1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wisdom, Book of

WISDOM, BOOK OF, or Wisdom of Solomon (Sept. Σοφία Σαλωμῶνος; Lat. Vulg. Liber sapientiae), an apocryphal book of the “Wisdom Literature” (q.v.), the most brilliant production of pre-Christian Hebrew philosophical thought, remarkable both for the elevation of its ideas and for the splendour of its diction. It divides itself naturally, by its contents, into two parts, in one of which the theme is righteousness and wisdom, in the other the early fortunes of the Israelite people considered as a righteous nation beloved by God.

The first part (ch. i.-ix.) falls also into two divisions, the first (i.-v.) dwelling on the contrast between the righteous and the wicked, the second (vi.-ix.) setting forth the glories of wisdom. After an exhortation to the judges of the earth to put away evil counsels and thus avoid death, the author declares that God has made no kingdom of death on the earth, but ungodly men have made a covenant with it: certain sceptics (probably both Gentile and Jewish) holding this life to be brief and without a future, give themselves up to sensuality and oppress the poor and the righteous; but God created man to be immortal (ii. 23), and there will be compensation and retribution in the future: the good will rule (on earth), the wicked will be hurled down to destruction, though they seem now to flourish with long life and abundance of children (ii.-v.). At this point Solomon is introduced, and from the following section (vi.-ix.) the book seems to have taken its title. Solomon reminds kings and rulers that they will be held to strict account by God, and, urging them to learn wisdom from his words, proceeds to give his own experience: devoting himself from his youth to the pursuit of wisdom he had found her to be a treasure that never failed, the source and embodiment of all that is most excellent and beautiful in the world— through her he looks to obtain influence over men and immortality, and he concludes with a prayer that God would send her out of his holy heavens to be his companion and guide.

The second part of the book (x.-xix.) connects itself formally with the first by a summary description of the role of wisdom in the early times: she directed and preserved the fathers from Adam to Moses (x. 1-xi. 1). From this point, however, nothing is said of wisdom—the rest of the book is a philosophical and imaginative narrative of Israelite affairs from the Egyptian oppression to the settlement in Canaan. A brief description of how the Egyptians were punished through the very things with which they sinned (though the punishment was not fatal, for God loves all things that exist), and how judgments on the Canaanites were executed gradually (so as to give them time to repent), is followed by a dissertation on the origin, various forms, absurdity and results of polytheism and idolatry (xiii.-xv.): the worship of natural objects is said to be less blameworthy than the worship of images—this latter, arising from the desire to honour dead children and living kings (the Euhemeristic theory), is inherently absurd, and led to all sorts of moral depravity. In the four last chapters the author, returning to the history, gives a detailed account of the provision made for the Israelites in the wilderness and of the pains and terrors with which the Egyptians were plagued.

It is not easy to determine whether the book is all from the same author. On the one hand, it may be said that one general theme—the salvation and final prosperity of the righteous—is visible throughout the work, that God is everywhere represented as the supreme moral governor of the world, and that the conception of immortality is found in both parts; the second part, though differing in form from the first, may be regarded as the historical illustration of the principles set forth in the latter. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the points of view in the two parts are very different: the philosophical conception of wisdom and the general Greek colouring, so prominent in the first part, are quite lacking in the second (x. 1-xi. 1 being regarded as a transition or connecting section inserted by an editor). While the first has the form of a treatise, the second is an address to God; the first, though it has the Jewish people in mind, does not refer to them by name except incidentally in Solomon's prayer; the second is wholly devoted to the Jewish national experiences (this is true even of the section on idolatry). It is in the second that we have the finer ethical conception of God as father and saviour of all men, lover of souls, merciful in his dealings with the wicked—in the first part it is his justice that is emphasized; the hope of immortality is prominent in the first, but is mentioned only once (in xv. 3) in the second. The two parts are distinguished by difference of style; the Hebrew principle of parallelism of clauses is employed far more in the first than in the second, which has a number of plain prose passages, and is also rich in uncommon compound terms. In view of these differences there is ground for holding that the second part is a separate production which has been united with the first by an editor, an historical haggadic sketch, a midrash, full of imaginative additions to the Biblical narrative, and enlivened by many striking ethical reflections. The question, however, may be left undecided.

Both parts of the book ignore the Jewish sacrificial cult. Sacrifices are not mentioned at all; a passing reference to the temple is put into Solomon's mouth (ix. 8). Moses is described (xi. 1) not as the great lawgiver, but as the holy prophet through whom the works of the people were prospered. (It may be noted, as an illustration of the allusive style of the book, that, though a number of men are spoken of, not one of them is mentioned by name; in iv. 10-14, which is an expansion of Gen. v. 24, the reader is left to recognize Enoch from his knowledge of the Biblical narrative.) In the second part of the book there is no expression of “messianic” hope; in the first part the picture of the national future agrees in general (if its expressions are to be taken literally) with that given in the book of Daniel: the Jews are to have dominion over the peoples (iii. 8), and to receive from the Lord's hand the diadem of beauty (v. 16), but there is no mention of particular nations. The historical review in the second part is coloured by a bitter hatred of the ancient Egyptians; whether this springs from resentment of the former sufferings of the Israelites or is meant as an allusion to the circumstances of the author's own time it is hardly possible to say.

The book appears to teach individual ethical immortality, though its treatment of the subject is somewhat vague. On the basis of Gen. i.-iii. it is said (ii. 23 f.) that God created man for immortality (that is, apparently, on earth) and made him an image of his own being, but through the envy of the devil death came into the world, yet (iii. 1-4) the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and, though they seem to die, their hope is full of immortality. The description, however, appears to glide into the conception of national immortality (iii. 8, v. 16), especially in the fine sorites in vi. 17-20: the beginning of wisdom is desire for instruction, and devoted regard to instruction is love, and love is observance of her laws, and obedience to her laws is assurance of in corruption, and in corruption brings us near to God, and therefore desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom (but the nature of the kingdom is not stated). The individualistic view is expressed in xv. 3: the knowledge of God's power (that is, a righteous life) is the root of immortality. This passage appears to exclude the wicked, who, however, are said (iv. 20) to be punished hereafter. The figurative nature of the language respecting the future makes it difficult to determine precisely the thought of the book on this point; but it seems to contemplate continued existence hereafter for both righteous and wicked, and rewards and punishments allotted on the basis of moral character. Angels are not mentioned; but the serpent of Gen. iii. is, for the first time in literature, identified with the devil (“Diabolos,” ii. 24, the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Satan”; the role assigned him (envy) is similar to that expressed in “Secrets of Enoch,” xxxi. 3-6; he is here introduced to account for the fact of death in the world. In iii. 4 the writer, in his polemic against the prosperous ungodly men of his time, denies that death, short life and lack of children are to be considered misfortunes for the righteous—over against these things the possession of wisdom is declared to be the supreme good. The ethical standard of the book is high except in the bitterness displayed towards the “wicked,” that is, the enemies of the Jews. The only occurrence in old Jewish literature (except in Ecclus. xiv. 2) of a word for “conscience” is found in xvii. 11 (συνείδησις): wickedness is timorous under the condemnation of conscience (the same thought in Prov. xxviii. 1). The book is absolutely monotheistic, and the character ascribed to the deity is ethically pure with the exception mentioned above.

The style shows that the book was written in Greek, though naturally it contains Hebraisms. The author of the first part was in all probability an Alexandrian Jew; nothing further is known of him; and this is true of the author of the second part, if that be a separate production. As to the date, the decided Greek colouring (the conception of wisdom, the list of Stoic virtues, viii. 7, the idea of pre-existence, viii. 20, and the ethical conception of the future life) points to a time not earlier than the 1st century B.C., while the fact that the history is not allegorized suggests priority to Philo; probably the work was composed late in the 1st century B.C. (this date would agree with the social situation described). Its exclusion from the Jewish Canon of Scripture resulted naturally from its Alexandrian thought and from the fact that it was written in Greek. It was used, however, by New Testament writers (vii. 22 f., Jas. iii. 17, vii. 26; Heb. i. 2 f., ix. 15; 2 Cor. v. 1-4, xi. 23; Acts xvii. 30, xiii. 1-5, xiv. 22-26; Rom. i. 18-32, xvi. 7; 1 Tim. iv. 10), and is quoted freely by Patristic and later authors, generally as inspired. It was recognized as canonical by the council of Trent, but is not so regarded by Protestants.

Literature.—The Greek text is given in O. F. Fritzsche, Lib. Apocr. Vet. Test. (1871); W. J. Deane, Bk. of Wisd. (1881); H. B. Swete, Old Test. in Grk. (1st ed., 1891; 2nd ed., 1897; Eng. trans, in Deane, 1881); W. R. Churton, Uncan. and Apocr. Script. (1884); C. J. Ball, Variorum Apocr. (1892); Revised Vers, of Apocr. (1895). Introductions and Comms.: C. L. W . Grimm in Kurzgef. Exeg. Hdbch. z. d. Apocr. d. A. T. (1860); E. C. Bissell in Lange-Schaff (1860); W. J. Deane (1881); F. W. Farrar in Wace's Apocr. (1888); Ed. Reuss, French ed. (1878), Ger. ed. (1894); E. Schürer, Jew. People (Eng. trans., 1891); C. Siegfried in Kautzsch, Apocr. (1900); Tony André, Les Apocr. (1903). See also the articles in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyclopädie; Hastings, Dict. Bible; Cheyne and Black, Encycl. Bibl.  (C. H. T.*)