The Wisdom of Solomon

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

The Wisdom of Solomon

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The Book of Wisdom (Latin Sapientia) is a good example of Hellenistic Jewish thought. It advocates a way of life made meaningful by the embracing of wisdom. Wisdom itself—or ‘herself’ in biblical discourse—is defined by a long list of characteristics: ‘For wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: for in her is an understanding spirit, holy, one only, manifold, subtil, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good, quick, which cannot be letted, ready to do good. Kind to man, sted-fast, sure, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtil, spirits. For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she maketh all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets. For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all order of stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it’ (7: 22–9). Strong parallels in thought with that of Philo of Alexandria suggest to some commentators that the Book of Wisdom may have been produced in Alexandria, probably in the first decades of the Common Era, but others, unable to detect any knowledge of Philo's work in it, date it earlier.88 The Book of Wisdom is usually attributed to Solomon because in chs. 7–9 the (pseudonymous) author appears to assume the role of King Solomon in seeking out and acquiring wisdom (cf. 1 Kgs. 3: 5–15): ‘Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne … Thou hast chosen me to be a king of thy people, and a judge of thy sons and daughters: Thou hast commanded me to build a temple upon thy holy mount and an altar in the city wherein thou dwellest, a resemblance of the holy tabernacle, which thou hast prepared from the beginning’ (9: 4, 7–8). The book is composed of three interlocking parts: an eschatological section (1: 1–6: 11); a book of wisdom (6: 12–9: 18); and a final, lengthy section on Israel's history (10–19). Perhaps the best-known piece of Wisdom is 3: 1–9: ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality’ (3: 1–4). This passage is popular at Christian funerals and memorial services and the whole chapter offers a wisdom-based contrast between the apparently unblessed lives of the righteous and the ‘obvious’ hopelessness of the lives of the wicked. There are also strong intertextual connections between Wisdom and the Book of Isaiah: the affliction of the righteous man in 5: 1–8 appears to echo elements of Isa. 52: 13–15 and 53: 1–6. Wisd. 12–15 includes attacks on idolatry and images in worship reminiscent of similar ones in Isa. 40–8. There is also a strong similarity between the attitude towards foreign cultures expressed in 12–15 and that expressed by Paul in Rom. 1. The Book of Wisdom and the writings of Paul share an intertextual world, as well as both coming out of the same temporal-cultural background. For Jews everywhere the use of idols and the persecution of Jews belong together and are seen as being part of the same cultural phenomenon (15: 4–19).

Chapter.  700 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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