The great Greek uncial manuscripts have the title "Wisdom of Solomon."
The Old Latin Version, which is contained in the Vulgate, has "Liber Sapientiae";
but since this Version is translated from the Greek,
it is highly probable that originally the name of Solomon appeared in the title, and Jerome omitted this.
For in his preface to the books of Solomon he regards it as pseudepigraphic.
The Peshitta has an extended superscription rather than a title in the ordinary sense:
"The book of the Great Wisdom of Solomon, the son of David; of which there is a doubt, whether another Wise man of the Hebrews wrote it in a prophetic spirit, putting it in the name of Solomon, and it was (so) received."
The titles occurring in the writings of the Fathers are of interest only in that the earliest of them,
Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, (Origen, however, is often sceptical about Solomonic
authorship, see Scharer, op. cit., iii.509.)
and Cyprian ascribe it to Solomon,
while Jerome (Jerome held that it as written by Philo.) and Augustine (Augustine ascribes the book to Ben-Sira.) clearly do not believe in Solomonic authorship.
Interesting is the reference to our book in the "Muratorian Fragment": "Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour" (Sapientia ab amicis in honorem ipsius scripta).
Zahn, (Geschichte des Neuetestamentichen Kanons, ii.95 ff. (1888).) following Tregelles, explains "ab amicis" as a misunderstanding of ὑπὸ φίλωνος - hupo philonos, in the Greek, this having been read as ὑπὸ φίλων - hupo philon.
In this case Philo would have been regarded as the author.
Others both in early and later days held the same view, but on this see ?111.
The book was certainly regarded in the early Church as one of the most important, probably the most important of all the books comprised in the Apocrypha.
|i.1-16||An exhortation to seek the Lord and His righteousness without which Wisdom is unattainable. A warning against the wicked follows this. God created men for righteousness. Hades has no power over the godly, but the wicked have made a covenant with Hades (Death). Thus, immortality is the possession of the righteous, but the portion of the wicked is death.|
|ii.1-20||The point of view of the ungodly: Life is short and sorrowful, and there is no hope of a hereafter; the body at death turns to ashes, the spirit into thin air. Therefore men should make the most of life and enjoy everything they can; let no consideration for others stand in the way of this; might is right. Since the righteous man opposes this conception of life, let him be persecuted.|
|ii.21-24||They who argue thus are blinded, and contradict God's purpose in creating man.|
|iii.1-9||The lot of the righteous hereafter: though they seem to die and their death looks like destruction, they are in peace and reign with God forever.|
|iii.10-iv.6||The punishment of the ungodly, together with their kith and kin, contrasted with the reward of immortality for the righteous.|
|iv.7-4b||The righteous man is blessed, even though he die prematurely; for old age is not reckoned by years, but by the measure of a man's faithfulness to God; to die young is to be saved from a possible falling away from the right path.|
|iv.14-20||Retribution will surely come upon the ungodly; they do not understand the ways of the Lord; therefore terrible punishment is reserved for them in the end.|
|v.1-14||The remorse of the ungodly when the judgement comes. They will then compare themselves with the righteous, and will be brought to recognize their own wickedness, and will see that there is no hope for them.|
|v.15-23||Eternal life, a glorious kingdom, and a diadem of beauty from the hand of the Lord, will be the reward of the righteous hereafter; but as for the ungodly, they will be annihilated by the divine wrath.|
|vi.1-11||An exhortation and a warning to rulers. It is from the Lord that they receive their power. If, therefore, they do not rule according to His will, stern judgement will be meted out to them. They must strive for wisdom and the words of the Lord, for "they that holily observe holy things shall be made holy."|
|vi.12-20||The desire for wisdom results in the acquisition of power, thus does the Sage sum up the reward of him who searches after wisdom. To the man who desires wisdom there is the certainty that she will be ever ready to respond. Observing her laws shows the love for wisdom; this is a guarantee of incorruption; and incorruption is the means of coming near to God; and he who is near to God is mighty in power.|
|vi.21-25||Rulers who honour wisdom may look forward to unceasing rule; the Sage promises to instruct suchlike regarding the nature and origin of wisdom.|
|vii.1-14||The Sage, in personating Solomon, declares that he is only an ordinary mortal, but that he prayed for wisdom, which was to him a priceless gem worth more than sceptres or thrones or wealth. Since he prayed for wisdom he received wisdom, and made full use of it.|
|vii.15-22a||God alone is the giver of wisdom. He guides men into all the knowledge of the mysteries of Nature.|
|vii.22b-viii.1||A description of the nature and essence of wisdom.|
|viii.2-21||The Sage, in the name of Solomon, tells of how he sought wisdom. He describes, in praise of wisdom, how she teaches men all the virtues, and instructs them in all knowledge. He declares how, through his possession of wisdom, he was held in honour of all men. Finally he ascribes honour to God through whom alone he received the gift of wisdom.|
|ix.1-11||A prayer, uttered in the name of Solomon, in which acknowledgement is made of the gift of wisdom having been received from God.|
|ix.12-18||As a result of the gift of wisdom, Solomon is made to say that he was able to rule righteously. A meditation on the excellence of wisdom.|
|x.1-21||A continuation of the meditation in which mention is made of wisdom's activity among Israel's forefathers. In this long section references are made to the past history of the nation; and it is shown how through wisdom enemies were overcome.|
|xi.1-20||The historical retrospect is continued.|
|xi.21-.2||A hymn of praise to God for His manifold mercies accorded to men.|
|.3-10||Not only towards Israel has God been merciful in the past. But even towards the Canaanites, the ancient inhabitants of His holy land, did He show His long-suffering.|
|.12-18||A further outpouring in praise to God for His righteousness and forbearance.|
|.19-22||In continuation of the recognition of the forbearance that God has manifested, it is said that this was vouchsafed in order that men should follow the divine example.|
|.23-27||The unrighteous (the Egyptians of old are here meant) who did not recognize and acknowledge God, received judgement.|
|i.1-3||A denunciation against those who worship false gods, whether conceived of as fire, wind, or water, or the luminaries of heaven.|
|i.4--9||Nevertheless, if these are recognized as the works of the Creator of all things, they may be the means of bringing idolators to worship the One and only God.|
|i.10-19||Utter folly, however, is the worship of objects of man's handiwork, gold, silver, wood, and stone. A scathing rebuke is directed against those who make gods of such things.|
|xiv.1-31||A further denunciation of idolatry, the evil effects of which are described in detail.|
|xv.1-6||Contrasted with this idolatry is Israel's faithfulness to God. As His people they know Him, His longsuffering and mercy, and therefore they are not led astray by the evil devices of men's art.|
|xv.7-17||The Sage then reverts once more to the subject of the folly of idolatry, and denounces the senseless stupidity of those who worship idols.|
|xv.18-xvi.14||The same subject is continued, the worship of the Egyptians being especially condemned. A contrast is drawn between the punishments meted out, respectively, to the Egyptians and to the erring Israelites. The latter suffered indeed for their idolatry, nevertheless, they were healed by the word of the Lord.|
|xvi.15-29||Continuing the subject of the punishment of the Egyptians, the first great enemies of Israel, it is stated, in somewhat exaggerated style, that the very elements were inimical to them, but showed themselves friendly to the Israelites.|
|xvii.1-xviii.4||The punishment of the Egyptians is further described; it is said that "lawless men" - the whole context shows that the Egyptians are meant - "thinking to lord it over the holy nation, were prisoners of darkness, and fettered captives of a long night." Many details of a fantastic nature, very possibly echoes of Jewish legend, are then given, describing the terrors of the darkness to which the Egyptians were consigned. In contrast to this it is said, "for thy holy ones there was a very great light." Instead of darkness there appeared before them "a burning pillar of fire," as a guide for them in their unknown journey, i.e. during the wanderings in the wilderness. It was fitting that the Egyptians should be deprived of light, and be imprisoned by darkness, it is said. But the Israelites, on the other hand, who had enjoyed the light, gave to the world " the incorruptible light of the Law."|
|xviii.5-19||A description of how the Egyptians were punished in yet another way, viz. by the death of their first-born children. While the Israelites were offering sacrifice to their God and praising Him, it is said, "there sounded back in discord the cry of the enemies, and a piteous voice was borne abroad by a lamentation for the children."|
|xviii.20-25||But though the hand of death was rampant among Israel's enemies, the people of God themselves were not exempt from its ravages. Yet, through the mediation of a blameless man, i.e., Aaron, the relentless hand was stayed.|
|xix.1-12||A description of the crossing of the Red Sea. Here again there are imaginative details, possibly the product of the author's brain.|
|xix.13-17||There follows then a description of the punishment of the Egyptians, who were "encompassed with yawning darkness."|
|xix.18-22||The miraculous transmutation of the elements.|
Here the book ends, very abruptly it must be confessed.
Among the various explanations put forth to account for this, much sympathy must be felt for that expressed by Goodrick, who puts it down to the "absolute weariness of the author with his subject." We heartily endorse what he says in continuation:
Anyone who reads carefully the last chapter or two, with their tautologies in language and their repetitions of matter, will agree that they are the work of a man whose enthusiastic rhetoric had found its limit. He has no more to say, and it is a pity that he did not recognize this before. His vocabulary and his imagination are alike exhausted.
(The Book of Wisdom, p.376 (1913).)
From chapter ix it is clear that the book purports to have been written by Solomon, who addresses himself to the rulers and kings of the earth (cp.i.1, vi.1), adjuring them to love righteousness and to seek God in singleness of heart. But this purported authorship of Solomon is merely a literary device. The most cursory reading of the book shows the utter impossibility of its having been written by Solomon. To labour the point would be waste of time.
At a very early period Philo, as we have seen, was thought to have been the author, and in later days, too, this theory has been held. But against this authorship there are strong objections. The more important of these may be summarized thus:
The Logos, according to the teaching of Philo, is the Wisdom of God, His creative word, the "idea of ideas," the archangel of many names, the high-priest for the world, the mediator between God and the world, the intercessor for men, and their saviour. Philo thus personifies the Logos. In the book of Wisdom, on the other hand, Logos is used in a purely abstract sense as the will of God. Its mention occurs three times:
"O God of our fathers, and Lord of mercy, who madest all things by thy word" (ix.1).
"For, indeed, it was neither herb nor unguent that healed them, but thy word, O Lord, that healeth all things" (xvi.12).
"Thine all-powerful word from heaven out of the royal throne leapt, a stern warrior, in the midst of the doomed land, bearing as a sharp sword Thine unalterable commandment; and standing, it filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, yet trod upon the earth" (xviii.15, 16).
At first sight this last passage might suggest personality being attributed to the Logos. But as Gregg remarks: "although in Wisd.xviii.15 the Logos is the agent in the destruction of the firstborn, and although in the Jerusalem Targum it is the "Word of the Lord" that slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. Yet in the source-passages, Exod.xi.4 and .29 (LXX), God Himself is spoken of as the agent. Hence it seems plain that the writer had no intention of hypostatising the Logos, but had in mind only the customary Jewish periphasis for the Lord, i.e. the 'Memra of Jehovah.' This expression means 'the divine Being in self-manifestation.'" (See Etheridge, The Targums on the Pentateuch, pp.14 ff. (1862, etc).)
There is thus a far-reaching difference between Philo and the writer of this book on a fundamental matter of doctrine.
Another difference between the two is that while Philo appears not to hold a dualistic view in any form, and to regard evil as but the negation of good, Wisd.ii.24 refers to the devil as the source of evil:
"But by the envy of the devil death entered into the world, and they that belong to him experience it" (i.e. death, contrasted with the life of the righteous hereafter, as described in iii.2 ff.).
Again, Philo was an ardent student of Greek philosophy. One of the most striking illustrations of this is his doctrine of the nature of man. In discussing this Moore says: "... so we may properly say that man is intermediate between the mortal and immortal nature, sharing in each so far as needs be, and that he is at once mortal and immortal - mortal as to his body, immortal as to his intellect. Greek philosophy, however, here contributed everything but the text (Gen.ii.7).
The 'breath of life' (πνεῦμα ζωῆς - pnoe Zoes) which God breathed into Adam's nostrils, thus making him a 'living soul' (person), turns into a πνεῦμα - pneuma - soul of obvious Stoic extraction, for which, as the immortal in man, Philo in the end substitutes 'intellect' (διάνοια - dianoia), like a true Platonist." (Judaism, i.452 (1927).)
How could it have been possible for one who taught this to write Wisd.ix.15:
For a corruptible body weigheth down the soul,
And the earthly tabernacle oppresseth the care-laden mind,
thus making "soul" and "mind" synonymous? It is true, the writer may have been indebted to Greek philosophy for the idea of the body as an "earthly tabernacle". "The metaphor of a tent for the body was widespread among Greek philosophers (Pythagoreans and Platonists), and the view that the body is a burden or prison to the soul (σῶμα σῆμα - soma sema) was a common one with Platonists and Stoics, and was a fundamental idea of the Alexandrian philosophy". (Thackeray,The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, p.132 (1900)) but in our book knowledge of Greek philosophy is quite superficial; for a philosopher like Philo to have written it is unthinkable.
Once more, there is a striking difference in the allegorizing of our book and Philo.
Very pointedly Farrar writes:
Philo allegorizes rather than exaggerates; Pseudo-Solomon exaggerates rather than
allegorizes. It seems strange that any commentator who is at all familiar with Philo's habitual method of dealing with Scripture
should suppose that he could possibly have written a book of which the method is so un-Philonian as that of the Book of Wisdom.
More could be said to show that Philo could not have written the book; but further arguments are unnecessary. Other theories as to the identity of the author are not sufficiently important to merit mention; it must be recognized that there are no means of ascertaining who the author was.
We have spoken of "the author" hitherto, but whether unity of authorship can be claimed for the book is by no means certain. Indeed, there are some weighty reasons for questioning whether the whole book can have come from same writer, and there are not wanting some outstanding scholars who insist on the composite authorship of the book.
The problem centres on the manifest differences between i-xi.1 and xi.2-xix; differences of subject matter, thought, and style; these are clearly brought out by Eichhorn. (Einfeitung in die Apokryphischen Schriften, pp.86 ff. (1795).)
Thus: in the first part the subject of wisdom finds constant treatment, but in the second it is mentioned only once, and that in a somewhat quaint manner (xiv.5-7). In the first part the doctrine of immortality is prominent, whereas in the second it is mentioned once only, and that without any emphasis (xv.3). In the first part the absence of particularism is a striking feature, while in the second it abounds. In the first part unbelief is the cause of all wickedness, in the second it is idolatry that is the cause of this.
Then, as to style, there are many linguistic differences, and parallelism, which runs all through the first part, is absent from the second. In the first the historical references are made in a simple, straightforward manner, in the second, which is full of them, there is exaggeration and imaginary detail.
"The first part is appropriate and concise, the second inappropriate, diffuse, exaggerated and bombastic." (Ibid. p.145.)
Nevertheless, striking as these differences are, Eichhorn did not maintain that they necessarily demanded the view of diversity of authorship. The same writer may assume different attitudes of mind at different periods of his life. And it is quite possible that the unattractive nature of the second part was due to its having been written in the early part of the author's life in the exuberance and inexperience of youth, while the earlier part represents the maturer and more sober attitude fostered by thought and meditation.
On the other hand, it cannot be a matter of surprise that other investigators feel compelled to postulate
diversity of authorship. Thus, in the eighteenth century already the French scholar Houbigant (Lectori
ad libros Sapientiae et Ecclesiastici (1773).) held that the book was of dual authorship, i-ix, and x-xix being their
Similarly Bretschneider, (De libri Sapientiae parte priore ... (1804).) ιn addition to which he regarded the chap.xi as the work of a redactor.
Lincke divides the book into two parts, i-.8 and .9-xix, each from a
(Samaria und seine Propheten, pp.119 ff. (1903).)
Stevenson sees in the book a combination of four independent writings, (1) I-xi.4; (2) i.1-xv; (3) xi.21-.22; (4) xi.5-20, .23-27, xvi-xix. (Wisdom and the Jewish Apocryphal Writings, pp.1 ff. (1903).)
The arguments in favour of composite authorship turn mainly on the points mentioned above. (They are fully set forth by Holmes, in Charles, op. cit., i. 522 f)
But the champions of single authorship have also a strong case; foremost among these must be reckoned Grimm. ("Commentar uber das Buch der Weisheit," in Kurzgefasstes
Exegelisches Handbuch zu den Apocryphen des Allen Testamentes, vi.9 ff. (1860).)
Others have supplemented his arguments.
They have been conveniently enumerated by Holmes, (Op. Cit., pp.521 f.) thus:
In placing the arguments for and against unity of authorship side by side, it will be acknowledged that it is difficult to decide the question.
Gregg goes too far in maintaining that "attacks upon the unity of the book have failed, and no serious effort to dispute it has recently been made."(The Wisdom of Solomon, p.xxvii (1909); it is true, Holmes' commentary was published subsequently to this; but, although we may disagree with their points of view, it cannot be said that Lincke and Stevenson have made no serious effort to dispute unity of authorship.)
Holmes sees that "there are considerable difficulties in the way of accepting the unity of authorship which have not been met by its upholders." "If," he says, "we could assume that the writer of the second part had studied the first part carefully and wished to write a supplement to it, both resemblances and differences could be accounted for." (Op. Cit., p.524.)
Goodrick's view is an interesting one. He stands for unity of authorship, and
points to the "peculiar and indeed anomalous nature" of the section included between vi.24 and ix.18, i.e. chaps,
vii-ix. "In these three chapters are included the most peculiar, and in some respects the most objectionable, parts of the
book: the references to Platonic philosophy, and the direct claims to Solomonic authorship." He does not, however, suggest
that these chapters should be eliminated. "It is not necessary to eliminate them; only to point out that they possibly belong
to a later period of development of the writer's ideas, and were inserted by him with a definite purpose; that they may be removed
without injuring the general construction of the book. And that they contain statements in advance of, if not inconsistent with,
those put forward elsewhere."
Goodrick's elaboration of this last theme is very convincing. (The Book of Wisdom, pp.74 ff. (1913).)
In view of the difficult and complicated nature of the subject, much sympathy will be felt with Toy's conclusion.
While he thinks that it is perhaps "not possible to decide with certainty whether the book is the production of one man," he feels that, "on the whole, it seems easier to account for the differences of matter and style under the supposition of one single author than to explain the unity under the supposition of two or more authors." (Encycl. Bibl. iv.5338.)
It would be wearisome to detail the various arguments of scholars whereby they support the different dates favoured, especially as many of their arguments are inconclusive. Apart from Farrar, the tendency among commentators prior to the present Century was to favour a date before 100BC. Grimm gives a wide margin (145BC to 50BC).
More recent investigators - Thackeray (Grammar of the Old Testament in Greek, p. 62 (1905).) and Gregg are exceptions, and Eissfeldt (Einleitung in das Alto Testament, p.657 (1934).) also allows a wide margin "during the first century BC." - contend for a somewhat later date.
Of the various arguments put forward, two, at any rate, may be regarded as conclusive:
(1) The book, for reasons already given, must have been written before the writings of Philo, - he died about 45AD;
mention of the worship of an absent ruler must refer to a ruler of the Roman Empire.
The passage in question is xiv.16, 17:
Then, in process of time, the ungodly custom having grown strong, was observed as a law,
and by the commands of rulers graven images were worshipped;
the which, men not being able to honour in their presence because they dwelt afar off,
they made a visible image of the king they honoured,
that by their zeal they might flatter the absent as though present.
It has been maintained that this refers to the Ptolemies, but it is hardly possible that the writer can have meant this. A Jew would assuredly have made some caustic reference to the worship of a woman had this been the case. For what are the facts? In writing about the deification of the Ptolemaic rulers Edwyn Bevan says that the worship of Ptolemy I was instituted after his death (282/3BC) by his son Ptolemy II.
With his father Ptolemy II associated his mother Berenice on her death (soon after B.C. 279), the two being worshipped together as θεοὶ σωτῆρες - theoi soteres ... When the sister-wife of Ptolemy II, Arsinoe Philadelphus, died in 270-271BC, she too was deified. And now a further step was taken. Ptolemy II had himself put on a level with his sister. The living king and the dead queen were worshipped together as θεοὶἀδελφοί - theoi adelphoi. This cult was combined with that of Alexander...
When Ptolemy III Euergetes succeeded Ptolemy II, the θεοὶ εὐεργέται - theoi euergetai (i.e. Euergetes and his wife Berenice II) were added to Alexander and the θεοὶἀδελφοί - theoi adelphoi, and so on with the other kings till the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
(In Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, iv.527.)
Thus, almost throughout the period of the Ptolemaic rulers a queen was associated with the king as a goddess to be worshipped. It is quite inconceivable that a Jewish writer in such a passage as xiv.16, 17, should have passed over this deification of a woman in silence. But further, in this passage, the deified ruler is spoken of as one who was absent (i.e. from Alexandria). That could not apply to the Ptolemaic rulers. It could apply only to a Roman emperor, and, as will be seen, this emperor can have been none other than Caligula who, in 40AD proclaimed himself a god, and as such demanded worship from his subjects.
That Caligula was the emperor in question is confirmed by another consideration. There are some passages in our book which, it is generally agreed, refer to a time of persecution; thus, in iii.1 words of consolation are written in regard to sufferers: "The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and, of a truth, no torment shall touch them." Similarly in v.1: "Then shall the righteous stand forth with much boldness before the face of him that afflicted him, and of them that regarded his troubles of no account." In vi.5-9 vengeance is pronounced against persecutors:
Terribly and swiftly shall He come upon you, for stern judgement befalleth them that are in high
For the man that is of low estate may be forgiven in mercy, but the mighty shall be mightily tested.
For the Lord of all will not have respect for any man's person, neither will He reverence greatness;
for He himself made small and great, and alike He taketh thought for all;
but upon the mighty shall searching scrutiny come?
The persecution here referred to has been fully and clearly dealt with by Goodrick whose words may here, in part, be quoted:
A sore persecution had just been endured; a persecution not unto death indeed, but involving grave damage and distress. This persecution, founded in part on gross calumny, had as one of its main features the attempted enforcement of idolatry, and of idolatry in its most insane and revolting form-the worship of a living man. This living man was a prince ruling at a distance, but his commands were enforced by apostate Jews dwelling close at hand, who had surrendered their ancient belief without sincerely adopting any other, and represented no religion except that of Epicureanism, for which they sought to find their text-book in the so-called Solomon's "Preacher." This persecution had been carried on through the agency of the dregs of the populace of Alexandria, wherein were represented the superstition of ancient Egypt at its worst, combined with hereditary Greek hatred of the Jews and wild misrepresentation of their religion and ordinances. Finally, a time of temporary repose must be pictured, in which it was possible to substitute severe rebuke for furious complaint. All these conditions the period from 41 to 44AD presents, and an examination of the book of Wisdom confirms the belief that it was then written. [Op. cit., pp.15 f.]
We conclude, therefore, that our book was probably written about the year 40AD or a few years later.
Since, as we have seen, our book was written in Alexandria, the great centre of Greek-speaking Jews, it may be assumed, quite apart from other reasons, that Greek was the language in which it was written.
There are, however, further reasons for regarding the present Greek form of the book as original.
Jerome, in his Praef. in libr. Sal., says: Liber qui sapientia Solomonis inscribitur apud Hebraeos nusquam est, quin et ipse stylus Graecam eloquentiam redolet. It is true, opinions differ considerably as to the measure of the writer's acquaintance with Greek; thus, Farrar thinks, "he shows a singular mastery of the Greek language in its later epochs of mingled decadence and development." He was "a master of the Greek vocabulary." (Op. cit., 404b, 405a.)
Margoliouth, ("Was the Book of Wisdom written in Hebrew?" in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1890, p. 266.) on the other hand, protests that "so far is the style of 'Wisdom' from being excellent that it is atrocious."
And on this point Freudenthal (In the Jewish Quarterly Review 1891, p.734; cp. Andre, op. cit., p.319.) agrees with him, holding that the writer was not writing in his own language. Similarly, Goodrick maintains that " the writer is handling a language with which he is only half acquainted." And elsewhere he asks:
Is not Freudenthal right when he says that the author was writing in a foreign language that he really did not know? Are the wealth of language and the mastery of vocabulary anything more than what might be acquired, by any educated hearer of a Greek rhetorician in the schools of Alexandria? ... It is by no means certain that a native Greek would not have regarded the fervid outpourings of Pseudo-Solomon very much as we do the fervid rhetoric of the intelligent Babu.
(Op. cit., pp.69 f. What Goodrick says here will come home with great force to one who, like the present writer, has come into close personal contact the type mentioned, and heard him "hold forth.")
It is unnecessary to quote further from other scholars. Most are in no doubt as to the language in which the book was originally written. Nevertheless, there have not been wanting, some very able writers who maintain that Hebrew was the original language of our book, or at any rate, of part of it.
Thus, Focke (Die Entstehung der Weisheit Salomos (1913)) holds that the first
five chapters were written in Hebrew. These were translated into Greek, and the translator then wrote the rest of the book.
Before him, Margoliouth (see above) championed a Hebrew original.
And, much earlier, Bretschneider (De libri Sapientiae parte Prim ... (1804).) sought to establish Hebrew as the original form of part of the book. More recently Speiser, ("The Hebrew Origin of the First Part of the Book of Wisdom," in the Jewish Quarterly Review, 1924, pp.455 ff.) recognizing two parts of which the book is made up (i.1-vi.22; viii.1-ix. 8; and vi.22-viii.1; ix.1-xix), has sought to show that the first part was written in Hebrew. He believes that "while the first part was written for Jews (quite likely Palestinian) against Ecclesiastes, or at least called for by the latter, the second is directed primarily against Gentiles or hopelessly unJewish Jews (Egyptian)."
And once more, Purinton (In the Journal of Biblical Literature, xlvii. 1928, pp.276-304.) argues for a Hebrew original for i.1-xi.1, thus dividing the book differently from Speiser. In his final paragraph he observes that while both Wisdom and Solomon figure in the first part of the book, Solomon drops right out after xi.1, while Wisdom is mentioned but once after that, in xiv.5.
We cannot discuss here the many striking and ingenious illustrations that Speiser and Purinton give in support of their contention. While they are in part very suggestive, our feeling is that they do not necessarily prove that the first part of the book is a translation from the Hebrew. Since the author was undoubtedly a Jew, whether he lived in Alexandria or Palestine, whose mother tongue was Hebrew, it is natural enough that he should have thought in Hebrew. And that as he wrote in his acquired language, Hebrew was at the back of his mind and would often reflect itself in what he was writing. This would explain, as it seems to the present writer, many passages, which, it is granted, look like translations from Hebrew. But it is not only isolated passages, which suffice as illustrations, the whole material must be taken into consideration, and it is at least doubtful, when this is done, whether a Hebrew original can be justly postulated for any part of the book.
Apart from the general inculcation of wisdom common to all the Wisdom-writers (e.g. vi.12-20; vii-viii) our author clearly has some specific objects in view. That he addresses himself exclusively to Jews is evident from the many allusions to past Jewish history, which could have been comprehensible to Jews only. But the Jews of his environment in Alexandria were in an evil plight. Those true to their faith were suffering persecution:
Let us lie in wait for the righteous, for he is of no use to us, and is opposed to our doings (ii.12) ;
With insult and torture let us try him, that we may take knowledge of his gentleness,
and that we may judge of his endurance in suffering; to a shameful death let us condemn him ? (ii.19, 20).
The first object of the writer, then, was to cheer and comfort his co-religionists and to strengthen them in their faith. In the most beautiful passage in the book (iii.1-9) he teaches them that they need not fear death, for "the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and of a truth, no torment shall touch them ... their hope is full of immortality ... and the Lord shall reign over them for ever." His teaching on immortality, which, so far as we know, he was the first of the Wisdom-writers to set forth in full development, finds expression elsewhere in the book:
God created man for incorruption (ii.23);
The righteous man, though he die before his time, shall be at rest (iv.7);
The righteous shall live for ever, and in the Lord is their reward; and the care of them is with the Most High (v.15).
Thus the heartening of his co-religionists by his teaching on immortality must also be regarded as one of the author's objects in writing.
But it is clear that the persecutors of these faithful Jews were themselves Jews. In ii.12, where the persecutors of the righteous man are spoken of, they say that the latter
reproacheth us for sins against the Law, and denounceth us for our breaches of what is seemly.
That could only be said by those who were themselves Jews.
They were thus renegade Jews, and that it was not only of offences against the Law that they were guilty is seen, e.g., in ii.6-9:
Come therefore, and let us enjoy the good things there are, and let us make use of creation to the full as in youth. With costly wines and perfumes let us fill ourselves, and let no flower of the spring pass us by. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds ere they fade away, and let there be no glade through which our mirth passeth not. For let none of us be without his share in our proud revelry. Everywhere let us leave signs of our enjoyment, for this is our portion, this is our lot.
So these Jews, occupying high places in the Gentile world (i.1, v.8) were materialists, hedonists,
It is against such that the writer utters warnings:
But the ungodly shall receive punishment according as they reasoned (see ii.1 ff.),
which were heedless of the right, revolting from the Lord;
or he that setteth at nought wisdom and instruction is miserable;
and vain is their hope, and useless their labours, and unprofitable are their works (iii.10, 11).
Another object, therefore, was to warn renegade Jews in order that they might turn from their evil courses and from their unbelief.
Finally, such passages as i, xiv, xv.7-17, on the folly of idolatry - and there are others - show that a further purpose of the book was to combat the worship of idols. Primarily this was doubtless directed against the heathen. But the danger of renegade Jews, referred to above, falling into idolatrous practices, whether from conviction or policy, was great enough. And the writer may well have had these in mind, as well as the Gentiles, in his invectives against idolatry.
Underlying all these purposes there lay quite clearly the intention both to proclaim the superiority of the Jewish faith, and also to set forth Wisdom as the highest ideal, for Wisdom and faith in God are inseparable. Thus, for those faithful Jews who were suffering for their belief such words as the following, e.g., would have given comfort and courage:
... And from generation to generation, passing into holy souls,
she (i.e. Wisdom) maketh men friends of God and prophets (i.e. inspired men).
For nothing doth God love save him that dwelleth with Wisdom (vii.27, 28);
Through her (i.e. Wisdom) I shall have immortality,
and an eternal memorial shall I leave to those (who come) after me (viii.13, cp. ix.18, etc.).
In the same way, when speaking against the renegade Jews, the writer says,
For into an evil-devising soul Wisdom entereth not,
neither doth she dwell in a body enslaved by sin (i.4).
See also iii.10, 11, quoted above. A significant passage occurs in iv.17 ff., where comfort for the godly, and denunciation of the renegade Jews appear together.
For they shall see the end of the wise man,
and shall not understand what he (i.e. the Lord) purposed concerning him,
nor for what end the Lord set him in safety;
they shall see it (i.e. the end of the wise man) and account it as nothing;
and them shall the Lord laugh to scorn.
And after this they shall become a dishonoured carcase,
and a mockery among the dead for ever."
The passage means that the ungodly will see the death of the wise, i.e. godly, man, but they will not understand that this is God's will, for it is His purpose to set the godly man in the safety of immortality. But the ungodly have no hope of immortality. The passage must be read in the light of iii.2, 5; iv.14 and v.14.
As an instance of the writer's purpose of combatting idolatry, and showing that it is the antithesis of wisdom, we may quote i.17 ff.:
And when he prayeth concerning his goods and his marriage and his children,
he is not ashamed to address a soulless object;
yea, for health he calleth upon that which is weak,
and for life he beseecheth a dead thing...
A further object, though not all authorities seem to be agreed on this matter, was to controvert the teaching of Ecclesiastes (Koheleth).
As long ago as 1799 Nachtigal (Das Buch der Weisheit (1799) referred to by Goodrick, op. cit., p.23) discerned this intention on the part of the writer; it has been noticed by subsequent commentators, though its significance has not always received due attention, possibly because the conditions of the times have not been sufficiently taken into consideration.
When, for example, Gregg says, "the resemblances between Wisdom and the Greek version of Ecclesiastes are very few and doubtful." And that "the theory that Wisdom was prompted by opposition to Ecclesiastes may be confidently rejected," (op. cit., pp.xxv.f.) he expresses a view that the facts do not bear out.
Goodrick, on the other hand, rightly maintains that "there is a plainly traceable attempt to controvert the teaching of the writing (or the congeries of writings) known under the name of Koheleth or Ecclesiastes" (op. Cit., p.23.).
We may also quote the words of another recent commentator (Holmes):
The first section of Wisdom might be said to be a polemic against the words of Eccles. vii.15, "There is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his evil-doing the passages iv.7-9 and 17-19 read like a direct contradiction of this. That one book (continues Holmes) could be written in answer to another (both now sacred) is seen from Ecclesiastes itself, which was doubtless written in antagonism to the view propounded by Ezekiel and his followers that righteousness and unrighteousness were both rewarded in this life, a view which the author of job also contests. Ruth, also, was probably written as a protest against the endeavours of Ezra and Nehemiah to enforce the Deuteronomic law (xi, 3) against mixed marriages. The first part of Wisdom, therefore, may have been written to oppose the despairing philosophy of Ecclesiastes and the opinions and practices of the apostates, who may have quoted it to support their views. (op. Cit., p.525.)
A few illustrations may be given to show parallel thoughts and directly contradictory words:
In Wisd.ii.1, where the writer sets forth the reasonings of the ungodly, it is said: "Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no healing at the last end of man"; Eccles.ii.23 has: "For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief"; v.17 (LXX.16): "All his days are in darkness and in mourning, and much vexation, and sickness, and bitterness." Wisd.ii.2: "For by mere chance were we born, and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been"; Eccles.iii.19: (LXX.) "And is it not (a matter of) mere chance (συνάντημα - sunantema) what happens unto the sons of men, and mere chance to beasts, similar ('one') mere chance to all? " Similarly in ix.11: "... time and chance happeneth to them all alike," and iii.20: " All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." Wisd.ii.4: The ungodly say: " And our name will be forgotten in time, and no man will remember our works..."; precisely the same thought occurs in Eccles. i.11 "There is no remembrance of the former (generations) neither shall there be any remembrance of the latter (generations) that are to come, among those that shall come after "; and ix.5: "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." Wisd.ii.5: "For our life is the passing of a shadow, and there is no putting back of our latter end..."; Eccles.vi.12 has: "For who knoweth what is good for man in his life, and the days of his vain life that which he spendeth as a shadow? For who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" Cp. viii.8. Wisd.ii.6: "Come, therefore, and let us enjoy the good things there are, and let us make use of creation to the full as in youth"; similarly in Eccles.ii.24: " There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labour "; with the whole of Wisd.ii.6-10 should be compared Eccl.ix.7-9. In all these passages the parallel thoughts representing the views of the freethinking Jews are strikingly similar, and the writer of Wisdom who, as a Jew, must have been familiar with Ecclesiastes, evidently had this book in mind.
As illustrations of direct contradictions we have, e.g., in Eccles. ix.2: "All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and [to the evil;] to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good, so is the sinner..."; against this attitude we have in Wisd.iii.2, 3: "In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was accounted a misfortune, and their going from us (their) destruction; but they are in peace"; while in verse 10 it is said: "But the ungodly shall receive punishment according as they reasoned, which were heedless of the right, revolting from the Lord."
In another direction the views of Ecclesiastes are contradicted in this way: Eccles.ix.11 has: "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill"; in reply to such one-sided pessimism Wisd.viii.10, 11 says: "Through her (Wisdom) I shall have praise among the multitudes, and honour with elders, though (I be) young. Sharp in judgement shall I be found, and in the sight of the mighty shall I be admired." Again, in Eccles.ii.16 it is said: "For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever, seeing that in the days to come all will already have been forgotten"; against which Wisd.viii.13 retorts: "Through her I shall have immortality, and an eternal memorial shall I have to those (who come) after me." And once more whereas Eccles.i.18 speaks thus of Wisdom: "For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow," in Wisd.viii.16 it is said: "When I enter my house I shall find rest with her, for converse with her hath no bitterness, nor life with her pain, but gladness and joy."
These passages are not exhaustive; (Various other points are well brought out by Goodrick (op. cit., pp.25 f.) see also Plumptre, Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, pp.70 f. (1889).) but they are sufficient to justify the contention that the first part, at any rate, of our book had as one of its objects to combat the attitude of mind, which Ecclesiastes represents. This being a book, with which the writer of Wisdom, as a Jew versed in the Scriptures, must have been familiar, the conclusion presses itself upon one that it was the book that he had in mind primarily.
This subject has been briefly dealt with in chap. v, ? iv; but a little further consideration of it is called for here.
Our author conceives of Wisdom as the artificer (ἡ τεχνῖτις - he technitis) of all (vii.22a, Cp. Prov.viii.30); but this does not imply that Wisdom created anything, she merely carries out God's will in His created world. In the striking passage beginning with vii.22b, where the nature of Wisdom is described, it is said that she is a spirit (according to the reading of Cod. A), or that "in her is a spirit..." (according to most of the MSS); the former reading, though less authenticated, is supported by i.6 and ix.17, where Wisdom is identified with God's holy Spirit. Wisdom is holy, unique, many-sided, pure, unsullied, kind, beneficent, loving, all-powerful, all surveying, pervading the spirits of men. She is the breath of the power of God and "a clear effluence of the glory of the Almighty," therefore wholly pure; she is also "the reflection of the eternal light," the spotless mirror of the divine activity, "the image of His goodness." Being but one, she can do all things, and abiding within herself she nevertheless renews all things, and enters into holy souls, making them the friends of God and vessels of inspiration ("prophets"), for it is those who are in constant converse with Wisdom that God loves. Wisdom, it is said further, is more beautiful than the sun and the stars, more lovely than light. She lives with God, and God loves her; she has been initiated into the knowledge of God, and chooses His works, - it is difficult to understand what this last means. She is worth more than riches, and no activity is as great as hers. If a man seeks to attain to righteousness let him acquire Wisdom, for the efforts entailed generate self-control and prudence, righteousness and manliness, the things most needed in life (vii.22b-viii.7).
In another passage, the "Prayer of Solomon," it is said:
With thee is Wisdom which knoweth thy works,
having been present (with thee) when thou madest the world;
and she understandeth what 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,
that, being present with me she may labour,
and that I may know what is well pleasing in thy sight.
For she knoweth all things and understandeth them,
and will lead me in my actions wisely,
and will guard me in her splendour
These are the most striking passages in our book regarding Wisdom; but there are a few others to be mentioned. In i.4 it is said, "into an evil-devising soul Wisdom entereth not, neither doth she dwell in a body enslaved by sin," i.e. Wisdom, being of God, is altogether alien to the sinner's outlook, cp.vi.23; similarly in iii.11: "He that setteth at nought wisdom and instruction is miserable. And vain is their hope, and useless their labours, and unprofitable are their works"; the ignoring of Wisdom is thus ungodly, and brings its own punishment. On the other hand, following after Wisdom brings its own reward: "For you, therefore, O rulers, are my words, that ye may learn wisdom and not fall away.... Earnestly desire, therefore, my words, yearn for them, and ye shall be taught."
An important passage is vi.12-20, which is evidently based on Prov.viii, and concludes (verses 17-20) with an example of the Sorites (σωτείτης - soreites) a chain, or series, of propositions heaped one on the other:
For the truest beginning of her is the desire for instruction;
and the care for instruction is love (for her);
and love (for her) is the observance of her laws;
and the heeding of her laws is the assurance of incorruption (i.e. immortality);
and incorruption is the means of coming near to God;
thus, the desire for Wisdom leadeth unto a kingdom (i.e. dominion).
In x.1-21, and indeed from here to the end of the book, containing an historical retrospect, Wisdom is represented as directing the heroes of old in their doings. It means here little more than good sense or prudence, though, as Deane says, "it comprises also the notion of a deep knowledge, an appropriation of the history of God's dealings with His people, and a thorough trust in the divine aid which is never refused to the prayer of the faithful." (The Book of Wisdom, p. 25 (1881).)
φρόνησις - phronesis." (Goodrick, op. cit.) P. 54.)Briefly then, these various passages present Wisdom under three aspects: "We find in the first six chapters ... a laudation of Divine Wisdom, personified at times, but certainly not hypostatised; in the next three we have something very like hypostasis; in the last ten, 'practical godliness' - the merest
The chief MSS of our book are אBAV; an examination of Swete's apparatus criticus (Cod. V is not included) (The Old Testament in Greek, ii.604-643 (1896).) shows that there are not many variations of importance (see for variant readings, e.g. iv.18, vi.12, vii.22, viii.13, x.18).
Of the cursives, 248, containing a "Lucianic" text, (The revision of the Greek Bible, the " Antiochian revision," was undertaken by Lucien of Samosata; he was martyred in AD 311 or 312.) is the most important, like other "Lucianic" MSS it contains some interesting variants. (Holmes and Parsons, op. cit., v; Feldmann, Textmaterialien zum Buch der Weisheit (1902).)
Of the Versions the most important is the Latin; though contained in the Vulgate, it is not Jerome's work, but the Old Latin; in his Praefatio in libr. Sal., he says: In eo libro, qui a plerisque Sapientia Salomonis inscribitur ... calamo temperavi, tantummodo canonicas Scripturas vobis emendare desiderans. In a few cases, e.g. i.15; ii.8, it has readings that are probably original, though not found in any of the Greek uncial MSS. On the other hand, it contains many errors owing to a misunderstanding of the original. But, says Deane, "with due allowance for these defects, it probably represents the reading of MSS earlier than any that have come down to us, and in this respect, at any rate, is of great critical value, while its language is interesting as presenting provincialisms and phrases which point to an African origin." (Op. cit., p.4.)
The Syriac Version (Peshitta) is closely related to the Latin, but it has many mistranslations, it is paraphrastic, and has a large number of explanatory glosses.
The Syro-Hexaphar has many variants from the Greek MSS, which are valuable. (See Goodrick, op. cit., pp.423 f.)
The other Versions, Arabic, Coptic, and Armenian are of less importance.
For the older literature see Deane, op. cit., pp.42 f. (1881), and Scharer, op. cit., iii, 509 ff. (1909).
Houbigant, De auctore libri Sapientiae Dissertatio (1839).
Grimm, " Das Buch der Weisheit," in Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokyphen, vi.1 ff. (1860).
Deane, The Book of Wisdom (1881).
Farrar, The Wisdom of Solomon, in Wace, op. cit., i. 403 ff. (1888).
Bois, Essai sur les origines de la philosophie Judeo-Alexandrine (1890).
Thielmann, Die lateinische Uebersetzung des Buches der Weisheit (1893).
Siegfried, Die Weisheit Salomos, in Kautzsch, op. Cit., i.476 ff. (1900).
Feldmann, Text-kritische Materialien zum Buche der Weisheit ... (1902).
Andre, op. cit., pp.310 ff. (1903).
Holtzmann, Die Peschitta zum Buche der Weisheit ... (1903).
Lincke, Samaria und seine Propheten (1903).
Stevenson, Wisdom and the Jewish Apocryphal Writings (1903).
Friedlander, Griechische Philosophie im Alten Testament, pp.182 ff. (1904).
Gregg, The Wisdom of Solomon (1909).
Holmes, "The Wisdom of Solomon," in Charles, op. cit., i. 518 ff. (1913).
Goodrick, The Book of Wisdom (1913).
Jocke, Die Enstehung der Weisheit Salomos (1913).
See also the literature referred to in the footnotes.