Wisdom literature and King Solomon

The invention of writing in Hebrew script, around the time of the warrior king, David, marks the earliest possible date for Hebrew Wisdom Literature. David’s successor, Solomon, is the first (and only) king with a reported enduring interest in secular wisdom: it is not a satisfactory way of proceding for historians and Biblical scholars to ignore that piece of information. Indeed, the text indicates that Solomon claimed that God (Yahweh) promised him that he would be the wisest man on earth. It can be argued that Solomon worked to fulfil this promise through gathering together the collected “wisdom” from the nations around him. His marriage relationships with Egyptian, Sidonian and Hittite women testifies to his desire to share in the cultures of the surrounding nations.

Yet even if we consider the claims for Solomon’s involvement in these texts, it is unlikely that he wrote much of their content. It is more likely that Solomon funded a team of scholars who were charged with reproducing in Hebrew the wisdom found in Egyptian, Phoenician, Hittite and Akkadian scripts, transforming these works into a form acceptable to the Israelites and delivering these works in the new Hebrew script. Indeed, the brilliant prosperity of the Israelite nation during Solomon’s reign, together with its international connections at the time, force us to consider the possibility that scholars within Solomon’s kingdom produced each of the wisdom texts, namely, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and Job. Even some of the Wisdom Psalms can be placed at that time.

The “Wisdom of Solomon” is a good example of works that are “useful for instruction.” They are starting points for understanding our world, God’s involvement in the world, and our own appropriate response: they are not the final word on such matters – in this regard we have Jesus’ teachings and fruit of God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives.

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