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Wisdom

The books of the Bible which are com­mon­ly called the Wis­dom books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Eccle­si­astes, and the Song of Solomon, as well as the Wis­dom of Jesus, Son of Sir­ach, also called Eccle­si­as­ti­cus, and the Wis­dom of Solomon from the so-called apocrypha.

The Book of Job, usu­al­ly dat­ed some­time at the peri­od of exile, is the sto­ry of right­eous suf­fer­ing in which the suf­fer­er pleads his cause before God only to “repent in dust and ash­es” (42:6) upon see­ing the Lord for him­self and being con­front­ed by Him with His own defense of His unspeak­able and unfath­omable majesty. Selec­tions from this book are read on the first days of Holy Week in the Ortho­dox Church because they deal with the most pro­found prob­lem fac­ing believ­ers, the prob­lem of suf­fer­ing, which is brought to its ulti­mate com­ple­tion in Christ who is not mere­ly the most per­fect of “suf­fer­ing inno­cents,” but indeed the Suf­fer­ing God in human flesh.

The Book of Proverbs, called the “proverbs of Solomon,” undoubt­ed­ly comes from Solomon’s time, although schol­ars place some of the proverbs at a much lat­er date and tell us that the book was put in its present form only after the Baby­lon­ian exile. The proverbs are short say­ings con­cern­ing the prop­er con­duct of wise and right­eous per­sons. They are read in their entire­ty at t he week­day Ves­per ser­vices of the Church dur­ing Great Lent. Selec­tions from the Proverbs are also read at the vig­ils of a num­ber of feasts of the Church since for Chris­tians the Wis­dom of God is per­son­i­fied and embod­ied in Christ.

Eccle­si­astes is a book of com­mon-sense med­i­ta­tions on the van­i­ty of life in this world and the wis­dom of fear­ing God and keep­ing His com­mand­ments which is “the whole duty of man” (11:3). It is tra­di­tion­al­ly ascribed to Solomon, the Preach­er. Schol­ars place the book in the third cen­tu­ry before Christ, how­ev­er, and find in its mes­sage a hel­lenis­tic spir­it tak­en over by the Jews in dias­po­ra among the gen­tile nations.

The same hel­lenis­tic spir­it and influ­ences of Greek phi­los­o­phy, but to a much greater degree, are found in both the Wis­dom of Jesus, Son of Sir­ach and the Wis­dom of Solomon which come from the same peri­od, the very eve of New Tes­ta­ment times. Of the three books just men­tioned, only the Wis­dom of Solomon, which is con­sid­ered to be the last of them writ­ten, is read litur­gi­cal­ly in the Ortho­dox Church.

The Song of Solomon—also called the Song of Songs or Can­ti­cle of Can­ti­cles—is con­sid­ered by schol­ars as a Canaan­ite wed­ding hymn of uncer­tain date. In Ortho­dox Church Tra­di­tion it is inter­pret­ed as a mys­ti­cal love sto­ry between man’s soul and God. Chris­t­ian saints of East and West, such as Gre­go­ry of Nys­sa and Bernard of Clair­vaux, have giv­en such a mean­ing to the book which is in line with the bib­li­cal tra­di­tion of view­ing the inter­re­la­tion­ship of God and His Peo­ple as that of con­ju­gal love (See Hos, Jer 2–3, Eph 5, Rev 21–22). This book is nev­er read in the litur­gi­cal ser­vices of the Ortho­dox Church, although cer­tain lines from it are tra­di­tion­al­ly sung in the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church when the bride approach­es her bride­groom in the church before the cel­e­bra­tion of their marriage.

Although not tech­ni­cal­ly a “wis­dom” book, men­tion may be made at this point of The Prayer of Man­asseh from the so-called apoc­rypha. This pen­i­ten­tial prayer of the King of Judah, which for the Ortho­dox is part of the Bible, is includ­ed in the Great Com­pline ser­vice of the Ortho­dox Church.