Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Old Testament Canon: Patristic Use of Isaiah 3:9-10 or Wisdom 2:12?

William Albrecht has a video titled "Patristics and Scripture:Wisdom 2:12" (link).  It's an attempt to argue for the canonicity of the book, The Wisdom of Solomon.  In that video Albrecht says:
The book of Wisdom, a canonical book of Scripture, was a book that was employed quite often by the early church.  Wisdom is a book that can be found in the Septuagint canon, and was a book that was debated upon by early factions within Judaism, and it's a book that was part of the most ancient catalogs of historical Scripture that existed - that exist as well - continue to exist to this day. The book of Wisdom was also considered the historical word of God in the earliest Christian councils that were inspired by the Holy Spirit in determining the canon of Scripture.
The book of Wisdom is an intertestamental book, pseudonymously ascribed to Solomon in the name of the book ("The Wisdom of Solomon"). Although the text of the work itself does not mention Solomon's name, Wisdom 7:1-12, seems to be a clear allusion to Solomon's request for wisdom (rather than riches or power), and the author claims to be the king described.  Thus, this book is rightly regarded as pseudonymous, ascribed to King Solomon, but not written by him.

Saying that the book is "found in the Septuagint" canon is true if you mean that today's Septuagints include it.  If you mean that all ancient Septuagints included it, you would be mistaken.  Recall that Cyril of Jerusalem taught a Septuagint canon that did not include Wisdom of Solomon (link).

Albrecht claims it was "debated upon by early factions within Judaism."  I would love to see any documentation of this supposed debate.  Even the Essene sect, whose cave-preserved texts at Qumran are so valuable to Old Testament textual criticism, did not preserve any copies of this book (although they apparently include at least parts of some version of Sirach, Tobit, and the Epistle of Jeremiah, and numerous other non-canonical works, including a significant amount of so-called wisdom literature).  There is no doubt today that the book was originally written in Greek, and New English Translation of the Septuagint acknowledges this fact in the introduction to the book (link).

The Jewish Encyclopedia has this to say:
Apocryphal book written in Alexandria about the middle of the first century B.C. That it was composed in Greek by an Alexandrian Jew has been conclusively shown by Freudenthal ("J. Q. R." iii. 722-753). The book has neither an introductory verse nor a regular conclusion. In fact, it consists of three independent parts which have no real connection, and which treat of subjects altogether different, a fact clearly recognized by Bretschneider, Eichhorn, and others, but disputed by Grimm ("Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apocryphen des Alten Testaments," vi. 9-24, Leipsic, 1860) and his followers.

As quoted above, Albrecht stated: "The book of Wisdom was also considered the historical word of God in the earliest Christian councils that were inspired by the Holy Spirit in determining the canon of Scripture." I'm not trying to pick on Albrecht's grammar, but if he's suggesting that the councils of Hippo and Carthage that adopted the book of Wisdom were "inspired," then he's mistaken.  More than that, none of the bishops at those councils would have thought themselves inspired, and neither Albrecht's church nor any other has judged those councils to be inspired.  If means that the councils of Hippo and Carthage judged that the book of Wisdom was inspired, perhaps - although perhaps those councils were more concerned with what was ecclesiastical (i.e. to be read in the churches) rather than with what was inspired by God.

In the King James Version, Wisdom 2:12 reads: "Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education."

In the Douay-Rheims Bible, Wisdom 2:12 reads: "Let us therefore lie in wait for the just, because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law, and divulgeth against us the sins of our way of life."

Albrecht appears to be reading from the Revised Standard Version, where Wisdom 2:12 reads "2 "Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training."

What Albrecht has overlooked is that Isaiah 3:10-11 in the LXX (translated to English by Lancelot Brenton) states: "Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just, for he is burdensome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works. Woe to the transgressor! evils shall happen to him according to the works of his hands."

After quoting the RSV translation of Wisdom 2:12, Albrecht says:
This clear prophecy of our God, of our Savior, of our Lord Christ Jesus, this clear prophecy was adored and preached from consistently in the early, historical Christian church.
It looks more like a general statement about the righteous than about Jesus specifically.  Remember that Wisdom is Sapiential literature, like Proverbs or Sirach.  Most of the description of the righteous could probably be applied to Jesus, but it is not even clear that the author intended to speak of the future.

Albrecht goes on to quote Ambrose of Milan (340-397) as supposedly referencing Wisdom 2:12 (in his Exposition on Psalm 35, at section 3) and seemingly ascribing it to Jesus.  The provided quotation has Ambrose saying "The Lord reproaches the Jews, "I made myself poor for you, I suffered for you, and you have raised impious hands, saying, 'Let us rid ourselves of the righteous one, because he is useless to us." The italics are the words perceived as coming from Wisdom 2:12.  Nevertheless, the same idea is found in LXX Isiah 3:10, quoted above.  Furthermore, Isaiah 3, but not Wisdom 2, includes a first person address from the Lord.

Albrecht then quotes from Athanasius (296-373) as supposedly referencing Wisdom 2:12 (apparently from Letter 19) and seemingly ascribing it to a prophet.  The text says "And what their end is, the prophet foretold, crying, 'Woe unto their soul, for they have devised an evil thought, saying, let us bind the just man, because he is not pleasing to us.'"  (link to source)  Here it is definitely a reference to LXX Isaiah 3:10.  The "Woe unto their soul" is from Isaiah but not from Wisdom.

Albrecht then says "Athanasius was clear, he was clear that the book of Wisdom was prophetic, was Scripture."  No. Albrecht has misunderstood Athanasius.

Athanasius wrote (in Letter 19 - alternative translation here):
But this displeased them. They were not anxious to understand, for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (l Cor. 2,8.) And what is the end of these, the prophet before pronounced, saying, Woe unto their souls, for they have devised an evil thought, saying, let us bind the just man, because he is not pleasing to us (Is. 3,9.10). The end of such abandonment as this is nothing but error, as the Lord, when reproving them, saith, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures. (Mat.22,29) 
Albrecht is misidentifying a reference to Isaiah 3 as a reference to Wisdom 2.  The "Woe unto their souls" (from Isaiah, not Wisdom) is a good clue, as well as the fact that "the prophet" is normally Isaiah, just as "the apostle" is normally Paul, in the patristic literature.

We don't have to guess or try to infer whether Athanasius thought that Wisdom was canonical.  In his 39th Festal Letter, Athanasius is explicit that the Wisdom of Solomon is not in the canon of Scripture:
But for the sake of greater accuracy I add, being constrained to write, that there are also other books besides these, which have not indeed been put in the canon, but have been appointed by the Fathers as reading-matter for those who have just come forward and wish to be instructed in the doctrine of piety: the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobias, the so-called Teaching of the Apostles [the Didache], and the Shepherd [of Hermas]. 
Albrecht then quotes from the "Epistle of Barnabas" as supposedly referencing Wisdom 2:12 (chapter 6) where the author seems to ascribe the text to a prophet. "Forasmuch then as He was about to be manifested in the flesh and to suffer, His suffering was manifested beforehand. For the prophet saith concerning Israel; Woe unto their soul, for they have counseled evil counsel against themselves saying, Let us bind the righteous one, for he is unprofitable for us." As above, the prophet here is surely Isaiah (link to source).

Albrecht then quotes from Cyril of Alexandria (376 – 444) as supposedly referencing Wisdom 2:12 (Commentary on John Book 18, Chapter 12, on John 18:12) seemingly ascribing the text to a prophet. The text states "For the Jews were bent on showing to us, that that was indeed truly spoken of them which the prophet put into their mouths: Let us bind the righteous Man, for He is useless unto us. " (link to source)  But yet again, this is a reference to LXX Isaiah, not Wisdom.

Albrecht's mistake is somewhat understandable.  A number of patristic sources have the wrong citation or some ambiguity about the citation, due to the fact that the reading at LXX Isaiah 3 is different from the MT and Vulgate.  Nevertheless, Albrecht is wrong, and he should withdraw his claims.


1 comment:

John said...

Cyril doesn't exactly say that Wisdom is not in the LXX. He says to hold to the 22 books "these that have been translated by the 72 interpreters". Of course, this can't include Wisdom, assuming it was written in Greek, and assuming Cyril was aware of that. But Cyril might be saying to hold to the subset of the book, commonly known as the LXX that was translated by the 72, and he seems to be under the misapprehension that his 22 books were the ones translated by the 72, (which surely can't be the case, but anyway.)

By contrast, all of the great uncial texts have Wisdom. It's hardly merely "today's" septuagints. It seems reasonable to assume that the vast majority (if not all) septuagints included it.

You say "Even the Essene sect, .. did not preserve any copies of this book"

It would be less misleading to say that this text wasn't successfully preserved with any copies through the millennia. What they might have attempted to preserve, we don't really know. We only know what we were lucky enough to find. Who, where, when and why the books were preserved, we don't know. We don't even know for sure if these Essene texts were put there by the Essenes, what the motivation was of whoever put them there, and whether we found everything they were trying to preserve.