Wisdom

20140225-292C96A3-5056-9A00-0C9A8FCEA88C1429Let’s discuss The Book of Wisdom!

It was written in Alexandria, Egypt by a Jewish Greek-speaking scholar during a time of local unrest there (around 25 BCE). Most folks believed in the Cult of Caesar and Jews refused to worship Caesar. Alexandria was a place of great learning, a wonderful library, but nearly constant conflict until the Romans gave up and burned it all to the ground (I wish we still had that library).

We do have copies of The Book of Wisdom, but not in our Bibles. It was not one of the Septuagint translations that early Christians used when putting together a “Bible” to rival Marcion’s “New Testament.” But that’s not the only reason it got left out. It wasn’t ancient enough. Many called it The Wisdom of Solomon and if you’re trying to put together something you can claim is inerrant, then a book clearly written generations after Solomon but attributed to him was out, no matter how wise he was with that cut-the-baby-in-half thing. Plus Wisdom was a (gulp) lady.

Actually there are several “Wisdom” books. It was common to mention Solomon in connection with them all. He didn’t write Proverbs or Song of Solomon either. The Wisdom literature is great. Wisdom is personified as Sophia and she’s part of a sort of Trinity… having been with God, the Creator, from the beginning of time. She helped set up the eternal Divine Rules. The Messianic Hope and the Admiration of Sophia got combined together. Of course God’s Spirit also was at work within the Creation and the framework of Wisdom. The early Church often used descriptions and attributes that had been applied to Sophia to answer “who was Jesus?” We can be certain that the people who wrote some of the books we now call the “New Testament” were very aware of The Book of Wisdom (they referred directly to it).

Consider Sophia; all things being made through her… that is not a very different idea from Logos in John’s Gospel or the Islam of Allah in Muhammad’s writings; wise and holy “rules” that permeate the Universe and make reality possible. They didn’t mean the Laws of Quantum Electrodynamics, they meant rules like “you reap what you sow.”

Roman Catholics consider The Book of Wisdom to be canonical. The Eastern Orthodox leaders don’t but, consider it “recommended reading.” Jews consider it holy. Some writers in the early Church suggested it for the Canon of Scripture. But … no. It has whole sections clearly stuck in it that are an order of worship from an ancient Passover in Alexandria as if someone used it for a bookmark and it got included by a copyist; Interesting stuff, but “not Bible stuff.”

You can read it though. You won’t go to Hell. It is in the Apocrypha and it’s online.

When you read it, pay attention to the parts Paul referred to in his letter to the Thessalonians (Wisdom chapters 3 and 18). In (First) Thessalonians (a short letter, just read the whole thing), Paul outlines standards for sexual behavior. He doesn’t have to spell it all out. By referring to The Book of Wisdom which has a longer section and greater detail, he reminds his readers. He then quotes reassuring words about what happens to those who have already died… that part is misinterpreted as “The Rapture” but is actually a reference to The Book of Wisdom (hint: there is no Rapture).

The Book of Wisdom challenges the old Jewish (and tribal) notion that bearing children is a mark of God’s approval and barrenness is a curse from God. The author clearly states it’s how a person lives, their faith, their godly hearts. In fact, it’s better to be a moral lesbian or gay with no children than to be an adulterer with a family. Of course, that’s not directly in our Bible! but it may have been on Paul’s mind. Ironically, that section of Thessalonians is often quoted from underneath the shadow of a personal interpretation that Paul meant to say homosexuality when he wrote pornos or moichos. While both are hard to translate into modern terms, neither nasty-sexy stuff nor lusty-passionate stuff mean “same-sex marriage.”  They both refer to abusing the gift of sexual love with self-centeredness. Paul’s applying Agape Love to Eros Love while treading the thin line between “share all things in common” and wife-swapping (a real issue in the early Church). He’s totally not talking about the 1/8th of the population born gay directly. Here, read:

1 Thessalonians, Chapter 4, starting at verse 3…. the most accurate translation available:
“So, concerning the virtuous life: God wants you to keep your distance from sexual immorality. Each one of you should know how to treat his own vessel with respect and honor and not as a sexual object as do the nations who do not know God. Nor should you offend or deceive your brother in sexual matters, because the lord is one who will see that justice is done in all such matters, as we clearly warned you before. For our God has not called us to loose living but to a life of virtue.”

If you see “homosexuality” in there, you’re injecting your own agenda. People born heterosexual and people born homosexual are both capable of treating others as objects and offending and deceiving others in sexual matters. We’re all called to lives of virtue and respect for others with the help of God.

For me, understanding the Bible includes finding accurate translations, researching the context and looking up the references. It also involves calmness and prayer. I am trying my best to understand why homosexuality turned into such a big deal when it was such a trivial concern in Jesus’ time. I want to know what those original documents actually meant to the original authors and hearers.

So far, I get this: they wanted babies and families (naturally) but by Jesus’ time they understood that there were homosexuals and welcomed them as long as they were honest people of faith. I get the sense that Paul and Jesus and the unknown author of The Book of Wisdom would have supported kind-hearted homosexual people of faith in unions based on love and commitment and enabled by the Love of God. And for all we know, such couples were a part of the early Church.

Can I call that Wisdom?

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