Wisdom

Author: An Unknown Jew in Alexandria

Date Written: 200-50 BC       

 

The Book Wisdom does not name its author.  The Septuagint titled the book, "The Wisdom of Solomon," but early Latin editions labelled it the "Book of Wisdom."  The book was originally written in Greek by a Hellenistic Jew probably living in Alexandria in Egypt.  The fact that it was written in Greek rules out the possibility that Solomon wrote it.  Solomon's name is not mentioned in the book, but the author does impersonate him for rhetorical purposes (7-9).

 

The book is written as one continuous argument rather than as abbreviated proverbs.  The first section (1:1-6:21) discusses the nature of righteousness and its relation to man's eternal destiny.

 

The middle of the book praises and describes wisdom.  In ch. 7-9 the author impersonates Solomon (though he does not name him) and describes his love of wisdom and his quest for it.  The author personifies wisdom as a woman (7), similar to the Book of Proverbs.  Ch. 9 presents Solomon's prayer for wisdom.  Ch. 10 gives a synopsis of wisdom's "history" from Adam to the Exodus.  The whole book is written in stylized Greek poetry which uses many Hebrew conventions and expressions.  If the first half of the book can be said to outline the theory of wisdom, the second half of the book applies this theory to a case-study.

 

Ch. 11-19 describe the fates of the righteous and the wicked using the case history of the Exodus.  The section can be a little confusing because the author addresses it to God as a prayer and he uses no proper nouns to describe the Israelites and the Egyptians.  Rather he uses them as illustrations for all righteous people, represented by Israel, and for all wicked people, represented by the Egyptians.  He recounts the stories to show how the same events that served as curses to the wicked and became blessings to the righteous.  For example, water became blood for the Egyptians, but water flowed from the rock for the Israelites (11:6-14).  Manna fell from heaven on the righteous, but hailstorms fell on the wicked (16:16-29).  The author digresses into an exposition of God's mercy toward the Gentile nations (11-12) and a mockery of pagan idol worship (13-15).

 

The message of the book is quite clear from the beginning.  The author urges us to seek righteousness (1:1) and wisdom (1:6) because they are matters of life and death (1:12).  By rejecting righteousness, the wicked reject life (2).  By their actions, the righteous and the unrighteous gain different rewards (3).  The author emphasizes that even if a righteous person dies young and childless, his life was worthwhile (4:1; 4:6).  A couple times the author parodies the speech of the wicked, so the reader must carefully note when this occurs (2:1-20; 5:3-13).

 

Like other biblical wisdom literature, the Book of Wisdom urges us to live according to God's word, to seek wisdom, to gain righteousness.  Yet the author of Wisdom lived in a world in which the fullness of God's mercy had not yet been revealed.  Only through the grace of Jesus' death and resurrection are we fully able to live up to the calling of God in the Book of Wisdom. 

 

By Mark Giszczak

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