and warning. The text begins with an exhortation to the rulers of the earth to act justly. This exhortation is not an indication of the intended readership, however. Nothing in this opening section
addresses the issue of governance or political justice. Rather, the appeal is personal and generic; it applies to individuals
of any sort.
Rulers of the earth is intended to impress the reader, as well as to convey the perspective of King Solomon (see also 6.1, 24–25
That God sees the evil in people's hearts, even when others cannot see it, is a common theme in wisdom literature
(for example, Sir 23.18–19
). What is distinctive in Wisdom is the emphasis upon the internal, spiritual realm that exists within each person. Such an
emphasis reflects the influence of Greek philosophy.
The author assumes that human beings are composed of two parts, the body and the soul. (Such an assumption is different from the traditional view of the Hebrew Bible about the nature of human beings, in which
the human person is understood as an integrated whole; souls and bodies cannot exist apart from one another.) Body/soul dualism
derives from a more fundamental dualism common in Platonic
thought: The substance of spiritual things is completely different from that of material things, that is, matter. A person's
physical body consists of matter (see 11.17
), while a soul exists as a non-material substance that is potentially imperishable. (See sidebar, “Immortality of the Soul,” p.
That which holds all things together comes from Stoic
philosophy, which teaches that the universe is one rational world-soul, also known as the “logos.” The Stoic's goal is to
conform his individual soul to the world-soul.
Wisdom's blend of biblical monotheism and Greek dualism
creates some implicit theological contradictions.
When the author says God did not make death, he seems very far removed from classic Hebraic theology, which holds that nothing is beyond the control of an all-powerful
God (see Isa 45.7
). The story of Adam and Eve, in which God pronounces a death sentence upon the first couple (Gen 2.17; 3.19
), would seem to contradict any understanding of God that separated death from God's ken (see 2 Esd 3.7
). Although the author's view is unusual, it is dependent upon a reading of Genesis found in the literature of the time, a
reading that understands God to have originally created humans as immortal creatures (see Wis 2.23; 2 Esd 8.59
). Death becomes part of human life only as a result of sin (
). Since human mortality was not part of God's plan, death must come from another source.
is personified here (see 2 Esd 8.53; Rev 6.8
), it refers to the realm of the dead (Sheol
is the Hebrew equivalent; see, for example, Prov 7.27
), a place devoid of the presence of God.
with death. The author employs a rhetorical
device from Hellenistic
a popular genre
of the era intended for pedagogical purposes. The diatribe typically included dialogue with imaginary opponents. In this
case the opponents represent those who deny that humans are immortal.
The sentiment that the author caricatures through the voice of his imaginary opponents is found in wisdom literature
(see, for example, Eccl 1.1–11; 9.7–10
Chance stands in contrast to the deliberate plan of God. The breath in our nostrils is smoke mocks the older Hebraic view that regards breath as an animating source of life (breath, wind, and spirit are all the same
word in both Greek and Hebrew) that expires along with the body at death.
Since human life has no lasting value, the opponents draw the conclusion that frivolous pursuits and the exploitation of weaker
individuals is justified. Compare Prov 1.10–14
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