The Wisdom of Solomon is almost an “in-between” book connecting Judaism and Christianity, written shortly before Jesus appeared.
Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I present another Christian book review for The Christian Book Corner.
Today’s book is The Wisdom of Solomon. Specifically, the Cambridge Library Collection version with commentary by J.A.F. Gregg. The Wisdom of Solomon is a fascinating book in the Apocrypha. We can read it anytime, but if we want to study it, today’s book is a great choice for that. So let’s take a look at this commentated study version of The Wisdom of Solomon.
What’s in the Book
Well let’s start with the very obvious. If you want to read The Wisdom of Solomon itself, you can read it for free, right now. You can read the full text on The Bible app, for example, in many different Bible translations. It’s considered a canonical part of the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Most Protestants consider it part of the Apocrypha.
So different denominations view it differently. But the important thing to know is you can read The Wisdom of Solomon for free, right now, in many different places. Here’s a link to read it on Bible.com (CEB, but you can pick another version you like). Go check it out.
So what am I going to review then? A book of the Bible?
No, of course not. I would never “review” a book of the Bible. I’m reviewing this study edition of The Wisdom of Solomon. This Cambridge Library Collection version that has the commentary by J.A.F. Gregg and the 60-page introduction with info on The Wisdom of Solomon.
There’s a great deal of commentary on every page. Gregg has provided commentary for almost every verse in The Wisdom of Solomon, sometimes analyzing the text down to the level of individual words. The commentary provides great info on the text, covering topics like the meaning of metaphors, connections with these verses and other theology (and Greek philosophy), and the meaning of certain words in the text’s original Greek.
With this extensive commentary, you’re going to know more than most about The Wisdom of Solomon when you’re done.
The introduction, which is more like a mini educational book, is a great read itself. In 60 pages Gregg describes what we know and don’t know about Wisdom. He covers topics such as the most likely identity of the author and where this book was written. Researchers agree that King Solomon could not have been the actual author of Wisdom. Gregg suggests that the author was most likely a Jew living in Alexandria, Egypt, in the first century BC. Gregg says it was most likely written between 125 to 100 BC, which would mean this book was written very shortly before Christ was born. Keep that detail in mind, because I’ll come back to it in a moment.
The purpose of why Wisdom was written is also interesting. Jewish theology up to this point had no concept of Heaven and hell. All souls went to the same afterlife. Under this concept, there was no reason for the Jews to act Righteously or even honor God. They felt free to do what they wanted, and many turned to hedonism, a life of pleasure-seeking. Many became apostates, abandoning their faith altogether. Since there was no hell to worry about, what was stopping them from doing so?
So the author of Wisdom, who was living in a time when so many Jews were falling astray into hedonism or apostasy, set out to fight this. The Wisdom of Solomon stretches Jewish Orthodoxy to declare an eternal reward for the Righteous and an eternal punishment for sinners. This idea wasn’t found in Jewish theology so far, but the author needed it to push back against the hedonism and apostasy of the Jewish community in his day (and specifically in Alexandria, Egypt).
The author also wanted to reignite Jewish national pride due to all the people leaving the faith. So The Wisdom of Solomon uses Old Testament scenes to show how the LORD has always helped the Jewish people. The author isn’t 100% honest though, because his version of Old Testament history is biased toward his people. For example, he writes about the miracle of the bronze snake in the desert (Numbers 21), but omits the fact that the snake was necessary because of the people’s sin. He often overlooks the sins of Israel in his recounting of history. And the sins of the people were the whole reason for God’s punishments.
The author of Wisdom also had a special hatred for idolatry, and devoted part of his book to attacking it. The author writes that idolatry is the worst sin, and the start of the corruption and collapse of any society.
The Wisdom of Solomon also introduces the idea of a mediating Spirit between God and man. This is a personified Wisdom, like what we read about in the opening chapters of Proverbs.
(20) Wisdom shouts in the street;Proverbs 1:20-21 (CEB)
in the public square she raises her voice.
(21) Above the noisy crowd, she calls out.
At the entrances of the city gates, she has her say:
In The Wisdom of Solomon, this personified Wisdom is God’s agent. Wisdom carries out God’s Will, and performs all His works on earth. Wisdom has no will of its own, really. It’s an extension of God’s Will and the way God chooses to enact His Will on earth. But Wisdom can and will dwell in people; those who ask for it. But the Spirit of Wisdom will only dwell in the Righteous. Sinful thoughts separate us from God, and Wisdom won’t dwell in the body of someone devoted to sin.
(4) Wisdom will avoid a deceptive soul that plans evil. Wisdom won’t make her home in a body that is devoted to sin. (5) A holy, instructive spirit will flee deceit and leave when ignorant people start to plot. It is ashamed to be found in the presence of wrongdoing. (6) Wisdom is a spirit that wants only what is best for humans.Wisdom of Solomon 1:4-6 (CEB)
If you’re thinking this sounds like the Holy Spirit, I agree. The personified Wisdom as God’s agent found in this book is much like the Holy Spirit, though not exactly. The Wisdom of Solomon has the most detailed pre-Christian concept of a mediating agent between the LORD and man. When we combine that with Wisdom‘s concept of an eternal reward for the Righteous, we get the most Christian-sounding text of the entire Old Testament. This is the Jewish text that’s closest to Christianity. So on that note ….
I said I’d come back to the point that Wisdom was written very shortly before Christ was born. One of the most interesting things I learned from Gregg’s study on Wisdom was the connections between Wisdom and the New Testament. It’s undoubted that New Testament writers were influenced by The Wisdom of Solomon. Even if they don’t quote it directly, they were familiar with its ideas. I hadn’t known that.
There are a few near-direct quotes from Wisdom in the New Testament. First is the metaphor about the clay speaking to the potter (man speaking to God) in Romans 9:20-23. Now it’s true that the image of the clay speaking to the potter first shows up in Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9.
But in Romans 9:21, there’s a line about the potter having the power to mold the clay to different purposes. He can make one pot for good purposes and another pot for garbage, using the same clay. This specific line appears first in The Wisdom of Solomon, and doesn’t seem to be found anywhere else.
(20) You are only a human being. Who do you think you are to talk back to God? “Does the clay say to the potter,” “Why did you make me like this?”Romans 9:20-23 (CEB)
(21) Doesn’t the potter have the power over the clay to make one pot for special purposes and another for garbage from the same lump of clay? (22) What if God very patiently puts up with pots made for wrath that were designed for destruction, because he wanted to show his wrath and to make his power known? (23) What if he did this to make the wealth of his glory known toward pots made for mercy, which he prepared in advance for glory?
Paul is vehemently against idolatry, same as Wisdom. But in the same way as Wisdom, Paul appears to give nature worshipers a bit of a break (in Galatians 4:8-10). It’s not a big break, but he does give nature worshipers a little excuse, explaining that they “didn’t know God.” This same leeway is found in The Wisdom of Solomon. The difference is that Wisdom goes on to further criticize nature worshipers. Wisdom says they should have known God through His amazing creation, nature.
As someone who studies Spiritual warfare, it was interesting to learn that there’s a direct connection between Ephesians 6:13-17 (the Armor of Faith) and Wisdom 5:17-19. The connection is the mention of the panoply (a Greek word that means a complete set of armor), the sword, and the shield. Let’s take a look at Wisdom 5:17-20 (CEB version, lacks the word “panoply”).
(17) For his weapon, the Lord will take his zeal. He will arm creation itself for the fight against his foes. (18) He will put on justice as his body armor. He will strap on honest judgment as his helmet. (19) He will take up holiness as a shield that can never be beaten down. (20) He will sharpen his fierce anger into a sword.Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20 (CEB)
Looks like this is where Paul got the idea for the imagery of the Armor of Faith. It’s interesting in any case, even if we can’t know for sure.
It Is what it Is
I was faced with a dilemma when it came time to write the criticism section. Nothing is perfect, but what is there to criticize here? In other words, what is “criticizeable” here?
I can’t criticize The Wisdom of Solomon, because it’s a book of the Apocrypha. It is what it is. That would be like criticizing the writing of Genesis or Exodus. What would be the point of that? It’s written how it was written, it is what it is.
As for the scholarly content provided by J.A.F. Gregg, I can’t criticize that either. His commentary is an academic matter, so I’m not going to criticize it because I haven’t studied the text like he has. If I were more of a Bible scholar, maybe I would see something in his commentary I disagreed with. Gregg disagrees sometimes with other scholars in his introduction, so clearly not all scholars agree with Gregg.
But this is a topic I can’t tell you about, because I don’t have the background knowledge.
So this is the first book review in The Christian Book Corner that doesn’t have any criticism. I hope it’s the last, because it doesn’t feel good to omit the criticism. Let’s just all agree that nothing in this fallen world is perfect, understand this also applies to Gregg’s study and commentary, and leave it at that.
The only thing I can say that’s even close to a negative about the book is that readers should be aware that this version is a study book. This Cambridge Library Collection version of The Wisdom of Solomon is a study book, not a light read. If you only want to read The Wisdom of Solomon, you can do that for free any time. Here’s a link to read it on Bible.com (CEB, but you can pick another version you like). You should only consider buying this version if you want to study The Wisdom of Solomon.
The Final Word
The Wisdom of Solomon is almost an “in-between” book connecting Judaism and Christianity, written shortly before Jesus appeared. In the words of Gregg, it “has the most highly-developed pre-Christian Orthodox speculation on the subject of an intermediary between God and the world.” He also says that it undoubtedly influenced New Testament writers, who were at least familiar with its ideas even if they didn’t quote it directly.
The Wisdom of Solomon‘s pseudo “in-between” status connecting Judaism and Christianity makes it an interesting read for any Christian. It has much to say about Wisdom, Righteousness, and sin. These are good things for anybody to study. It should be an interesting read no matter who you are.
We can read The Wisdom of Solomon for free whenever we like. Praise the LORD! But anyone who wants to study this interesting book of the Apocrypha in-depth needs to go further. If you want to study The Wisdom of Solomon, I recommend this Cambridge Library Collection version edited and with commentary by J.A.F. Gregg.
The Wisdom of Solomon
Edited and with commentary by J.A.F. Gregg. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
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