Encyclopedia of The Bible – Wisdom of Solomon
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Wisdom of Solomon

WISDOM OF SOLOMON (Σοφία Σαλωμῶνος). An important pseudonymous book contained in the LXX, but never accepted in the Heb. canon and consequently (in the Protestant Church) found only in the Apoc. It finds a place among the canonical Scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church where, however, it is not known by the title given in the LXX MSS, but simply as the “Book of Wisdom” via the title in the Old Latin and Vulgate trs. The book was very popular in the Early Church where it came to bear other titles such as “Divine Wisdom” (Clement of Alexandria, Origen) and “Book of Christian Wisdom” (Augustine). It is regarded by many as the highest achievement among the writings of the Apoc.

1. Content. Wisdom of Solomon stands as the apex of the so-called Wisdom lit., the culmination of centuries of tradition on the subject of wisdom. While there is a decided affinity between Wisdom of Solomon and the earlier wisdom writings (Job, Eccl, Prov), comparison with its near contemporary and companion volume in the Apoc., Ecclesiasticus, springs to mind. In both, Wisdom is the focus of attention, is spoken of as personified, and is extolled in the most glowing phraseology. If Wisdom of Solomon outdoes Ecclesiasticus here, it is because of its employment of Hel. concepts and terminology in the setting forth of its argument. There are a number of additional, but more superficial, similarities between the two; e.g. a concern with perplexing problems, the repeated contrasting of righteous and wicked, a survey of the history of the righteous. A striking difference between the two writings, however, is found in the literary style. Ecclesiasticus consists largely of collections of aphorisms—short pithy sayings gathered in a random fashion on the order of Proverbs. Wisdom of Solomon, in contrast, consists more of extended passages on selected themes. As a result of this difference, Wisdom of Solomon may be much more readily outlined than Ecclesiasticus.

We may conveniently divide Wisdom of Solomon into three major divisions as in the following suggested outline.


In the first main section the author has drawn with bold strokes the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. As in Ecclesiasticus, wisdom has to do not with knowledge, but righteouness. That is, the man who possesses wisdom is the man whose life is righteous. In his introductory exhortation, our author turns this around, arguing that wisdom cannot be attained by the evil or godless man. Such a person indeed attains only unto death. An example of the unsound reasoning of the ungodly (given in the first person pl.) is thereupon provided for the reader (ch. 2). Since this present life is all that a man has, they argue, let us give ourselves to revelry before we die, and let us oppress and abuse the righteous who are such a reproach to us. Continuing his argument, the author points out that the adverse experiences of the righteous—suffering, barrenness and premature death—must not be misinterpreted. They are better than the apparent blessings which the wicked enjoy. For the vindication of a man’s righteousness comes ultimately at the judgment and in the immortality which awaits him. It is the final judgment that will expose the misery of the ungodly. This latter point is vividly communicated by the author in the poignant lament he puts upon the lips of the wicked at the last judgment (5:4ff.). The righteous will live forever, he concludes, receiving “a glorious crown” from the Lord (5:16). They will be kept by the Lord, but the end of the wicked will be disastrous.

In the second main section of the book, the author resumes the exhortation with which the book begins. Here one encounters the climax of all Jewish writing on wisdom. Solomon, the wisest of Israel’s kings, is made to speak to his fellow kings and rulers. It is their duty, he says, to seek wisdom in their actions. Wisdom will come to the ruler who seeks her, and he who honors her will rule forever. Solomon then reviews his own birth and childhood, which on every account was ordinary. His life, however, was marked by a sing. zeal for wisdom before which all else paled into insignificance. At this point the personal reminiscence is interrupted by an incomparable passage in praise of wisdom (7:22-8:1). The author continues to speak of wisdom as personified, although here perhaps the stronger word “hypostatized” is more appropriate. Wisdom is described in the most exalted language—language which, strictly speaking, can apply only to God. She is, indeed, nothing other than the vehicle of God’s action: “For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (7:25). The passage begins by enumerating twenty-one characteristics (3x7) of Wisdom, a number of these terms being taken from Gr. philosophy. Wisdom is said to pervade and penetrate all things (7:24); to be “a reflection of eternal light,” “an image of his [God’s] goodness” (7:26); able to do all things and renew all things (7:27), and to order all things well (8:1). Thereupon, Solomon proceeds with his account of his own pilgrimage to wisdom. Not only is wisdom desirable for its own sake, providing a man with true wealth, but it is indispensable for the effective ruling of one’s subjects. With all of this in mind, Solomon prayed to God for wisdom. The prayer given (ch. 9) is a considerable expansion of the prayer as found in the canonical Scriptures (1 Kings 3:7-9; 2 Chron 1:8-10).

The third main section of the book, regarded by many as somewhat anticlimactic, begins with a brief survey of Biblical history from Adam to the Exodus (ch. 10). It is shown how the heroes of Israel—who are not named, but in each instance referred to simply as the “righteous one” (ὁ δίκαιος)—were each kept by Wisdom, whereas those who neglected her brought ruin upon themselves. From ch. 11 onward, the writer concerns himself almost exclusively with the events connected with the Exodus. In particular, he is intent on showing how one and the same thing (or similar things) worked ill for Egypt and good for Israel. While this passage must have been regarded by its author as the outworking of wisdom in the concrete events of Israel’s past history, it is striking that the word “wisdom” occurs only twice in the remaining chapters. The first antithetical example given is that of water; the water given to the Israelites in the wilderness is contrasted with the water of the Nile which the Egyptians could not drink. At this point, the author pauses to elaborate the carefully measured character of God’s judgment upon Egypt and Canaan. These enemies of God could have been annihilated in an instant by His will, yet He brought judgment gradually to provide opportunity for repentance. Apparently sidetracked by the need for an explanation of their plight, the author attacks what was at the heart of their folly—idolatry (chs. 13-15). Whereas the author at least finds the worship of the beauties of nature intelligible, though, of course, he does not sanction it, he has nothing but ridicule for those who worship things made by man. He gives an account of the origin of idolatry (representation of those absent, whether by distance or death), tabulates the fruit of idolatry (ch. 14), and provides a concluding statement on the folly of idolatry (ch. 15). His digression concluded, the author resumes his discussion of God’s antithetical action among the Israelites and Egyptians. In addition to God’s use of water, God provided repulsive animals (frogs) to plague Egypt, but quails for Israel to feast upon; the Israelites were saved from the bite of the serpents, but the Egyptians could find no cure for the bites of the locusts and flies. The elements of fire, rain and hail worked toward Israel’s advantage, but to Egypt’s harm. Perhaps the most interesting of the contrasts, however, occurs in chs. 17 and 18 where the author, making extensive use of Jewish legendary materials (rabbinic midrash), tells of a mysterious darkness that overtook the Egyptians while the Israelites knew only the blessings of light. Death, it is true, came upon both Egypt and Israel, but in the case of the latter, it could have no enduring work. Finally, the Red Sea proved a blessing to Israel, but only destruction to the Egyptians. The book ends rather abruptly with a single v. (19:22) asserting that the Lord has glorified His people and helped them at all times.

2. Unity, author, and date. In the summary just given, it can be seen that the third major section of the book is quite different from the first two sections. This fact has led a number of scholars to the conclusion that it is from the hand of a second author. Wisdom is scarcely mentioned in these later chapters, and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, so important for the early chs. of the book, finds no place in the third section. There are stylistic and linguistic differences between these parts of the book as well (detailed evidence available in Holmes, APOT I, 522ff.). There is, however, no unanimity concerning exactly where the first author left off and the second began (e.g. some make the division between chs. 9 and 10; some between 10 and 11:2 or 11:5). Moreover, the arguments against unity, though not without plausibility, are by no means compelling. For despite the notable differences, there are similarities in the different sections too, and most conspicuously in the use of unusual words (μεταλεύειν is misused in the same way in 4:12 and 16:25) and expressions (see Reider, p. 21). The two sections may well be from the same author, but perhaps derive from different times and/or were written for different purposes. There is no question but that the later chs. are inferior in quality in comparison with the early chs. (that is, at least to the modern mind), but it is a rare author indeed whose every line remains equally inspiring centuries afterward.

Assuming one, and not two authors, it must be admitted that his identity remains unknown. The book, of course, purports to be the literary product of Solomon although his name is not explicitly mentioned (cf. the unmistakable indications in 9:7, 8, 12; as well as 8:9ff.). The author, however, writes under the guise of a pseudonym well chosen to increase the authority of the book’s assertions concerning wisdom. It is impossible that Solomon could have authored the book, for the conceptual and linguistic milieu it reflects is decidedly Hel. Unlike Ecclesiasticus this book, as is indicated by the style and vocabulary, was originally written in Gr. and not Heb. (including the earlier chs., for which a Heb. original has occasionally been unsuccessfully argued). Further evidence that the book was originally written in Gr. and dates well into the Hel. period is found in its dependence upon the LXX in OT quotations and allusions (see Holmes, APOT I, 524f.). It is known, then, that the author was acquainted with and highly influenced by Gr. thought, Gr. terminology and stylistic literary devices, and used the Gr. tr. of the OT. A Jew writing in Gr. and steeped in Hel. culture, using the LXX, readily suggests Alexandria as the most likely place of origin for our book.

The date of the book is difficult to place with any precision. Generally, however, since it post-dates the Gr. tr. of the OT prophets and writings, it therefore can be no earlier than the second half of the 2nd cent. b.c. If the author knew Ecclesiasticus (in Gr. dress), as he seems to have, one may place the earliest date around 100 b.c. On the other hand, the work predates the earlier writings of the NT (which show a knowledge of it) and prob. also pre-dates Philo, with whom our author appears unacquainted. Generally, then, a date within the 1st cent. b.c. seems most probable. Attempts to determine the date more precisely (whether within this period or not) on the basis of internal data in the book have, owing to their intrinsic uncertainty, produced no conclusions calling forth common assent.

3. Background and purpose. It has already been pointed out that the background of the book is unmistakably that of Hel. Judaism. The author appears to have been well educated in Gr. lit. and philosophy. His literary style has been acknowledged as exquisite, and the near equal of the best Hel. writings. The book is patterned to a large extent on the Cynic-Stoic diatribe, an eloquent oration intended (ostensibly, in the present instance) to be delivered as a public address. The style is decidedly artistic, employing a rich vocabulary and many turns of phrase which reflect the influence of the Gr. poets. The author is fond of the standard Gr. rhetorical devices such as alliteration, assonance, chiasmus, sorites, syncrisis and catalogues (see Reider and Pfeiffer for illustrations). However, not only his style, but also his content reveals the influence of Gr. lit. He can list for his readers the four cardinal virtues of the Gr. philosophers: temperance, prudence, justice and fortitude, adding “nothing in life is more profitable for men than these” (8:7). The description of wisdom (7:22f.) makes use of several philosophical terms, and the reference to wisdom as that which in her pureness “pervades and penetrates all things” (7:24) is clearly reminiscent of the Stoic notion of logos. Like the Gr. philosophers the author conceives of a kind of “world-soul” (cf. 1:7; 7:24; 8:1). Platonic doctrine may well account for the author’s assertion that the world was created from a preexisting, formless matter (11:17). Wisdom is regarded as an emanation from God (7:25) rather than a creation of God, and can be referred to as a πνεῦμα, G4460, a “breath,” or “spirit” of God, much in the same manner as among the Stoic philosophers. But perhaps most important of all, so far as the argument of the book goes, is the use of the Platonic idea of the immortality of the soul (3:1ff.; 1:12ff.). Indeed, the author seems to accept the Platonic teaching of the preexistence of the soul (8:19f.; cf. 15:8, 11). The immortality expected by the author is that of the soul, in accord with the Gr. philosophers, rather than that of the body, concerning which there is nothing in the book.

These are the more significant parallels between our book and the philosophy of the Hel. world. With these in mind, however, one may approach the question of the author’s purpose. He seems obviously to be formulating the faith of his fathers in the thought categories of the educated man of his day. One may read behind this, a desire on his part to speak to his Jewish brethren who were particularly attracted to the various fascinations of Hel. culture. He is saying that the Jewish religion is no less satisfying than Gr. philosophy, and that the concepts of the latter can be most helpful in revealing the true depth of the former. He writes to the Jewish apostate, and to those Jews in danger of apostasy. Additionally, however, he may well have hoped that the pagans might cast a glance upon his work. He spends no little effort in demonstrating the utter foolishness of idolatry. The references to the folly of Egypt throughout the latter half of the book could without difficulty be paralleled in the society of the contemporary Alexandrian, and the darkness that lay over the Egypt of the Exodus with not much imagination be seen to lie over the land of the reader.

4. Theological significance. For all his borrowing of Hel. thought and idiom, the author remains truly a Jew. He knows and makes use of the OT scriptures. His teaching concerning the transcendent God and the place of His chosen people Israel is orthodox. He makes free use of rabbinic exegesis (midrash) in his discussion of the events of the Exodus. The author, however, is also a Jew who feels quite free to advance the traditional theological formulations of his day. Unquestionably, one of the most important advances is the author’s contention that retribution and reward are not necessarily received in the present life, but are to be realized in the afterlife of the immortal soul. Anticipations of this doctrine, it is true, can be found already in the canonical Scriptures (e.g. Ps 73:1; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:12). Yet the fact that the present life is all that the Jew looked upon is attested to by the continual wrestling with the problem of the apparent injustice of the present life found in the wisdom writings of Israel. Our author is bold to affirm that the solution to this perennial problem is to be found in the future. He counters the despair of the canonical Ecclesiastes. (It has frequently been argued that one of the author’s main purposes was to refute the argument of Ecclesiastes.) Immortality, not material abundance, is the goal of the righteous, and one of the author’s contributions has been designated the inauguration of an “other-worldly” perspective hitherto lacking in Judaism. An adjunct to this emphasis is found in the author’s insistence upon individual righteousness as requisite for the enjoyment of blessing in the after-life of the soul.

Another significant teaching of the book is, of course, found in the way wisdom is expounded, particularly in the personification or hypostatization of wisdom. To be sure, wisdom is personified already in Job 28 and Proverbs 8, as well as in Baruch 3 and Ecclesiasticus 24. But this author goes much further in ascribing to wisdom not merely a rhetorical existence, but very much a real existence—on the order of a separate heavenly being, existing with God (8:3) as the author says, “an associate in his works” (8:4), who was present at the creation of the world (9:9). She is “all-powerful, overseeing all” (7:22), “a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” (7:25). Wisdom is further identified with πνεῦμα, G4460, “spirit” (1:6; 7:22ff.; 9:17), and performs the work of an intermediary between God and the righteous (7:27). Thus whereas Ecclesiasticus identifies wisdom with the law (something which this author does not do), here wisdom becomes the dynamic co-worker of God. However, while the early Christians found this treatment of wisdom helpful in formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, it seems unlikely that the author actually meant wisdom to be taken as a person distinct from Yahweh. It may certainly be said, however, that the early Christian formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity in language and concept, often bear a great resemblance to our author’s discussion of wisdom and her relationship to God, and that the latter not only anticipated, but to some extent prepared the way for those formulations.

5. Influence. The influence of the book on the Early Christian Church appears to have been remarkable, and far surpasses all other OT Apoc. in importance. It prob. appealed to the Christians because of its clear teaching on immortality, and esp. because the language with which the author described wisdom was deemed particularly suitable and applicable to Christ. Although there are no direct quotations of the book in the NT (the earliest direct quotation is found in Clement of Rome) there are several significant allusions, esp. in the writings of Paul and John. Romans appears to reveal the influence of our book in several places. Paul’s description of idolatry and its effects (Rom 1:18-23) is quite similar to the same line of argument in Wisdom of Solomon 11-14 (cf. also the passages on natural theology, Rom 1:19f. with 13:1-9); Romans 9:19-23 seems to echo passages concerning the sovereignty of God in 12:12 and 15:7, where the analogy of the potter and the clay is used in the same manner. The parallels here seem more striking than does Isaiah 29:16, where the same metaphor is employed. The theme of the forbearance of God in giving opportunity for repentance found in the latter half of the book (e.g. 11:23; 12:10, 19) is also to be found in Romans (e.g. 2:4). One may also compare Romans 5:12 with 2:24, where it is stated that through the devil’s work death entered the world. Among other of Paul’s epistles Ephesians 6:11-17 is similar to 5:18-20, but here the Pauline imagery is equally well explained on the basis of Isaiah 59:17. The Christological language of Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:2f. and John 1:9 seems to betray a knowledge of 7:25ff. (cf. also John 1:1 with 9:1f.).

In addition to the large number of parallels in the NT writings that have been detected (see further Oesterley, Holmes), the Early Church Fathers found the book useful in their apologetic endeavors, pointing for example to such passages as 14:7 and 2:12-20 as prophecies of the crucifixion of Christ and 18:15 as a prophecy of the incarnation.

6. Text and canonicity. The text of the original Gr. has come down to us in a good state of preservation in the major uncial MSS of the LXX (B, A and א; and in C which is, however, incomplete). It is readily available in the standard published edd. of the LXX. Vulgate, Old Latin, Syriac and Armenian are among the VSS of the book which have been handed down, and these give evidence of having been tr. directly from the Gr.

As with the other books of the OT Apoc., the book was accorded official recognition by the Roman Catholic Church only in the 16th cent. It was, however, highly venerated in the Early Church as we have seen. Some accepted the book as canonical on the basis of its claim to Solomonic authorship. Others, fully cognizant that the book was pseudonymous, nevertheless also regarded it as canonical (e.g. Origen, Eusebius, Augustine). The canonical list of the Muratorian Fragment (2nd cent.) surprisingly lists the book as a member of the NT canon (!), noting that the book was written by friends of Solomon in his honor. In the Protestant Church the book holds an honored position among the books of the OT Apoc.

Bibliography S. Holmes in R. H. Charles, APOT, I (1913), 518-568; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Books of the Apocrypha (1915), 455-478; id., The Wisdom of Solomon (1917); S. Lange, “The Wisdom of Solomon and Plato,” JBL LV (1936), 293-302; E. J. Goodspeed, The Story of the Apocrypha (1939), 90-99; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949), 313-351; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 65-76; J. Reider, The Book of Wisdom (1957); R. T. Siebeneck, “The Midrash of Wisdom 10-19,” CBQ XXII (1960), 176-182; L. H. Brockington, A Critical Introduction to the Apocrypha (1961), 54-70; J. Geyer, The Wisdom of Solomon (1963); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965), 600-603; A. G. Wright, “The Structure of the Book of Wisdom,” Biblia XLVIII (1967), 165-184; id., “Numerical Patterns in the Book of Wisdom,” CBQ XXIX (1967), 218-232; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969), 1221-1230.