About forty years after the birth of Christ a Jewish sage of Alexandria wrote his Wisdom. Like the author of Ecclesiastes he wrote in the name of Solomon, the greatest sage of all, who above everything else asked Wisdom of God (I Kings 3 : 5-14) : Give me the wisdom that sits by your throne, .... You have chosen me out to be king of your people, .... You told me to build a sanctuary on your holy mountain, And an altar in the city where you dwell, .... [9:4, 7, 8]. Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, And I thought wealth of no account compared with her [7:7,8]. The writer's purpose was to protect the Jews in Egypt from the danger of falling into skepticism, materialism, and idolatry, and of yielding to the pressure of persecution to which they had evidently been exposed. In Alexandria the Jews found themselves surrounded with a triumphant idolatry; its great temple, the Serapeum, was said to be, after the Roman Capitol, the grandest structure of its time. The Museum with its library and its scholars gave to intellectual pursuits the most marked recognition they had ever received. The city was a center of the great movement to make Greek language and Greek culture universal, and the Jews themselves had gone so far as to translate their literature into Greek, for the benefit of Jews in the West who had lost their Hebrew, and to induce Greek readers to accept Judaism.

In Alexandria Jews were even writing new books in Greek Tobit, I Esdras, Susanna, II Maccabees. But they must not go too far. They must not let this great Greek current sweep them away altogether from their ancient moorings. The Epicurean attitude that colors so much of Ecclesiastes must not control them. The horizon of the soul is not limited by this present world; they must look beyond. It was particularly important to say this when the Jews of Alexandria were suffering or had recently suffered from a persecution, probably the popular attack upon the Jews of Alexandria precipitated by the visit to that city of the young Jewish prince Agrippa, upon whom the new emperor Gaius had just conferred the title of king, to the great annoyance of the Alexandrians. Not long after, in A.D. 40, Gaius demanded divine honors, and the efforts of the Alexandrians to force the Jews to comply with this demand, and worship his image, led to new excesses. The Jews at last sent an embassy to Gaius, Philo himself being a member of it and reporting its experiences with the mad emperor, in his Embassy to Gaius. It was to encourage the Jews of the city to maintain the faith of their fathers in the face of the first of these attacks that the first part of Wisdom was written, probably early in the reign of Gains, or soon after. It had a message of comfort and cheer for the faithful; death itself must not daunt them.

The ungodly men say of the upright man, "Let us test him with insults and torture, So that we may learn his patience, And prove his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, For he will be watched over, from what he says [2:19,20]!" But The souls of the upright are in the hand of God, And no torment can reach them [3:1]. An upright man, if he dies before his time, will be at rest, For an honored old age does not depend on length of time, And is not measured by the number of one's years, .... Being perfected in a little while he has fulfilled long years, For his soul pleased the Lord; Therefore he hurried from the midst of wickedness [4:7-14]. With this the writer combines solemn warnings to apostate Jews against the Epicurean tendencies for which some passages in Ecclesiastes gave so much color. In fact, Wisdom seems sometimes to be definitely correcting passages in Ecclesiastes, and  putting its teaching into the mouths of those whom Wisdom calls the wicked (2:4; cf. Eccles. 1:11). Certainly Ecclesiastes, no doubt in its Greek translation, is often before the mind of the writer of Wisdom, who does not hesitate to answer it and correct its darker reflections. To comfort and encouragement in persecution and to denunciation of apostasy must be added the note of warning against idolatry which pervades so much of the book. The emphasis laid upon this matter and the particular mention of the deification of kings, makes it very likely that the efforts of the Alexandrians to force the Jews to worship the image of Gaius are fresh in the writer's mind in the second part of the book: By the orders of monarchs carved images were worshipped. And when men could not honor them in their presence, because they lived far away, They imagined how they looked, far away, And made a visible image of the king they honored. He goes on to tell how the people Now regarded as an object of worship the one whom they had recently honored as a man [14:16-20].

The book is plainly the work of two hands, one leaving off at 11:4 and the other, who is far behind the first in simplicity and spontaneity, continuing from 11:5 to the end.

The second writer develops  to the utmost the idea that God used the very things that benefited his people to punish their enemies. But he carries this out so elaborately and so revels and delights in its intricacies that the reader's interest and patience are exhausted. Indeed it has been well said that the writer's ideas and vocabulary have both given out long before the end. His vocabulary is particularly artificial; he likes to use the rarest words he can find, and feebly strains to achieve fine writing. The two parts of the book exhibit a strong contrast in literary quality, and all the favorable things that have been said of the Greek of the book rest upon the early part of it.

It would seem that the author of Wisdom i : i 11:4 wrote after the persecution of A.D. 38, when Flaccus the Roman governor allowed the rights of the Jews as residents, and in some cases at least as citizens, of Alexandria, to be disregarded.

The second part (11:5 19:22), which reflects Gaius' subsequent demand for worship in A.D. 40, was probably written not long after that date. It naturally has a great deal to say about idolatry. After a few words in praise of justice and wisdom, the writer contrasts the ungodly persecutors of the upright with the men they persecuted, showing the shallowness of the materialistic and Epicurean way of life : "Let us enjoy the good things that exist, .... Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes, .... Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither; .... Let us oppress the upright poor; .... Let us lie in wait for the upright, for he inconveniences us And opposes our doings, And reproaches us with our transgressions of the Law, Let us condemn him to a shameful death [2 : 6-12, 20] !" But God created man for immortality, And made him the image of his own eternity [2 : 23]. The souls of the upright are in the hand of God, And no torment can reach them They are at peace. For though in the sight of men they are punished, Their hope is full of immortality [3:1,3,4]. Their persecutors will some day realize their mistake: "This is the man we fools once laughed at And made a byword of reproach. We thought his life was madness, And his end dishonored. How did he come to be reckoned among the sons of God, And -why is his lot among the saints [5:4, 5]?" In a splendid passage, reflected half a century later in Ephesians, the writer describes God as the champion and avenger of his people (5:15-23). He renews his contention that Wisdom is necessary to monarchs (chap, 6), Then speaking in the character of Solomon, the greatest of the Sages (chaps. 7-9), he professes his passionate devotion to Wisdom. It has been pointed out that while in chapters 1-6 Wisdom is sometimes personified, in chapters 7-10 it becomes almost a substitute for God himself, while in the rest of the book (chaps. 11-19) it is no more than practical godliness. The doctrine of Wisdom reaches its peak in chapter 7 : She is the breath of the power of God, And a pure emanation of his almighty glory; . . . For she is a reflection of the everlasting light, And a spotless mirror of the activity of God, And a likeness of his goodness [7:25, 26].

Solomon's prayer (chap. 9) shows what a great king should think of Wisdom. The writer traces the guiding hand of Wisdom in the history of the patriarchs and the chosen people (chap. 10) until Moses in the wilderness struck the rock and gave them water (11:4). Here the second hand takes the pen. He labors the point that in the punishment of the Egyptians the things that blessed the Hebrews were used to torment their persecutors. The Hebrews found the water from the rock refreshing and life giving; the Egyptians found the water of the Nile turned to blood! A long polemic against idolatry is interwoven with this. This strong and even painful contrast between the two parts of the book cannot be explained away by the theory of an editor gathering his materials from here and there. For while one can imagine a man so insensible to literary and religious values as to write the latter part of the book, to imagine another man so equally insensible as to incorporate these unskilled meanderings into a book like Wisdom, doubles the difficulty of the problem. When he must be supposed to have added such stuff to such a book as Wisdom 1:1 11:4 would have been, he is at once revealed as incapable of having written or even edited Wisdom i : 111:4. The natural explanation of Wisdom is that some one vaguely aware of the values people seemed to find in the original Wisdom, and wishing to secure circulation for his peculiar theological hobby, attached it to the earlier work, writing it up as nearly in the style of that book as he knew how. Without his excruciating addition, Wisdom would stand out as a little gem of Alexandrian Jewish literature. Not only the Greek version of Ecclesiastes but also that of Proverbs was well known to the writer of Wisdom, probably also to its continuator. The author was also familiar with Xenophon's Memorabilia, and had some slight knowledge of Platonic philosophy, though far less than his Alexandrian contemporary, Philo.

There is good reason to think that Paul knew the Book of Wisdom; he quotes it in Col. 1:15 and seems to show acquaintance with it in Romans. The author of Ephesians evidently knew it (Eph. 6:1317), and the writer to the Hebrews quotes it in his opening lines, applying its words to Christ as the embodiment of the divine Wisdom: "Through whom he had made the world, He is the reflection of God's glory, and the representation of his being, and bears up the universe by his mighty word [Heb. 1:2,3]-" The apparent identification of the divine Wisdom and the divine Word in Wisdom (9:1, 2) probably influenced the Fourth Evangelist to take the momentous step of identifying Jesus not only with the divine Wisdom as Paul and Hebrews had done, but with the divine Word (John 1:1). So significant was the influence of the Apocrypha in the development of Christian thought. Thus from the beginning the Book of Wisdom influenced Christian thought, partly because its account of Wisdom invited comparison with Christ and partly for its emphasis upon immortality.

COMMENT: When a book going around in New Testament times does not affirm Jesus but uses the mythology surrounding Jesus we wonder what role fantasy and legend played in forming the Jesus story.


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