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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Wisdom of Solomon, Book of the
Apocryphal book written in Alexandria about the middle of the first century B.C. That it was composed in Greek by an Alexandrian Jew has been conclusively shown by Freudenthal ("J. Q. R." 3:722-753). The book has neither an introductory verse nor a regular conclusion. In fact, it consists of three independent parts which have no real connection, and which treat of subjects altogether different, a fact clearly recognized by Bretschneider, Eichhorn, and others, but disputed by Grimm ("Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apocryphen des Alten Testaments," 6:9-24, Leipsic, 1860) and his followers.
Contents of the Book.
The first six chapters of Wisdom form an address to the rulers of the earth (1:1; comp. 3:8; 6:1-2,9,21). They accentuate the necessity of wisdom as indispensable to rulers (1:6, 6:9-25), although they are chiefly directed against the Epicureans, the ungodly who deny immortality, indulge in lust and incest, and mock the righteous and the learned, who in their turn upbraid them for their lawlessness and licentiousness (2:1-16). In contrast with them the "saints" (Ḥasidim) whom they expose to torture (2:19, 3:1) and to a martyr's death (3:2) are called "sons of God," initiated into His mystery, promised an inheritance in eternal life (1:14; 2:13,21,23; 3:4,15; 4:1; 5:15) like Enoch (4:10-16), and assured of a crown of glory in the world to come (5:16). Finally, wisdom is introduced in 6:9-25 as the speaker, and as the one who bestows the divine kingdom and confers immortality (6:20-21); whereas sin brings death, since "through envy of the devil came death into the world" (2:24). The second part (ch. -9:17) contains an address of King Solomon, relating how his life was guided solely by wisdom, and closing with a prayer offered by him to God that he might obtain her. Here wisdom is represented as a mystic power which imparts not only knowledge of all mysteries and the spirit of prophecy (7:17-21,27), but even immortality (8:13), while it is also a cosmic force invested with twenty-one divine attributes, this number being either a triple multiple of seven, or, if originally twenty-two instead of twenty-one, corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Greek alphabet (22-23). At the same time, wisdom, as in the Platonic system, is believed to teach the four cardinal virtues of temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude (8:7). The prayer of Solomon refers to the heavenly tabernacle prepared from the beginning, and to his own predestination (9:7-8; see PREEXISTENCE). Wisdom is described as a cosmic principle dwelling on the throne of glory next to God, and as knowing and designing all things (9:1,4,10), being identical with the creative Word (9:1) and the Holy Spirit (9:17).
Hellenistic Passover Haggadah.
While these two portions of the book form a unity to some extent, and probably gave the entire work its title of "Wisdom of Solomon," the last section (9:18-19:22) is devoid of all connection with what precedes. The speaker is no longer Solomon, but the author or the saints (16:28, 18:6 et passim), who recite the history of Israel's redemption from Egypt and other enemies. In like manner, the words are not addressed to the kings of the earth (9:18; 10:20; 11:4,9,17,21; et passim), but to God, the deliverer from the Red Sea. The whole appears on close observation to be part of a Passover Haggadah recited in Egypt with reference to Gentile surroundings, and it accordingly abounds in genuine haggadic passages of an ancient character. The tenth chapter serves as a connecting-link between the Solomonic Wisdom-book and this Passover-Haggadah fragment, and must, therefore, be taken with the last verse of the ninth chapter and the first of the eleventh, in both of which wisdom forms the theme. Here, however, it has nothing in common with the Solomonic wisdom, which, enabling the king to penetrate into all the mysteries of heaven and earth, to study the world of the spirits, and to learn the virtues of stones and roots, thus came very close to the Platonic wisdom (7:17-26). The wisdom of the haggadist is exclusive and hostile to the Gentile world, rather than cosmopolitan and broad, saving only the righteous and bringing ruin upon the wicked (9:18, 10:1-21). From this point of view the lives of the Patriarchs are recounted to lead up to the story of the Exodus. Wisdom taught Adam to rise from his fall by repentance (comp. "Vita Adæ et Evæ,"; Pirḳe R. El. ); but it caused Cain and his generation to perish (10:1-3). It saved Noah, Abraham, and Lot, but brought lasting doom upon the offenders (10:4-9). It showed Jacob the kingdom of God in the vision of the ladder (comp. Gen. R. 68:16; Targ. Yer. to Genesis 28:12) and gave him victory over all his pursuers (10:10-12). It preserved Joseph the righteous from sin, went with him into the pit and the prison, and raised him to the throne and to glory, but covered his detractors with shame (10:13-15). It delivered Israel from its heathen oppressors, entered into the soul of Moses, enabling him to work all his miracles before Pharaoh, and, in the shape of a protecting pillar of cloud by day and of an illuminating fire by night, guided the people through the wilderness and through the Red Sea, while it drowned the Egyptians and cast them up again from the deep to enrich the Israelites with the spoils that floated upon the water (10:15-20; comp. Mek., Beshallaḥ, 6; Targ. Yer. to Exodus 13:21; 15:12,20; Josephus, "Ant." 2:16, § 6). It also opened the mouths of the dumb so that they joined in the song of the people in praise of God at the Red Sea (10:21; comp. Mek. to Shirah [Song of Moses], 1), and it prospered the work of Moses in the wilderness (11:1-4).
Wonders of the Exodus.
This section is followed (11:5-19:21) by a haggadic discourse in the form of a prayer of thanks-giving on the Egyptian plagues and other miracles connected with the Exodus, obviously to be recited on the eve of the Passover (18:6-9; comp. Josephus, "Ant." 2:16, § 4; Book of Jubilees, 49:2-6). The fundamental principle of the ancient Haggadah is that God metes out the perfect justice expressed by the Rabbis in the phrase "middah keneged middah" (= "measure for measure"), so that the book declares: "Wherewithal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished" (11:16). This was applied to the Egyptians with reference to Exodus 18:11 (see Targum ad loc.; Soṭah 11d). Here, however, the haggadist goes so far as to maintain that the very thing which proved an instrument of vengeance to the Egyptians became a means of safety for Israel (11:5). The water in which the Israelitish children were to be drowned was turned to blood for the parched Egyptians, while it flowed forth from the rock to quench the thirst of the children of Israel in the desert (11:4-7). In like manner, the animals worshiped by the Egyptians became the source of terror and harm to them (11:15-19, 12:24-27); "for these [the Israelites] thou didst admonish and try, as a father: but the other [the Egyptian people], as a severe king, thou didst condemn and punish" (11:10), even though God loves all His creatures, and waits for the repentance of the sinner because He is the lover of souls (11:24-12:2). The real cause of the doom of such Gentile nations as the Canaanites was their commission of the capital sins of idolatry and murder (12:4-7; comp. Sibyllines, 1:150,178; 3:36-40,585-605,761-764; et passim). Yet even they were given time for repentance; wherefore God sent the wasps before Israel to destroy the Canaanites gradually, instead of killing them all at once (12:8-11; comp. Exodus 23:28; Soṭah 36a); for God blends mercy with justice, to teach "that the just man should be merciful" (12:19; comp. 1:6), and unrepentant Egypt was thus severely punished until she acknowledged the God she had denied (12:27).
The Folly of Idolatry.
Egyptian (and Greek) idolatry is declared (13:1-10) to be far less excusable than Babylonian star-worship, and it is therefore derided (13:11-19) in terms borrowed from Isaiah 44:13-20. Idolatry was first introduced by the giants who were descended from the fallen angels. Its purposes were corruption and fornication (14:1-13); it owed its hold on mankind to the honor paid the images of dead sons (14:14-21; comp. Book of Jubilees, 11:4; Bezold, "Die Schatzhöhle," p. 31), and it led to murder, adultery, theft, and perjury (14:22-31). Knowledge of God alone guides to righteousness and immortality, while the enemies (the Romans and the Greeks of Alexandria, as well as the Egyptians)who hold Israel in subjection are termed foolish image-worshipers (15:1-15; comp. Psalms 115, recited on the eve of the Passover). The Egyptian animal-worship again suggests to the haggadist the idea that while the beasts became a torment to Egypt, the quail became nourishing food for the people of God (16:1-4); and though the serpents bit the Israelites in the wilderness, they were in the end a sign of salvation for them, admonishing them to look to God as the savior whose word heals all (16:5-12; comp. R. H. 3:8c). The fire which fell with both the hail and the rain (Exodus 9:24; Tan., Wayera, ed. Buber, p. 22), as well as in the sea (Exodus 14:24; Targ. Yer. ad loc.; Josephus, "Ant." 2:16, § 3), like the fire which would not destroy the frogs in the oven (19:21; Pes. 53b), manifested the wondrous power of God (16:16-19). On the other hand, the manna, which fell like hoar frost and was flavored to suit every wish and taste, did not melt in the heat of the wilderness, but disappeared under the first rays of the sun that the people might offer their praise early in the morning (comp. Yoma 75a; Targ. Yer. to Exodus 16:21; Mek., Wayassa', 4 [ed. Weiss, p. 58a]; for the Essene prayer at sunrise see Josephus, "B. J." 2:8, § 5; Ber. 9b; and comp. Essenes).
Plagues upon Egypt.
The Egyptian plague of darkness, in striking contrast to the light in the houses of the children of Israel (Exodus 10:21-23), is declared to have been a punishment for their imprisonment of the Israelites, the future bearers of the light of the Law, and for their pride in their intellectuality, besides being a token of their future doom (17:1-18:4). The last plague, the death of the first-born, was the punishment for the intended murder of the Israelitish children (18:5). This same night of watching proved to be the doom of the Egyptians and the election of Israel, so that on the one side resounded cries of lamentation, and on the other were heard songs of thanksgiving (18:7-17). The almighty "Word" carried the sword of death throughout Egypt, and by this same power Aaron, with his robe, his breastplate, and his diadem decked with divine mysteries, subdued the angel of death (18:20-25). Finally, the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea is described as a renewal of the miracle of Creation (19:1-6), since out of the sea rose a green field (comp. Targ. Yer. to Exodus 15:19). The Egyptians had been more brutal in their treatment of the strangers than had the inhospitable Sodomites, thus accounting for the severity of their punishment (19:13-22). Here the Haggadah breaks off abruptly.
Authorship and Date.
It is evident that these three parts, or at least the first two (-, -), can not have emanated from the same author, for neither the style nor the views can be ascribed to one and the same person. This leads to the supposition that the original Wisdom of Solomon and the Passover-Haggadah fragment were probably joined together and then treated as one book. Grätz ("Gesch." 4th ed., 3:382-385,611-613) finds in the work allusions to the apotheosis of Caligula (38-40 C.E.), but the deification of the Ptolemies goes back to Egyptian custom. Ch. and refer to Jewish converts, not to Greeks in Alexandria. The character of the book as regards the creative Wisdom, Word, and Spirit indicates a stage prior to the Philonic system, and the Biblical story shows a haggadic form still fresh and not yet compressed into a rigid system, as in Philo (see Siegfried, "Philo von Alexandria," pp. 22-24, Jena, 1875). The apostle Paul (see Grafe, "Das Verhältniss der Paulinischen Schriften zur Sapientia Salomonis," Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1892; comp. also Saul of Tarsus), the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1:3, 4:12; comp. Wisdom 7:22,26), and others have drawn from the Book of Wisdom. This places the date of the book, or at least that of the first part, with certainty in the first century B.C.
A Hebrew translation of the Wisdom of Solomon is mentioned by Naḥmanides in the preface to his commentary on the Pentateuch. A Hebrew version with a commentary was published by Hartwig Wessely (Berlin, 1780), and a German translation with notes, valuable for the references to rabbinical literature, was made by M. Gutmann (Altona, 1841).
- For the extensive literature see Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., 3:377-383.
- The chief editions, besides that contained in Fritzsche's Apocryphi Grœci, are: Reusch, Liber Sapientiœ Grœce, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1858;
- Deane, Book of Wisdom, Oxford, 1881.
- On the question of the original language see Margoliouth, Was the Book of Wisdom Written in Hebrew? in J. R. A. S. 1890, pp. 263 et seq.;
- answered by Freudenthal, What Is the Original Language of the Wisdom of Solomon? in J. Q. R. 3:722-753.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Wisdom of Solomon, Book of the'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/w/wisdom-of-solomon-book-of-the.html. 1901.