Wisdom of Solomon

WISDOM OF SOLOMON (Σοφία Σαλωμω̂νος). 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.


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.

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.

Background and purpose.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

See also

  • Apocrypha