A Book Called "Wisdom"
Does Wisdom Only Come With Age?
An Ancient Text
The Bible is so much about wisdom that it seems odd that a relatively small book of the Bible should be the only one actually to bear the name "wisdom." People who have useful skills, administrators with good advisers, and those who act on knowledge are deemed wise. But to trust in God is the source of wisdom in the Bible. To be morally correct is wise.
In the part of the Bible that Christians call the "Old Testament" is the Book of Wisdom. It is not found in every Bible. It's in the older Douay version, for example, but not in Gideons. Like so much of the Bible, it was written by an unknown author or authors centuries ago.
Bibles consist of writings of Hebrew intellectuals who devoted their skills to advancing religion in the name of the invisible God of Israel. To this day, that concept of God prevails as the dominant religious motive for the majority of people in the most powerful nations. It's a definition of God used by the Jews and distinguished from other cultures such as the ancient Canaanites who inhabited the Promised Land prior to the Jews and worshiped according to a different definition of God, often using figurines instead of intellectual concepts to describe an intangible God.
To Christians, God the Father is the God that Hebrews worshiped and wrote about in the Old Testament. Jesus came centuries later as the Son of God, a claim considered blasphemous then and even today by some conservative non-Christians. But the practical traits of wisdom have remained the same throughout recorded human history regardless of whether atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, or Muslims consider what constitutes wisdom.
The Book of Wisdom promotes wisdom as a source of happiness. The authors attempt to describe and analyze wisdom. Through examining history, the book shows the power of wisdom in action. As typical of the Bible, the book is written by, for, and about Jewish people as a means of strengthening them in their faith in God and confidence in their superiority over other nations that either did, or appeared to, worship figurines or other tangible things. It would be logical to assume that those other ancient cultures besides the Hebrews had similar writings about justice, how to live morally, and religion. Hebrews did not invent books. However, there's no proof, since the predecessor nations must have been destroyed along with remnants of their civilization.
Hebrew writings are an exception to the rule of lost literature, having been preserved in the form of the Bible probably only because the Romans adopted Christianity as the official religion for their empire and needed the Biblical writings as a foundation. The Jewish nation was part of that empire at a time vital to the shaping of our modern world, and through the twists of fate and history have ended up being the ones who gave the dominant Western world its religious and moral character, not only in the old, traditional Jewish faith itself that's survived many centuries, but also in various offshoots from Judaism such as Christianity and Islam, both of which adhere to the same faith as Abraham and Moses. The sense of wisdom that had its origin in Judaism can be found in the introductory Mosaic books of the Bible, the rules of the Talmud, and the teachings of Jesus and Mohammed. This shows the importance of the Hebrew people and the justification for their great honor. They influenced the world toward religious understanding and honorable living.
The Book of Wisdom starts with the words, "Love justice, you who are the judges of the earth." It's a form of prayer to ask God to make our worldly rulers wise and not foolish, to the benefit of everyone. "The spirit of wisdom is benevolent and will not acquit the evil speaker from his lips." (Ch 1) The wise are contrasted with evil people throughout the Book of Wisdom.
"Seek not death...God did not make death and does not have pleasure in the destruction of the living." (Ch 1) "By the envy of the devil, death came into the world." (Ch 2) "But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them." (Ch 3)
Some of the Book of Wisdom starts to sound like the New Testament. Speaking of the hatred of the wicked toward any good person they see, the author imagines a wicked person saying, "He boasts that he has the knowledge of God, and calls himself the son of God...and glories that he has God for his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us prove what will happen to him, and we will know what his end will be. For if he is the true son of God, He will defend him and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him by outrages and tortures, that we may know his meekness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a most shameful death." (Ch 2) This is the story of the passion of Christ as told in the Gospels centuries later. Ironically, the Gospels depict the wicked persecutors as the establishment leaders of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, whom Jesus accused of having lost their true Jewish religion and become vain and corrupt with power.
With respect to the just, the authors write, "Although in the sight of men they suffer torments, their hope is full of immortality...They who trust in the Lord will understand the truth; and they who are faithful in love will rest in Him, for grace and peace is to His elect." (Ch 3) The concept of immortality is strong in the New Testament. Rarely in the Old Testament up to this point was there much emphasis placed on immortality. To this day, many devout Jews place greater emphasis on living an honorable life than on seeking with any certainty for a pleasant afterlife. It is interesting that sometimes the Book of Wisdom sounds like it belongs in the New Testament of Christianity.
There are proverbial words in the Book of Wisdom. "The bewitching of vanity obscures good things, and the wandering of sensuousness overturns the innocent mind." (Ch 4) The authors pity the wicked. "The hope of the wicked is as dust which is blown away with the wind...But the just shall live for evermore." (Ch 5)
Kings and queens are called upon to place a higher value upon wisdom than power. "A wise king is the upholding of the people." (Ch 6) The author tries to "sell" royalty and all people on the idea that wisdom is good. Telling his or her personal story, the author says, "I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me, and I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison to her...for in her is the spirit of understanding." (Ch 7) Wisdom is compared to a woman whom a man loves romantically. "Her have I loved, and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse, and I became a lover of her beauty...To be allied to wisdom is immortality." (Ch 8) The words of the Book of Wisdom seem based on the real or fictional lives of Solomon or King David. God "has chosen me to be king...and commanded me to build a temple..." (Ch 9)
The book continues with a review of history. The authors recall the story of the first human as told in Genesis, the story of Noah, the tragedy of Cain and Abel, then Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. All that God did for those who gained wisdom by placing their faith in God is remembered in the Book of Wisdom. (Ch 10) But when faith in the invisible God of Israel was lost, God's people suffered. (Ch 11) Pagan Canaanites who previously inhabited the Holy Land were punished justly for their sins, according to the Bible, because idolatry and sacrificing children are undeniably wrong. (Ch 12) Also those who worshiped stars, elements, and various strange, man-made images had to be punished by the invisible God of Israel. (Ch 13, Ch 15) Sailors who pray to a carved image and people who worshiped humans as if they were gods also lacked wisdom and were punished. (Ch 14) The great story of Exodus is remembered for the just punishment of the Egyptians and the divine assistance given to the people of Israel to reward their faith in God. (Ch 16, Ch 17, Ch 18, Ch 19)
The Book of Wisdom finishes with these tales of bloody conflicts between Israel and their enemies, especially the dominant Egyptians. Prayers for wisdom, which most modern readers can appreciate, were the subjects of the first chapters of the Book of Wisdom. But in the closing chapters battle prayers and the death of enemies are recounted. We do not have written historical accounts from those other nations regarding the fighting that took place at that time. Also, we do not have enough historical evidence to convince all scholars that any of the specific details of these events even took place. But what we do have is a worldwide family of modern Jewish people who value wisdom and honor, and ascribe these things to faith in an invisible God, just the same as the younger religions of Christianity and Islam. Not only the writing and preservation of texts, but also the definition of God as an invisible, giving force has become the ideal that is accepted all over the world, regardless of which religion is followed.
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