Wisdom of Solomon 2: An Apocryphal Prophecy About Jesus?

Among the set texts for today’s class on the Bible was Wisdom of Solomon chapters 1-3. We discussed one particular excerpt in class (2:12-20):

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. He professes to have
knowledge of God, and calls himself a childa of the Lord. He became to
us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to
us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his
ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he
avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous
happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are
true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his
life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and
will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with
insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make
trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for,
according to what he says, he will be protected.

Students were asked to compare this, and try to account for the similarities to, Matthew 27:39-43, which says the following (in the context of an account of Jesus’ crucifixion):

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You
who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If
you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief
priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others;
he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from
the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him
now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers
who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

The students came up with one answer I expected, namely that the passage in Wisdom of Solomon is a prophecy about Jesus. Even Protestants were inclined to view the passage in this way. But of course, this should raise questions about the canon, inspiration, and prophecy for them in particular.

I asked the students to consider another possibility, namely that Matthew knew the passage from Wisdom of Solomon and intentionally alluded to it in the way he depicted Jesus. By placing Jesus in the role of the righteous man in that text, and the Jewish leaders and other opponents in the role of the wicked, he reinforced one the major points he was seeking to make.

This seems, in fact, to be what Matthew is doing in most if not all of his allusions to the Jewish Scriptures, and not only in ones that are strictly prophetic in character. Matthew’s use of the Jewish Bible seems to be about typology rather than claims that Jesus was predicted in those earlier texts. Christians read them as though Matthew was claiming they are predictions for the simple reason that few today know the wider context of the verses Matthew quotes.

For instance, Matthew 2:15 quotes from Hosea 11, where it is clear that the son who is called out of Egypt is Israel. Likewise the children for whom Rachel weeps in Jeremiah 31:15-17 (quoted in Matthew 2:17-18) are the exiles who have been taken away to Babylon, and not children killed by King Herod. None of these passages that Matthew quotes is unambiguously a Messianic prediction, and some clearly are not, at least if one takes the original context seriously.

Some have been persuaded that Matthew was trying to pull a fast one. But if so, he wasn’t very smart and had little chance of getting away with it, since these passages were fairly well known. More plausible, in my opinion, is that the author of this Gospel knew that he was engaging in typology, and it is modern readers, who can’t pick up on the intertextual echoes on their own and never look at footnotes, who mistake his intention.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Setting aside the principle that is dangerous to assume the competence of either ancient writers or readers, can you expand on what you mean by “intertextual echoes” that we modern readers miss. You could start with the Hosea 11 allusion that you mentioned as an example. What meaning might a 1st century Jew take from this reference?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    I forgot to thank you for your always insightful Blog!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Perhaps, given the connection with the Jeremiah quotation and with the depiction of Jesus in the temptation story, it would be that the life of Jesus recapitulates or parallels the story of the people of Israel. I offer a few provisional suggestions on one of the class web pages I made for my class on the historical figure of Jesus. Take a look and see what you think, then comment some more back here! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Wow. This is why one should read from people who know what they are talking about. No more Hitchens for me! (Not really a big Hitchen’s fan, actually)This is a really great perspective on Matthew and has given me a lot to internalize. I especially liked Gundry’s reference to ministers adding “extrapolated” details to their sermons to establish context. My minister does it every Sunday. Would this use of OT scripture by Matthew be considered Midrashic by his audience? One quibble: Maybe it’s just me, but I found the background on the linked page to be very hard to read against and impossible to scan through.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I’ve changed the background – no point sharing class notes and things of that sort if they’re hard to read! :)


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