An introduction to the book of Wisdom – Monday, 32nd week in ordinary time – Wisdom 1:1-7
The books of the Old Testament were written probably between 1000 and 100 BC. The book of Wisdom was probably written somewhere between 250BCE-50CE in the first or second century before Christ and many centuries after the time of Solomon. The author of the book claims to be Solomon. The claim was questioned by Origen, Eusebius, St Augustine and St Jerome and it is clear from the data that the claim is simply a literary device conventional in Old Testament wisdom literature. In the OT, Solomon is known as a most esteemed man of wisdom. It comes as no surprise, then, that someone wanted to credit him with the authorship of this book of wisdom. The very title of this book describes its content and presumed author. Such an attribution simply gave the book more credibility and probably assured its success.
The author of the book remains anonymous and the most we can say is that he is a Jew and probably a teacher. And that he was familiar with Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy, rhetoric and culture. Hence the wisdom of Solomon is more accurately called, the Book of Wisdom. This is the last of the OT books to be written.
This book is one of the seven “deuterocanonical books” — Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and I & II Maccabees. These seven books are found in Catholic Bibles but not in protestant (reformist) Bibles because these books were written in Greek rather than in Hebrew like the rest of the Old Testament. After the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jewish rabbis convened the Council of Jamnia (90-100), at which time they established what books would be considered their Sacred Scripture and these seven books were not included and the same was adopted by the Reformist Church.
Scholars think the book was written in Egypt, possibly Alexandria, the great intellectual and scientific centre of the Mediterranean world and one of the largest centres of the Jewish diaspora. The book is a practical appeal that one’s learning should have an impact on one’s moral life.
Why was the book of wisdom written? The author’s purpose was to strengthen the faith of his fellow Jews in Alexandria. Living in the midst of pagans, the Jewish community was in frequent contact with all the elements of the new society that was the Hellenistic world. Conquests in science were opening up to the beauty and mystery of the world around them. A variety of religions and philosophical systems offered wisdom or salvation or a view on the real meaning of life. There existed a new cosmopolitan and individualistic mentality, skepticism, and dissatisfaction with traditional ideas. It was a time of crisis for faith which some Jews had abandoned, replacing it with pagan religions, secular philosophies, or their own superficial versions of these; other Jews were in danger of following their example.
The book, then, seems to have been addressed the Jewish students and intellectuals who shared the author’s wide background. The author’s intention is to highlight God’s concern for man. He uses wisdom teachings to make known deep truths about God as revealed in Bible stories and texts. His main point is to press the validity of Jewish faith for contemporary times. It is an ongoing issue for persons of faith in every age.
The problems created for the Jews by the intellectual atmosphere was compounded by an age-old problem that afflictions and anti-Semitism had evoked once again; retribution. How is it that the wicked and godless prosper and the just suffer? How and where does God meet our justice? It was to these issues that our author addressed himself and for solutions he searched the scriptures. The 19 chapters of Wisdom contain not many lines and few connected passages that have not been derived in large part from fruitful meditation on the earlier sacred books.
In today’s text the author begins by calling the pagan rulers of the earth to justice. He exhorts the pagan rulers of the earth to love justice and seek God with single-minded devotion and trust. He warns that those who pursue immoral ends will ultimately be exposed and convicted by the Divine Wisdom which scrutinises all.