But besides the meaning of the literal opening of the lips, Pethi has the further metaphorical sense of being "open" to every influence. This marks the weakness of character of this type of "fool".
A somewhat worse type, and the one most frequently dealt with in the Wisdom literature, is the Kesil. His foolishness is shown, first and foremost, in his hatred of knowledge (Prov.i.22), so that he is incapable of appreciating what is good (Prov.xviii.2). He is further characterized by his want of self-control; he cannot, for example, contain himself when he is angry:
A fool (Kesil) uttereth all his anger, But a wise man keepeth it back and stilleth it. (Prov.xxix.11)
He takes a delight in doing what is wrong (Prov.x.23); he is quarrelsome and contentious (Prov.xviii.6); he is also deceitful (Prov.xiv.8); and therefore must be regarded as altogether a dangerous person:
Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man Rather than a fool (Kesil) in his folly. (Prov.xvii.12.)
The third type of "fool" is the Evil. This kind is always described as morally bad. About him there is something worse than stupidity or wantonness because he is one who is intent on sin, as though it were the business of his life. The inured habit of sin has made him a hardened sinner:
Though thou bray a fool (Evil )in a mortar, Yet wilt thou not make his foolishness to depart from him. (Prov.xxvii.22.)
And lastly, there is the worst type of all, the Letz, translated "scorner" in the Revised Version. The underlying idea of this word is that of being not "straight". As in the case of the Evil this type takes a delight in wrongdoing, but he is worse in so far that he has his wits thoroughly about him. Not only does he refuse to listen to better counsels, but he retaliates if reproved: "He that correcteth a scorner getteth to himself shame (Prov.ix.7) and he is incapable of discipline: "Reprove not a scorner lest he hate thee (Prov.ix.8), implying that he will do an injury to anyone who rebukes him. Moreover, he is proud, haughty, and arrogant (Prov.xxi.24), the overbearing person whom men abominate (Prov.xxiv.9). Even the simple-minded Pethi is frightened into sense when he sees how the scorner is punished: "When the scorner is punished the Pethi is made wise." (Prov.xxi.11.) Thus, one of the main purposes of the Wisdom literature is that of redeeming fools from folly.
Yet however hard the Wisdom teachers hit their victims, to their honour be it said that they realized the potentialities for good in every type of "fool". That is, clearly enough, the reason why so much of their teaching was addressed to them: they despaired of none, - the simpleton, the "stupid idiot", the thoughtless, the "jackass", the hypocrite, the churl, the credulous, the irrepressible chatter-box, the quarrelsome, and all the rest of them. None is irreclaimable. It only wants the art of knowing how to touch the right spot. And the Hebrew Sages cultivated that art and sought to gather in the most unpromising.
To quote once more from Emerson's essay: "Nature is a rag merchant who works up every shred and ort and end into new creations. Like a good chemist whom I found, the other day, in his laboratory, converting his old shirts into pure white sugar."
That was the kind of metamorphosis that the Hebrew Sages sought to bring about in that somewhat unpromising material composed of the "fools" of humanity.
But, obviously, many as may be the "fools" of humanity, there were numbers of men, young and old, who could not be classed among such; and the Wisdom literature is full of precepts and words of guidance for those who want to do what is right if told how. The Wisdom writers, naturally enough, assume a general familiarity with a certain norm of right conduct, which does not require definition, and to which men ought to conform; and they give many precepts of direction, which, if followed, will enable this to be done. This norm of right conduct applies to every action and to every kind of calling and occupation of men in everyday life; it applies, moreover, not only to individual men regarding themselves, but also to their relations with their fellow-creatures, e.g.:
Reprove a friend that he do no evil, [So the Syriac; the Hebrew is not extant.) And if he have done anything, that he do it not again. (Ecclus.xix.13.) Before thou diest do good to him that loveth thee, And according as thou has prospered, give to him. (Ecclus.xiv.13)
Failure to live according to the norm of right conduct inevitably results in retribution, so the Wisdom writers teach, while right living brings prosperity:
Evil pursueth sinners, But the righteous shall be recompensed with good. (Prov.i.21.) From the son of the unrighteous dominion shall be wrenched away, [So the Syriac; the Hebrew is not extant.) And want shall ever abide with his seed. (Ecclus.xli.6.) [So the Syriac; the Hebrew is not extant.) Vanity is man concerning his body, But the name of the pious shall not be cut off. (Ecclus.xli.11.) [So the Syriac; the Hebrew is not extant.]
That practical experience of life showed this to be erroneous did not disconcert those to whom this was a dogma. For it was affirmed that if a man who seemed to be righteous was in adversity it meant that he was, nevertheless, guilty of some sin known to God and himself, but not to others. For which he was suffering (Job viii.6), or owing to some sin he had forgotten, or which was perhaps unrecognized owing to self-deception (Job xv.2-5). If, on the other hand, the incongruity presented itself of a wicked man being in prosperity, the answer was, in effect, that his time would soon come (Job xx.4ff.).
This doctrine of retribution, which plays a prominent part in the Wisdom literature, and which clearly touches upon the religious domain, leads us to say something further upon the religious element in this body of literature. It has sometimes been felt that in the Wisdom literature as a whole, the religious element has had to suffer at the expense of that which is merely ethical. Here it must, however, be borne in mind, that to the Hebrew Sages, Wisdom, whatever its form, was a divine gift, an attribute to God Himself (Prov.viii.22-31; Ecclus.i.1, 8), and therefore in its nature had a religious element about it. In some of its forms, of course, more developed than in others (see further below). It follows that everything that the Wisdom writers wrote about Wisdom had for them an underlying religious content. It is perfectly true that there are many passages, especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, which, as they stand, seem to be entirely devoid of any religious content; a few illustrations may be offered:
He that is surety for a stranger shall suffer for it, But he that hateth suretyship is sure. (Prov.xi.15, cp. Ecclus.xxix.18.) A wicked messenger causeth a man to fall into evil, But a faithful envoy is profitable. (Prov.i.17.) The appetite of a labouring man laboureth for him, For his mouth urgeth him thereto. (Prov.xvi.26, cp. Ecclus.xxxi.3.) The rich man's wealth is his strong city, And as a high wall in his estimation. (Prov.xviii.11, cp. Ecclus.xiv.11.)
Sayings of this kind, of which there are many, might well be thought to be of a purely secular character. But such a judgement would not be just to the writers.
For all utterances of the Wisdom writers have, from the point of view of these Sages, an underlying religious motive. It is perfectly true that passages such as those quoted, apart from their context, could be explained as expressing such commonplace truths as that ordinary caution in money-matters should be observed: that it is wise to employ a messenger who is reliable; that the labourer must work to obtain his food; and that wealth is often an effectual protection.
These are all things of common sense that appeal to any man of the world, to whom they appear without any religious signification; and in themselves they certainly have not necessarily anything to do with religion. But if understood and interpreted from the point of view of the Wisdom writers, and in the light of their intention, they have a religious content. For, according to them, prudence and reliability are God-given forms of Wisdom; the hunger which forces a man to work belongs to the divine economy; wealth is a good thing, but it entails responsibilities to God and man. This, at any rate, is the way in which the Wisdom writers envisaged these things; at the back of their minds there was always a God-ward thought and impulse, which, in their eyes, hallowed worldly wisdom and common sense. This must be borne in mind if we would rightly estimate the purpose and intention of what the Hebrew Sages taught.
But while in its early phases the teaching of Wisdom, whether by oral instruction or, somewhat later, in written form, was addressed to ordinary men, whether of the "fool" types or those of more estimable character, in course of time some of the Wisdom teachers thought and wrote for those more exceptional thinkers who pondered upon the deeper problems of life. This is not to say that the more popular form of teaching was neglected; far from that; being always called for, it was supplied in all ages, both in oral (cp. Ecclus.li.23 ff.) and in written form. The more profound form of teaching did not begin until the Greek period (circa 300BC onwards), when the problems of life were more fully realized and solutions were sought, and when, consciously or unconsciously, the minds of the deeper thinkers were influenced by Greek culture, which more and more permeated the mental atmosphere of the world; hence the appearance of such writings as Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, and later, Wisdom. To deal with the first two would be out of place here; for the last see pp.196ff.(See Also pp.218 ff.)
A large variety of meanings are expressed by the root from which the Hebrew word for Wisdom, Hokma, comes; it is used in the sense of the "skill" of the workman (Isa.iii.3, Jer.x.9); of proficiency in mourning ceremonies (Jer.ix.16); in the art of spinning (Exod.xxxv.25) ; infighting (Isa.x.13); in the administration of affairs (Isa.xxix.14; Jer.xlix.7); of the skill of magicians (Isa.xlvii.10); of shrewdness (II Sam.xx.22; Jer.ix.22) ; of craftiness (II Sam.i.3); even of the intelligence of animals (Prov.xxx.24). So that in its earlier sense, though this is not excluded from its later usage, wisdom meant the faculty of distinguishing between what was useful and what harmful; its ethical meaning belongs to later times when also a directly religious sense was connected with it. In the Wisdom literature generally it is never used of pure knowledge. In the teaching of the Sages, as we have seen, wisdom has a religious content; whatever form it assumes the saying always applies: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom."
The Hebrew word for "beginning" has the twofold sense of the "earliest" and the "last", in the sense of chief; so that the saying can be applied to the earlier forms of wisdom, as well as to its most developed form. [For the meaning of "beginning" see, e.g. Job viii.7, in reference to early life; for that of "chief," as the most important, e.g. Am.vi.1.]
It is certain, at any rate, that the Wisdom writers regarded the "fear of the Lord" as the basis and condition, and at the same time, as the fullness, the zenith, of Wisdom.
The developed conception of Wisdom is met with first in Prov.viii.22-ix.12, upon which, no doubt, Ecclus.xxiv.1-34 was based; and, later, in the book of Wisdom. As a rule, in this later literature Wisdom is treated as something abstract, but in each of these three books striking passages occur in which Wisdom is personified. In discussing this subject it is necessary to keep the mean between two extremes. Refraining, on the one hand, from reading into words that speak of the personification of Wisdom a meaning which they were not intended to bear; and, on the other, seeking to explain away altogether the meaning which they were intended to bear. When in modern speech things, whether abstract or concrete, are spoken of as personalities the words are used metaphorically without the remotest intention of really imputing personality to them; but it is extremely doubtful whether that can always be postulated in the case of ancient Jewish writers.
There are some passages in all three books mentioned which, so far as the nature of Wisdom is concerned, suggest a parallel with some other personifications, or at least quasi-personifications, of divine attributes which appear in early post-Christian Jewish writings. They occupy, to state it moderately, an intermediate position between personalities and abstract beings. While, on the one hand, they are represented as being so closely connected with God as to appear as parts of Him, or His attributes; they are, on the other hand, so often spoken of as undertaking individual action that they must be regarded, in a real sense, as separate from Him. [These are dealt with in Oesterley & Box, The Religion & Worship of the Synagogue, 2. Ed. Pp.195-221 (1911).]
This is suggested by such a passage as Prov.viii.22-31, which seems to express something more than merely figurative language:
"The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Or ever the earth was. When there were no depths I was brought forth; When there were no fountains abounding with water... When he established the heavens I was there; When he set a circle upon the face of the deep; When he made the firm skies above; When the fountains of the deep became strong; When he gave to the sea its bound, That the waters should not transgress his commandment; When he marked out the foundations of the earth; Then was I by him, as a master workman ... "
With the thought of Wisdom being utilized by God in creating the world ("Then was I by him, as a master workman"), one thinks of what is said about God having created the world through His Word. This thought is already adumbrated in such a passage as Ps.xxi.6: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (cp.Ps.cxlviii, 5; Ecclus.xlii.15; Wisd.iv.1; II Esdr.vi.38).
These words were interpreted in later times to mean that the whole creation, as described in Genesis, was accomplished through the Word of God, the "Word" (Memra) having become, in the meantime, a quasi-personality like Wisdom. [Especially in the Targums; for the relevant passages see Weber, Judische Theologie ?, p.183 (1897).]
Ben-Sira, though influenced by Prov.viii.22ff., has his own way of expressing the same thought:
"I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, And as mist I covered the earth. In the high places did I fix my abode, And my throne was in the pillar of cloud. Alone I compassed the circuit of heaven, And in the depth of the abyss I walked" (Ecclus.xxiv.3-5, Greek; the Hebrew is not extant).
We come very near to a hypostatization of Wisdom in a passage like this; and the same is true of Wisd.ix.9-11
"And with thee is Wisdom, which knoweth thy works, Being also present (with thee) when thou madest the world, And understandeth that which is pleasing in thine eyes, And what is right in thy commandments. Send her forth out of the holy heavens, And speed her from the throne of thy glory."
But the most striking passage on the nature of Wisdom is Wisd.vii.22-viii.1; the passage is too long to quote, but Gregg summarized it admirably [The Wisdom of Solomon, p.xxxv (1909]:
Her functions and attributes mark her out as being very near to God Himself, and the writer accumulates such expressions as breath, effluence, effulgence, mirror, image (vii.25, 26), in order to assert her divineness without attributing to her deity. She is pictured as a "solar energy, emanating from the focus of power, and though exerting characteristic influences on every variety of object, yet never breaking loose into separate existence, or violating the indissoluble unity of her source." With this central source she is one; yet, though possessing all that God has to give, she does so only by derivation. ...
No better summary could be offered than the words of Drummond [Philo Judaeus, or the Jewish-Alexandrian Philosophy in its development & completion, i.225 (1888)]:
"Wisdom is a self-adaptation of the inviolable spirituality of God to material conditions, an assumption of the necessary community of nature, in order to bring the infinite and eternal into those relations of space and time which are implied in the creation and government of the world of sense."
Surveying the whole ground, it may be said that Hebrew Wisdom was primarily
empirical, rather than speculative, and essentially pragmatic.
In so far
as it was speculative, the speculation was not about the nature of reality
or the being of God, or the end of life, but on the nature of Wisdom itself;
and that speculation is the climax, not the starting point of Wisdom thought.
It was only after Greek influence began to be felt that the deeper speculation
arose, and even then the severely limited field of speculation among the
Hebrew Wisdom writers, as compared with the Greeks, must be recognized.
must also be again emphasized that the Hebrew Wisdom writers approached everything
from a fundamentally religious standpoint and this was in striking contrast
to the Greeks.