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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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The Ungodly Declare their Falsely Argued Philosophy, and their Resolve to Use their Time in Revelry and Oppression ( 2:1–20 )

This speech, ‘full of a kind of evil grandeur rhythmically expressed’ (Deane 1881 ), follows the expressions of doubt or lawlessness imagined by biblical writers (as at Isa 22:13; Ps 10:4–11; 14:1; Prov 1:10–14 ). These were later developed, with hints at Epicureanism as popularly represented (1 Cor 15:32 ; 1 Enoch 102:6 , ‘they [the pious] like us have died’; Ps. Sol. 4:11 (14) ‘There is none that sees and judges’). Similarly, Cain was pictured as saying to Abel, in a dispute before he killed him, ‘Did nature create pleasures for the dead?’ (Philo, Det. 33), or ‘There is no judgment, no Judge, and no other world’ (Tg. Ps.-J. Gen. 4:8 ). The evocation of both sides of the argument in Wis 2–5 sounds like an echo of the judgement scene in 1 Enoch 102–3.

In vv. 1–5 , as in Job 14:1 , we have ‘but a short time to live, and are full of misery’, for there is no ‘remedy’ (RV ‘healing’) for death (v. 1 , line 3); OL ‘refreshment’ (refrigerium, also at 4:7 ; often used of afterlife) prematurely introduces the denial of happy immortality implied in the following line, but well displays the link of ‘healing’ with new life (Deut 32:39; Ps 30:3–4; Hos 6:1–2 ) which leads to the coming denial (v. 1 , line 4). None was known to ‘return’ from Hades or, transitively, to ‘give release’ (RV); the latter seems preferable for its sharper polemic. It implicitly negates the myths of Orpheus and Heracles, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (Sir 48:5, 14 ), and the hope of rescue by the supreme deity himself (Hos 13:14 ); its feeling is both biblical (Ps 89:48 ) and classical: ‘Nor virtue, birth, nor eloquence divine Shall bid the grave its destin'd prey resign: Nor chaste Diana from infernal night Could bring her modest favourite back to light’ (Horace, Odes, 4.7.21–8, tr. P. Francis).

The materialism of v. 2–4 comparably blends biblical and Hellenic reminiscence, following the more sceptical and mocking the more hopeful side of both traditions. Our birth is haphazard, as Epicureans held cosmic origins to be: ‘not by design did the first beginnings of things station themselves’ (Lucretius, 5.419, tr. H. A. J. Munro); on the other side, like a refutal of the ungodly, ‘Not to blind hazard or accident is our birth and our creation due’ (Cic. Tusc. 1.118, tr. J. E. King). The philosophers' ‘spark’ of reason is as temporary as the associated heart-beat (v. 2 ); Heraclitus' view that the soul was a ‘spark’ of ethereal fire (Macrobius, In Somnium Scipionis, 1.14) is cited as well known by Tertullian, De Anima 5.2. When the body dies, the spirit is dispersed (v. 3; Eccl 3:21 ), and (as in Horace, Odes, 4.7.16) ‘our best remains are ashes and a shade’. Lastly, the sealed end without ‘return’ (anapodismos, v. 5 ) for the passing of our shadow seems implicitly to negate Isaiah's miracle of the shadow on the dial, when the sun ‘went back’ (anepodisen, Sir 48:23 REB) and life was regained.

The call to enjoy life (vv. 6–9 ) was often underlined in poetry by a reminder of death: ‘Live, says he, for I'm coming’ (Virg. App. Copa, 38, tr. H. Waddell); but here death has been the first consideration (vv. 1–5 ), and ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ (v. 8 ) leads not simply to wine or love but to robbery, torment, and murder (vv. 10–20 ). Heartless sensuality, ‘making use of the creation’ (v. 6 ), is vividly evoked through concentration (vv. 7–9 ) on the spring flowers grabbed for the soon-discarded crowns of the drunkards (contrast the decorous bestowal of a wreath at a well-conducted symposium, Sir 32:2 ); Isa 28 (1–4) is echoed again, as in 1:16 above. In accord with this floral theme, in v. 9 probably read leimon (meadow) for hēmon (of us), as suggested by an additional line in the OL which otherwise corresponds to v. 9 , line 1 NRSV (Kilpatrick 1981: 216; Scarpat 1989–96; see Gregg 1909 ), and render ‘Let no meadow fail to share in our revelry’.

In vv. 10–20 the series of hedonistic group exhortations starting with ‘let us enjoy’ turns, with a sinister unveiling of purpose, into the tyrannical ‘let us oppress…lie in wait…test…condemn’; for this sequence compare Jas 5:5–6 , perhaps an echo of Wisdom. Now the speech recalls Prov 1:10–14 , cited above, an enticement by the ‘ungodly’ (LXX) to rob and murder the ‘righteous’ (LXX). In Wisdom also the victim is the ‘righteous’ (dikaios, Lat. iustus, vv. 10, 12, 16, 18; 3:1 ), taken by early Christians (WIS A.11–12) to be Christ amid his enemies prophetically foreseen (so among others, with reference to v. 12 onwards, Cyp. Test. 2.14; Aug. De civ. dei, 17.20); the scene recalls Plato on the inevitable torture and judicial murder of the dikaios (Rep. 2.5, 362A, also referred to Christ by Clem. Al. Strom. 5.14), and biblical accounts of the suffering righteous (Ps 37:12–13; Isa 53:11 ; Ps. Sol. 13:6–12 ), from ‘righteous Abel’ onwards (Mt 23:25; 1 Jn 3:12 ; Philo and Targum as cited above; in 1 Enoch 22:5–7 Abel leads the spirits' cry for vengeance). The whole of 2:1–3:11 recalls Isa 57:1–3 LXX: ‘See how the righteous perishes, and none takes it to heart…from the face of unrighteousness the righteous was taken away; his grave shall be in peace, he was taken from the midst. But draw near, you lawless children…in what did you take delight, and against whom did you open your mouth?’ In the much-quoted verse 12, for ‘lie in wait’ see Prov 1:11 and Ps 10:8–9 ; ‘inconvenient’ echoes Isa 3:10 LXX, a verse which Christians also applied to the passion (Barn. 3:7 , etc.).

Israel collectively are usually the ‘child of God’ ( 18:13; Ex 4:22 ), but suffering individuals apply this to themselves (Deut 8:5 , using the second person singular; compare Ps. Sol. 13:8 ‘he will admonish the righteous as a child of love’; Heb 12:5–7 ); here then (Wis 2:13, 16, 18; 14:3 is collective) the individual righteous is the child claiming God as Father, probably with satirical reflection of the near-mystical piety (cf. 7:27; 8:2 ; WIS A.3) which became characteristic of wisdom and martyrology ( 5:5 ); see Sir 23:1, 4 , ‘O Lord, Father…’; 4Q417 (Sapiential work) fr. 1 ii, ‘you will be His first-born son’ (tr. Vermes 1997: 405); ‘These wounds caused me to be beloved of my Father in heaven’, Mekilta, Yithro, Bahodesh 6, on Ex 20:6 (tr. Lauterbach 1933: ii. 247).

The righteous ‘will be protected’ (v. 20 ), for (rendering more closely with RV margin) ‘there will be a visitation of him’ with immortality, as at WIS 3:7 .

The Ungodly, Reasoning Thus, were Blinded to God's Gift of Life ( 2:21–4 )

God's purposes (v. 22 , mystēria, RV ‘mysteries’), hidden (Mk 4:11 ) from the impious by a judicial blinding (Isa 6:9–10 ) brought on by their wickedness (v. 21; cf. 2 Cor 4:4 ) are indeed to give the worthy their ‘wages’ (misthos, as 5:15 and Mt 5:12 , where NRSV has ‘reward’); so at 1 Cor 3:7–9 it is similarly said that the rulers responsible for the crucifixion would have refrained if only they had known what God prepares for them that love him. ‘Incorruption’ (v. 23; 6:18–19 ) hints, as its Pauline usage suggests (Rom 2:7; 1 Cor 15:42 , etc.), at the hope for immortality expounded in the sequel and expressed here in the bold view of human creation as the image ( 7:26 ; GEN 1:26) of divine ‘eternity’ so in the Parables of Enoch, from near the end of the Second Temple period, human beings were created like angels, and ‘death would not have touched them’ (1 Enoch, 69:11 ). The technical term ‘devil’ in English renderings of v. 24 is in origin a transliteration, perhaps derived through Latin diabolus, of Greek diabolos, ‘slanderer’, found here; the English technical term is apt because by the time of Wisdom ‘(the) Slanderer’ was already used in Septuagintal Greek, in a comparably special sense, to interpret Hebrew sāṭān, ‘Accuser’ (1 Chr 21:1; Job 1:6; Zech 3:1; cf. Rev 12:9 ). The serpent in Paradise ( GEN 3:1 ) is here probably identified with Satan, as in REV 12:9 (RV ‘that old serpent, he who is called the Devil and Satan’); comparably, a fallen angel tempts Eve in the passage of the Parables of Enoch just quoted (1 Enoch, 69:6 ). ‘Death entered the world’, echoed in Rom 5:12 , recalls not only Gen 3:3, 19, 22 , but also Gen 4:3–8 (Abel's murder), quoted after a citation of Wis 2:24 in 1 Clem. 3:4–4:6 ; yet the allusion in v. 24 should not be restricted to Cain. The devil's ‘company’ is none other than death's company (see WIS 1:16 ).

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