Apocrypha Hangout #4
September 30 – November 11, 2018
WEEK THREE: The Books of Wisdom and Sirach
Wisdom of Solomon:
Author, date and original language -- Most scholars believe Wisdom was written in Greek, probably in Alexandria by an educated Jew of the diaspora. The author makes use of Greek philosophical language, but also makes use of the wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Bible and writes in the fictional voice of the ancient and wise King Solomon. Like many books we have are studying in the Apocrypha, the author struggles with being a Jew in a Hellenistic culture, especially under persecution. While many dates for this book have been suggested, the range for writing is between the First Century BCE and the First century CE. Probably, mid First Century BCE seems likely.
Content – Wisdom critiques gentile society and idolatry, mocking those who make idols. God is the God of the particular people of Israel, but also the God of the nations who will become wise if they open their eyes to the way of wisdom. Wisdom is also personified as a woman throughout the work.
Influence –New Testament writers made use of Wisdom; e.g. Wisdom 7:26 and Hebrews 1:3; Wisdom 13:1-9, 14:22-27 and Romans 1:19-32; Wisdom 9:15 and II Corinthians 5:1-4.
Sirach – The Wisdom of Yesuah Ben Sirah, or Ecclesiasticus:
Author date and original language – written in Hebrew, but known more widely in its Green form since we learn from the prologue that the author’s grandson translated it into Greek. Hebrew fragments have been found at Qumran and Masada. It is the only book of the Apocrypha where the author is identified and identifies himself as a teacher in Jerusalem. We also have some clear dates as to when it was written after the time Simon occupied the office of high priest in Jerusalem (219-196), but before Simon’s son Jason began a campaign of Hellenizing the temple religion, so probably between 196 and 175 BCE. The historical references given by his grandson indicate the Greek translation was made sometime after 132 BCE, when it seems he arrived in Egypt.
Content – Sirach’s main message is that wisdom is found in following the way of strict observance of the Torah. Yet following this way may lead to hardship. Sirach keeps his focus primarily on the tradition of Israel, the Torah and the story of the people of Israel. While he influences from Greek practical wisdom and rhetorical methods appear in the book, he uses these gentile traditions as the way to lead back to the wisdom of the Torah. Though wisdom is again personified as a woman in keeping with Jewish tradition, Sirach has unfortunate misogynistic remarks and patriarchal mindset such as 22:3 and chapters 25 and 26.
Influence – Although Sirach never made its way to be among those writings considered canonical by Jews, it held a great deal of weight as a holy book by the rabbis in the Talmud, sometimes even attributing quotes to the Ketuvim – the Writings that are considered part of the Hebrew Bible. Sirach’s words seem to influence those of Jesus, especially in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5, e.g. Sirach 4:4 and Matthew 5:42. And compare Sirach 29:9-12 with Luke 12:33, 18:22 and Matthew 19:21.
Questions -- What stood out for you in these two books? Do you see differences in the way they construct Wisdom or similarities? Do these books help your understanding of the New Testament?