BOOK ENDS. Seraphim, April 2009.
JB WISDOM Chapter 1
- WISDOM AND MAN’S DESTINY
On seeking God and rejecting evil
1:1 Love virtue, you who are judges on earth,[*a] let honesty prompt your thinking about the Lord, seek him in simplicity of heart;
1:2 since he is to be found by those who do not put him to the test, he shows himself to those who do not distrust him.
1:3 But selfish intentions divorce from God; and Omnipotence, put to the test, confounds the foolish.
1:4 No, Wisdom will never make its way into a crafty soul nor stay in a body that is in debt to sin;
1:5 the holy spirit of instruction shuns deceit, it stands aloof from reckless purposes, is taken aback when iniquity appears.
1:6 Wisdom is a spirit, a friend to man, though she will not pardon the words of a blasphemer, since God sees into the innermost parts of him, truly observes his heart, and listens to his tongue.
1:7 The spirit of the Lord, indeed, fills the whole world, and that which holds all things together knows every word that is said.
1:8 The man who gives voice to injustice will never go unnoticed, nor shall avenging Justice pass him by.
1:9 For the godless man’s deliberations will be examined, and a report of his words will reach the Lord to convict him of his crimes.
1:10 There is a jealous ear that overhears everything, not so much as a murmur of complaint escapes it.
1:11 Beware, then, of complaining about nothing, and keep your tongue from finding fault; since the most secret word will have repercussions, and a lying mouth deals death to the soul.
1:12 Do not court death by the errors of your ways, nor invite destruction through your own actions.
1:13 Death was not God’s doing, he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living.
1:14 To be – for this he created all; the world’s created things have health in them, in them no fatal poison can be found, and Hades[*b] holds no power on earth;
1:15 for virtue is undying.
Life as the godless see it
1:16 But the godless call with deed and word for Death, counting him friend, they wear themselves out for him, with him they make a pact, and are fit to be his partners.
JB WISDOM Chapter 2
2:1 For they say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning: ‘Our life is short and dreary, nor is there any relief when man’s end comes, nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
2:2 By chance we came to birth, and after this life we shall be as if we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our hearts;
2:3 put this out and our body turns to ashes, and the spirit melts away like idle air.
2:4 In time, our name will be forgotten, nobody will remember what we have done; our life will pass away like wisps of cloud, dissolve like the mist that the sun’s rays drive away and the heat of it overwhelms.
2:5 Yes, our days are the passing of a shadow, from our death there is no turning back, the seal is set: no one returns.
2:6 ‘Come then, let us enjoy what good things there are, use this creation with the zest of youth:
2:7 take our fill of the dearest wines and perfumes, let not one flower of springtime pass us by,
2:8 before they wither crown ourselves with roses.
2:9 Let none of us forgo his part in our orgy, let us leave the signs of our revelry everywhere, this is our portion, this the lot assigned us.
2:10 ‘As for the virtuous man who is poor, let us oppress him; let us not spare the widow, nor respect old age, white-haired with many years.
2:11 Let our strength be the yardstick of virtue, since weakness argues its own futility.
2:12 Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our breaches of the law and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
2:13 He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a son of the Lord.
2:14 Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
2:15 his way of life is not like other men’s, the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
2:16 In his opinion we are counterfeit; he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth; he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy and boasts of having God for his father.
2:17 Let us see if what he says is true, let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
2:18 If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
2:19 Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his endurance to the proof.
2:20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’
The godless gravely mistaken
2:21 This is the way they reason, but they are misled, their malice makes them blind.
2:22 They do not know the hidden things of God, they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded, they can see no reward for blameless souls.
2:23 Yet God did make man imperishable, he made him in the image of his own nature;
2:24 it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world, as those who are his partners will discover.
JB WISDOM Chapter 3
The destinies of good and bad men compared
3:1 But the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them.
3:2 In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster,
3:3 their leaving us, like annihilation; but they are in peace.
3:4 If they experienced punishment as men see it, their hope was rich with immortality;
3:5 slight was their affliction, great will their blessings be. God has put them to the test and proved them worthy to be with him;
3:6 he has tested them like gold in a furnace, and accepted them as a holocaust.
3:7 When the time comes for his visitation they will shine out; as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.
3:8 They shall judge nations, rule over peoples, and the Lord will be their king for ever.
3:9 They who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.
3:10 But the godless will be duly punished for their reasoning, for neglecting the virtuous man and deserting the Lord.
3:11 Yes, wretched are they who scorn wisdom and discipline:[*a] their hope is void, their toil unavailing, their achievements unprofitable;
3:12 their wives are reckless, their children depraved, their descendants accursed.
Better be barren than have godless children
3:13 Blessed the barren woman[*b] if she be blameless, she who has known no guilty bed; her fruitfulness will be seen at the scrutiny of souls.
3:14 Blessed, too, the eunuch[*c] whose hand has committed no crime, who has contemplated no wrong against the Lord; for his loyalty special favour will be granted him, a most desirable portion in the temple of the Lord.
3:15 For the fruit of honest labours is glorious, and the root of understanding does not decay.
3:16 But children of adulterers,[*d] these shall have no future, the offspring of an unlawful bed must vanish.
3:17 Even if they live long, they will count for nothing, their old age will go unhonoured at the last;
3:18 while if they die early, they have neither hope nor comfort on the day of doom.
3:19 Yes, harsh is the fate of a race of evil-doers.
JB WISDOM Chapter 4
4:1 Better to have no children yet to have virtue, since immortality perpetuates its memory and God and men both think highly of it.
4:2 Present, we imitate it, absent, we long for it; crowned, it holds triumph through eternity, having striven for blameless prizes and emerged the victor.
4:3 But the swarming brood of the godless shall bring no advantage; offspring of bastard stock, it will never strike deep roots, never put down firm foundations.
4:4 Branch out for a time they may; but, frailly rooted, they will sway in the wind, be torn up by the violence of the storm;
4:5 hardly grown, their branches will be snapped off, their fruit be useless, too unripe to eat, fit for nothing.
4:6 For children begotten of unlawful intercourse witness, when God judges them, to the wrong their parents did.
The premature death of the virtuous man
4:7 The virtuous man, though he die before his time, will find rest.
4:8 Length of days is not what makes age honourable, nor number of years the true measure of life;
4:9 understanding, this is man’s grey hairs, untarnished life, this is ripe old age.
4:10 He has sought to please God, so God has loved him; as he was living among sinners, he has been taken up.
4:11 He has been carried off so that evil may not warp his understanding or treachery seduce his soul;
4:12 for the fascination of evil throws good things into the shade, and the whirlwind of desire corrupts a simple heart.
4:13 Coming to perfection in so short a while, he achieved long life;
4:14 his soul being pleasing to the Lord, he has taken him quickly from the wickedness around him. Yet people look on, uncomprehending; it does not enter their heads
4:15 that grace and mercy await the chosen of the Lord, and protection, his holy ones.
4:16 The virtuous man who dies condemns the godless who survive, and youth’s untimely end the protracted age of the wicked.
4:17 These people see the wise man’s ending without understanding what the Lord has in store for him or why he has taken him to safety;
4:18 they look on and sneer, but the Lord will laugh at them.
4:19 Soon they will be corpses without honour, objects of scorn among the dead for ever. The Lord will dash them down headlong, dumb. He will tear them from their foundations, they will be utterly laid waste, anguish will be theirs, and their memory shall perish.
Virtuous men and godless at the judgement
4:20 They will come trembling to the reckoning of their sins, and their crimes, confronting them, will accuse them.
JB WISDOM Chapter 5
5:1 Then the virtuous man stands up boldly to face those who have oppressed him, those who thought so little of his sufferings.
5:2 And they, at the sight of him, will shake with cowards’ fear, amazed he should be saved so unexpectedly.
5:3 Stricken with remorse, each will say to the other, say with a groan and in distress of spirit:
5:4 ‘This is the man we used to laugh at once, a butt for our sarcasm, fools that we were! His life we regarded as madness, his ending as without honour.
5:5 How has he come to be counted as one of the sons of God? How does he come to be assigned a place among the saints?
5:6 Clearly we have strayed from the way of truth; the light of justice has not shone for us, the sun never rose on us.
5:7 We have left no path of lawlessness or ruin unexplored, we have crossed deserts where there was no track, but the way of the Lord is one we have never known.
5:8 Arrogance, what advantage has this brought us? Wealth and boasting, what have these conferred on us?
5:9 All those things have passed like a shadow, passed like a fleeting rumour.
5:10 Like a ship that cuts through heaving waves – leaving no trace to show where it has passed, no wake from its keel in the waves.
5:11 Or like a bird flying through the air – leaving no proof of its passing; it whips the light air with the stroke of its pinions, tears it apart in its whirring rush, drives its way onward with sweeping wing, and afterwards no sign is seen of its passage.
5:12 Or like an arrow shot at a mark, the pierced air closing so quickly on itself, there is no knowing which way the arrow has passed.
5:13 So with us: scarcely born, we have ceased to be; of virtue not a trace have we to show, we have spent ourselves on wickedness instead.’
5:14 Yes, the hope of the godless is like chaff carried on the wind, like fine spray driven by the gale; it disperses like smoke before the wind, goes like the memory of a one-day guest.
5:15 But the virtuous live for ever, their recompense lies with the Lord, the Most High takes care of them.
5:16 So they shall receive the royal crown of splendour, the diadem of beauty from the hand of the Lord; for he will shelter them with his right hand and shield them with his arm.
5:17 For armour he will take his jealous love, he will arm creation to punish his enemies;
5:18 he will put on justice as a breastplate, and for helmet wear his undissembling judgement;
5:19 he will take up invincible holiness for shield,
5:20 he will forge a biting sword of his stern wrath, and the universe will march with him to fight the reckless.
5:21 Bolts truly aimed, the shafts of lightning will leap, and from the clouds, as from a full-drawn bow, fly to their mark;
5:22 and the catapult will hurl hailstones charged with fury. The waters of the sea will rage against them, the rivers engulf them without pity.
5:23 The breath of Omnipotence will blow against them and winnow them like a hurricane. So lawlessness will bring the whole earth to ruin and evil-doing bring the thrones of the mighty down.
JB WISDOM Chapter 6
- THE ORIGIN, NATURE AND EFFECTS OF WISDOM
HOW IT IS TO BE HAD
The duty of kings to cultivate wisdom
6:1 [*a]Listen then, kings, and understand; rulers of remotest lands, take warning;
6:2 hear this, you who have thousands under your rule, who boast of your hordes of subjects.
6:3 For power is a gift to you from the Lord, sovereignty is from the Most High; he himself will probe your acts and scrutinise your intentions.
6:4 If, as administrators of his kingdom, you have not governed justly nor observed the law, nor behaved as God would have you behave,
6:5 he will fall on you swiftly and terribly. Ruthless judgement is reserved for the high and mighty;
6:6 the lowly will be compassionately pardoned, the mighty will be mightily punished.
6:7 For the Lord of All does not cower before a personage, he does not stand in awe of greatness, since he himself has made small and great and provides for all alike;
6:8 but strict scrutiny awaits those in power.
6:9 Yes, despots, my words are for you, that you may learn what wisdom is and not transgress;
6:10 for they who observe holy things holily will be adjudged holy, and, accepting instruction from them, will find their defence in them.
6:11 Look forward, therefore, to my words; yearn for them, and they will instruct you.
Wisdom sought is Wisdom found
6:12 Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her.
6:13 Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them.
6:14 Watch for her early and you will have no trouble; you will find her sitting at your gates.
6:15 Even to think about her is understanding fully grown; be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.
6:16 She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go, in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.
6:17 Of her the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline, care for discipline means loving her,
6:18 loving her means keeping her laws, obeying her laws guarantees incorruptibility,
6:19 incorruptibility brings near to God;
6:20 thus desire for Wisdom leads to sovereignty.
6:21 If then, despots of nations, you delight in throne and sceptre, honour Wisdom, thus to reign for ever.
Solomon sets out to describe Wisdom
6:22 What Wisdom is and how she came to be, I will now declare, I will hide none of the secrets from you; I will trace her right from the beginning and set out knowledge of her, plainly, not swerving from the truth.
6:23 Neither will I take blighting Envy as my travelling companion, for she has nothing in common with Wisdom.
6:24 In the greatest number of wise men lies the world’s salvation, in a sagacious king the stability of a people.
6:25 Learn, therefore, from my words; the gain will be yours.
JB WISDOM Chapter 7
Solomon a man like other men
7:1 Like all the others, I too am a mortal man, descendant of the first being fashioned from the earth, I was modelled in flesh within my mother’s womb,
7:2 for ten months[*a] taking shape in her blood by means of virile seed and pleasure, sleep’s companion.
7:3 I too, when I was born, drew in the common air, I fell on the same ground that bears us all, a wail my first sound, as for all the rest.
7:4 I was nurtured in swaddling clothes, with every care.
7:5 No king has known any other beginning of existence;
7:6 for all there is one way only into life, as out of it.
Solomon’s respect for Wisdom
7:7 And so I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
7:8 I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
7:9 I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer, for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand, and beside her silver ranks as mud.
7:10 I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps.
7:11 In her company all good things came to me, at her hands riches not to be numbered.
7:12 All these I delighted in, since Wisdom brings them, but as yet I did not know she was their mother.
7:13 What I learned without self-interest, I pass on without reserve; I do not intend to hide her riches.
7:14 For she is an inexhaustible treasure to men, and those who acquire it win God’s friendship, commended as they are to him by the benefits of her teaching.
The appeal to divine inspiration
7:15 May God grant me to speak as he would wish and express thoughts worthy of his gifts, since he himself is the guide of Wisdom, since he directs the sages.
7:16 We are indeed in his hand, we ourselves and our words, with all our understanding, too, and technical knowledge.
7:17 It was he who gave me true knowledge of all that is,[*b] who taught me the structure of the world and the properties of the elements,
7:18 the beginning, end and middle of the times, the alternation of the solstices and the succession of the seasons,
7:19 the revolution of the year and the positions of the stars,
7:20 the natures of animals and the instincts of wild beasts, the powers of spirits and the mental processes of men, the varieties of plants and the medical properties of roots.
7:21 All that is hidden, all that is plain, I have come to know, instructed by Wisdom who designed them all.
In praise of Wisdom
7:22 For within her is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, active, incisive, unsullied, lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,
7:23 irresistible, beneficent, loving to man, steadfast, dependable, unperturbed, almighty, all-surveying, penetrating all intelligent, pure and most subtle spirits;
7:24 for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.
7:25 She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her.
7:26 She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness.
7:27 Although alone, she can do all; herself unchanging, she makes all things new. In each generation she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets;
7:28 for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom.
7:29 She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations; compared with light, she takes first place,
7:30 for light must yield to night, but over Wisdom evil can never triumph.
JB WISDOM Chapter 8
8:1 She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good.
From Wisdom comes all that is desirable
8:2 She it was I loved and searched for from my youth; I resolved to have her as my bride, I fell in love with her beauty.
8:3 Her closeness to God lends lustre to her noble birth, since the Lord of All has loved her.
8:4 Yes, she is an initiate in the mysteries of God’s knowledge, making choice of the works he is to do.
8:5 If in this life wealth be a desirable possession, what is more wealthy than Wisdom whose work is everywhere?
8:6 Or if it be the intellect that is at work, where is there a greater than Wisdom, designer of all?
8:7 Or if it be virtue you love, why, virtues are the fruit of her labours, since it is she who teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude; nothing in life is more serviceable to men than these.
8:8 Or if you are eager for wide experience, she knows the past, she forecasts the future; she knows how to turn maxims, and solve riddles; she has foreknowledge of signs and wonders, of the unfolding of the ages and the times.
Wisdom indispensable to rulers
8:9 I therefore determined to take her to share my life, knowing she would be my counsellor in prosperity, my comfort in cares and sorrow.
8:10 Through her, I thought, I shall be acclaimed where people gather and honoured, while still a youth, among the elders.
8:11 I shall be reckoned shrewd when I sit in judgement, in presence of the great I shall be admired.
8:12 They will wait on my silences, and pay attention when I speak; if I speak at some length, they will lay their hand on their lips.
8:13 By means of her, immortality shall be mine, I shall leave an everlasting memory to my successors.
8:14 I shall govern peoples and nations will be subject to me;
8:15 at the sound of my name fearsome despots will be afraid; I shall show myself kind to my people and valiant in battle.
8:16 When I go home I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company, when life is shared with her there is no pain, gladness only, and joy.
Solomon prepares to ask for Wisdom
8:17 Inwardly revolving these thoughts, and considering in my heart that immortality is found in being kin to Wisdom
8:18 pure contentment in her friendship, inexhaustible riches in what she does, intelligence in the cultivation of her society, and renown in the fellowship of her conversation, I went in all directions seeking by what means I might make her mine.
8:19 I was a boy of happy disposition, I had received a good soul as my lot,
8:20 or rather, being good, I had entered an undefiled body; but knowing I could not master Wisdom but by the gift of God – a mark itself of understanding, to know whose the bounty was – I turned to the Lord and entreated him, with all my heart I said:
JB WISDOM Chapter 9
A prayer for Wisdom
9:1 ‘God of our ancestors, Lord of mercy, who by your word have made all things,
9:2 and in your wisdom have fitted man to rule the creatures that have come from you,
9:3 to govern the world in holiness and justice and in honesty of soul to wield authority,
9:4 grant me Wisdom, consort of your throne, and do not reject me from the number of your children.
9:5 ‘For I am your servant, son of your serving maid, a feeble man, with little time to live, with small understanding of justice and the laws.
9:6 Indeed, were anyone perfect among the sons of men, if he lacked the Wisdom that comes from you, he would still count for nothing.
9:7 You yourself have chosen me[*a] to be king over your people, to be judge of your sons and daughters.
9:8 You have bidden me build a temple on your holy mountain, an altar in the city where you have pitched your tent, a copy of that sacred tabernacle which you prepared from the beginning.
9:9 With you is Wisdom, she who knows your works, she who was present when you made the world; she understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what agrees with your commandments.
9:10 Despatch her from the holy heavens, send her forth from your throne of glory to help me and to toil with me and teach me what is pleasing to you,
9:11 since she knows and understands everything. She will guide me prudently in my undertakings and protect me by her glory.
9:12 Then all I do will be acceptable, I shall govern your people justly and shall be worthy of my father’s[*b] throne.
9:13 ‘What man indeed can know the intentions of God? Who can divine the will of the Lord?
9:14 The reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable;
9:15 for a perishable body presses down the soul, and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.
9:16 It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth, laborious to know what lies within our reach; who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
9:17 As for your intention, who could have learnt it, had you not granted Wisdom and sent your holy spirit from above?
9:18 Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened and men been taught what pleases you, and saved, by Wisdom.’
JB WISDOM Chapter 10
III. WISDOM AND GOD IN HISTORY
From Adam to Moses
10:1 The father of the world, the first being to be fashioned, created alone, he had her for his protector and she delivered him from his fault;[*a]
10:2 she gave him the strength to subjugate all things.
10:3 But when a sinner[*b] in his wrath deserted her, he perished in his fratricidal fury.
10:4 When because of him the earth was drowned, it was Wisdom again who saved it, piloting the virtuous man[*c] on a paltry piece of wood.
10:5 Again, when, concurring in wickedness, the nations had been thrown into confusion, it was she who singled out the virtuous man,[*d] preserved him blameless before God and fortified him against pity for his child.
10:6 It was she who, while the godless perished, saved the virtuous man,[*e] as he fled from the fire raining down on the Five Cities,
10:7 in witness against whose evil ways a desolate land still smokes, where shrubs bear fruit that never ripens and where, monument to an unbelieving soul, there stands a pillar of salt.
10:8 For, by neglecting the path of Wisdom, not only were they kept from knowledge of the good, they actually left the world a memorial of their folly, so that their crimes might not escape notice.
10:9 But Wisdom delivered her servants from their ordeals.
10:10 The virtuous man,[*f] fleeing from the anger of his brother, was led by her along straight paths. She showed him the kingdom of God and taught him the knowledge of holy things. She brought him success in his toil and gave him full return for all his efforts;
10:11 she stood by him against grasping and oppressive men and she made him rich.
10:12 She guarded him closely from his enemies and saved him from the traps they set for him. In an arduous struggle she awarded him the prize, to teach him that piety is stronger than all.
10:13 She did not forsake the virtuous man when he was sold,[*g] but kept him free from sin;
10:14 she went down to the dungeon with him; she would not abandon him in his chains, but procured for him the sceptre of a kingdom and authority over his despotic masters, thus exposing as liars those who had traduced him, and giving him honour everlasting.
10:15 A holy people and a blameless race, this she delivered from a nation of oppressors.
10:16 She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord,[*h] and withstood fearsome kings with wonders and signs.
10:17 To the saints she gave the wages of their labours; she led them by a marvellous road; she herself was their shelter by day and their starlight through the night.
10:18 She brought them across the Red Sea, led them through that immensity of water,
10:19 while she swallowed their enemies in the waves then spat them out from the depths of the abyss.
10:20 So the virtuous despoiled the godless; Lord, they extolled your holy name, and with one accord praised your protecting hand,
10:21 for Wisdom opened the mouths of the dumb and gave speech to the tongues of babes.
JB WISDOM Chapter 11
11:1 At the hand of a holy prophet[*a] she gave their actions success.
11:2 They journeyed through an unpeopled wilderness and pitched their tents in inaccessible places.
11:3 They stood firm against their enemies, fought off their foes.
11:4 On you[*b] they called when they were thirsty, and from the rocky cliff water was given them, from hard stone their thirst was quenched.
How water proved the ruin of Egypt and the saving of Israel
11:5 Thus, what served to punish their enemies became a benefit for them in their distress.
11:6 You gave them not that ever-flowing source of river water turbid with defiling floods,
11:7 stern answer for their decree of infanticide,[*c] but, against all hope, water in abundance,
11:8 showing by the thirst that then was raging how severely you punished their enemies.
11:9 From their ordeals, which were no more than the reproofs of Mercy, they learned what tortures a sentence of wrath inflicts on the godless;
11:10 you tested them indeed, correcting them like a father, but the others you strictly examined, like a severe king who condemns.
11:11 Near or far away,[*d] they were equally worn down,
11:12 double indeed was the grief that seized on them, double the groaning at the memory of the past;
11:13 hearing that what punished them[*e] had set the others rejoicing, they saw the Lord in it,
11:14 and for him whom long ago they had cast out, exposed, and later mockingly rebuffed,[*f] they felt only amazement when all was done; the thirst of the virtuous and theirs had worked so differently.
God’s forbearance with Egypt
11:15 As their foolish and wicked notions led them astray into worshipping mindless reptiles and contemptible beasts, you sent hordes of mindless creatures to punish them
11:16 and teach them that the instruments of sin are instruments of punishment.
11:17 And indeed your all-powerful hand did not lack means – the hand that from formless matter created the world – to unleash a horde of bears or savage lions on them
11:18 or unknown beasts, newly created, full of rage, exhaling fiery breath, ejecting swirls of stinking smoke or flashing fearful sparks from their eyes,
11:19 beasts not only able to crush them with a blow, but also to destroy them by their terrifying appearance.
11:20 But even without these, they could have dropped dead at a single breath, pursued by your justice, whirled away by the breath of your power. But no, you ordered all things by measure, number, weight.
This forbearance explained
11:21 For your great strength is always at your call; who can withstand the might of your arm?
11:22 In your sight the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground.
11:23 Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.
11:24 Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it.
11:25 And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist, how be conserved if not called forth by you?
11:26 You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life,
JB WISDOM Chapter 12
12:1 you whose imperishable spirit is in all.
12:2 Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord.
God’s forbearance with Canaan
12:3 The ancient inhabitants of your holy land
12:4 you hated for their loathsome practices, their deeds of sorcery and unholy rites,
12:5 hated as ruthless murderers of children, as eaters of entrails at feasts of human flesh, initiated while the bloody orgy goes on,[*a]
12:6 as murderous parents of defenceless beings. You determined to destroy them at our fathers’ hands,
12:7 so that this land, dearer to you than any other, might receive a colony of God’s children worthy of it.
12:8 Even so, since these were men, you treated them leniently, sending hornets as forerunners of your army, to destroy them bit by bit.
12:9 Not that you could not hand the godless over to the virtuous in pitched battle or destroy them at once by savage beasts or one stern word from you;
12:10 but, by condemning them piece by piece, you gave them the chance to repent, although you knew very well they were inherently evil, innately wicked
12:11 and fixed in their cast of mind; for they were a race accursed from the beginning.
This forbearance explained
Nor was it from awe of anyone that you left them unpunished
12:12 for their sins. Who would venture to say, ‘What have you done?’ Who would dare to defy your sentence? Who arraign you for destroying nations which you have created? What champion of guilty men dare come to confront you and challenge you?
12:13 For there is no god, other than you, who cares for every thing, to whom you might have to prove that you never judged unjustly;
12:14 as for those you punished, no king, no despot, dare reproach you with it to your face.
12:15 Being just yourself, you order all things justly, holding it unworthy of your power to condemn a man who has not deserved to be punished.
12:16 Your justice has its source in strength, your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all.
12:17 You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned and you expose the insolence of those who know it;
12:18 but, disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement, you govern us with great lenience, for you have only to will, and your power is there.
What is to be learned from God’s forbearance
12:19 By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men, and you have given your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.
12:20 If with such care and such indulgence you have punished the enemies of your children, when death was what they deserved, and given them time and room to rid themselves of wickedness,
12:21 with what exact attention have you not judged your sons, to whose ancestors you made such fair promises by oaths and covenants.
12:22 Thus, while you correct us, you flog our enemies ten thousand times harder, to teach us, when we judge, to reflect on your kindness and when we are judged, to look for mercy.
God follows clemency with severity
12:23 This is why, against those who were leading wicked and foolish lives, you turned their own abominations[*b] to torment them;
12:24 they had indeed strayed too far from paths that strayed already, and came to regard the vilest, most contemptible animals as gods, being deceived, like silly little children.
12:25 So, as to children with no sense, you sent them a punishment to mock them,
12:26 but they who took no warning from such mocking correction were soon to experience a punishment worthy of God.
12:27 Worn down by what they suffered from these beasts, those beasts they had taken for gods, now the means of their punishment, they saw straight, and acknowledged as true God him they had hitherto refused to know. That is why the extreme penalty was inflicted on them.
JB WISDOM Chapter 13
Astral and nature cults
13:1 Yes, naturally stupid are all men who have not known God and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or, by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer.
13:2 Fire however, or wind, or the swift air, the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven’s lamps, are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world.
13:3 If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for gods, let them know how much the Lord of these excels them, since the very Author of beauty has created them.
13:4 And if they have been impressed by their power and energy, let them deduce from these how much mightier is he that has formed them,
13:5 since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.
13:6 Small blame, however, attaches to these men, for perhaps they only go astray in their search for God and their eagerness to find him;
13:7 living among his works, they strive to comprehend them and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.
13:8 Even so, they are not to be excused:
13:9 if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?
The cults of idols
13:10 But wretched are they – in dead things putting their hopes – who have given to things made by human hands the title of gods, gold and silver, finely worked, likenesses of animals, or some useless stone, carved by some hand long ago.
13:11 Take a woodcutter. He fells a suitable tree, neatly strips off the bark all over and then with admirable skill works the wood into an object useful in daily life.
13:12 The bits left over from his work he uses for cooking his food, then eats his fill.
13:13 There is still a good-for-nothing bit left over, a gnarled and knotted billet: he picks it up, whittles it with the concentration of leisure, he shapes it with the skill of relaxation, he gives it a human shape
13:14 or perhaps he makes it into some vile animal, smears it with ochre, paints its surface red, coats over all its blemishes.
13:15 He next makes a worthy home for it, lets it into the wall, fixes it with an iron clamp.
13:16 Thus he makes sure that it will not fall down – he is well aware it cannot help itself: it is only an image, and it needs to be helped.
13:17 And yet, if he wishes to pray for his goods, for marriages, for his children, he does not blush to harangue this lifeless thing – for health he invokes weakness,
13:18 for life he pleads with death, for help he goes begging to utter inexperience, for his travels, to something that cannot stir a foot;
13:19 for his profits and plans and success in pursuing his craft, he asks skill from something whose hands have no skill whatever.
JB WISDOM Chapter 14
14:1 Or someone else, taking ship to cross the raging sea, invokes a log[*a] even frailer than the vessel that bears him.
14:2 No doubt that ship is the product of a craving for gain, its building embodies the wisdom of the shipwright,
14:3 but your providence, Father, is what steers it, you having opened a pathway even through the sea, a safe way over the waves,
14:4 showing that you can save, whatever happens, so that even without skill a man may sail abroad.
14:5 It is not your will that the works of your Wisdom lie idle, and hence men entrust their lives to the smallest piece of wood, cross the high seas on a raft and come safe to port.
14:6 Why, in the beginning even, while the proud giants were perishing, the hope of the world took refuge on a raft[*b] and, steered by your hand, preserved the germ of a new generation for the ages to come
14:7 For blessed is the wood which serves the cause of virtue,
14:8 but accursed that hand-made thing and its maker, he for having made it, the perishable thing itself because it has been called god.
14:9 Yes, God holds the godless and his godlessness in equal hatred;
14:10 work and workman alike shall be punished.
14:11 Hence judgement shall fall on the idols themselves of the heathen, since, although part of God’s creation, they have become an abomination, snares for the souls of men, a pitfall for the feet of the reckless.
The origin of the cult of idols
14:12 The invention of idols was the origin of fornication,[*c] their discovery the corrupting of life.
14:13 They did not exist at the beginning, they will not exist for ever;
14:14 through human vanity they came into the world and hence a sudden end has been designed for them.
14:15 A father afflicted by untimely mourning makes an image of his child so swiftly taken, and now he honours as a god what yesterday had only been a dead man, bequeathing mysteries and initiations to his dependents.
14:16 Then in the course of time the godless custom hardens, and is observed as law
14:17 and, by command of princes, the carved images receive worship. Of those who lived too far away to be honoured in person men would make a portrait from a distance and produce a visible image of the king they honoured, meaning, by such zeal, to flatter the absent as if he were with them.
14:18 Even people who did not know him were stimulated into spreading his cult by the idealism of the artist;
14:19 for the latter, doubtless wishing to please the ruler, exerted all his skill to make the likeness finer than reality
14:20 and the crowd, carried away by the beauty of the work, accorded divine honours to him whom only recently they had honoured as a man.
14:21 And this became a pitfall for life, that men, whether slaves to misfortune or princely power, should have bestowed the incommunicable name on sticks and stones.
The consequences of idolatry
14:22 Soon it is not enough for them that their knowledge of God should be at fault; in the great struggle to which ignorance condemns their lives they next give such massive ills the name of peace.
14:23 With their child-murdering initiations, their secret mysteries, their orgies with outlandish ceremonies,[*d]
14:24 they no longer retain any purity in their lives or their marriages, one treacherously murdering the next or doing him injury by adultery.
14:25 Everywhere a welter of blood and murder, theft and fraud, corruption, treachery, riots, perjury,
14:26 disturbance of decent people, forgetfulness of favours, pollution of souls, sins against nature, disorder in marriage, adultery, debauchery.
14:27 For the worship of unnamed[*e] idols is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil.
14:28 Either that, or they rave in ecstasy, or utter false oracles, or lead lives of great wickedness, or perjure themselves without hesitation;
14:29 for since they put their trust in lifeless idols they do not reckon their false oaths can harm them.
14:30 But justice will overtake them on two counts: as idolaters, for degrading the concept of God, as frauds, for swearing in despite of truth, in defiance of all that is holy.
14:31 For it is not the power of the things by which men swear but the retribution due to sinners that always overtakes the offence of the guilty.
JB WISDOM Chapter 15
Israel not idolatrous
15:1 But you, our God, are kind, loyal and slow to anger, and you govern all things with mercy.
15:2 If we sin, we still are yours, since we acknowledge your power, but, knowing you acknowledge us as yours, we will not sin.
15:3 To acknowledge you is indeed the perfect virtue, to know your power is the root of immortality.
15:4 No invention of perverted human skill has led us astray, no painter’s sterile labour, no figure daubed with assorted colours,
15:5 the sight of which sets fools yearning and reverencing the lifeless form of some unbreathing image.
15:6 Lovers of evil and worthy of such hopes, are those who make them, those who reverence them and those who worship them.
The makers of idols are fools
15:7 Take a potter, now, laboriously working the soft earth, shaping all sorts of things for us to use. Out of the same clay, even so, he models vessels intended for clean purposes and the contrary sort, all alike; but which of these two uses each will have is for the potter himself to decide.
15:8 Then – effort very evilly spent – of the same clay he shapes a futile god – he who, so recently made out of earth himself, will shortly return to what he was taken from, once he is called to give an account of his life.
15:9 Even so he wastes no thought on imminent death or on the shortness of his life. Far from it, he strives to outdo the goldsmiths and silversmiths, apes the bronzeworkers too, and takes pride in the spurious models that he makes.
15:10 Ashes, his heart, meaner than dirt his hope, his life more ignoble than clay,
15:11 since he misconceives the One who shaped him, who breathed an active soul into him and inspired a living spirit.
15:12 What is more, he looks on this life of ours as a kind of game, and our time here like a fair, full of bargains. ‘However foul the means,’ he says ‘a man must make a living.’
15:13 He, more than any other, knows he is sinning, he who from the same earthly material makes both breakable vessel and idol.
The folly of the Egyptians; their indiscriminate idolatry
15:14 But most foolish, more pitiable even than the soul of a little child, are the enemies who once played the tyrant with your people,
15:15 and have taken all the idols of the heathen for gods, which can use neither their eyes for seeing nor their nostrils for breathing the air nor their ears for hearing nor the fingers on their hands for handling; while their feet are no use for walking,
15:16 since a human being made them, a creature of borrowed breath gave them shape. Now no man can shape a god as good as himself;
15:17 subject to death, his impious hands can only produce something dead. He himself is worthier than the things he worships; he will at least have lived, but never they.
15:18 Even the most hateful animals are worshipped, worse than the rest in their degree of stupidity.
15:19 With no trace of beauty to prompt the inclination – as some animals might have – the praise and blessing of God do not come their way.
JB WISDOM Chapter 16
Egypt and Israel: harmful animals, quails
16:1 Thus they were appropriately punished by similar creatures and were tormented by hordes of brutes.
16:2 In contrast to this punishment, you treated your own people with kindness and, to satisfy their sharp appetite, you provided for their food quails, a luscious rarity.
16:3 Thus the Egyptians, at the repulsive sight of the creatures sent against them,[*a] were to find, though they longed for food, that even their natural appetite had revolted. While your own people, after a short privation, were to have a rare relish for their portion.
16:4 Inevitable that relentless want should seize on the former, the oppressors; enough for the latter to be shown how their enemies were being tortured.
Egypt and Israel: the plague of locusts, the bronze serpent
16:5 When the savage rage of wild animals overtook them and they were perishing from the bites of writhing snakes, your wrath did not continue to the end.
16:6 It was by way of reprimand, lasting a short time, that they were distressed, for they had a saving token to remind them of the commandment of your Law.
16:7 Whoever turned to it was saved, not by what he looked at, but by you, the universal saviour.
16:8 And by such means you proved to our enemies that it is you who deliver from every evil;
16:9 since the bites of locusts and flies proved fatal to them and no remedy could be found to save them – and well they deserved to be punished by such creatures.
16:10 But, for your sons, not even the fangs of venomous serpents could bring them down; your mercy came to their help and cured them.
16:11 One sting – how quickly healed! – to remind them of your oracles rather than that, by sinking into deep forgetfulness, they should be cut off from your kindness.
16:12 No herb, no poultice cured them, but it was your word, Lord, which heals all things.
16:13 For you have power of life and death, you bring down to the gates of Hades and bring back again.
16:14 Man in his malice may put to death, he does not bring the departed spirit back or free the soul that Hades has once received.
Egypt and Israel: the elements
16:15 It is not possible to escape your hand.
16:16 The godless who refused to acknowledge you were scourged by the strength of your arm, pursued by no ordinary rains, hail and unrelenting downpours, and consumed by fire.
16:17 Even more wonderful, in the water – which quenches all – the fire raged fiercer than ever; for the elements fight for the virtuous.
16:18 At one moment the flame would die down, to avoid consuming the animals sent against the godless and to make clear to them by that sight, that the sentence of God was pursuing them;
16:19 at another, in the very heart of the water, it would burn more fiercely than fire to ruin the harvests of a guilty land.
16:20 How differently with your people! You gave them the food of angels,[*b] from heaven untiringly sending them bread already prepared, containing every delight, satisfying every taste.
16:21 And the substance you gave demonstrated your sweetness towards your children, for, conforming to the taste of whoever ate it, it transformed itself into what each eater wished.
16:22 Snow and ice endured the fire, without melting; by which they were to know that, to destroy the harvests of their enemies, fire would burn even in hail and flare in falling rain,
16:23 whereas, on the other hand, it would even forget its own virtue in the service of feeding the virtuous.
16:24 For creation, in obedience to you, its maker, exerts itself to punish the wicked and slackens for the benefit of those who trust in you.
16:25 Thus it became, by a total transformation, the agent of your all-nourishing bounty, conforming to the wish of those in need,
16:26 so that your beloved children, Lord, might learn that the various crops are not what nourishes man, but your word which preserves all who trust in you.
16:27 For that, which fire could not destroy melted in the heat of a single fleeting sunbeam,
16:28 to show that, to give you thanks, we must rise before the sun and pray to you when light begins to dawn;
16:29 for the hope of the ungrateful will melt like winter’s frost and flow away like water running to waste.
JB WISDOM Chapter 17
Egypt and Israel: darkness and light
17:1 Your judgements are indeed great and inexpressible, which is why undisciplined souls have gone astray.
17:2 When impious men imagined they had the holy nation in their power, they themselves lay prisoners of the dark,[*a] in the fetters of long night, confined under their own roofs, banished from eternal providence.
17:3 While they thought to remain unnoticed with their secret sins, curtained by dark forgetfulness, they were scattered in fearful dismay, terrified by apparitions.
17:4 The hiding place sheltering them could not ward off their fear; terrifying noises echoed round them; and gloomy, grim-faced spectres haunted them.
17:5 No fire had power enough to give them light, nor could the brightly blazing stars illuminate that dreadful night –
17:6 only a great blaze, burning of its own accord, that, full of dread, shone through to them; And in their terror, once that sight had vanished, they thought what they had seen more terrible than ever.
17:7 Their magic arts proved utterly unavailing, their boasted cunning was ignominiously confounded;
17:8 for those who professed to drive out fears and disorders from sick souls, themselves fell sick of a ridiculous terror.
17:9 Even when there was nothing frightful to scare them, the prowling of beasts and the hissing of reptiles terrified them; they died convulsed with fright, refusing so much as to look at the air, which cannot be eluded anyhow!
17:10 Wickedness is confessedly very cowardly, and it condemns itself; under pressure from conscience it always assumes the worst.
17:11 Fear, indeed, is nothing other than the abandonment of the supports offered by reason;
17:12 the less you rely within yourself on these, the more alarming it is not to know the cause of your suffering.
17:13 And they, all locked in the same sleep, while that darkness lasted, which was in fact quite powerless and had issued from the depths of equally powerless Hades,
17:14 were now chased by monstrous spectres, now paralysed by fainting of their souls; for a sudden, unexpected terror had swept over them.
17:15 And thus, whoever it might be that fell there stayed clamped to the spot in this prison without bars.
17:16 Whether he was ploughman or shepherd, or someone working by himself, he was still overtaken and suffered the inevitable fate, for all had been bound by the one same chain of darkness.
17:17 The soughing of the wind, the tuneful noise of birds in the spreading branches, the measured beat of water in its powerful course, the harsh din of the rocky avalanche,
17:18 the invisible, swift course of bounding animals, the roaring of the savagest wild beasts, the echo rebounding from the clefts in the mountains, all held them paralysed with fear.
17:19 The whole world was shining with brilliant light and, unhindered, went on with its work;
17:20 over them alone there spread a heavy darkness, image of the dark that would receive them. But heavier than the darkness, the burden they were to themselves.
JB WISDOM Chapter 18
18:1 But for your holy ones all was great light. The Egyptians who could hear their voices, though not see their shapes, called them fortunate because they had not suffered too;
18:2 they thanked them for doing no injury in return for previous wrongs and asked forgiveness for their past ill-will.
18:3 In contrast to the darkness, you gave your people a pillar of blazing fire, to guide them on their unknown journey, a mild sun for their ambitious migration.
18:4 But well they deserved, those others, to be deprived of light and imprisoned in darkness, for having kept in captivity your children, by whom the imperishable light of the Law was to be given to the world.
Egypt and Israel: the Destroyer
18:5 As they had resolved to kill the infants of the holy ones, and as of those exposed only one child had been saved, to punish them, you made away with thousands of their children, and destroyed them all together in the wild waves.
18:6 That night had been foretold to our ancestors, so that, once they saw what kind of oaths they had put their trust in, they would joyfully take courage.
18:7 This was the expectation of your people, the saving of the virtuous and the ruin of their enemies;
18:8 for by the same act with which you took vengeance on our foes you made us glorious by calling us to you.
18:9 The devout children of worthy men offered sacrifice[*a] in secret and this divine pact they struck with one accord: that the saints would share the same blessings and dangers alike; and forthwith they had begun to chant the hymns of the fathers.[*b]
18:10 In echo came the discordant cries of their enemies and the pitiful sound rang out of those lamenting their children.
18:11 The same punishment struck slave and master alike, commoner and king suffered the selfsame loss.
18:12 All had innumerable dead alike, struck by the same death. There were not enough living left to bury them, for in a moment the flower of their race had perished.
18:13 They who, thanks to their sorceries, had been wholly incredulous, at the destruction of their first-born now acknowledged this people to be son of God.
18:14 When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course,
18:15 down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word; into the heart of a doomed land the stern warrior leapt. Carrying your unambiguous command like a sharp sword,
18:16 he stood, and filled the universe with death; he touched the sky, yet trod the earth.
18:17 Immediately, dreams and gruesome visions overwhelmed them with terror, unexpected fears assailed them.
18:18 Hurled down, some here, some there, half dead, they proclaimed why it was they were dying;
18:19 for the dreams that had troubled them had warned them why beforehand, so that they might not perish without knowing why they had been struck down.
18:20 But the virtuous, too, felt the touch of death; a multitude was struck down in the wilderness. But the wrath did not last long,
18:21 for a blameless man[*c] hastened to champion their cause. Wielding the weapons of his sacred office, prayer and atoning incense, he took his stand against the Anger and put an end to the calamity, showing that he was indeed your servant.
18:22 He conquered the bitter plague, not by physical strength, not by force of arms; but by word he prevailed over the Punisher, by recalling the oaths made to the Fathers, and the covenants.
18:23 Already the corpses lay piled in heaps, when he interposed and beat back the wrath and cut off its approach to the living.
18:24 For the whole world was on his flowing robe,[*d] the glorious names of the Fathers on the four rows of stones, and your Majesty on the diadem on his head.
18:25 From these the Destroyer recoiled, he was afraid of these; a mere taste of the wrath had been enough.
JB WISDOM Chapter 19
Egypt and Israel: the Red Sea
19:1 But the godless were assailed by merciless anger to the very end, for God knew beforehand what they would do,
19:2 how, after letting his people leave and hastening their departure, they would change their minds and set out in pursuit.
19:3 They were actually still conducting their mourning rites and lamenting at the tombs of their dead, when another mad scheme entered their heads, and they set out to pursue as fugitives the very people they had begged to go away.
19:4 A well-deserved fate urged them to this extreme and made them forget what had already happened, so that to all their torments they might add the one penalty still outstanding
19:5 and, while your people accomplished a miraculous journey, themselves meet an extraordinary death.
19:6 For, to keep your children from all harm, the whole creation, obedient to your commands, was once more, and newly, fashioned in its nature.
19:7 Overshadowing the camp there was the cloud, where water had been, dry land was seen to rise, the Red Sea became an unimpeded way, the tempestuous flood a green plain;
19:8 sheltered by your hand, the whole nation passed across, gazing at these amazing miracles.
19:9 They were like horses at pasture, they skipped like lambs, singing your praises, Lord, their deliverer.
Nature refashioned for Israel
19:10 They still remembered the events of their exile, how the land, not bearing animals, had bred mosquitoes instead, how, instead of fish, the river had disgorged innumerable frogs.
19:11 Later they saw a new method of birth for birds when, goaded by hunger, they asked for food they could relish,
19:12 and quails came out of the sea to satisfy them.
Egypt more blameworthy than Sodom
19:13 On the sinners, however, punishments rained down not without violent thunder as early warning; and deservedly they suffered for their crimes, since they evinced such bitter hatred towards strangers.
19:14 Others[*a] had refused to welcome unknown men on their arrival, but these had made slaves of guests and benefactors.
19:15 The former, moreover – and this will be to their credit – had shown the foreigners hostility from the start;
19:16 not so the latter: these welcomed your people with feasting and after granting them equal rights with themselves then afflicted them with forced labour.
19:17 Thus they were struck with blindness like the former at the door of the virtuous man,[*b] when, yawning darkness all around them, each had to grope his way through his own door.
Nature refashioned at the Exodus
19:18 Thus the elements interchanged their qualities, as on a harp the notes may change their rhythm, though all the while preserving their tone; this clearly appears from a scrutiny of the events.
19:19 Creatures that live on land became aquatic,[*c] and those that swim emerged on land.
19:20 Fire increased its own virtue in the water, water forgot its property of extinguishing.
19:21 Flames, on the other hand, would not scorch the flesh of animals, however frail, that ventured into them; nor would they melt that heavenly food like hoarfrost, and as easily melted.
19:22 Yes, Lord, in every way you have made your people great and glorious; you have never disdained them, but stood by them always and everywhere.
END OF JB WISDOM [19 Chapters].