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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Form.

1.

‘The very style has a scent of Greek eloquence’, as Jerome noted in the letter introducing his Latin translation of the books of Solomon from the Hebrew (Weber et al. 1975: ii. 957, lines 17–18). The scent arises mainly from literary and philosophical vocabulary (WIS A.4), occasional patches of rhetorical style, and thematic contacts with such typically Greek concerns as consolation ( 3:13–4:19 ). Nevertheless, the form of Wisdom belongs chiefly to Hebrew literature. It recalls the third- to first-century BCE Judean continuation of Hebrew wisdom poetry attested in the Dead Sea scrolls, including the apocryphal Ps 154 (Vermes 1997: 302–3, 393–425; van der Woude 1995 ), and it is comparable with the form of the Greek Psalms of Solomon (c.60–40 BCE), for it resembles the translations of Psalms, Proverbs, and Sirach preserved in the LXX, and replicates in Greek the stressed parallelistic verse of the HB. This would not necessarily be expected of a Jewish poetical book current in Greek. Jews loved Greek verse in the quantitative metres of classical poetry, as literature and inscriptions composed or sponsored by Jews attest (Horbury and Noy 1992: pp. xx–xxiv); the moral hexameter Sentences of Ps.-Phocylides (van der Horst 1985; Barclay 1996: 336–46) form a metrical Jewish work broadly comparable with Wisdom. The classical metres are set aside in Wisdom, however, for a form redolent of ancestral Jewish Scripture, in line with the book's strong national feeling (WIS A.3). Indeed, it is not impossible that Wisdom 1–10 is a version of a text also issued in Hebrew or Aramaic. On the other hand, Wisdom's occasional transitions from biblical parallelism to hymn-like prose, such as the list of epithets in 7:22–3 , sometimes give it a mixed Hebraic and rhetorical style like that seen on a small scale in the hymn of Rev 15:3–4 .

2.

A formal feature visible throughout the book is correspondence between speeches or descriptions. Within sections, units of text have been arranged to show parallels of sense and to return to an opening theme (as with the two speeches of the ungodly, 1:16–2:24; 5:1–23 , and perhaps also with the four distinct passages that can be discerned between them). Suggested divisions naturally differ, but there is a good case for some intentional correspondence. The prevalence of this structural care (Grabbe 1997: 18–23) then recalls the prevalent consistency of style, but it does not cancel the marked thematic variation between chs. 1–10 and 11–19 (WIS A.2). These sections probably represent at least two separate compositions (WIS 9 introduction; 11:2 ), following the same conventions but not necessarily written by the same author.

3.

It is correspondingly difficult to name a Greek literary genre to which the book in its present state belongs, although Jewish wisdom literature in general has some kinship with the proverbial and moralistic literature of the Greeks (WIS A. 4–8). If lack of Greek metre is overlooked, Wisdom broadly recalls the didactic poetry on philosophical and moral subjects which flourished in Hellenistic authors such as Aratus (3rd cent. BCE), found a Jewish echo in Ps.-Phoc, and was later imitated by Roman poets such as Lucretius, Virgil, and Horace (WIS A.4). The biblical allusions of Wisdom roughly correspond to classical dependence on Homer and the mythical tradition. Didactic compositions in prose or verse could inculcate virtue and knowledge through exhortation (protreptic, cf. Wis 1–6 ) and praise (encomium, cf. Wis 7–10 ). In the twentieth century Wisdom was identified with protreptic and encomium in turn. The book can be loosely classified in Greek terms as a protreptic work, but it differs as a whole from the kind of Greek prose or verse composition which this classification evokes. Aspects of the book recalling Greek and Roman didactic poetry, including moral exhortation, are perhaps less important as indications of genre than as clues to the popularity of Wisdom in antiquity and the Middle Ages (A.12), when classical didactic literature was also relished.

4.

The genre seems better classified in biblical terms as ‘sapiential’; the book furthers the literary tradition followed in the wisdom-books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, but it does so in a more consciously Israelite and biblically oriented manner, in this respect resembling Sirach (WIS D). Unlike the Hebrew and Greek Sirach, however, Wisdom presents itself as wisdom of the inspired Solomon ( 7:7 ). Might it therefore be classed as pseudepigraphic prophecy, and be called an apocalypse, like 1 Enoch which it seems to echo? No, even though Wisdom declares the future and interprets Scripture in prophetic fashion, and exemplifies the thematic overlap between wisdom-books and apocalypses (2 ESD); for the centrality of wisdom in chs. 1–10 makes the book as a whole more sapiential than apocalyptic.

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