The Wisdom of Solomon – Recap Session 3
Chapters 8 – 11
The Encomium – Solomon’s Prayer – Introduction to History
None of the books in the New Testament quotes directly from the books of the Apocrypha, although it is likely that most of the New Testament authors were aware of many of these books. Several of the epistles use ideas that sound similar to those found in the Apocrypha. We will later look at a couple of passages from Paul that are similar to ideas found in the Wisdom of Solomon. Tobit, parts of Sirach, the Letter of Jeremiah and Psalm 151 were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
While the books of the Apocrypha were never part of the Jewish canon, other rabbinic literature quotes from Sirach. First and Second Maccabees provide the original accounts of the purification of the Temple in 164 b.c.e. which is commemorated in the festival of Hanukkah. First century Jewish historian, Josephus made use of several of the books of the Apocrypha in his writings. There are several other later examples where Jewish literature made use of these books.
Session three of the Wisdom of Solomon continued with the Encomium, or praise of Wisdom, in chapter eight. Solomon (or Pseudo-Solomon) uses the metaphor of a bride to describe Wisdom and his love for her (Wisdom 8:1–3). He goes on to describe her virtues (Wisdom 8:4–7) including the four cardinal virtues of Greek thought: self-control, prudence, justice, and courage. He lists all the wonderful things she knows and can do: solve riddles, knowledge of signs and wonders, give good counsel and good judgment, etc. (Wisdom 8:8 – 16). He lists all the reasons he would want Wisdom for a bride, but concludes with immortality and friendship (8:17–18a).
He also understood there was only one way to acquire Wisdom (Wisdom 8:18b–21). Wisdom is a gift from God. So he must ask God for this gift.
Chapter nine is Solomon’s prayer. Solomon praises God, remains humble, and reminds God of the responsibility God has placed on Solomon’s shoulders (Wisdom 9:1–18). God is praised as creator, and since Wisdom was with God at creation, she can guide Solomon through the workings of creation. If Solomon, as divinely appointed king, is to be able to guide and rule God’s people, it is in God’s best interest to give Solomon the wisdom he requests. Wisdom will be a guide so that Solomon, a mere mortal who can otherwise not possibly understand God’s mind, can do what is pleasing to God.
As an aside, it is pointed out that one of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expresses an idea very similar to Wisdom 9:15 (For a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent weighs down the thoughtful mind). The New Testament Paul tells us, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:1,4) While not exactly the same words, the imagery of the tent as the weighed down earthly body leads us in the same direction. Plato in Phaedr (81C) used similar imagery, so it is not impossible that both the author of Wisdom and Paul both borrowed from Plato.
Chapter ten may be considered still a part of the encomium, but it also is an introduction to the history section of the Wisdom of Solomon. We still hear praises, but now look at how biblical history demonstrates Wisdom’s saving and punishing power. The author lists and contrasts seven heroes and seven villains from the Hebrew bible and describes Wisdom’s role in the story. He does this without ever mentioning any biblical character by name, assuming the reader knows the stories. The stories, however are often interpreted in a different way than traditional Old Testament scripture appears to teach. We recognize them by the stories the author tells. Adam, for example, depicted as having been delivered from his transgressions by Wisdom, is not quite the same Adam who Genesis tells us was punished by God for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Here the hero Adam is contrasted with Cain (Wisdom 10:1–4). It is explained how Cain’s act of violence led to the flood and ultimately to another hero in Noah.
Abraham, the righteous man is contrasted with the nations who built the Tower of Babel (Wisdom 10:5). Lot, who was saved by Wisdom, is contrasted with the five evil cities destroyed by God (Wisdom 10:6–8). When a righteous man (Jacob) fled from his brother’s wrath, Wisdom protected him (Wisdom 10:9–12), though we traditionally think of Esau as the aggrieved party, not the villain. Joseph, the hero, was delivered by Wisdom from sin and his accusers (Wisdom 10:13–14). Finally, we have the people of Israel led by Moses (guided by Wisdom) away from their Egyptian oppressors (Wisdom 10:15–21).
The balance of the Wisdom of Solomon consists of a series of seven historical biblical contrasts, interrupted by a pair of digressions. This section, often called the Book of History, compares God’s dealing with the Israelites with his dealing with the Egyptians. As with the brief histories in chapter ten, the interpretation we find in Wisdom occasionally appears to be at odds with that given in Genesis and Exodus. Throughout these contrasts, Egypt’s culpability is clearly demonstrated while Israel’s failures are minimized.
The first historical contrast (Wisdom 11:1–14) begins where the brief histories ended with Moses and the exodus from Egypt. As Israel journeyed through the wilderness, they found water springing from the rock in the desert to slack their thirst. Egypt, on the other hand, committed the sin of killing Israel infants in the Nile River. God punished them by making the Nile water undrinkable with blood. Throughout these contrasts God uses the same means for aiding Israel that he does for punishing Egypt. In this first instance, the tool for both aid and punishment was water. When God punishes the righteous (Israel) it is less condemnation than compassionate testing and discipline.
The second contrast begins in chapter eleven but is not completed until chapter sixteen – the two parts are separated by two digressions. The contrast begins with Egypt being punished for worshiping serpents and animals (Wisdom (11:15–16). Egypt’s punishment came with the plagues of small animals (frogs, locusts, wild animals or flies). “One is punished by the very things by which one sins.”
Here, the author began the first digression on God’s use of power and mercy (Wisdom 11:17–12:2). God punished Egypt by degrees so they might have the opportunity to repent. He chose to use small animals to punish them. He could have used a multitude of bears or lions, or dragons or other monsters. He was merciful, even to the Egyptians. God can do all things, but he chose to be merciful to allow Egypt to repent.
Primary Text: The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha – New Revised Standard Version, (Revised Fourth Edition) Michael D. Coogan, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2010
Next Week: Chapters 12-15