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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Wisdom Personified

The foundation of this view is to be found in the book of Proverbs, where (8) wisdom (Chokmach) is represented as present with God before (Proverbs 8:22) and during the creation of the world. So far it appears only as a principle regulating the action of the Creator, though even in this way it establishes a close connection between the world, as the outward expression of wisdom, and God. Moreover, by the personification of wisdom, and the relation of wisdom to men (Proverbs 8:31), a preparation is made for the extension of the doctrine. This appears, after a long interval, in Ecclesiasticus. In the great description of wisdom given in that book (24), wisdom is represented as a creation of God (Sirach 24:9), penetrating the whole universe (4-6), and taking up her special abode with the chosen people (8-12). Her personal existence and providential function are thus distinctly brought out. In the book of Wisdom the conception gains yet further completeness. In this, wisdom is identified with the Spirit of God (Wisdom of Solomon 9:17) an identification half implied in Sirach 24:3 which brooded over the elements of the unformed world (Wisdom of Solomon 9:9), and inspired the prophets (Wisdom of Solomon 7:7; Wisdom of Solomon 7:27). She is the power which unites (Wisdom of Solomon 1:7) and directs. all things (Wisdom of Solomon 8:1). By her, in especial, men have fellowship with God (12:1); and her action is not confined to any period, for "in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God and prophets (Wisdom of Solomon 7:27). So also her working, in the providential history of God's people, is traced at length (10); and her power is declared to reach beyond the world of man into that of spirits (Wisdom of Solomon 7:23). (See ECCLESIASTICUS).

The conception of wisdom, however boldly personified, yet leaves a wide chasm between the world and the Creator. Wisdom answers to the idea of a spirit vivifying and uniting all things in all time, as distinguished from any special outward revelation of the divine person. Thus at the same time that the doctrine of wisdom was gradually constructed, the correlative doctrine of the divine utterance was also reduced to a definite shape. The word (Memra), the divine expression, as it was understood in Palestine furnished the exact comiplement to wisdom, the divine thought; but the ambiguity of the Greek Logos (sermo, ratio) introduced considerable confusion into the later treatment of the two ideas. Broadly, however, it may be said that the Word properly represented the mediative element in the action of God, Wisdom the mediative element of his omnipresence. Thus, according to the later disitinction of Philo, wisdom corresponds to the immanent word (Λόγος ἐνδιάθετος ), while the word, strictly speaking, was defined as enunciative (Λόγος προφορικός ). Both ideas are included in the language of the prophets, and both found a natural development in Palestine and Egypt. The one prepared men for the revelation of the Son of God, the other for the revelation of the Holy Spirit. (See LOGOS).

The book of the Pseudo-Solomon, which gives the most complete view of divine wisdom, contains only two passages in which the word is invested with the attributes of personal action (Wisd. of Sol. 16:12; 18:15; 9:1 is of different character). These, however, are sufficient to indicate that the two powers were distinguished by the writer; and it has been commonly argued that the superior prominence given in the book to the conception of wisdom is an indication of a date anterior to Philo. Nor is this conclusion unreasonable, if it is probably established on independent grounds that the book is of Alexandrian origin. But it is no less important to observe that the doctrine of wisdom in itself is no proof of this. There is nothing in the direct teaching on this subject which might not have arisen in Palestine, and it is necessary that we should recur to the more special traits of Alexandrian thought in the book which have been noticed before (§ 6) for the primary evidence of its Alexandrian origin; and starting from this there appears to be, so far as can be judged from the imperfect materials at our command, a greater affinity in the form of the doctrine on wisdom to the teaching of Alexandria than to that of Palestine (comp. Ewald Geschichte, 4:548 fol.; Welte, Einleitung, page 161 sq., has some good criticisms on many supposed traces of Alexandrian doctrine in the book, but errs in denying all). (See WISDOM OF SOLOMON).

The doctrine of the divine wisdom passes by a transition, often imperceptible, to that of human wisdom, which is derived from it. This embraces not only the whole range of moral and spiritual virtues, but also the various branches of physical knowledge. In this aspect the enumeration of the great forms of natural science in Wisdom of Solomon, 7:17-20 (8, 8) offers a most instructive subject of comparison with the corresponding passages in 1 Kings 4:32-34. In addition to the subjects on which Solomon wrote (Songs, Proverbs: plants, beasts, fowls, creeping things, fishes), cosmology, meteorology, astronomy, psychology, and even the elements of the philosophy of history (Wisdom of Solomon 8:8), are included among the gifts of wisdom. So far, then, the thoughtful Jew had already at the Christian sera penetrated into the domain of speculation and inquiry, into each province, it would seem, which was then recognised, without abandoning the simple faith of his nation. The fact itself is most significant; and the whole book may be quoted as furnishing an important corrective to the later Roman descriptions of the Jews, which were drawn from the people when they had been almost uncivilized by the excitement of the last desperate struggle for national existence. See Bruch, Die Weisheitslehre der Hebraer (1851). (See PHILOSOPHY).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Wisdom Personified'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/w/wisdom-personified.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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