Book of Wisdom

Wisdom of Solomon

A book in the Old Testament Apocrypha

General Information

Wisdom, a defense of the Jewish way of life, is one of the books of the Apocrypha; in the Septuagint and Vulgate it is included in the Old Testament. The book is ascribed to King Solomon and stands in the same intellectual tradition as such earlier collections of proverbial wisdom as Proverbs and the Book of Sirach - hence its full title, the Wisdom of Solomon. The work was actually written in Greek about 75 BC or perhaps as late as AD 40. Its author was an Alexandrian Jew who was attempting to strengthen the religious commitment of the Hellenistic Jewish community and, if possible, to convert the Gentiles. His work falls into three parts: chapters 1 - 5 stress the superiority of the pious and wise over the godless; chapters 6 - 9 praise personified Wisdom; and chapters 10 - 19 illustrate the marvels of Wisdom, with examples drawn from Israel's history.

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J M Reese, Hellenistic Influence on the Book of Wisdom and Its Consequences (1970).

Book of Wisdom

General Information

Wisdom or Wisdom of Solomon, is a book of the Old Testament in those versions of the Bible following the Greek Septuagint (generally Roman Catholic and Orthodox versions). It does not appear in the Hebrew Bible and is placed with the Apocrypha in Protestant versions of the Bible.


The book purports to be a work of the Hebrew king Solomon, but scholars have long doubted Solomon's authorship. On the basis of internal evidence, many today regard the book as the work of an unknown Jew, probably in the Greco-Egyptian city of Alexandria, during the latter half of the 1st century BC. The language of the original is almost universally believed to have been Greek. The author may have used Palestinian and Greco-Egyptian sources, including material originally in Hebrew. He seems to have written for Greek-educated Jews.


The first five chapters of the book urge the reader to love righteousness and to seek God, that thereby they may acquire wisdom and immortality. The miserable fate of the ungodly, that is, the unwise, is contrasted with the expected blessedness of the righteous. Chapters 6-9 are a further commendation of wisdom as the guide of humanity. The nature of wisdom, its importance, and how one may find it are described, and in the first person, ostensibly that of Solomon, the writer describes his own search for wisdom. Throughout the first ten chapters, wisdom usually is personified as a woman. In the rest of the book, however, the word wisdom scarcely appears, and the concept of it is quite abstract. Chapters 10-19, the remainder of the book, chiefly describe the way in which Israel and Israel's ancestors were saved through wisdom. Thus, chapters 10-12 illustrate the saving power of wisdom from the time of the legendary father of humanity, Adam, to the time of Moses; chapters 16-19 illustrate the importance of behaving wisely, or piously, through God's contrasting treatment of the Egyptians and the Israelites. Chapters 13-15, a digression, reflect on the origin and folly of various forms of idolatry. The book seems to end abruptly; it is possible that the author's inspiration failed, or that the original conclusion of the book was lost.

Book of Wisdom

Catholic Information

One of the deutero-canonical writings of the Old Testament, placed in the Vulgate between the Canticle of Canticles and Ecclesiasticus.


The oldest headings ascribe the book to Solomon, the representative of Hebrew wisdom. In the Syriac translation, the title is: "the Book of the Great Wisdom of Solomon"; and in the Old Latin Version, the heading reads: "Sapientia Salomonis". The earliest Greek manuscripts -- the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus, the Alexandrinus -- have a similar inscription, and the Eastern and the Western Fathers of the first three centuries generally speak of "the Wisdom of Solomon" when quoting that inspired writing, although some of them use in this connection such honorific designations as he theia Sophia (the Divine Wisdom), Panaretos Sophia (All Virtuous Wisdom). In the Vulgate, the title is: "Liber Sapientiae", "the Book of Wisdom". In non-Catholic Versions, the ordinary heading is: "the Wisdom of Solomon", in contradistinction to Ecclesiasticus, which is usually entitled: "the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach".


The book contains two general parts, the first nine chapters treating of Wisdom under its more speculative aspect, and the last ten chapters dealing with Wisdom from an historical standpoint. The following is the author's train of thought in the speculative part (chaps. i-ix). Addressing himself to kings, the writer teaches that ungodliness is alien to Wisdom and courts punishment and death (i), and he sets forth and refutes the arguments which the wicked advance to the contrary: according to him, the frame of mind of the ungodly is contrary to man's immortal destiny; their present life is only in appearance happier than that of the righteous; and their ultimate fate is an unquestionable proof of the folly of their course (ii-v). He thereupon exhorts kings to seek Wisdom, which is more needful to them than to ordinary mortals (vi, 1-21), and describes his own happy experience in the quest and possession of that Wisdom which is the Splendour of God and is bestowed by Him on earnest suppliants (vi, 22-viii). He subjoins the prayer (ix) by which he has himself begged that Wisdom and God's Holy Spirit might be sent down to him from heaven, and which concludes with the reflection that men of old were guided by Wisdom -- a reflection which forms a natural transition to the review of Israel's ancient history, which constitutes the second part of his work. The author's line of thought in this historical part (ix-xix) may also easily be pointed out. He commends God's wisdom (1) for its dealings with the patriarchs from Adam to Moses (x-xi, 4); (2) for its just, and also merciful, conduct towards the idolatrous inhabitants of Egypt and Chanaan (xi, 5-xii); (3) in its contrast with the utter foolishness and consequent immorality of idolatry under its various forms (xiii, xiv); finally (4), for its discriminating protection over Israel during the plagues of Egypt, and at the crossing of the Red Sea, a protection which has been extended to all times and places.


Most contemporary scholars admit the unity of the Book of Wisdom. The whole work is pervaded by one and the same general purpose, viz., that of giving a solemn warning against the folly of ungodliness. Its two principal parts are intimately bound by a natural transition (ix, 18), which has in no way the appearance of an editorial insertion. Its subdivisions, which might, at first sight, be regarded as foreign to the primitive plan of the author, are, when closely examined, seen to be part and parcel of that plan: this is the case, for instance, with the section relative to the origin and the consequences of idolatry (xiii, xiv), inasmuch as this section is consciously prepared by the writer's treatment of God's wisdom in its dealings with the idolatrous inhabitants of Egypt and Chanaan, in the immediately preceding subdivision (xi, 5-xii). Not only is there no break observable in the carrying-out of the plan, but favourite expressions, turns of speech, and single words are found in all the sections of the work, and furnish a further proof that the Book of Wisdom is no mere compilation, but a literary unit.

The integrity of the book is no less certain than its unity. Every impartial examiner of the work can readily see that nothing in it suggests that the book has come down to us otherwise than in its primitive form. Like Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom has indeed no inscription similar to those which open the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; but plainly, in the case of Wisdom, as in the case of Ecclesiasticus, this absence is no necessary sign that the work is fragmentary at the beginning. Nor can the Book of Wisdom be rightly considered as mutilated at the end, for its last present verse forms a proper close to the work as planned by the author. As regards the few passages of Wisdom which certain critics have treated as later Christian interpolations (ii, 24; iii, 13; iv, 1; xiv, 7), it is plain that were these passages such as they are claimed, their presence would not vitiate the substantial integrity of the work, and further, that closely examined, they yield a sense perfectly consistent with the author's Jewish frame of mind.


In view of the ancient heading: "the Wisdom of Solomon";, some scholars have surmised that the Book of Wisdom was composed in Hebrew, like the other works ascribed to Solomon by their title (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles). To substantiate this position they have appealed to the Hebraisms of the work; to its parallelisms, a distinct feature of Hebrew poetry; to its constant use of simple connecting particles (kai, de, gar, oti, etc.), the usual articulations of Hebrew sentences; to Greek expressions traceable, as they thought, to wrong renderings from a Hebrew original, etc. Ingenious as these arguments may appear, they prove no more than that the author of the Book of Wisdom was a Hebrew, writing Greek with a distinctly Jewish cast of mind. As far back as St. Jerome (Praef. in libros Salomonis), it has been felt that not Hebrew but Greek was the original language of the Book of Wisdom, and this verdict is so powerfully confirmed by the literary features of the entire Greek text, that one may well wonder that the theory of an ancient Hebrew original, or of any original other than Greek, should have ever been seriously maintained. Of course the fact that the entire Book of Wisdom was composed in Greek rules out its Solomonic authorship. It is indeed true that ecclesiastical writers of the first centuries commonly assumed this authorship on the basis of the title of the book, apparently confirmed by those passages (ix, 7, 8, 12; cf. vii, 1, 5; viii, 13, 14, etc.) where the one speaking is clearly King Solomon. But this view of the matter never was unanimous in the Early Christian Church, and in the course of time a middle position between its total affirmation and its total rejection was suggested. The Book of Wisdom, it was said, is Solomon's inasmuch as it is based on Solomonic works which are now lost, but which were known to and utilized by a hellenistic Jew centuries after Solomon's death. This middle view is but a weak attempt at saving something of the full Solomonic authorship affirmed in earlier ages. "It is a supposition which has no positive arguments in its favour, and which, in itself, is improbable, since it assumes the existence of Solomonic writings of which there is no trace, and which would have been known only to the writer of the Book of Wisdom" (Cornely-Hagen, "Introd. in Libros Sacros, Compendium," Paris, 1909, p. 361). At the present day, it is freely admitted that Solomon is not the writer of the Book of Wisdom, "which has been ascribed to him because its author, through a literary fiction, speaks as if he were the Son of David" (Vigouroux, "Manuel Biblique", II, n. 868. See also the notice prefixed to the Book of Wisdom in the current editions of the Douai Version). Besides Solomon, the writer to whom the authorship of the work has been oftenest ascribed is Philo, chiefly on the ground of a general agreement in respect to doctrines, between the author of Wisdom and Philo, the celebrated Jewish philosopher of Alexandria (d. about A. D. 40). The truth of the matter is that the doctrinal differences between the Book of Wisdom and Philo's writings are such as to preclude a common authorship. Philo's allegorical treatment of Scriptural narratives is utterly foreign to the frame of mind of the writer of the Book of Wisdom. His view of the origin of idolatry conflicts on several points with that of the author of the Book of Wisdom. Above all, his description of Divine wisdom bespeaks as to conception, style, and manner of presentation, a later stage of Alexandrian thought than that found in Wisdom. The authorship of the work has been at times ascribed to Zorobabel, as though this Jewish leader could have written in Greek; to the Alexandrian Aristobulus (second cent. B.C.), as though this courtier could have inveighed against kings after the manner of the Book of Wisdom (vi, 1; etc.); and finally, to Apollo (cf. Acts 18:24), as though this was not a mere supposition contrary to the presence of the book in the Alexandrian Canon. All these variations as to authorship prove that the author's name is really unknown (cf. the notice prefixed to Wisdom in the Douay Version).


Whoever examines attentively the Book of Wisdom can readily see that its unknown author was not a Palestinian Jew, but an Alexandrian Jew. Monotheistic as the writer is throughout his work, he evinces an acquaintance with Greek thought and philosophical terms (he calls God "the Author of beauty": 13:3; styles Providence pronoia: 14:3; 17:2; speaks of oule amorphos, "the formless material" of the universe, after Plato's manner: 11:17; numbers four cardinal virtues in accordance with Aristotle's school: 8:7; etc.), which is superior to anything found in Palestine. His remarkably good Greek, his political allusions, the local colouring of details, his rebuke of distinctly Egyptian idolatry, etc., point to Alexandria, as to the great centre of mixed Jewish and heathen population, where the author felt called upon to address his eloquent warning against the splendid and debasing Polytheism and Epicurean indifference by which too many of his fellow Jews had been gradually and deeply influenced. And this inference from internal data is confirmed by the fact that the Book of Wisdom is found not in the Palestinian, but in the Alexandrian, Canon of the Old Testament. Had the work originated in Palestine, its powerful arraignment of idolatry and its exalted teaching concerning the future life would have naturally secured for it a placed within the Canon of the Jews of Palestine. But, as it was composed in Alexandria, its worth was fully appreciated and its sacred character recognized only by the fellow-countrymen of the author.

It is more difficult to ascertain the date than the place of composition of the Book of Wisdom. It is universally admitted that when the writer describes a period of moral degradation and persecution under unrighteous rulers who are threatened with heavy judgment, he has in view the time of either Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204 B.C.), or Ptolemy VII Physicon (145-117 B.C.), for it is only under these depraved princes that the Egyptian Jews had to endure persecution. But it is confessedly difficult to decide which of these two monarchs the author of Wisdom had actually in view. It is even possible that the work "was published after the demise of those princes, for otherwise it would have but increased their tyrannical rage" (Lesêtre, "Manuel d'Introduction", II, 445).


The original text of the Book of Wisdom is preserved in five uncial manuscripts (the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus, the Alexandrinus, the Ephremiticus, and the Venetus) and in ten cursives (two of which are incomplete). Its most accurate form is found in the Vaticanus (fourth century), the Venetus (eighth or ninth century), and the cursive 68. The principal critical works on the Greek text are those of Reusch (Frieburg, 1861), Fritsche (Leipzig, 1871), Deane (Oxford, 1881), Sweete (Cambridge, 1897), and Cornely-Zorell (Paris, 1910). Foremost among the ancient versions stands the Vulgate, which presents the Old Latin Version somewhat revised by St. Jerome. It is in general a close and accurate rendering of the original Greek, with occasional additions, a few of which probably point to primitive readings no longer extant in the Greek. The Syriac Version is less faithful, and the Armenian more literal, than the Vulgate. Among the modern versions, the German translation of Siegfried in Kautzsch's "Apocryphen und Pseudepigraphen des A.T." (Tübingen, 1900), and the French version of the Abbé Crampon (Paris, 1905), deserve a special mention.


As might well be expected, the doctrinal teachings of this deutero-canonical writing are, in substance, those of the other inspired books of the Old Testament. The Book of Wisdom knows of only one God, the God of the universe, and the Yahweh of the Hebrews. This one God is "He who is" (xiii, 1), and His holiness is utterly opposed to moral evil (i, 1-3). He is the absolute master of the world [xi, 22 (23)], which He has created out of "formless matter" [xi, 18 (17)], a Platonic expression which in no way affirms the eternity of matter, but points back to the chaotic condition described in Genesis 1:2. A living God, He made man after His image, creating him for immortality (ii, 23), so that death entered the world only through the envy of the Devil (ii, 24). His Providence (pronoia) extends to all things, great and small [vi, 8 (7); xi, 26 (25); etc.], taking a fatherly care of all things (xiv, 3), and in particular, of His chosen people (xix, 20, sqq.). He makes Himself known to men through His wonderful works (xiii, 1-5), and exercises His mercy towards them all [xi, 24 (23), xii, 16; xv, 1], His very enemies included (xii, 8 sqq.). The central idea of the book is "Wisdom", which appears in the work under two principal aspects. In its relation to man, Wisdom is here, as in the other Sapiential Books, the perfection of knowledge showing itself in action. It is particularly described as resident only in righteous men (i, 4, 5), as a principle soliciting man's will (vi, 14, sqq.), as within God's gift (vii, 15; viii, 3, 4), and as bestowed by Him on earnest suppliants (viii, 21-ix). Through its power, man triumphs over evil (vii, 30), and through its possession, one may secure for himself the promises of both the present and the future life (viii, 16, 13). Wisdom is to be prized above all things (vii, 8-11; viii, 6-9), and whoever despises it is doomed to unhappiness (iii, 11). In direct relation to God, Wisdom is personified, and her nature, attributes, and operation are no less than Divine. She is with God from eternity, the partner of His throne, and the sharer of His thoughts (viii, 3; ix, 4, 9). She is an emanation from His glory (vii, 25), the brightness of His everlasting light and the mirror of His power and goodness (vii, 26). Wisdom is one, and yet can do everything; although immutable, she makes all things new (vii, 27), with an activity greater than any motion (vii, 23). When God formed the world, Wisdom was present (ix, 9), and she gives to men all the virtues which they need in every station and condition of life (vii, 27; viii, 21; x, 1, 21; xi). Wisdom is also identified with the "Word" of God (ix, 1; etc.), and is represented as immanent with the "Holy Spirit", to whom a Divine nature and Divine operations are likewise ascribed (i, 5-7; vii, 22, 23; ix, 17). Exalted doctrines such as these stand in a vital connection with the New Testament revelation of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity; while other passages of the Book of Wisdom (ii, 13, 16-18; xviii, 14-16) find their fulfilment in Christ, the Incarnate "Word", and "the Wisdom of God". In other aspects too, notably with regard to its eschatological teaching (iii-v), the Book of Wisdom presents a wonderful preparation to the New Testament Revelation. The New Testament writers appear perfectly familiar with this deutero-canonical writing (cf. Matt., xxvii, 42, 43, with Wis., ii, 13, 18; Rom., xi, 34, with Wis., ix, 13; Eph., vi, 13, 17, with Wis., v, 18, 19; Heb., i, 3, with Wis., vii, 26; etc. It is true that to justify their rejection of the Book of Wisdom from the Canon, many Protestants have claimed that in viii, 19-20, its author admits the error of the pre-existence of the human soul. But this incriminated passage, when viewed in the light of its context, yields a perfectly orthodox sense.

Publication information Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the Christian judges through the ages The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


(Catholic commentators are marked with an asterisk *.) GRIMM (Leipzig, 1860); SCHMID (Vienna, 1865); * GUTBERLET (Munster, 1874); BISSELL (New York, 1880); DEAN (Oxford, 1881); *LESETRE (Paris, 1884); FARRAR (London, 1888); SIEGFRIED (Tubingen, 1890); ZUCKLER (Munich, 1891); *CRAMPON (Paris, 1902); ANDRE (Florence, 1904); *CORNELY-ZORRELL (Paris, 1910).

Book of the Wisdom of Solomon

Jewish Perspective Information


Contents of the Book.

Hellenistic Passover Haggadah.

Wonders of the Exodus.

The Folly of Idolatry.

Plagues upon Egypt.

Authorship and Date.

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." iii. 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," vi. 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 (i. 1; comp. iii. 8; vi. 1-2, 9, 21). They accentuate the necessity of wisdom as indispensable to rulers (i. 6, vi. 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 (ii. 1-16). In contrast with them the "saints" (Ḥasidim) whom they expose to torture (ii. 19, iii. 1) and to a martyr's death (iii. 2) are called "sons of God," initiated into His mystery, promised an inheritance in eternal life (i. 14; ii. 13, 21, 23; iii. 4, 15; iv. 1; v. 15) like Enoch (iv. 10-16), and assured of a crown of glory in the world to come (v. 16). Finally, wisdom is introduced in vi. 9-25 as the speaker, and as the one who bestows the divine kingdom and confers immortality (vi. 20-21); whereas sin brings death, since "through envy of the devil came death into the world" (ii. 24). The second part (ch. vii.-ix. 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 (vii. 17-21, 27), but even immortality (viii. 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 (vii.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 (viii. 7). The prayer of Solomon refers to the heavenly tabernacle prepared from the beginning, and to his own predestination (ix. 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 (ix. 1, 4, 10), being identical with the creative Word (ix. 1) and the Holy Spirit (ix. 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 (ix. 18-xix. 22) is devoid of all connection with what precedes. The speaker is no longer Solomon, but the author or the saints (xvi. 28, xviii. 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 (ix. 18; x. 20; xi. 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 (vii. 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 (ix. 18, x. 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," viii.; Pirḳe R. El. xx.); but it caused Cain and his generation to perish (x. 1-3). It saved Noah, Abraham, and Lot, but brought lasting doom upon the offenders (x. 4-9). It showed Jacob the kingdom of God in the vision of the ladder (comp. Gen. R. lxviii. 16; Targ. Yer. to Gen. xxviii. 12) and gave him victory over all his pursuers (x. 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 (x. 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 (x. 15-20; comp. Mek., Beshallaḥ, 6; Targ. Yer. to Ex. xiii. 21; xv. 12, 20; Josephus, "Ant." ii. 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 (x. 21; comp. Mek. to Shirah [Song of Moses], 1), and it prospered the work of Moses in the wilderness (xi. 1-4).

Wonders of the Exodus.

This section is followed (xi. 5-xix. 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 (xviii. 6-9; comp. Josephus, "Ant." ii. 16, § 4; Book of Jubilees, xlix. 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" (xi. 16). This was applied to the Egyptians with reference to Ex. xviii. 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 (xi. 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 (xi. 4-7). In like manner, the animals worshiped by the Egyptians became the source of terror and harm to them (xi. 15-19, xii. 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" (xi. 10), even though God loves all His creatures, and waits for the repentance of the sinner because He is the lover of souls (xi. 24-xii. 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 (xii. 4-7; comp. Sibyllines, i. 150, 178; iii. 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 (xii. 8-11; comp. Ex. xxiii. 28; Soṭah 36a); for God blends mercy with justice, to teach "that the just man should be merciful" (xii. 19; comp. i. 6), and unrepentant Egypt was thus severely punished until she acknowledged the God she had denied (xii. 27).

The Folly of Idolatry.

Egyptian (and Greek) idolatry is declared (xiii. 1-10) to be far less excusable than Babylonian star-worship, and it is therefore derided (xiii. 11-19) in terms borrowed from Isa. xliv. 13-20. Idolatry was first introduced by the giants who were descended from the fallen angels. Its purposes were corruption and fornication (xiv. 1-13); it owed its hold on mankind to the honor paid the images of dead sons (xiv. 14-21; comp. Book of Jubilees, xi. 4; Bezold, "Die Schatzhöhle," p. 31), and it led to murder, adultery, theft, and perjury (xiv. 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 (xv. 1-15; comp. Ps. cxv., 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 (xvi. 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 (xvi. 5-12; comp. R. H. iii. 8c). The fire which fell with both the hail and the rain (Ex. ix. 24; Tan., Wayera, ed. Buber, p. 22), as well as in the sea (Ex. xiv. 24; Targ. Yer. ad loc.; Josephus, "Ant." ii. 16, § 3), like the fire which would not destroy the frogs in the oven (xix. 21; Pes. 53b), manifested the wondrous power of God (xvi. 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 Ex. xvi. 21; Mek., Wayassa', 4 [ed. Weiss, p. 58a]; for the Essene prayer at sunrise see Josephus, "B. J." ii. 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 (Ex. x. 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 (xvii. 1-xviii. 4). The last plague, the death of the first-born, was the punishment for the intended murder of the Israelitish children (xviii. 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 (xviii. 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 (xviii. 20-25). Finally, the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea is described as a renewal of the miracle of Creation (xix. 1-6), since out of the sea rose a green field (comp. Targ. Yer. to Ex. xv. 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 (xix. 13-22). Here the Haggadah breaks off abruptly.

Authorship and Date.

It is evident that these three parts, or at least the first two (i.-ix., x.-xix.), 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., iii. 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. ii. and iii. 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 (Heb. i. 3, iv. 12; comp. Wisdom vii. 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).

Kaufmann Kohler

Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.


For the extensive literature see Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 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. iii. 722-753.K.

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