Monday, 15 September 2008

Scripture Reading Plan: The Book of Wisdom

The Scripture Reading Plan continues with the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, moving today to the Book of Wisdom. Wisdom is extensively used in the liturgy, so is a particularly important text to study and ponder.

Cultural milieu

Wisdom is one of those books dubbed deutero-canonical because it was subsequently excluded from the Jewish Scriptural canon on the grounds that it was written in Greek. Its early inclusion in the Christian canon though is attested to by St Melito (died c180), who noted that it was considered canonical by the Jews as well, and it certainly continued to be used by them nonetheless, even (arguably) influencing Jewish liturgy.

Although sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, it was written some time after 200 BC, in Egypt.

The Navarre commentary points out that it is quite new in several ways compared to the rest of the wisdom literature (and Old Testament). Firstly, unlike Proverbs, it is not just a collection of sayings, but a very carefully constructed work. Secondly, although written to guard against the threat of Hellenism to Jewish identity, it makes a discerning use of Greek philosophy and culture. It introduces the spirit/soul and body distinction for example, and is extremely clear about the idea of the immortality of the soul (unlike for example Ecclesiastes which we have just been reading).

Structure and themes

A key message of this book is the superiority of God's revelations to Israel to Greek wisdom. It has three main sections - the first deals with man's destiny and the nature of the afterlife; the second with how to achieve it by following true wisdom; the final section is a reflection on the workings of Divine Providence and how God protects the faithful throughout history.

The soul is immortal, the book points out, and will be judged by God after death. But wisdom personified is the key to being rewarded by God among the righteous. Its warnings on idolatry and the dangers of living in a hostile culture are particularly valuable for us today! And the final section of the book is essentially an admonition to learn the lessons of history.

The plan allocates a week to Wisdom, so aim to finish it next Sunday!

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