Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bible Book: Wisdom

The Book of Wisdom (also called The Wisdom of Solomon) is included in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, but it is not part of the Hebrew Bible. In the Protestant Bible, the book is considered to be an apocryphal book. You can see the Greek and Latin texts, along with English, at the Sacred Texts website.

One of the dominant themes in the book is the transitoriness of life, a theme very familiar from the canonical Book of Ecclesiastes. Consider this beautiful passage:
What hath pride profited us? or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and as a post that hasted by; And as a ship that passeth over the waves of the water, which when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found, neither the pathway of the keel in the waves; Or as when a bird hath flown through the air, there is no token of her way to be found, but the light air being beaten with the stroke of her wings and parted with the violent noise and motion of them, is passed through, and therein afterwards no sign where she went is to be found; Or like as when an arrow is shot at a mark, it parteth the air, which immediately cometh together again, so that a man cannot know where it went through.
Wisdom, on the other hand, Greek sophia, is not transitory or elusive:
Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away: yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of such as seek her.
The book is written by "Solomon," that king who is famous for having asked God to give him wisdom above riches and power:
I preferred her before sceptres and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither compared I unto her any precious stone, because all gold in respect of her is as a little sand, and silver shall be counted as clay before her. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for the light that cometh from her never goeth out.
Just what does wisdom involve? As you can see from this list, wisdom definitely includes what we would call science today:
For he hath given me certain knowledge of the things that are, namely, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements: The beginning, ending, and midst of the times: the alterations of the turning of the sun, and the change of seasons: The circuits of years, and the positions of stars: The natures of living creatures, and the furies of wild beasts: the violence of winds, and the reasonings of men: the diversities of plants and the virtues of roots:
As the virtues and actions of wisdom are recounted, you can see that she is present throughout the Biblical narrative, even if she is not named. She is the one who made it possible for Noah to build the ark, for example:
For whose cause the earth being drowned with the flood, wisdom again preserved it, and directed the course of the righteous in a piece of wood of small value.
Although the book is not considered part of the Protestant canon, there are many profound connections between the teachings of the Book of Wisdom and the writings of the New Testament. In particular, wisdom is described in this book with many of the qualities of the holy spirit:
For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.
This last passage, "the unspotted mirror" (Latin, speculum sine macula, "the immaculate mirror") was easily adapted into the symbolic attributes of Mary. Here is an emblem of the immaculate virgin which takes its text from the Book of Wisdom:

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