|Michael Kolarcik, "Creation and Salvation in the Wisdom of Solomon," in [Creation in the Biblical Traditions, eds., Richard J. Clifford, John J. Collins, CBQMS 24, Washington, 1992] pp. 97-107.|
Creation and Salvation
in the Book of Wisdom
In a recent work, Pierre Gibert studied the development of "creation theology" in the Old Testament.1 Two features of this work have a bearing on clarifying the Wisdom author’s understanding of creation: a) the first is the cross-referencing of allusions between the stories of creation in Genesis (P) and the stories of the exodus event; b) the second is the historical development evidenced in the creation accounts which are based on the three cultural contexts of Canaan, Babylon, and Hellenism.
The first feature is well known.2 The Priestly account of creation, which stresses the ordering of the world through division, affirms a victory over chaos parallel to the victory of God over Israelite slavery at the hands of Pharaoh’s forces. Conversely, the separation of the sea in the escape of the Israelites alludes to the victory over the primeval waters as well as to the mastering of cosmic forces through division and separation. Creation is understood as a type of liberation, and the Exodus is understood as a form of creation.
The second feature is more complex. Three accounts of creation are analyzed
in Gibert’s work with respect to the intentionality of the story and
to the language which the account employs. Each creation account is marked
by the milieu in which it was formulated: 1) Genesis 2–3
2. Other recent works that have stressed the common language and allusions between the Exodus event and the Priestly creation account are found in J.L. Ska, Le passage de la mer (AnBib 109; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1986); Paul Beachamp, L’un et l’autre Testament (2 vols.; Parole de Dieu; Paris: Seuil, 1976, 1990).
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|[Canaanite], 2) Genesis 1 [Babylonian], 3) 2 Maccabees 7 [Hellenistic].
The stories of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2–3) function as a summary of the fundamental experiences of the human predicament. Genesis 1 employs language that highlights the dependence of creation on the word of God. Finally, 2 Maccabees 7 is a confession of faith that reduces to its barest elements the biblical treatment of creation: the explicit recognition of the radical impossibility of "grasping" origins, while simultaneously confessing God as the origin.3
Gibert’s assertion that the philosophical precision of Hellenism (exemplified in the example of 2 Maccabees) helped creation theology to crystallize its "barest elements" may well be a valid one with respect to the use of mythical language.4 However, there is another phenomenon at work in the creation theology of Israel’s Hellenistic period, that is particularly evident in the Wisdom of Solomon. Both Creation and the Exodus become paradigms for understanding salvation which culminates in apocalyptic. The apocalypse, an ultimate judgment, is viewed as the culmination of the creative forces of the cosmos which save, liberate, and reward the just.
For the Wisdom author, creation, exodus, and salvation are all related as signs of God’s justice and goodness. Therefore, all three signs are related through a common set of terms and imagery. It is the cosmos that functions as a constant in the references to creation, to the exodus event, and to the apocalyptic judgment.5 By attributing a creative and wholesome
4. No doubt it appears rather strange for an exegete to focus on creation theology in the Hellenistic period without attention to a major contribution of the sapiential tradition to creation theology, namely the personification of wisdom. For reasons of specialization and limitation of the field of inquiry, Gibert limits the passages under consideration (Bible, mythes et récits de commencement, 141, 151). Nonetheless, the unique perspective of creation theology of the Wisdom author does not consist in the "barest elements" of faith in God, the creator, but rather in the continuity of creation in history which culminates in apocalyptic. For a detailed overview of the figure of personified wisdom in the Book of Wisdom and its relation to the Hellenistic version of the Isis cult, see J. S. Kloppenborg, "Isis and Sophia in the Book of Wisdom" HTR 75 (1982) 57-84.
5. J.J. Collins has noted the consistency of the Wisdom author’s employment of the creative function of the cosmos in the three major sections of the book ("Cosmos and
|role to the cosmos in creation, in the exodus events, and in the ultimate
judgment, the author points to the continuity of creation in the history
of Israel’s faith. The exodus event and the ultimate judgment are the
continuity of God’s creative efforts. Both events reestablish God’s
goodness and justice through an overcoming of chaos and a destruction of
Each major section of the Book of Wisdom (first—chapters 1–6, second — chapters 7–10, third — chapters 11–19) contributes a unique perspective to this unity within its creation theology.
1) Wis 1:1–6:21: The Creative Role of
The first section of the Book of Wisdom (1–6) consists of an exhortation
to justice which focuses its attention on dissuading the reader from bringing
on death through injustice (1:12-16; 2:21-24). Death, understood by the
author as an intrusion into the cosmos, is the prime negative image for
eliciting the pursuit of virtue and justice. Within the unfolding of the
argument through the metaphor of a trial scene, the apocalyptic judgment
of chapter functions as the sentencing, the vindication of the just and
the destruction of wickedness. In the two extreme contexts within this
argument, namely that of the first creation and of the ultimate judgment,
the author emphasizes the creative role of the cosmos.6
6. The first six chapters of Wisdom form an elegant concentric structure which both highlights the similarities between units and emphasizes their differences. 1:1-15, an exhortation to justice which dissuades the reader from choosing death, is parallel to 6:1-21, an exhortation to wisdom in order to be just. 1:16–2:24, the wicked’s defense for their choice of power and injustice is parallel to 5:1-23, the wicked’s confession of error. The central unit 3:1–4:20, consists of four parallel diptychs through which the author disproves the wicked’s defense and defends the integrity of the just. The first detailed presentation of this literary structure is in A. G. Wright, "The Structure of the Book of Wisdom" Bib 48(1967) 165-84. For a complete presentation of the concentric structure, see M. Gilbert, "Sagesse de Salomon (ou livre de la Sagesse)" DBSup II (1986) cols. 114-19, or M. Kolarcik, The Ambiguity of Death in the Book of Wisdom 1–6 (AnBib 127; Rome: PBI, 1991) 50-62.
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|The author feels compelled to discuss the relationship between the
death that God did not make and the cosmos which God did create. It is
here that the author emphasizes the beneficial aspect of all the creatures
and forces of the cosmos in perhaps the most unequivocal terms in all of
Scripture. The beneficial feature of creation is a key principle in the
author’s creation theology. Verse 1:14 stresses the wholesome aspect
of creation first through two positive statements which are followed by
two negative declarations.7
For God created all things to be, and the forces of the world are wholesome, (kai swthvrioi aiJ genevsei" tou' kovsmou) and there is no destructive poison in them, nor is the dominion of Hades on earth (1:14).
With such emphasis on the healthy aspect of the world in the opening clarifications on creation, it is not surprising to see the author attribute to the cosmos a prime role during the ultimate judgment which reestablishes justice (5:17-23).8 This second principle is a consequence of
7. The author’s statements in 1:14 are as remarkable as their images are difficult to interpret. The precise deciphering of the statements’ connotations and allusions remains elusive. Certainly, the author’s idea of the generative forces being wholesome is consistent with Philo of Alexandria’s notion of the perpetuity of the species (Philo, Quis rerum divinarum heres, 118, 159). Similarly, Philo’s exclusion of evil forces from matter (ibid., 315-16) echo the Wisdom author’s negative image of destructive poison favrmakon ojlevqrou), which likewise is excluded from the forces of the cosmos. Perhaps the exclusion of destructive poison from the forces of the cosmos also includes a polemic against Egyptian beliefs as postulated in their version of the Isis cult with its cosmological suppositions (in contrast to the Hellenistic version). Isis is presented as a magical healer against destructive forces in the world (see Kloppenborg, "Isis and Sophia in the Book of Wisdom," 79-83). For a thorough treatment of the possible allusions and interpretations of 1:14, see also C. Larcher, Le Livre de la Sagesse ou la Sagesse de Salomon (EBib Nouvelle série; Paris: Cerf, 1983-1985) 202-6.
8. This analogy of arming the cosmos through the metaphor
of a hoplite’s armor is an adaptation of Isa 59:17-19. The author of
Wisdom has tightened the analogy by comparing divine zeal to the armor
of a hoplite (instead of to the divine mantle as in Isaiah) and then by
identifying each weapon with a moral attribute. However the Wisdom author’s
major adaptation of the analogy in Isaiah is the expansion of the idea
that the cosmos itself is armed to do battle against wickedness. There
is only a hint of the elements of the cosmos in the metaphors of a "rushing
stream" and the "wind" in Isa 59:19. See M. J. Suggs, "Wisdom of Solomon
II, 10–V: A Homily Based on the Fourth Servant Song," JBL 76(1957)28-33;
Kolarcik, The Ambiguity of Death in the Book of Wisdom 1–6, 47, 106-7.
|the first. Since the cosmos is beneficial and wholesome, then it works
on the side of God to reward the just and destroy wickedness.
As a result of the confession of the wicked among one another in Wis 5:1-14, the setting is prepared for judgment to be executed in favor of the just and against the wicked. God re-establishes justice by calling upon creation itself which is in alliance with God and justice.
In the apocalyptic scene that follows, the elements of the cosmos (lightning, hailstones, waters of the sea, a mighty wind), wreak havoc on lawlessness, an ethical chaos (ajnomiva, kakopragiva). For the author of Wisdom, these elements of the cosmos allude both to the original creation which overcomes chaos and to the exodus events where, as we shall see in the last section of Wisdom, the elements transform themselves do battle against Israel’s enemy.5:17 The Lord will arm creation (thVn ktivsin) as a defense against enemies.
In this first section of Wisdom, the author has drawn a direct parallel between the original creation of God where the cosmos is emphasized as being wholesome, and the ultimate judgment where God re-establishes justice by overcoming ethical chaos as if in a renewed creation. These relations of creation and the ultimate judgment to the cosmos form two key principles operative in the author’s creation theology. 1) The cosmos is wholesome and just because God has created it, and 2) the function of the cosmos is to continue the work of creation by helping the just and by destroying lawlessness.
In the presentation of the ultimate judgment, the author has brought the reader to the lofty heights of a divine perspective where the realities of blessedness and moral tragedy stand clearly over against the appearance of the power of injustice and the impotence of virtue. But what basis is there for the author to construct this sure hope in an ultimate judgment which completes the original creation? The basis for this perspective is elaborated in the following sections of Wisdom. There the author roots the hope in an ultimate judgment on the concrete history of the world’s salvation, and specifically the salvation of the Israelites in the exodus.
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to Salvation through Wisdom
If the first part of Wisdom can be understood as the author’s exhortation to justice by a dissuasion from following a life of injustice that leads to death, the second part of Wisdom (6:22–10:21) can be grasped as the author’s exhortation to wisdom by a presentation of the positive attributes and gifts of God’s wisdom in the cosmos. The first is a dissuasion from death; the second is a persuasion to life. By means of the personified figure of wisdom, the author joins together God’s original creation to the continuous recreation of God in salvation history.
The speaker throughout these chapters is the unnamed figure of Solomon who appreciates the limitations of his human condition and the need for God’s wisdom that comes from on high (7:1-9). Unlike the wicked in the first section (2:1-5), Solomon understands the fragile human condition to be open to divine wisdom. For the wicked in chapter 2, the transience of human life was judged to be final and tragic. As a result of their disparaging judgment on the mortal condition of humans, they considered power, injustice and even sheer violence to be viable options in this passing world (2:6-20). Whatever is weak they judged to be useless. Instead of giving in to despair as the wicked, Solomon prays for the wisdom that comes from God. What encloses the famous prayer for wisdom in chapter 9 is the presence of wisdom in creation (9:1-3) and in salvation (9:18).9 God has created humanity through wisdom, and it is through wisdom that humanity is continuously saved.
————————————O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy,
9. The prayer for wisdom in chapter 9 is formulated in a concise concentric structure. See M. Gilbert, "La structure de la prière de Salomon (Sg 9)," Bib (1970) 301-31.
10. This opening verse of the prayer of Solomon duplicates the double notion of creation in Genesis 1; that is, the creation of the cosmos and of humanity. However, it woulda 9:1-3 a’ 18
to have dominion over the creatures you have made
The linkage between creation and salvation is emphatically explained in the central part of the prayer. Since wisdom was present when the world was made, she knows the hidden plans and ways of God in the world.And thus the paths of those on earth were set right
It is this relationship between God and wisdom, at the time of creation, that the author uses to explain the continuous effort of wisdom to bring humanity back onto the paths of creation.With you is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present
Salvation, for the author of Wisdom, is understood as God’s effort to bring humanity to the point of realizing the original intentions at creation. Therefore, it is through the gift of wisdom, who was present at creation, that the unnamed Solomon will be guided wisely (9:11), whose works will be acceptable and who will be able to judge justly (9:12). Solomon will be able to put into practice the intention of the creator through the gift of wisdom who was present at creation.
This feature of wisdom’s function to save humanity by virtue of her
role in creation is elaborated in examples from the Pentateuch. Beginning
with Adam and ending with Moses (Wisdom 10), the author recounts how, at
critical moments in the history of humanity, wisdom intervened on behalf
of humans to restore and save the just?11
the other hand,
11. Adam is contrasted to Cain, 10:1-3; Noah is contrasted to those who perished in the flood, 10:4; Abraham is contrasted to the nations who were put into confusion (Babel), 10:5; Lot is contrasted to those who perished in the cities of the plain and even to his wife, 10:6-8; Jacob is contrasted first to Esau, 10:9-10 and then to Laban and personal enemies 10:11-12; Joseph is contrasted to his brothers and to Potiphar’s wife,
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|those who, practiced injustice and who fled from wisdom perished.
By relating wisdom’s saving activity to her presence at creation, the author of Wisdom focuses the lens of creation theology to view the salvation history of Israel. Each saving moment is a recreation. Wisdom saves because she was present at creation and therefore knows how to restore the conditions of creation for the just. The last and brief contrast between the Israelites and the Egyptians at the end of chapter 10, leads the author to begin the final developed presentation. The exodus is re-interpreted as the privileged moment of salvation. This interpretation of the exodus reaffirms the feasibility of postulating an ultimate judgment and serves as the paradigm of salvation—God’s recreation of the world in favor of the just.
3) Wisdom 11–19: The Exodus Is Presented
In the opening section of Wisdom, the ultimate judgment was presented through a series of declarations. The author chose to depict the scene of judgment through imagery that alludes to creation, wherein the cosmos itself is armed to reward the just and to destroy moral chaos. But how is this assertion for an ultimate judgment feasible in the author’s argumentation? The entire reasoning process of the author to disprove the false judgment of the wicked in chapter 2 rests on the postulation of an ultimate judgment. If the feasibility of the ultimate judgment in chapter 5 was rendered somewhat plausible through the positive categories of creation, in the latter part of Wisdom, the ultimate judgment is based on Israel’s history— the exodus.
The hope in an ultimate judgment which the author presented through
a series of declarations in the opening part of Wisdom is now shown
12. The literary structure of Wisdom 11–19 is a complex interweaving of diptychs with theological reflections. The author’s use of diptychs to unfold the plagues and blessings against Pharaoh and for the Israelites is parallel to the four diptychs in Wisdom 3–4. See A. G. Wright, "The Structure of Wisdom 11–19," CBQ 27(1965) 28-34, and Gilbert, "Sagesse de Salomon (ou livre de la Sagesse)," cols. 114-19.
|to be based on the great saving event of Israel. Precisely because
God has saved the Israelites from Pharaoh’s forces in the past, using
creation itself, then the postulation of a culminating, ultimate judgment
is even more feasible. The author has based the hope of an ultimate judgment
on the interpretation of the exodus. It is therefore not surprising to
see deliberate parallels between the author’s argumentation in the first
section of Wisdom and in the final section. The principles regarding creation
and salvation enunciated in the opening of Wisdom are now shown to be based
on Israel’s own concrete history. It is the author’s reinterpretation
of the exodus events through the lens of creation theology that finally
unites creation, the exodus, and salvation into a continuous spectrum.
The two principles which the author explored to link creation to the ultimate judgment in the first section are applied to the reinterpretation of the exodus. a) The cosmos is wholesome because God has created the world and continues to love all things. b) The cosmos itself has been transformed and renewed in order to restore justice for the Israelites and to destroy the chaos of the enemies.
The positive quality of all that God had created is asserted again in order to draw the parallel between creation and the exodus events.
11:17 For your all-powerful hand, which created the world
out of formless matter . . . (cf. 1:14).
The language used to enunciate this interpretive key for the exodus
events is similar to the language employed in 1:13-14. Just as the positive
relationship between God and the cosmos was established as a basis for
the intervention of the cosmos in behalf of the just in Wisdom 1–6, so
too is the same relationship presented as a basis for the intervention
of the cosmos in behalf of the Israelites during the exodus.
|106 —————— Creation and Salvation in the Wisdom of Solomon, CBQMS 24, pp. 97-107 —————|
|the exodus events with a particular point of view that is formally
stated. The very elements of the cosmos that God used to destroy the enemies
of the Israelites were the same elements that saved the Israelites (11:5,
In recounting the plagues, the author appeals to the same principle used for the ultimate judgment of Wisdom 5. God employs the forces of the cosmos to save the just and to destroy the wicked.
|16:17||For the universe (oJ kovsmo") defends the righteous.|
|16:24||For creation (ktivsi"), serving you who made it, exerts itself to punish the unrighteous, and in kindness relaxes on behalf of those who trust in you.|
Finally, this transformation of the elements in behalf of the just and against wickedness during the exodus is presented as a new form of creation.14
In this way, both the ultimate judgment of Wisdom 5 and the recounting of the exodus events are viewed by the author of Wisdom as the
16:25 Therefore, at that time also, changed into all forms, creation (ktisis) served your all-nourishing bounty, according to the desire of those who had need . 19:6 For the whole creation (ktivsi")) in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, so that your children might be kept unharmed. 19:18 For the elements changed places with one another, as on a harp the notes vary the nature of the rhythm, while each note remains the same.
|adaptation of the analogy was to attribute to the cosmos
the function of God’s means to bring about justice. Similarly, in the
author’s adaptation of the plague narratives from Exodus, the author
highlights the positive function of the forces and elements in the cosmos
to save the just and to punish the enemies.
14. The author’s unique interpretation of the plagues as God’s "fashioning anew" the elements of the cosmos points to the author’s deliberate emphasis of the creation motif in moments of salvation. To understand the author’s presentation of the exodus simply as a restoration of order would miss the powerful, underlying motif of creation. It is true that the relationship between creation and order in Genesis 1 is carried over in the Wisdom author’s perspective of creation and salvation. Personified wisdom in chapters 9 and 10 is seen to restore humanity continuously onto correct paths. But the deliberate parallelism between creation and salvation in chapter 9, and the description of the exodus event through images of another apocalyptic creation, would suggest that the author is emphasizing the "newness" of the salvation moment that the creation motif carries.
|continuation of God’s creation through salvation. God uses the cosmos
to bring about a re-ordering of creation, particularly the re-establishment
of justice. Creation, the Exodus, and Salvation are the continuous spectrum
of God’s creative activity.
In returning to the two points highlighted at the beginning of this paper from Gibert’s study on origins in Scripture, I would like to note some of the Wisdom author’s particular nuances of creation theology. The literary cross-referencing that is noticeable between the creation and exodus accounts of Genesis and Exodus is a feature that the Wisdom author turns into an interpretive principle. The cosmos has been created through wisdom and it works for the re-establishment of justice against chaos — especially the ethical chaos of injustice. The exodus events are interpreted by the Wisdom author as God’s reestablishment of justice precisely through the workings of creation and the cosmos. The exodus is a new creation that saves.
By the same principle, the author projects this creative, saving activity of God into the future, into an ultimate judgment. The role of the cosmos in the apocalyptic judgment of Wisdom 5 is presented by the author with the same interpretive key as that for the exodus events. The elements of the cosmos do battle against injustice in order to restore justice. Creation and salvation are drawn into direct parallel. The exodus is the prime historical example through which creation and salvation are seen to be joined.
Though the philosophic distinctions inherent in strains of Hellenism may have influenced the Israelite conception of creation to be reduced to its "barest elements" in other directions it has expanded. What is more fully developed in the Book of Wisdom is the extension of creation theology to interpret the entire spectrum of history: creation, exodus, and the ultimate judgment. For the Wisdom author, every human event is ultimately interpreted through the lens of a creational principle. The cosmos, created in the wisdom of God, continues to restore the original justice of creation. Creation is a liberation from chaos, and every saving moment is a form of new creation.
Michael Kolarcik, S.J.
|Michael Kolarcik, "Creation and Salvation in the Wisdom of Solomon," in [Creation in the Biblical Traditions, eds., Richard J. Clifford, John J. Collins, CBQMS 24, Washington, 1992] pp. 97-107.|