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

Commentary on The Wisdom of Solomon

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Love Righteousness, for Unrighteousness Cannot be Hidden and Leads to Death ( 1:1–16 )

( 1:1–5 ) Righteousness, the Great Virtue Needed by Kings, Must be Sought in a Whole-Hearted Quest for the Divine Spirit of Wisdom

With the exhortations characteristic of wisdom herself (Prov 2:20; 8:1; 9:3 ) and her prophetic ‘children’ (Lk 7:35; 11:49; Wis 7:27 ), the writer addresses those ‘who judge the earth’ ( 1:1 , my tr.); they are ‘rulers’ (NRSV), being ‘kings’ as well as ‘judges’ ( 6:1–2 ), but their judicial office is in view, as with Solomon (1 Kings 3:3–28 ). ‘Love righteousness’ echoes psalms of kingship (Ps. 2:10–11; 45:7; 72:1–4 ). This hint at the form of a manual for kings commended Wisdom to an intellectual Jewish public, given the keen current interest in political and moral philosophy (WIS A.4–7). The significance gained by the first line in Christian political thought emerges when Dante sees its letters displayed by heavenly spirits (Paradiso, 18.70–117).

Righteousness, the characteristic virtue of the Israelites and their martyrs and heroes in Wisdom (as at 2:12; 3:1; 5:1; 10:4; 18:7 ), was exalted in Greek tradition as the principle of civic life and a cardinal virtue ( WIS 8:7 ), indeed as ‘the entirety of virtue’ (Arist., Eth. Nic. 5.1.19, 1130a8); these views converged with the prominence of righteousness in the OT, there too as a civic principle, but with emphasis on conformity to the will of a righteous deity (Isa 11:4–5; Ps 11:7; 45:7; Wis 15:3 ). Here this emphasis marks the quick transition in 1:1 to advice on seeking the God of Israel, who is named, as often in Wisdom, by the royal title ‘lord’ (kyrios) used in the LXX. He must be sought wholeheartedly (Deut 4:29 ), by inward ‘goodness’, a term used for the unqualified zeal of Phinehas (Sir 45:23 ) and the generosity of Solomon (Wis 8:15, 19 ), and by sincerity (haplotes, REB ‘singleness’) of heart, a phrase linked with the kingly large-heartedness of David (1 Chr 29:17 LXX). Singleness of heart ranked high as a virtue (1 Macc 2:60; Col 3:22 ; 1 Clem. 60:2 ); the ‘double-minded’ must ‘purify the heart’ (Jas 1:8; 4:8 ).

The great example of divine ‘manifestation’ to those who do not tempt or distrust (v. 2 ) was Moses (Ex 33:13, 18–19 ), by contrast with the rebellious children of Israel in the wilderness ( 1:10–11 ). ‘Thoughts’ (logismoi, v. 3 ) are also the main obstacle in Prov 15:23 LXX (‘an unrighteous thought is an abomination to the Lord’), 2 Cor 10:4–5 . ‘The power’ (RV; NRSV adds ‘his’) is the divine manifestation itself (Mk 14:62 ), the spirit identified with wisdom (Wis 1:4–6 ) and probably also with the angelic spirit of the divine presence who led the Exodus and met rebellion (Ex 3:2; 32:34; Isa 63:9–14 ; WIS 10, introduction). v. 3 also takes up Isa 59 , where perverse ways separate sinners from God (Isa 59:2, 8 , quoted at Rom 3:15 ), and he appears as a warrior to punish them (Isa 59:16–21 , also echoed in Wis 5:18 ).

Wisdom (WIS A.6–7) is named with reverent emphasis at the end of v. 4a in Greek ( WIS 6:12 ). If not excluded by sin (cf. 4:10–12 ) it can ‘enter’ the soul (v. 4; 7:27 ) as a ‘spirit’ (vv. 5–6 ); the soul likewise enters a body ( 8:19 ; WIS A.4; 8). Origen (WIS A.11), thinking on these lines, held that the Logos entered the pre-existent soul of Christ (Origen, On First Principles, 2.6.3–7; 4.6.4–5). For the body in bond to sin (v. 4 ) cf. Rom. 6:12–14; 7:14; 8:23 .

‘Disciplined spirit’ (v. 5 ) seems to imply the human spirit, but the more exact rendering ‘spirit of discipline’ (RV, REB) is preferable, for divine wisdom (‘holy’, cf. 7:22 ) is probably the subject, as in vv. 3–4 and 6 . For its flight from iniquity cf. Ps 51:10–11 . ‘Discipline’ (paideia)—training with instruction—was constantly linked with wisdom (so Prov 1:2; Wis 3:11 ); here too Jewish and Greek thinking converged.

( 1:6–11 ) The Universal Spirit of Wisdom Conveys All Unrighteous Speech to the Lord

The spirit of wisdom is philanthrōpos (v. 6; 7:23 ), ‘kindly’ to humanity in particular, for she delights in human company (Prov 8:31; Bar 3:37 ); but this epithet unexpectedly subserves the ruling theme of vv. 6–11 , the omnipresence of a judicial spirit aware of all thought and speech (Ps 139:1–12, 23–4; Wis 9:11 ; divine omniscience linked with wisdom, 1 Enoch, 84:3 ). Likewise, v. 7 recalls the Stoic conception (WIS A.2) of a universe in which ‘one common soul Inspires and feeds and animates the whole’ (Virg., Aen. 6.725–6, tr. Dryden); but the spirit is pictured as a world-soul in order to show that it has ‘knowledge of the voice’ (phōnē, see RV), hears all, and knows all languages (1 Cor 14:10–11a REB). In the medieval and later Christian West v. 7 was therefore aptly recited at Pentecost (see Acts 2:4 ), but throughout vv. 7–11 the spirit's linguistic and other knowledge is judicial; the ungodly are detected (v. 8 ), heard (vv. 9–11 ) by divine jealousy or zeal (v. 10; 5:17; Isa 59:17 RV, REB), and punished (vv. 8, 9, 11 ) by unfaltering justice (dikē, 8; 2 Macc 8:11; Acts 28:4 ). As the Greek deities were epopsioi, ‘watchers’ (Callimachus fr. 85), so the eyes of the Lord run to and fro everywhere (2 Chr 16:9; Prov 15:3; Zech 4:10 ). ‘Know what is above thee: a seeing eye, and a hearing ear, and all thy doings written in a book’ (m. ᾽Abot, 2.1). The famous ‘grumbling’ (vv. 10, 11 ) of the wilderness generation was strictly punished (Num 14:27–35; 1 Cor 10:10 ); the soul's destruction (v. 11 ) is then probably seen as the penalty as well as the consequence of untruth.

( 1:12–16 ) Do not Court Death by Going Astray, for the World is Made for Life through Righteousness

vv. 12–16 expand Prov 8:35–6 , the end of the speech by wisdom already echoed in v. 6 . In v. 12 ‘error’ (planē, ‘straying’; WIS 12:24 ) has overtones of idolatry, the root of all vice. ‘Death’ (v. 12 ), coupled with ‘destruction’ (vv. 12, 14 ), is personified according to an old biblical tradition probably influenced at various stages by Syrian and Greek myths of a god of death, and exemplified at Job 28:22; Isa 28:15 (taken up in v. 16 , below); Hos 13:14 . In v. 13 , accordingly, death was not divinely created, but came in ‘through the devil's envy’ ( 2:24 ); all created things, by contrast, were made for life and health (v. 14 ; WIS 2:23). Because of this contrast between the created and the intruded, ‘creatures’ (v. 14 , NRSV marg.) is preferable to ‘generative forces’ as a rendering of geneseis; created things have the sap of life in them, not the ‘poison of destruction’ (RV), the principle of death. ‘Hades’ (v. 14 ) usually represents Hebrew šĕ᾽ōl in the LXX, and can therefore be personal (Isa 5:14 ) as well as topographical; here, where death is personified, Hades is probably imagined as a godlike figure whose ‘dominion’ is underground, on the lines of Greek myth, as in the Egyptian Jewish epitaph CIJ 1508 (Horbury and Noy 1992: pp. xxiii–xxiv, 63). The single-line v. 15 can be viewed together with the last two lines of v. 14 as forming a triad, on the pattern of vv. 1, 5, 9 ; in the OL it is followed by the line ‘but unrighteousness is the obtaining of death’, but this is probably an early expansion. The characteristically Greek term ‘immortal’ ( WIS 3:4 ) here adorns a maxim found in other words in the Psalms ( 111:3; 112:3, 9; 119:142, 144 ). The ‘ungodly’ are pictured (v. 16 ) as in Isa 28:15 LXX (also echoed at Sir 14:12 ) ‘we made a covenant with Hades, and a bond with death’; ‘him’ (NRSV marg.) is perhaps more likely to be Hades, just mentioned, than ‘death’ (text), but the diabolical power of death ( 2:24; Heb 2:14 ) is in view in either case. This Isaianic ‘covenant’ became in medieval thought the pact with the devil in witchcraft, as when Dr Faustus made Lucifer ‘a deed of gift of body and of soul’, conditionally on ‘all covenants and articles between us both’ (Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, ll. 89–91). The covenanters deservedly belong to the ‘portion’ (meris) of Hades, death, or the devil (v. 16; 2:24 RV; NRSV ‘company’), implicitly opposed here to ‘the Lord's portion’ (Deut 32:9, 2 Macc 1:26 ), (righteous) Israel, wisdom's home (Sir 24:12 ); an explicit contrast is drawn in Qumran rule literature between those who belong to ‘the lot of Belial’ and ‘the lot of God’ (1QS ii 2–5). For the movement of thought from the infernal covenant to the two portions compare 2 Cor 6:15 , where Christ has no concord with Belial, and a believer no meris with an unbeliever.

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