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More Books of the Apocrypha: Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Baruch

In this post I continue discussing the books of the Apocrypha, accepted as part of Scripture by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.  These are important books, historically and culturally – but hardly known among Protestant readers.   Here are three more!  Descriptions are taken from my introduction to the Bible.

 

The Wisdom of Solomon

The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of positive wisdom (recall Proverbs), which claims to be written by the great king of the United Monarchy. In fact it was written many centuries later, by a Jew in the Diaspora, possibly in the first century b.c.e. or the first century c.e.

The book celebrates Wisdom as the greatest gift to humans and insists that it involves proper fear and adoration of God, which will lead to eternal reward. Those who lead ungodly lives, on the other hand “will be punished as their reasoning deserves” (5:10). The exaltation of wisdom recalls Proverbs 8, where Wisdom appears as a female consort with God at the beginning of all things. Here too Wisdom is said to be “a breath of the power of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty . . . for she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God” (7:25–26).

We have seen that…

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More Apocrypha: A Letter of Jeremiah, (Fascinating) Additions to Daniel, and 1 Maccabees
Some of the Apocrypha: Tobit, Judith, and Additions to Esther

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Comments

  1. JohnKesler  October 17, 2018

    Bart,
    Do you think that Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and The Wisdom of Solomon is a personification or a hypostasis? Why?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 19, 2018

      It depends on how you’re defining the terms!

      • JohnKesler  October 19, 2018

        JohnKesler:
        Bart,
        Do you think that Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and The Wisdom of Solomon is a personification or a hypostasis? Why?

        Bart:
        It depends on how you’re defining the terms!

        JohnKesler today, Oct. 19:
        Using these definitions, what do you think?

        Personification: giving human attributes to a nonhuman entity.
        Hypostasis: endowing an attribute of a deity with its own self-existence or personhood.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 21, 2018

          If you’re asking what their *authors* actaully thought, I’d say it’s impossible to say. Later readers readers Proverbs 8 as a hypostasis. I’m not sure about Wisdom.

  2. fishician  October 17, 2018

    Is it likely that Jesus was familiar with these books? (Not reading them, but hearing of them orally.) If so, could they have influenced him and his emphasis on the spirit of the Law (wisdom) versus the letter of the Law?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 19, 2018

      It’s hard to say; my guess is probably not, but it’s just a guess.

      • SidDhartha1953  November 12, 2018

        Would the Wisdom books have been read in synagogue worship along with the Kethuvim, where Greek was the dominant language?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 13, 2018

          I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking whether books like Job and Ecclesiastes would have been read in synagogues in teh Diaspora? I don’t know of the hard evidence, but I assume the answer is yes; but they would not have been held to the same authority as the Torah or the prophets, I should think. It also may depend on what time period you’re envisioning.

          • SidDhartha1953  November 15, 2018

            I meant books like Wisdom & Sirach. My reading of Sirach leads me to believe that Jesus (or some of the 4 evangelists or their sources) and Paul were aware of it.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 16, 2018

            Ah. No, they wouldn’t have been read in synagogues in Palestine probably.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  October 17, 2018

    All the talk of “wisdom” in these books betrays Hellenistic influence. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were a reaction to the spread of Greek philosophy throughout the Hellenized world, especially after the Seleucid kings took over hegemony of Palestine and tried to Hellenize it ever more. It’s like the Jews were saying, “We don’t need your pagan philosophy of wisdom. We have our own.” And that’s when the Jews started to manufacture their own “ancient” philosophical tradition. In fact, much the Jewish writing of that time seems to be a push back against Hellenism and a defense of Judaism. I mean, Josephus wrote not just one, but two works defending Jewish thought and history as more ancient than pagan philosophy!

    It was during this era that Jews turned Moses into a lawgiver comparable to and in comparison to Solon and Lycurgus. Jews such a Josephus and Philo portrayed Judaism as an ancient philosophy, with Josephus even referring to Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes as distinct “schools” of Jewish philosophy. And let us not forget that Jewish ideas of the soul and the afterlife borrowed heavily from pagan philosophies (as I’m sure you have shown in your new book), but the Jews gave these idea their own Jewish twist, giving the Jewish philosophy of the soul and the afterlife the appearance of antiquity, as well. For instance, the same way that Wisdom became reified and personified by the Jews of the Hellenistic period, the Spirit (or the “Holy Spirit”) was also reified and personified. This is what would later inform Christian notions of the Holy Spirit. So the “spirit” of God over the “waters of the deep” at the beginning of creation was no longer God Himself in the form of a breeze, but was now a distinct entity known as The Spirit.

    • godspell  October 21, 2018

      Belatedly responding, I think you really have to question the idea that the Greeks invented the concept of wisdom. Or the reverence for it. Yes, they were incredibly influential, but also very influenced by the Egyptians. Who were geographically a lot closer to Israel.

      So unless you’ve got more than that to work with, it’s not very persuasive. And perhaps–I shouldn’t assume–trying to minimize the enormous influence and originality of the Jewish people in this period, which is attested by their enduring influence–arguably even greater than the Greeks.

      But all human culture is one.

  4. Actual_Wolfman  October 17, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In the section concerning Baruch you mention how the book was written centuries later than the time it’s set in. Would the readers of these tales have had any inkling the stories were a work of fiction?

    Thanks!

  5. Actual_Wolfman  October 17, 2018

    And I know this question is merely speculation into the mind of the author, but do you have any idea as to why they would’ve written such tales? Perhaps, if we could ask, they’d claim divine knowledge of “past” events? Your blog is terrific by the way.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 19, 2018

      My sense is that they were recording traditions/stories they heard, just as people do today without engaging in hard-core historical research to see if they really happened. They convey important lessons!

  6. 4Erudite  October 17, 2018

    Why did the Protestant bibles elect to remove the Apocrypha books?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 19, 2018

      Protestants would claim they didn’t *remove* them (since they are not in the Hebrew Bible) but that the other groups *added* them. (Jews also don’t include them in their Scriptures)

  7. Apocryphile  October 19, 2018

    Just wondering where the Testament of Solomon falls into the apocryphal literature, and if Jesus may have known about Solomon’s reputation as an exorcist or “commander” of demons in this book?

    It’s also interesting to me that Mark seems to place more emphasis on Jesus’ exorcisms than any of the other gospels, at least as “stand alone” miracles. Is this how you read it, and could this be indicative of Mark’s account being closer to the historical truth in this regard?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2018

      I don’t think we can know if Jesus’ knew about Solomon’s reputation as an exorcist. Mark’s emphasis on exorcisms shows especially that he understood that Jesus ministry showed the inbreaking of the kingdom in the present. This means that this was an early interpretation of Jesus, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it goes back to the life of Jesus itself, I should think.

  8. dankoh  October 19, 2018

    I find in Wisdom, esp. chapter 5, more than a hint of vengeful gloating; those who robbed the poor and mistreated the vulnerable will get the comeuppance after death, while their victims get to watch. I’ve also seen a suggestion that Wisdom was written in response to the anti-Jewish attacks in Alexandria. What are your views on this?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2018

      I’m afraid I don’t have a view of it. But as to eschatological Schadenfreude, you find that (interestingly) in other ancient Jewish and Christian sources as well, none so blatantly as Tertullian.

  9. Eskil  October 20, 2018

    Wisdom seems to contain lines that sound similar to the plot of the Gospel of John. It is a bit disturbing thought because Wisdom is dated to the 2nd century BC. I wonder was the Gospel of John intentionally written to impress some community using the Wisdom 300 years later. Do you id this has been explained in any book or study?

    Wisdom 2
    16
    he […] boasts that God is his father.
    17
    Let us see if his words are true,
    and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
    18
    for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him,
    and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
    19
    Let us test him with insult and torture,
    that we may find out how gentle he is,
    and make trial of his forbearance.
    20
    Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
    for, according to what he says, he will be protected.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2018

      These are usually seen as common motifs in Jewish and Christian literature (cf. Isaiah 53, e.g., and the other Servant Songs of Isaiah), not indicators of necessarily literary dependence.

  10. Steefen  November 3, 2018

    Thanks for what you do, Dr. Wallace. I’ve walked a number of people through struggles in their faith that came about after they became familiar with Bart Ehrman’s writings. Your work is not only a benefit to the academic world but to all evangelicals. I’m thankful for you, sir. – A 22 March 2012 comment by Christensen at the blog of Daniel B. Wallace

    Bart, I guess you were changing lives where people used to believe in the infallibility of the Bible. My guess may be wrong. Along the spectrum of Faith and Reason, what topics of faith does your reason affect the most–for me it has been Jesus did not save a lady caught in adultery.
    = = =
    I looked up Dr. Dan Wallace because I wanted to know what the earliest manuscript he, at CSNTM dot org, had on Sirach. Search result at the website: fourth century.

    What do you think the earliest Latin version of the manuscript was in antiquity–when did the Christian community start using it for instruction? With the Roman Christians using a Latin Translation, the Hellenists would have been using the Greek translation, and the Hebrew community (Jesus, Peter, and James) would have used the original version. Were people in Galilee bi-lingual, Aramaic and Hebrew or only people in the Diaspora and the people in Judea more likely to use the Hebrew Sirach?

    Basically, the use of a Latin Sirach for Church instruction could have been part of a tradition for Latin readers that stretched back to Greek readers which stretched back to Hebrew readers landing at the apostolic members, landing at Stephen the Martyr and Paul (Greek version) for the communities of Stephen and the communities of Paul and with Peter and the disciples and James and the disciples using the Hebrew version for instruction.

    • Steefen  November 8, 2018

      There’s no date information when Sirach became a church book in Latin?

      • Bart
        Bart  November 9, 2018

        Do you mean is there a specific date when a decision was reached? No, not for Sirach or any other book.

        • Steefen  November 16, 2018

          When does the Latin version come on the scene?
          There is a Hebrew version. We know the approximate year.
          There is a Greek translation. We know the approximate year.
          There is a Latin translation. What is the earliest time frame for this translation? Was it the 1st century, the second century?
          Thank you.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 18, 2018

            Latin translations started appearing in the second century. There is no ancient Hebrew version. The texts were originally in Greek, so they weren’t translated into it.

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