The Father William Most Collection
Short Comments on the Wisdom of Solomon
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Introduction to Wisdom: What Qoheleth saw only dimly at best, the author of Wisdom did see very clearly (3:1-5): "The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and surely no torment will touch them. They seemed to the eyes of senseless men to die, and their departure was considered an evil... but they are in peace. And if in the eyes of men they be punished, their hope is full of immortality. And having been tried a little, they will be greatly blessed for God tried them, and found them worthy of himself."
The author was a Jew, probably at Alexandria, in the first century B.C. He was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy, culture and rhetoric. Pagan wisdom, and especially the pagan claims of Isis, the goddess of wisdom, would be apt to impress the Jews. Science had been flourishing in Alexandria for some time. The writer wants to strengthen fellow Jews against the attractions of these things.
The passage we cited above comes from the section on wisdom and human destiny (which runs to 6:21). The wicked may persecute - probably the memory of the persecution of Antiochus IV of Syria was vivid. But God makes it all right in the life to come. For God had formed man to be imperishable (1:13-14; 2:23). But death entered by the sins of wicked people. Death cannot harm those who are faithful to God, but it will strike those who plotted against the just.
The second section 6:22-11:1 speaks of acquiring wisdom. It is a gift of God, but will be given those who are just and who seek it. Specially impressive are the words of 6:5-6 which say that the lowly may be pardoned by mercy, but there is a stern judgment for the powerful.
In the third section, 11:2-19:22 the author reviews the wonders of God's works for Israel, in the Exodus and beyond. Israel benefitted by the very things, the plagues, that struck the Egyptians.
A special gem of wisdom appears in 4:12: " The magic spell of worthless things obscures what is right, and the anxiousness of desire perverts an innocent mind." This anticipates St. Paul's plea for detachment in 1 Cor 7:29-35. It is quite possible, since the author knew Greek culture that he has in mind too the plea of Socrates, often repeated, that the philosopher, to find the truth, should have as little as possible to do with the things of the body (e.g., Phaedo 65,66,82-83,114; Republic 519).