The Wisdom of Solomon as an intertextual text

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Abstract

The Wisdom of Solomon is a text from the first century A.D. This study explores Wisdom from an intertextual perspective. The discipline of intertextuality views a new text as the result of an interaction between an older text (written or oral) and the creative context of the author.

The investigation starts with a synchronic analysis of the book. Many parts of the Old Testament were used to write Wisdom, with allusions to especially sections from Proverbs and Exodus. Wisdom comprises three “books”: The Eschatological Book (1:1–6:21), the Book of Wisdom (6:22–9:18) and the Book of History (10:1–19:22). The Eschatological Book utilises Proverbs’s idea of recompense: You reap what you sow. While Proverbs focuses on the present life, the Eschatological Book proposes life after death – the believer will receive his reward in the life hereafter. This idea was developed under Persian and Hellenistic influence and was advanced by the ideas which infiltrated the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The traditional non-historical wisdom literature is given a historical perspective in this book. Hence it is called eschatological.

The Book of Wisdom alludes to Solomon and his wisdom. However, wisdom is personified in this book. She becomes a life companion to those who follow her. She was used by God to create the world. Explicating the continuing role wisdom played from Creation up to the time of the author, Wisdom is given a historical function. This new aspect is followed through for the rest of the book, in which the history of Israel from the patriarchs up to the time of the exodus events is narrated. The Book of History can be divided into two sections. In 10:15–19:22 a historical review of Israel’s departure from Egypt is presented. The author does not keep to the strict order of events as told in Exodus. In his rewritten history he interprets all events in terms of a Janus scheme. He reconceptualises everything that happened to Israel as having had a double effect. While Israel was saved by everything that God caused to happen, God punished the enemy of his people. The Nile turned into blood, making it unsuitable to drink, but God provided abundant water for the people to drink in the desert. God sent manna and quails for the people to eat, and wild animals to devour their enemies. Egypt is in darkness, while the people Israel followed the light of the pillar of fire. The Red Sea was the escape route for Israel, but simultaneously the grave of the Egyptians. This retold history opens up a new meaning for history. Wisdom 10:1–14 forms a link between the foregoing chapters of Wisdom and the retelling of history in chapters 10:15–19:22. The utilisation of wisdom and the personification of wisdom are applied to history in this chapter. Without mentioning any names, the narrator points out wisdom’s benevolent accompaniment of people like Adam, Cain, Noah, Lot, Jacob and Joseph. In 10:15–21 the narration turns from individuals to the collective Israel and its history. Henceforth the role of the personified wisdom is changed into the role God played in the history of Israel. In this way 10:1–14 presents a bridging passage in Wisdom. It gives a historical meaning to the utilised wisdom literature of Proverbs and a sapiential meaning to the exodus event as narrated in Exodus.

A diachronic analysis of Wisdom points out Alexandria as the most probable provenance of the book. Wisdom can be applied to the situation in Alexandria where God’s people are saved and their enemies are cursed as the enemies of God. Wisdom is a Jewish text, written in Greek. Although Wisdom claims to have been written by King Solomon during the 10th century B.C. the Greek language used and the obvious Platonic and Stoic influence in the book make it improbable that it was written by Solomon himself. The pseudonym was simply used to claim authority for the book. The cosmopolitan city of Alexandria was known as a centre of Greek philosophical activity. The author was greatly influenced by Hellenistic ideas and successfully intertwined Hellenistic philosophy with Hebrew traditions. From 30 A.D. the Romans started prosecuting the Jews in Alexandria. Accommodating some Hellenistic ideas but remaining true to the essential beliefs of the forefathers, the book encourages the Jews to remain faithful to their religious tradition during this time.

The author reconceptualised traditional Jewish tradition to serve the Jewish inhabitants of Alexandria to defend themselves against the Roman onslaught on their religion. He warns his readers against the impiety and the foolishness of other beliefs. He encourages them to persevere and remain faithful to the Lord even under unfavourable circumstances.

Keywords: Antioch; Exodus; Greek philosophy; intertextuality; Proverbs; Wisdom of Solomon

 

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Die Wysheid van Salomo as ’n intertekstuele teks

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