The Book of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon, or Book of the Wisdom of Solomon), is one of the Holy Books of the Bible. It is considered Scripture, classified as deuterocanonical (meaning “second canon”, “secondary canon”) by the Roman Catholic Church and similarly, anagignoskomenon (Gr. ἀναγιγνωσκόμενον, meaning “that which is to be read”) by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Protestant churches generally consider it to be non-canonical (apocryphal). It is one of the seven Sapiential or wisdom Books included within the Septuagint, along with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Song of Solomon), Job, and Sirach.
The Book of Wisdom should not be confused with the Wisdom of Sirach, a work from the 2nd century BC, originally written in Hebrew.
Eusebius wrote in his Church History that Bishop Melito of Sardis in the 2nd century AD considered Wisdom of Solomon as part of the Old Testament (without necessarily using the term “canonical”), and that it was considered canonical by Jews and Christians. On the other hand, the contrary claim has been made: “In the catalogue of Melito, presented by Eusebius, after Proverbs, the word Wisdom occurs, which nearly all commentators have been of opinion is only another name for the same book, and not the name of the book now called ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’.” An Aramaic translation of the Wisdom of Solomon is mentioned by Naḥmanides in the preface to his commentary on the Pentateuch (called by Jewish trdition Torah).
Athanasius writes that the Book of Wisdom and three other deuterocanonical Books, while not being part of the Canon, “were appointed by the Fathers to be read”.
Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 385 AD) mentions that the Wisdom of Solomon was of disputed canonicity.
Augustine (c. 397 AD) writes in his book On Christian Doctrine (Book II Chapter 8) that the Wisdom of Solomon and other deuterocanonical books are Canonical books.
According to the monk Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 400 AD), the book of Solomon and other deuterocanonical books were not called Canonical but Ecclesiastical books.
Pope Innocent I (405 AD) sent a letter to the bishop of Toulouse citing the book of Solomon as a part of the Old Testament Canon.
The Decretum Gelasianum which is a work written by an anonymous scholar between 519 and 553 contains a list of Books of Scripture presented as having been made Canonical by the Council of Rome under Pope Damasus I, bishop of Rome 366-383. This list mentions too the Book of Solomon as a part of the Old Testament Canon.
The Synod of Hippo (in 393), followed by the Councils of Carthage (in 397 and 419), the Council of Florence (in 1442) and finally the Council of Trent (in 1546) listed the Book of Solomon as a Canonical Book.
Date and authorship
The Book is believed to have been written in Greek language, but in a style patterned on that of Hebrew verse. Although the author’s name is nowhere given in the text, the writer was traditionally believed to be King Solomon because of references such as that found in IX:7–8, “Thou hast chosen me to be a king of thy people, and a judge of thy sons and daughters: Thou hast commanded me to build a Temple upon thy Holy Mount…” The formulation here is similar to that of Ecclesiastes I:12, “I, Koheleth, was king in Jerusalem over Israel,” which also fails to denote Solomon by name, but leaves no doubt as to whom the reader should identify as the author. The early Christian community showed some awareness that the Book was not actually authored by Solomon, as the Muratorian fragment notes that the Book was “written by the friends of Solomon in his honour.”
Evangelical biblical scholar Peter Enns proposed in his essay “Wisdom of Solomon and Biblical Interpretation in the Second Temple Period” that the author of Wisdom of Solomon was an Alexandrian Jew during the silent persecution initiated in Egypt under Caesar Augustus. During this period the Jews lost their citizenship and the surrounding culture started to worship the Emperor as a god which, according to Enns, is clearly hinted at by the unique choice of the word “sebasma” for “idol” – a word that is a clear reference to Sebastos, the Greek form for Latin title “Augustus”. As such, the Book of Wisdom is an encouragement to refuse any compromise with idolatry and an exhortation for the rulers of the world, where the author identifies himself with Solomon to judge the contemporary world.
The philosophical influences on the Book of Wisdom may include those of Middle-Platonism. Some religious and ethical influences may also stem from Stoicism, found in the writings of the Alexandrian Jew, Philo, to whom Book of Wisdom has on occasion been wrongly attributed. (This is evident in the use of the four Stoic ideals, borrowed from Plato.) A sorites appears in Chapter 6 (v. 17–20). This logical form is also called chain-inference, “of which the Stoics were very fond.”
Relation to other Jewish writings
Although the Book of Wisdom is non-canonical in the Rabbinical Jewish tradition, the work was at least known to medieval Jews, as Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Ramban) attests. That it was known to ancient Jews as well is trivially true, as that was the milieu of its composition.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the last section (9:18–19:22) is devoid of all connection with what precedes it. The speaker is no longer Solomon, but the author or the saints (16:28, 18:6 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 (9:18; 10:20; 11:4, 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.
It is of some interest that the philosophy which the Book of Wisdom in Chapter II puts in the mouths of the “ungodly,” presumably the Epicureans, bears strong literary resemblance to a prominent passage from the Jewish High Holiday liturgy, “Man begins from dust and ends in dust” (אדם יסודו מעפר וסופו לעפר) from the Unetanneh Tokef prayer (cf. Genesis 3:19: כי עפר אתה ואל עפר תשוב). The relevant verses from Book of Wisdom (II:2–5) read in part, “the breath in our nostrils is as smoke… our body shall be turned to ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air… our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud… and shall be dispersed as a mist… for our time is a very shadow that passeth away.” The Unetanneh Tokef prayer seems to offer a close parallel: “As to man, his origin is dust and his end is dust… he is like a broken vessel of clay, like withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shadow, a drifting cloud, a fleeting breath, scattering dust, a transient dream.”
If this similarity is more than coincidence or the common citation of a third text, such as Isaiah 40:7, it would not be the only instance of Apocryphal influences on the Jewish liturgy. Elements of Ben Sira are also found in the High Holiday service and other prayers.
Messianic interpretation by Christians
Personification of Wisdom
There are found in the Book of Wisdom and other Books of the wisdom literature to Wisdom as a personification with divine attributes.
In chapter seven, Wisdom is said to be “the fashioner of all things” (v. 22). Because she fashions all things, is “an associate in His [GOD’s] Works” (8:4), and is a “pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (7:25), Wisdom is eternal and one in being (consubstantial) with the FATHER. Because Wisdom is GOD’s “creative agent”, she must be intimately identified with GOD Himself. One indication that personified Wisdom refers to the Messiah is the paraphrasing of Wis 7:26 in Heb 1:3a. Wis 7:26 says that “she is a reflection of Eternal Light, a spotless mirror of the working of GOD, and an image of His goodness.” The author of Hebrews says of Christ: “He reflects the glory of GOD and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His Word of power.” Much like the Word is characterized in the prologue to the Gospel of John, wisdom is described as “a breath of the Power of GOD… [that] renews all things… passes into Holy souls and makes them friends of GOD… [and is] the active cause of all things, …the fashioner of what exists” (Wis 7:25,27,8:5-6).
The treatment of the suffering of the righteous man is heavily indebted to Isaiah; particularly the fourth Suffering Servant song (Is 52:13–53:12). Verse 13 uses pais (παῖς), child or servant, from Is 52:13. Verse 15 says his very sight is a burden, referencing Is 53:2. In verse 16 he calls GOD his FATHER, which is thought to be based on a poor understanding of pais as in Is 52:13. Verse 18 is comparable to Is 42:1. Verse 19 makes reference to Is 53:7. A final reference to the Messiah is the righteous man’s “shameful death” in verse 20.
In the realm of Bible criticism and theology, all sorts of opinions are held by all sorts of persons. Some opine that the Gospel of Matthew may contain allusions to the Wisdom of Solomon in the structuring of Matthew’s Passion Narrative. Supposed parallels between Wisdom and Matthew include the theme of testing, and the mocking of a servant of GOD’s claim to be protected by GOD. Matthew’s gospel teaches that Jesus is the suffering servant of GOD.
As another example of the myriad opinions and interpretations of the Bible: while some think that Wis 2:17–18, “Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is GOD’s son, He will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries,” was an influence on Mt 27:43, “He trusts in GOD; let GOD deliver him now, if he desires Him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of GOD.’” others see it as a reference to Ps 22:8 “He trusted on the LORD that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing he delighted in Him.”