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Solomon, Wisdom of


SOLOMON, WISDOM OF (Gr. Σοφία Σαλωμῶνος (or Σ. Σαλωμῶντος) or, ή Σοφία; ή πανάρετος Σοφία, "the wisdom of all the good precepts" – a title sometimes given also to Proverbs and Ben Sira), an apocryphal work. The ascription of the book to Solomon is mentioned explicitly in chapters 7–9 (particularly in 9:7), but such early writers as Jerome (Praefatio in libros Solomonis), and Augustine (De Civitate Dei, 17:20), already were skeptical about this ascription, and attributed the work to Philo despite the fact that its viewpoint differs from his.

The book can be divided into three parts. Chapters 1–5 deal with eschatology, 6–11 deal with wisdom, and 11–19 are a Midrash on the Exodus from Egypt with a Hellenistic presentation. The first part discusses the fate of the righteous and the wicked. The wicked man regards all acts as accidents, and is thus not deterred from doing whatever he wishes; he is unaware that in the end man's life will be judged by his good deeds. Although the wicked man appears to prosper, eternal life and happiness is reserved for the righteous. Thus the righteous man, though he appears not to prosper, is the truly wise man. By its very nature wisdom is unlikely to enter the soul of the wicked (1:4).

The second part describes wisdom as a metaphysical reality, as "a breath of the power of God" (7:25). It exists forever and through its power all knowledge and every virtue is created. It determines the history of Israel. Without expressly mentioning their names, the author exemplifies wisdom's role in the life of biblical "heroes" (Cain, Noah, the men of Sodom, Jacob, and Joseph) and in important events (the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea).

In the third part the author deals at length with the plagues in Egypt and the redemption. The miracle is regarded not as a change in nature but as a change in the principles that constitute nature, and whether as reward or as punishment always takes the form of measure for measure (e.g., the waters of the Nile were changed to blood because the Egyptians first sinned with water when they cast the Hebrew children into the Nile; on the other hand, the Israelites were rewarded by receiving water from the rock). Punishment itself comes after all possibilities have been exhausted, since it is God's nature to wait for the repentance of the wicked. While discussing Pharaoh's rebelliousness the author incidentally discusses the origin of idolatry in general. It lies in man's bad habit of not seeking for the first cause, and in the fashioning of images which were indeed first created for a specific occasion (e.g., a father mourning for his only son erected an image of him), but then spread through the desire to flatter tyrants and their ambition to exalt themselves. Through idolatry man also found a way of realizing his desires by assigning a different god to each of his vices.

The purpose of the book is to strengthen the Jewish believer against the seduction of idolatry. The problem of the sufferings of the righteous, already discussed in the Bible, is dealt with here against the background of Hellenistic thought. The punishment of the righteous serves the purpose of "testing" or "educating," but his reward is granted in the world to come. God is the God of the living and He intended man to be immortal. However, Satan's jealousy brought death into the world (2:23f.) but only the men of vanity experience it (2:24). The punishment of the righteous is fleeting but his hope everlasting (4:3), while "the memory of the wicked shall perish on the day of reckoning" of their iniquities, i.e., on the eschatological Day of Judgment. Like Proverbs and Ben Sira this work compares wisdom to a creative principal through which God acts in the world (18:15). Idolatry, which is the opposite of wisdom, is regarded as fetishism. The author scorns in particular the worship of "contemptible" beasts (cats, snakes, monkeys), a cult common in Egypt.

Many influences have entered into the book. Besides that of the Bible, the book's view is similar to the view of the sages that evil does not come from the Lord (1:13 – Sifra Be-Ḥukkotai, ch. 4:1); that the soul preexisted (8:20 – Ḥag. 12b): that there is a heavenly temple (9:18 – Gen. R. 1:4); that everything is judged measure for measure (Sot. 1:7); and that the soul is a trust (Yalk Pr. 935). Like the rabbinic aggadot it mentions the singing of Hallel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt (Pes. 117a). Other views, however, are Platonic and Stoic, e.g., the idea that the world was created from primeval matter (9:9); that the body serves as a hindrance to the influence of God in man (9:15); that there are four virtues (8:7); and that spirit is preexistent. As in Platonism, the wise are the beloved of God, and as in Stoicism the spirit is compared with fire (2:2). The author mentions several other views (that right is might; that man dies but once) only in order to refute them.

As far as the language is concerned, a conscious effort is made to imitate biblical style, including parallelism, but construction of the sentences is Greek and is polished. There is a tendency toward alliteration, paranomasia, and complex words rare even in Greek. Opinions differ as to the composition of the book. Some are of the opinion that the first part was written in Hebrew, others consider the whole book to have been written in Hebrew, while yet others divide it among various authors all of whom wrote in Greek. However, the composition of the Greek words, the use of assonance, the rhythmic construction and the imagery (crowning the head with flowers, the victory processions of athletes, etc.) in all parts of the work alike support the view that it was written in Greek by one person, apparently in Alexandria. The date of composition is uncertain. Since the author opposes the deification of kings, some ascribe it to the era of Caligula. However, the Ptolemaic kings also compared themselves to gods. A 16th-century manuscript was found (now in Hechal Shlomo in Jerusalem) which is a translation of the whole apocryphon, seemingly from the Latin, into a corrupt Hebrew.


C.L.W. Grimm, Das Buch der Weisheit erklaert, in: Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen des Alten Testamentes (1860); W.J. Deane, The Book of Wisdom (1881); Charles, Apocrypha, 1 (1913), 518–60; A.T.S. Goodrick, The Book of Wisdom (1913); A. Kahana, Ha-Sefarim ha-Ḥiẓoniyyim, 1 (1937), 463ff.; J. Reider, The Book of Wisdom (1957); E.S. Artom, Ha-Sefarim ha-Ḥiẓoniyyim, 2 (1962), 171ff.; Graetz, Gesch, 3 (19065), 382–5; 613–5; D.S. Margoliouth, in: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 22 (1890), 263–97; J. Freudenthal, in: jqr, 3 (1890/91), 722–53; db, 5 (1912), 1351–60; F. Focke, Die Entstehung der Weisheit Salomos (1913); H.B. Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (1914), 267–9; I. Heinemann, Die griechische Quelle der Weisheit Salomos, in: Jahresbericht des juedisch-theologischen Seminars Frankelscher Stiftung fuer das Jahr 1920 (1921), vii–xxv; E.A. Speiser, in: jqr, 14 (1923/24), 455–82.

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

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