Wednesday, February 10, 2016
The Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon By William R Churton 1884
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON By William Ralph Churton 1884
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This book is placed, in the Greek manuscripts and editions of the Old Testament, next after the Song of Solomon, with the title 'The Wisdom of Solomon,' which is also found in the other versions, except the Vulgate, where it is described as 'The Book of Wisdom,' indicating a doubt as to Solomon's authorship in the mind of the revisers of the Latin Version. Many ancient writers quoted it as Solomon's, and on this supposition employed it in the controversy with the Jews, as though it contained prophecies of Christ. Thus it is used in the Epistle of Barnabas, by S. Hippolytus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Theophilus, Lactantius, S.Ambrose, and S. Augustine. Some testimonies, however, which have been alleged for the 'Wisdom of Solomon,' are found upon closer examination to refer to the Canonical Book of Proverbs, which was sometimes denoted by the title 'Wisdom.' In the book 'On the Divine Names' ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the words in chap. viii. 2 are quoted as from 'the introductions 'to the Divine oracles,' as though it was regarded as the work of a theologian or sacred writer, but not as having the authority of Scripture. This agrees with statements found elsewhere in early Christian writers, recommending the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Ben Sirach to the study of the young, or of those who had been newly converted to the faith. S. Chrysostom quotes Wisdom as the work of a certain wise man. S. Augustine expressed doubts as to its authorship: in the 'City of God,' Book 17. 20, he
conjectures that Jesus the son of Sirach was the author of Wisdom, as well as of the longer treatise which bears his name. S. Basil and S. Jerome mention that in the opinion of some Philo was the author. In an obscure passage of the Muratorian Canon, it is said to have been written by the friends of Solomon in his honour: it is conjectured that the original reading was, 'written by Philo.' Some Rabbinical authors ascribed it to Solomon. Grotius suggested that the author, though he wrote in Greek, might have compiled it from some traditional sayings of Solomon. In the Syriac Version the title is as follows: 'Here follows the Book of the great Wisdom of Solomon, the son of David, concerning which it is doubtful whether it was written by some other wise man of the Hebrews endued with the prophetic spirit, the name of Solomon being added, and the book thus received as his work.'
The opinion that the author was the great Alexandrian Jew, Philo, has had many advocates. Some have suggested that Solomon, who was also called Jedidiah, the beloved, might be an apocryphal disguise for Philo, and this view is found in some Jewish writers. Both Philo and the author of Wisdom shew an intimate acquaintance with the doctrines of Platonism, and the parallels between Wisdom and the writings of Philo are very numerous and remarkable. The reference in Wisdom to 'horrible tyrants,' who should be overtaken by a 'speedy retribution,' points to a time when the Jews were oppressed by their heathen rulers; such a time was the reign of Caligula, when there was an embassy, in which Philo shared, to deprecate the profanation of the temple. The denunciation of idols, and the manner in which the tyranny of the ancient Egyptians is dwelt upon, might be designed to encourage the Jews by the hope of deliverance; or if there was no interference on their behalf, the teaching concerning immortality might be given for their consolation in times of distress and calamity.
On the other hand, an earlier date, nearer to that of the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach, is preferred by many. If the great Philo had been the author, we should have expected some traces of the allegorical use of Scripture, which pervades his writings; but in Wisdom the literal and historical meaning is adhered to. The rites and ceremonies of the Law, which occupy so much space in Philo, are barely alluded to in Wisdom, Some have therefore conjectured that the author was an earlier Philo, who was contemporary with Onias the high priest, about B.C. 160, mentioned by Josephus and others, though it is not certain that this Philo was a Jew.
The second century before Christ being adopted as the most probable date, the author was certainly a Jew of Alexandria, well versed in the Scriptures and in the philosophy of Plato. He was one of the earlier of those Jewish teachers who sought the aid of Greek learning and culture, in order to bring out with greater fulness the hidden meaning of the Law and the Prophets. But as Philo devoted himselfto the Law, the author of Wisdom dwelt more upon the Psalms, Proverbs, and the prophecies of Isaiah. Thus the book has been called, 'an excellent and most elegant paraphrase upon many Canonical Scriptures, containing many excellent expressions of God's special providence and infinite wisdom in governing the world, and in overruling both the policy and the power of the greatest princes.' Thus, chapter ix., in which he assumes the name and character of Solomon, may be regarded as a paraphrase on 2 Chr. i 7—10, whilst the description of Wisdom and her properties is partly taken from Proverbs, and partly from the Platonic philosophy. The idea of the all-pervading Spirit in chapters i. and xii. is derived from Ps. cxxxix.; that of the Divine hearing of the speech of men from Ps. xciv.; that of the Spirit departing from the soul addicted to sin from Ps. li. Is. xxviii. furnishes the idea of the covenant with death in chapter i.; Is. xxii. that of the Epicureans' notion of life in chapter ii.; Is. iii. and liii. the conspiracy of the ungodly against the child of God in the same chapter. (The parallel passage in Philo is based upon the history of Cain and Abel.) Is. lvi. and lvii. supplied the author with many of his sublime thoughts about the death of the righteous, and the immortality of the soul, in chapters iii., iv., and v. In chapter v., 'the armour of God' is derived from Is. lix.; whilst chapters xiv. and xv., on the vanity of idols, are plainly a paraphrase upon Is. xliv. and xlv.
The Book of Wisdom is evidently the work of a devout and learned Jew, who desired to maintain the excellence and purity of his religion in opposition to the heathen who attacked or disparaged it. Hence he pleads that the Amorites and other nations of Canaan were objects of the Divine mercy and indulgence, in the long respite that was granted them before they were exterminated. Heathen philosophy had, even at that early date, used this portion of Jewish history as a handle of attack. Another objection was, that God had not been impartial in His dealings with men, but had favoured one nation to the exclusion of the rest. The mystery of God's universal care for mankind, which was fully unfolded in the Gospel, was foreshewn by the Prophets, and it is from this source that the author of Wisdom drew his materials for a reply. There was no withholding of the truth from those who sought it. On the contrary, God was found by those who sought Him not. (Is. lxv. 1, 2); His Wisdom meets enquirers in every thought (chapter vi. 12— 16). Thus the book prepares the way for the fuller teaching of the New Testament, as in Acts xiv. 16, 17; xvii. 27; Rom. i. 20, 21. The author himself withholds nothing from the sincere seekers after truth, lest he go in the way of 'consuming envy.' His Wisdom is 'communicated liberally:' he will not hide her riches (chap. vii. 13). It is a' loving' spirit, philanthropic, or kind to man (chaps, i. 6; vii. 23). God, from Whom Wisdom proceeds, is a soul-lover (chap. xi. 26), Who abhors nothing which He has made. Israel is chosen as God's firstborn: not to keep the treasure of the Divine Law to themselves, but to impart it to others, to give the uncorrupt light of His law to the world (chap, xviii. 4). Their highpriest has sacred robes, symbolical of the world, being chosen to intercede for the world (chap, xviii. 24). Similar thoughts are found in Ecclus. xx. 30, 31.
But the aspect of heathenism most dwelt upon is its manifold idolatry, and the vices and abominations connected with it. Even in its best aspect, in that of admiration of the stupendous works of God, it cannot be excused (chap, xiii. 1, &c.); but when it was multiplied into all the various forms of idol worship and polytheism, it reached the extreme of folly. In Alexandria, as at a later period in Rome, where men of all nations resorted for commerce, idolatry manifested itself in all its forms. There were idols of gold, silver, wood, and earthenware: household gods, nautical idols, pictures and statues of dead men, and of princes. The result was, every kind of licentiousness and crime (chap. xiv. 25. 26, compared with Rom. i. 29—31).
With reference to the future state, the Book of Wisdom speaks in glowing terms of the future glory of the souls of the righteous, and the reward or benefit which they shall obtain in the day of visitation. It has been inferred that the doctrine of the subsistence of the soul after death was the limit of his belief in immortality, and that it did not extend to a bodily resurrection. In chapter xv. 8, 11, 16, he speaks of the soul as lent or borrowed, and required of man at death: in chapter xvi. 14, he speaks of man as having power to kill, or to expel the spirit, out not to recall it: but it might be inferred that he also taught that God was able to recall it. There is nothing to prove that he was one of those who thought it incredible that God should raise the dead. The words sometimes alleged in chapter ix. 15, only refer to the infirmities of the mortal frame, as described similarly by S. Paul in 2 Cor. v. 6. There is nothing to prove that he held the doctrines of the Essenes, as recorded by Josephus. Following the language of Is. lvii. 6, he held that the soul of man proceeds from God, and is made by the God and Father of the spirits of all flesh; and thus Solomon is represented as saying, 'Yea rather, being good, I came into a body undefiled (chap, viii. 20). It has been therefore supposed that he held a doctrine of the pre-existence of souls. This being a widespread opinion among Jews and heathen, might have appeared to the author as having some support from such passages as Eccles. xii. 7.
Though there are many striking parallels to the Book of Wisdom in the New Testament, especially in the Epistles to the Romans and Hebrews, it cannot be said with any certainty that the New Testament writers derived their thoughts or language directly from this source. But the whole argument concerning God's care for the heathen, as given in Wisd. xi.—xiii., is important in its relation to the preparation of both Jews and Gentiles for the reception of the Gospel.
The evidences of the author's acquaintance with the Platonic philosophy are found chiefly in his description of the Divine attributes in chap, i., and of the attributes ascribed to Wisdom in chap. vii. In chap. i. 7, 'That which contains all things,' resembles the language of Platonism concerning the soul of the world: and the same is observed of the phrase, 'going through all understanding, pure, and most subtil spirits,' in chap. vii. 23. His language is also Platonic concerning the origin of death and evil, in chap. i. 13, 14, especially in saying that 'there is no kingdom of death (Hades) upon earth.' The description of the ungodly and sensual in chap. ii. has many points of contact with the Dialogues of Plato, such as the sophism, 'Let our strength be the law of justice:' and the condemnation of the just man to a shameful death, has often been compared with a well-known passage in Plato's 'Republic.' The conception of Wisdom in chap. vii. is Platonic, especially as embracing all kinds of science, the 'knowledge of things that are' (verse 17). Wisdom, being an 'influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty,' answers exactly to the Platonic idea of the Divine mind or reason. In chap. viii. 7, the four cardinal virtues of temperance, prudence. justice, and fortitude, are evidently derived from the same source. In these and other instances the author shews an anxiety to find points of contact between the Hebrew religion and Platonism, but there is no evidence of any serious departure from the guidance of Scripture. The teaching of the book concerning God's peculiar favour to Israel, as contained in chaps, xi. 9., xvi., xviii., and xix., is more open to question. There is a constrained attempt throughout this part of the book to minimize the guilt and punishments of the chosen people. and to exaggerate that of their enemies. The sacred history relates that quails were sent in wrath: this is passed over or evaded, and the occurrence is treated as a pure instance of the Divine favour and benevolence. The plague of the seraphim or fiery serpents, and the pestilence after the rebellion of Korah, receive a similar and inadequate treatment. In the opinion of the author, 'the Jews, because they were the seed of Abraham, were the only righteous seed: and the Lord, though He corrected and chastised them, would never plague them as He did the unrighteous heathen, or punish them with blindness of heart.' Dr. Jackson observes that this forecast was not to be realised: the subsequent history of the Jews presenting a marked contrast to the things which had happened to them in the past. The argument of the author of Wisdom may have been intended to balance his sayings concerning God's care for the heathen world: but so far as his own people are concerned, it is a remarkable contrast to S. Paul's teaching in 1 Cor. x., where, after referring to the same events, he adds, 'Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.'
The English Version of the Book of Wisdom is in several passages extremely obscure and involved. This is especially true of the later chapters of the book, in which a free translation would have given a much better idea of the author's meaning. For a fuller elucidation of the book the reader is referred to a paraphrase in the 'Commentary on the Apocrypha' published by the Christian Knowledge Society; and to the full and exhaustive notes of the Rev. W. J. Deane in his 'Commentary on the Book of Wisdom.'
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