Sunday, June 19, 2005

Deuterocanonical Wisdom

While the book of Proverbs provides a seed for the idea of the personified Wisdom of God, the idea comes into full bloom in the deuterocanonical books.

The deuterocanonical books are Old Testament books that are part of the Bible used by Catholic and Orthodox Christians but, for the most part, rejected by Protestants. The books generally survive in Greek manuscripts and show evidence of the influence of Greek culture on their Jewish authors. But perhaps it's worth saying that they also develop ideas that were already part of the Jewish religion.

Lady Wisdom appears in the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach in ways that strongly resonate with the New Testament descriptions of Jesus.

Sirach, which is also known as Ecclesiasticus ("the Church book") because of how frequently it was used in the teaching of the early Christian church, was probably written in about the second century B.C. and later translated into Greek. Sirach begins with praise for wisdom, saying wisdom is "from the Lord, and with him it remains forever" (Sirach 1:1).

In the 24th chapter, Wisdom speaks as she had in Proverbs:
I came forth from the mouth of the Most High
and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens,
and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
-Sirach 24:3-4
Notice here how Wisdom is associated both with creation and the exodus from Egypt. In this speech, Wisdom goes on to tell of how God chose Israel as "the place for my tent" (24:8). She also says "Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be" (24:9). Still the idea that Wisdom is created remains as in Proverbs, but here this creation took place "before the ages."

As in Proverbs, Wisdom in Sirach calls people to herself:
Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb.
Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for me.
-Sirach 24:19-21
Here we see not just a parallel, but also a contrast to sayings of Jesus, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest," and "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty." While the early Christians would have seen parallels between Jesus and Wisdom, they saw more in Jesus than the Old Testament writers had seen in Wisdom.

Wisdom appears again in the last chapter of Sirach.
I opened my mouth and said,
Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money.
Put your neck under her yoke,
and let your soul receive instruction;
it is to be found close by.
-Sirach 51:25-26
Compare Matthew 11:29, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

The Wisdom of Solomon was written in Greek by an Alexandrian Jew sometime between 100 and 50 B.C. In this book, Wisdom has taken on an even more exalted status.
For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of the eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things,
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God and prophets.
-Wisdom 7:25-27
It is not a very long step from here to Colossians' description of Jesus as "the image of the invisible God." Again we should see that while these Jewish writings provided enormous input to early Christian thinking about the Trinity, the ideas were reshaped by the Christian experience of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Go back to "Lady Wisdom"


Blogger Rose Mattie Brown said...

Love your blog!

Sirach 24:9 ' created me before all ages ' In the Nicene Creed, " begotten before all ages."

to create ad intra ( to beget)

Proverb 8:22 & 25

created me = begets me

The Wisdom of God is created or better, begotten from the Father not from nothing.

The Wisdom of God is eternal because God is eternal.

12:54 AM  

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