Monday, August 20, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (5)

In 2017, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld published a work of fiction entitled Hitler in Hell, in which he speculates about what Adolf Hitler might have thought of things like the post-WWII development of Western society, the internet, feminism and the eternal destiny of dogs. In the same book, van Creveld also provides one of the most perceptive and comprehensive military overviews of WWII I have ever read.

It’s a clever device: packaging a truthful historic account in a form sure to be a good deal more widely read than a college textbook.

Who knows, maybe today’s candidate for biblical canonicity was written with similar aims in view.

Alternatively, it could be a total con job. You decide.

5. The Book of Wisdom

The Book of Wisdom is a 19-chapter paean to the value of wisdom, much like the one found in Proverbs 1 through 9. You can read it in the New Revised Standard version right here.

The writer of the Book of Wisdom claims to be Solomon. He doesn’t use the name, but in one of the many prayers found in his book he says this (9:7-8):
“You have chosen me to be king of your people and to be judge over your sons and daughters. You have given command to build a temple on your holy mountain, and an altar in the city of your habitation, a copy of the holy tent that you prepared from the beginning.”
That pretty much eliminates every other possibility, and it is this claim to authorship that is the fundamental problem preventing the Book of Wisdom from being accepted into the Protestant canon. The claim is untrue, and everyone, including the Catholics who accept it as part of their own canon, knows this.

Early Indicators Are …

One indication the book was actually written at a much later date than the reign of Solomon comes in the author’s appeal to God as “Father” (14:3). As I have attempted to demonstrate here, “Father” was simply not a common Old Testament term of address for God. It was really not until the ministry of Christ that the fatherhood of God was fully expounded.

Now, if anyone could use the term legitimately, it would be Solomon, of whom God had said, “I will be to him a father,” so we cannot completely rule out the possibility. That noted, the fact remains that nowhere in his canonical writings (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs) or in the historical records in our Bibles does Solomon ever use the word “Father” to address God or to describe anyone other than his human father David.

The Fatal Blow

Further, the internal textual evidence renders any claim to Solomonic authorship not just improbable but virtually impossible. From the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
“As far back as St. Jerome … it has been felt that not Hebrew but Greek was the original language of the Book of Wisdom, and this verdict is so powerfully confirmed by the literary features of the entire Greek text, that one may well wonder that the theory of an ancient Hebrew original, or of any original other than Greek, should have ever been seriously maintained.

Of course the fact that the entire Book of Wisdom was composed in Greek rules out its Solomonic authorship.”
For those not in the know, the Greek language did not really come into vogue until the second or third century B.C., while Solomon ascended to Israel’s throne almost exactly one thousand years before Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem.

Alexandrians and Palestinians

More on the subject from the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
“Whoever examines attentively the Book of Wisdom can readily see that its unknown author was not a Palestinian Jew, but an Alexandrian Jew. Monotheistic as the writer is throughout his work, he evinces an acquaintance with Greek thought and philosophical terms (he calls God ‘the Author of beauty’: 13:3; styles Providence pronoia: 14:3; 17:2; speaks of oule amorphos, ‘the formless material’ of the universe, after Plato’s manner: 11:17; numbers four cardinal virtues in accordance with Aristotle’s school: 8:7; etc.), which is superior to anything found in Palestine. His remarkably good Greek, his political allusions, the local colouring of details, his rebuke of distinctly Egyptian idolatry, etc., point to Alexandria, as to the great centre of mixed Jewish and heathen population, where the author felt called upon to address his eloquent warning against the splendid and debasing Polytheism and Epicurean indifference by which too many of his fellow Jews had been gradually and deeply influenced. And this inference from internal data is confirmed by the fact that the Book of Wisdom is found not in the Palestinian, but in the Alexandrian, Canon of the Old Testament.”
Now of course the inferences drawn here may not all be 100% accurate, as is usually the case when scholars speculate, but my point is that NOBODY claims King Solomon actually wrote the Book of Wisdom, not even those who read it and find it spiritually useful. The fact that its authorship is a fiction is conceded by everyone, just as it is reasonably obvious to most readers that Hitler didn’t really write Hitler in Hell notwithstanding the fact that he narrates it. Nobody is fooled.

At the Risk of Overkill

If that were not enough, the Book of Wisdom has serious doctrinal problems when placed side by side with canonical writings.

In 6:18-19, faux-Solomon teaches a works-based immortality:
“Love of her [wisdom] is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God”.
Then there’s chapter 13, which ends up in conflict with Paul’s claims in Romans 1:
“For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works.”
Paul, on the other hand, says God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made, that what can be known about God is plain to men, and that they are without excuse. In the view of the apostle, and therefore of the Holy Spirit, the problem is suppression of truth, not an inability to “recognize the artisan” through his works.

Further, the author of the Book of Wisdom makes no claim to speaking the very words of God. He says (7:15):
“May God grant me to speak with judgment, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received; for he is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise.”
The acknowledgement of the author’s need for judgment and worthy thoughts makes it clear he did not regard his written opinions as anything more than his best crack at passing on sound moral advice.

Fraud or Literary Device?

So, here we are. Either the Book of Wisdom is an outright fraud, or at very least it employs a literary device similar to the one much later used to great effect by folks like Martin van Creveld. I tend to think it may be the latter, given that it’s hard to see how a book written in Greek in Alexandria in the second century B.C. could fool too many of its educated original readers into believing in Solomonic authorship.

And, in fact, it did not. As we have seen, the book is retained in some versions of the Bible not because anyone is deceived about its authorship, but because the Catholic and Orthodox standards for canonicity apparently do not include truthfulness on the part of the author.

Still, much like van Creveld’s book, the Book of Wisdom contains a great deal of truth. Chapter 14 is a useful meditation on the origin of idolatry. Many of the things said about the value of wisdom can be independently verified from scripture, particularly Proverbs.

But the problem for Protestants — and rational people generally — with finding one demonstrably false claim (and we already have two here: the author’s identity, and the representation that he is a Palestinian Jew rather than an Alexandrian Jew) is that it opens up the question of how many other false statements there may be in the Book of Wisdom. For those interested in truth, the only words we can be confident about in this book are the ones we can independently confirm from the word of God.

As such, the Book of Wisdom cannot legitimately be considered part of scripture.

Readability: 9/10
Plausibility: 2/10

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