Home            Wisdom of Solomon (30 BC)

The Wisdom of Solomon

The promise of immortality

1 1 LOVE JUSTICE, you rulers of the earth; set your mind upon the 2 Lord, as is your duty, and seek him in simplicity of heart; for he is found by those who trust him without question, and makes himself 3 known to those who never doubt him. Dishonest thinking cuts men off from God, and if fools will take liberties with his power, he shows them 4 up for what they are. Wisdom will not enter a shifty soul, nor make her 5 home in a body that is mortgaged to sin. This holy spirit of discipline will have nothing to do with falsehood; she cannot stay in the presence of unreason, 6 and will throw up her case at the approach of injustice. Wisdom is spirit devoted to man's good, and she will not hold a blasphemer blameless for his words, because God is a witness of his inmost being, who sees 7 clear into his heart and hears every word he says. For the spirit of the Lord fills the whole earth, and that which holds all things together is well aware 8 of what men say. Hence no man can utter injustice and not be found out, 9 nor will justice overlook him when she passes sentence. The devices of a godless man will be brought to account, and a report of his words will come 10 before the Lord as proof of his iniquity; no muttered syllable escapes that 11 vigilant ear. Beware, then, of futile grumbling, and avoid all bitter words; for even a secret whisper will not go unheeded, and a lying tongue is a 12 man's destruction. Do not stray from the path of life and so court death; 13 do not draw disaster on yourselves by your own actions. For God did not make death, and takes no pleasure in the destruction of any living thing; 14 he created all things that they might have being. The creative forces of the world make for life; there is no deadly poison in them. Death is not king on 15 16 earth, for justice is immortal; but godless men by their words and deeds have asked death for his company. Thinking him their friend, they have made a pact with him because they are fit members of his party; and so they have wasted away.

2 1 They said to themselves in their deluded way: 'Our life is short at full of trouble, and when a man comes to his end there is no remedy; no 2 man was ever known to return from the grave. By mere chance were we born, and afterwards we shall be as though we had never been, for the breath in our nostrils is but a wisp of smoke; our reason is a mere spark 3 kept alive by the beating of our hearts, and when that goes out, our body 4 will turn to ashes and the breath of our life disperse like empty air. Our names will be forgotten with the passing of time, and no one will remember anything we did. Our life will blow over like the last vestige of a cloud and as a mist is chased away by the sun's rays and overborne by its heat 5 so will it too be dispersed. A passing shadow -such is our life, and there 6 no postponement of our end; man's fate is sealed, and none returns. Come then, let us enjoy the good things while we can, and make full use of the 7 creation, with all the eagerness of youth. Let us have costly wines and perfumes 8 to our heart's content, and let no flower of spring escape us. Let us 9 crown ourselves with rosebuds before they can wither. Let none of us miss his share of the good things that are ours; who cares what traces our revelry leaves behind? This is the life for us; it is our birthright. 10 'Down with the poor and honest man! Let us tread him under foot; let us show no mercy to the widow and no reverence to the grey hairs of old 11 age. For us let might be right! Weakness is proved to be good for nothing. 12 Let us lay a trap for the just man; he stands in our way, a check to us at every turn; he girds at us as law-breakers, and calls us traitors to our up 13 bringing. He knows God, so he says; he styles himself "the servant of the 15 Lord". He is a living condemnation of all our ideas. The very sight of him is an affliction to us, because his life is not like other people's, and his ways 16 are different. He rejects us like base coin, and avoids us and our ways as we were filth; he says that the just die happy, and boasts that God is his 17 father. Let us test the truth of his words, let us see what will happen to 18 him in the end; for if the just man is God's son, God will stretch out a hand 19 to him and save him from the clutches of his enemies. Outrage and torment are the means to try him with, to measure his forbearance and learn 20 how long his patience lasts. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for on his own showing he will have a protector.' 21 So they argued, and very wrong they were; blinded by their own malevolence, 22 they did not understand God's hidden plan; they never expected that holiness of life would have its recompense; they thought that innocence 23 had no reward. But God created man for immortality, and made him 24 the image of his own eternal self; it was the devil's spite that brought death into the world, and the experience of it is reserved for those who take his side.

3 1 But the souls of the just are in God's hand, and torment shall not touch 2 them. In the eyes of foolish men they seemed to be dead; their departure 3 was reckoned as defeat, and their going from us as disaster. But they are at 4 peace, for though in the sight of men they may be punished, they have a 5 sure hope of immortality; and after a little chastisement they will receive great blessings, because God has tested them and found them worthy to 6 be his. Like gold in a crucible he put them to the proof, and found them 7 acceptable like an offering burnt whole upon the altar. In the moment of God's coming to them they will kindle into flame, like sparks that sweep 8 through stubble; they will be judges and rulers over the nations of the 9 world, and the Lord shall be their kin for ever and ever. Those who have put their trust in him shall understand that he is true, and the faithful shall attend upon him in love; they are his chosen, and grace and mercy shall be theirs. 10 But the godless shall meet with the punishment their evil thoughts deserve, because they took no account of justice and rebelled against the 11 Lord. Wretched indeed is he who thinks nothing of wisdom and discipline; such men's hopes are void, their labours unprofitable, their actions futile; 12 13 their wives are frivolous, their children criminal, their parenthood is under a curse. No, blessed is the childless woman if she is innocent, if she has never slept with a man in sin; at the great assize of souls she shall find a 14 fruitfulness of her own. Blessed is the eunuch, if he has never done anything against the law and never harboured a wicked thought against the Lord; he shall receive special favour in return for his faith, and a place in 15 the Lord's temple to delight his heart the more. Honest work bears glorious fruit, and wisdom grows from roots that are imperishable. But the children of adultery are like fruit at never ripens; they have sprung 17 from a lawless union, and will come to nothing. Even if they attain length of life, they will be of no account, and at the end their old age will be without 18 honour. If they die young, they will have no hope, no consolation in 19 the hour of judgement; the unjust generation has a hard fate in store for it.

4 1 It is better to be childless, provided one is virtuous; for virtue held in remembrance is a kind of immortality, because it wins recognition from 2 God, and from men too. They follow the good man's example while it is with them, and when it is gone they mourn its loss; and through all time virtue makes its triumphal progress, crowned with victory in the contest 3 for prizes that nothing can tarnish. But the swarming progeny of the wicked will come to no good; none of their bastard offshoots will strike deep root 4 or take firm hold. For a time their branches may flourish, but as they have no sure footing they will be shaken by the wind, and by the violence of the 5 winds uprooted. Their boughs will be snapped off half-grown, and their 6 fruit will be worthless, unripe, uneatable, and good for nothing. Children engendered in unlawful union are living evidence of their parents' sin when God brings them to account. 7 8 But the good man, even if he dies an timely death, will be at rest. For it is not length of life and number of years which bring the honour due to 9 age; if men have understanding, they have grey hairs enough, and an unspotted 10 life is the true ripeness of age. There was once such a man who pleased God, and God accepted him and took him while still living from 11 among sinful men. He was snatched a way before his mind could be perverted 12 by wickedness or his soul deceived by falsehood (because evil is like witchcraft: it dims the radiance of good, and the waywardness of 13 desire unsettles an innocent mind); in a short time he came to the perfection 14 of a full span of years. His soul was pleasing to the Lord, who 15 removed him early from a wicked world. The mass of men see this and give it no thought; they do not lay to heart this truth, that those whom God has chosen enjoy his grace and mercy, and that he comes to the help of his 16 holy people. Even after his death the just man will shame the godless who are still alive; youth come quickly to perfection will shame the man 17 grown old in sin. Men will see the wise man's end, without understanding what the Lord had purposed for him and why he took him into safe keeping; 18 they will see it and make light of him, but it is they whom the Lord will laugh to scorn. In death their bodies will be dishonoured, and among 19 the dead they will be an object of contempt for ever; for he shall strike them speechless, fling them headlong, shake them from their foundations and make an utter desert of them; they shall be full of anguish, and all 20 memory of them shall perish. So in the day of reckoning for their sins, they will come cringing, convicted to their face by their lawless doings.

5 1 Then the just man shall take his stand, full of assurance, to confront 2 those who oppressed him and made light of all his sufferings; at the sight of him there will be terror and confusion, and they will be beside themselves 3 to see him so unexpectedly safe home. Filled with remorse, groaning and gasping for breath, they will say among themselves: 'Was not this then 4 man who was once our butt, a target for our contempt? Fools that we were, 5 we held his way of life to be madness and his end dishonourable. To think that he is now counted one of the sons of God and assigned a place of his 6 own among God's people! How far we strayed from the road of truth! 7 The lamp of justice never gave us light, the sun never rose upon us. We roamed to our heart's content along the paths of wickedness and ruin, wandering through trackless deserts and ignoring the Lord's highway. 8 What good has our pride done us? What can we show for all our wealth and 9 arrogance? All those things have passed by like a shadow, like a messenger 10 galloping by; like a ship that runs through the surging sea, and when she has passed, not a trace is to be found, no track of her keel among the waves; 11 or as when a bird flies through the air, there is no sign of her passing, but with the stroke of her pinions she lashes the insubstantial breeze and parts it with the whir and the rush of her beating wings, and so she passes 12 through it, and thereafter it bears no mark of her assault; or as when an arrow is shot at a target, the air is parted and instantly closes up again and 13 no one can tell where it passed through. So we too ceased to be, as soon as we were born; we left no token of virtue behind, and in our wickedness we 14 frittered our lives away.' The hope of a godless man is like down flying on the wind, like spindrift swept before a storm and smoke which the wind whirls away, or like the memory of a guest who stayed for one day and passed on. 15 But the just live for ever; their reward is in the Lord's keeping, and the 16 Most High has them in his care. Therefore royal splendour shall be theirs, and a fair diadem from the Lord himself; he will protect them with his right 17 hand and shield them with his arm. He will put on from head to foot the armour of his wrath, and make all creation his weapon against his enemies. 18 With the cuirass of justice on his breast, and on his head the helmet of doom 19 20 inflexible, he will take holiness for his impenetrable shield and sharpen his relentless anger for a sword; and his whole world shall join him in the 21 fight against his frenzied foes. The bolts of his lightning shall fly straight on the mark, they shall leap upon the target as if his bow in the clouds were 22 drawn in its full arc, and the artillery of his resentment shall let fly a fury of hail. The waters of the sea shall rage over them, and the rivers wash 23 them relentlessly away; a great tempest will arise against them, and blow them away like chaff before a whirlwind. So lawlessness will make the whole world desolate, and active wickedness will overturn the thrones of princes.

In praise of wisdom

6 1 HEAR THEN, YOU KINGS, take this to heart; learn your lesson, lords 2 of the wide world; lend your ears, you rulers of the multitude, whose 3 pride is in the myriads of your people. It is the Lord who gave you your authority; your power comes from the Most High. He will put your actions 4 to the test and scrutinize your intentions. Though you are viceroys of his kingly power, you have not been upright judges; you do not stand up for 5 the law or guide your steps by the will of God. Swiftly and terribly will he descend upon you, for judgment falls relentlessly upon those in high 6 place. The small man may find pity and forgiveness, but the powerful will 7 be called powerfully to account; for he who is all men's master is obsequious to none, and is not overawed by greatness. Small and great alike 8 are of his making, and all are under is providence equally, but it is the 9 powerful for whom he reserves the sternest inquisition. To you then who have absolute power I speak, in hope that you may learn wisdom and not 10 go astray; those who in holiness have kept a holy course, will be accounted holy, and those who have learnt that lesson will be able to make their 11 defence. Be eager then to hear me, and long for my teaching; so you will learn. 12 Wisdom shines bright and never fades; she is easily discerned by those 13 who love her, and by those who seek her she is found. She is quick to make 14 herself known to those who desire knowledge of her; the man who rises early in search of her will not grow weary in the quest, for he will find her 15 seated at his door. To set all one's thoughts on her is prudence in its perfect 16 shape, and to lie wakeful in her cause is the short way to peace of mind. For she herself ranges in search of those who are worthy of her; on their daily path she appears to them with kindly intent, and in all their purposes meets 17 them half-way. The true beginning of wisdom is the desire to learn, and a 18 concern for learning means love towards her; the love of her means the 19 keeping other laws; to keep her laws is a warrant of immortality; and 20 immortality brings a man near to God. Thus the desire of wisdom leads to 21 kingly stature. If, therefore, you value your thrones and your sceptres, you rulers of the nations, you must honour wisdom, so that you may reign for ever. 22 What wisdom is, and how she came in to being. I will tell you; I will hide no secret from you. From her first beginnings I will trace out her course, and bring the knowledge of her into the light of day; I will not leave the 23 truth untold. Pale envy shall not travel in my company, for the spiteful 24 man will have no share in wisdom. Wise men in plenty are the worlds 25 salvation, and a prudent king is the sheet-anchor of his people. Learn what I have to teach you, therefore, and it will be for your good.

7 1 I too am a mortal man like all the rest, descended from the first man, 2 who was made of dust, and in my other's womb I was wrought into flesh during a ten-months space, compacted in blood from the seed of 3 husband and the pleasure that is joined with sleep. When I was born, I breathed the common air and was laid on the earth that all men tread; and 4 the first sound I uttered, as all do was a cry; they wrapped me up and 5 6 nursed me and cared for me. No king begins life in any other way; for all come into life by a single path, and by a single path go out again. 7 Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given to me; I called for help 8 and there came to me a spirit of wisdom. I valued her above sceptre and 9 throne, and reckoned riches as nothing beside her; I counted no precious stone her equal, because all the gold in the world compared with her is but 10 a little sand, and silver worth no more than clay. I loved her more than health and beauty; I preferred her to the light of day; for her radiance is 11 unsleeping. So all good things together came to me with her, and in her 12 hands was wealth past counting; and all was mine to enjoy, for all follows where wisdom leads, and I was in ignorance before, that she is the beginning 13 of it all. What I learnt with pure intention I now share without 14 grudging, nor do I hoard for myself the wealth that comes from her. She is an inexhaustible treasure for mankind, and those who profit by it become God's friends, commended to him by the gifts they derive from her instruction. 15 God grant that I may speak according to his will, and that my own thoughts may be worthy of his gifts; for even wisdom is under God's 16 direction and he corrects the wise; we and our words, prudence and knowledge 17 and craftsmanship, all are in his hand. He himself gave me true understanding of things as they are: a knowledge of the structure of the 18 world and the operation of the elements; the beginning and end of epochs and their middle course; the alternating solstices and changing seasons; 19 20 the cycles of the years and the constellations; the nature of living creatures and behaviour of wild beasts; the violent force of winds and the thoughts of 21 men; the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots. I learnt it all, hidden 22 or manifest, for I was taught by he whose skill made all things, wisdom. For in wisdom there is a spirit intelligent and holy, unique in its kind yet made up of many parts, subtle, free-moving, lucid, spotless, clear, 23 invulnerable, loving what is good, eager, unhindered, beneficent, kindly towards men, steadfast, unerring, touched by care, all-powerful, all-surveying, 24 and permeating all intelligent, pure, and delicate spirits. For wisdom moves more easily than motion itself, she pervades and permeates 25 all things because she is so pure. Like a fine mist she rises from the power of God, a pure effluence from the glory of the Almighty; so nothing defiled 26 can enter into her by stealth. She is the brightness that streams from everlasting light, the flawless mirror of the active power of God and the image 27 of his goodness. She is but one, yet can do everything; herself unchanging, she makes all things new; age after age she enters into holy souls, and makes 28 them God's friends and prophets, for nothing is acceptable to God but the 29 man who makes his home with wisdom. She is more radiant than the sun, and surpasses every constellation; compared with the light of day, she is found 30 excel; for day gives place to night, but against wisdom no evil can prevail.

8 1 She spans the world in power from end to end, and orders all things benignly. 2 Wisdom I loved; I sought her out when I was young and longed to win 3 her for my bride, and I fell in love with her beauty. She adds lustre to her noble birth, because it is given her to live with God, and the Lord of all 4 things has accepted her. She is initiated into the knowledge that belongs 5 to God, and she decides for him what he shall do. If riches are a prize to be desired in life, what is richer than wisdom, the active cause of all 6 things? If prudence shows itself in action, who more than wisdom is the 7 artificer of all that is? If virtue is the object of a man's affections, the fruits of wisdom's labours are the virtues; temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, these are her teaching, and in the life of men there is nothing of 8 more value than these. If a man longs, perhaps, for great experience, she knows the past, she can infer what is to come; she understands the subtleties of argument and the solving of problems, she can read signs and portents, 9 and can foretell the outcome of events and periods. So I determined to bring her home to live with me, knowing that she would be my counsellor 10 in prosperity and my comfort in anxiety and grief. Through her, I thought, I shall win fame in the eyes of the people and honour among older men, 11 young though I am. When I sit in judgement, I shall prove myself acute, 12 and the great men will admire me; when I say nothing, they will wait for me to speak; when I speak they will attend, and though I hold forth at 13 length, they will lay a finger to their lips and listen. Through her I shall have immortality, and shall leave an undying memory to those who come 14 after me. I shall rule over many peoples, and nations will become my subjects. 15 Grim tyrants will be frightened when they hear of me; among my 16 own people I shall show myself a good king, and on the battlefield a brave one. When I come home, I shall find rest with her; for there is no bitterness in her company, no pain in life with her, only gladness and joy. 17 I thought this over in my mind, and I perceived that in kinship with 18 wisdom lies immortality and in her friendship is pure delight; that in doing her work is wealth that cannot fail, to be taught in her school gives understanding, and an honourable name is won by converse with her. So 19 I went about in search of some way to win her for my own. As a child I was 20 born to excellence, and a noble soul fell to my lot; or rather, I myself was

21 noble, and I entered into an unblemished body; but I saw that there was no way to gain possession of her except by gift of God- and it was a mark of understanding to know from whom that gift must come. So I pleaded with the Lord, and from the depths of my heart I prayed to him in these words:

9 1 God of our fathers, merciful Lord, who hast made all things by thy word, 2 and in thy wisdom hast fashioned man, to be the master of thy whole 3 creation, and to be steward of the world in holiness and righteousness, and 4 to administer justice with an upright heart, give me wisdom, who sits beside thy throne, and do not refuse me a place among thy servants. I am thy slave, thy slave- girl's son, a weak ephemeral man, too feeble to understand 6 justice and law; for let a man be ever so perfect in the eyes of his fellowmen, if the wisdom that comes from thee is wanting, he will be of 7 no account. Thou didst choose me to be king of thy own people, and 8 judge over thy sons and daughters; thou didst tell me to build a temple on thy sacred mountain and an altar in the city which is thy dwelling-place, 9 a copy of the sacred tabernacle prepared by thee from the beginning. And with thee is wisdom, who is familiar with thy works and was present at the making of the world by thee, who knows what is acceptable to thee and in 10 line with thy commandments. Send her forth from the holy heavens; and from thy glorious throne bid her come down, so that she may labour at my 11 side and I may learn what pleases thee. For she knows and understands all things, and will guide me prudently in all I do, and guard me in her glory. 12 So shall my life's work be acceptable, and I shall judge thy people justly 13 and be worthy of my father's throne. For how can any man learn what is 14 God's plan? How can he apprehend what the Lord's will is? The reasoning 15 of men is feeble, and our plans are fallible; because a perishable body weighs down the soul, and its frame of clay burdens the mind so full of 16 thoughts. With difficulty we guess even at things on earth, and laboriously find out what lies before our feet; and who has ever traced out what is in 17 heaven? Who ever learnt to know thy purposes, unless thou hadst given 18 him wisdom and sent thy holy spirit down from heaven on high? Thus it was that those on earth were set upon the right path, and men were taught what pleases thee; thus were they preserved by wisdom.

Divine wisdom in history

10 1 WISDOM IT WAS who kept guard over the first father of the human race, when he alone had yet been made; she saved him after his fall, 2 3 and gave him the strength to master all things. It was because a wicked man forsook her in his anger that he murdered his brother in a fit of rage

4 and so destroyed himself. Through his fault the earth was covered with a deluge, and again wisdom came to the rescue, and taught the one good man 5 to pilot his plain wooden hulk. It was she, when heathen nations leagued in wickedness were thrown into confusion, who picked out one good man and kept him blameless in the sight of God, giving him strength to resist his 6 pity for his child. She saved a good man from the destruction of the godless 7 and he escaped the fire that came down on the Five Cities, cities whose wickedness is still attested by a smoking waste, by plants whose fruit can never ripen, and a pillar of salt standing there as a memorial of an unbelieving 8 soul. Wisdom they ignored, and they suffered for it, losing the power to recognize what is good and leaving by their lives a monument of 9 folly, such that their enormities can never be forgotten. But wisdom 10 brought her servants safely out of their troubles. It was she when a good man was a fugitive from his brother's anger, who guided him on the straight path; she showed him that God is king, and gave him knowledge of his holiness; she prospered his labours and made his toil productive. 11 When men in their rapacity tried to exploit him, she stood by him and made 12 him rich. She kept him safe from his enemies and preserved him from treacherous attacks; she gave him victory after a hard struggle, and taught 13 him that godliness is the greatest power of all. It was she who refused to desert a good man when he was sold as a slave; she preserved him from sin 14 and went down into the dungeon with him, nor did she leave him when he was in chains until she had brought him sceptre and kingdom and authority over his persecutors; she gave the lie to his accusers, and brought him undying 15 fame. It was she who rescued a godfearing people, a blameless race, 16 from a nation of oppressors; she inspired a servant of the Lord, and with 17 his signs and wonders he defied formidable kings. She rewarded the labours of godfearing men, she guided them on a marvellous journey and became 18 a covering for them by day and a blaze of stars by night. She brought them 19 over the Red Sea and guided them through its deep waters; but their enemies she engulfed, and cast them up again out of the fathomless deep. 20 So good men plundered the ungodly; they sang the glories of thy holy name, O Lord, and praised with one accord thy power, their champion; 21 for wisdom taught the dumb to speak, and made the tongues of infants eloquent.

11 1 Wisdom, working through a holy prophet, brought them success in all 2 they did. They made their way across an unpeopled desert and pitched 3 camp in untrodden wastes; they resisted every enemy, and beat off hostile 4 assaults. When they were thirsty they called upon thee, and water to slake 5 their thirst was given them out of the hard stone of a rocky cliff. The self-same means by which their oppressors had been punished were used to 6 help them in their hour of need: those others found their river no unfailing 7 stream of water, but putrid and befouled with blood, in punishment for their order that all the infants should be killed, while to these thou 8 gavest abundant water unexpectedly. So from the thirst they then endured, 9 they learnt how thou hadst punished their enemies; when they themselves were put to the test, though discipline was tempered with mercy, they 10 understood the tortures of the godless who were sentenced in anger. Thy own people thou didst subject to an ordeal, warning them like a father; those others thou didst put to the torture, like a stern king passing sentence. 11 12 At home and abroad, they were equally in distress, for a double misery had 13 come upon than, and they groaned as they recalled the past. When they heard that the means of their own punishment had been used to benefit 14 thy people, they saw thy hand in it, O Lord. The man who long ago had been abandoned and exposed, whom they had rejected with contumely, became in the event the object of their wonder and admiration; their thirst was such as the godly never knew. 15 In return for the insensate imagination of those wicked men, which deluded them into worshipping reptiles devoid of reason, and mere vermin, thou didst send upon them a swarm of creatures devoid of reason to 16 chastise them that the instruments of a man's sin are 17 the instruments of his punishment. For thy almighty hand, which created the world out of formless matter, was not without other resource: it could 18 have let loose upon them a host of bears or ravening lions or unknown ferocious monsters newly created, either breaching 2 out blasts of fire, roaring and belching smoke, or flashing terrible sparks like lightning from 19 their eyes, with power not only to exterminate them by the wounds they 20 inflicted, but by their mere appearance to kill them with fright. Even without these, a single breath would have sufficed to lay them low, with justice in pursuit and the breath of thy power to blow them away; but thou hast ordered all things by measure and number and weight. 21 Great strength is thine to exert at any moment, and the power of thy 22 arm no man can resist, for in thy sight the whole world is like a grain that 23 just tips the scale or a drop of dew alighting on the ground at dawn. But thou art merciful to all men because thou canst do all things; thou dost 24 overlook the sins of men to bring them to repentance; for all existing things are dear to thee and thou hatest nothing that thou hast created -- 25 why else wouldst thou have made it? How could anything have continued in existence, had it not been thy will? How could it have endured unless 26 called into being by thee? Thou sparest all things because they are thine,

12 1 our lord and master who lovest all that lives; for thy imperishable breath is in them all. 2 For this reason thou dost correct offenders little by little, admonishing them and reminding them of their sins, in order that they may leave their 3 evil ways and put their trust, O Lord, in thee. For example, the ancient 4 inhabitants of thy holy land were hateful to thee for their loathsome 5 practices, their sorcery and unholy rites, ruthless murders of children, 6 cannibal feasts of human flesh and blood; they were initiates of a secret ritual in which parents slaughtered their defenceless children. Therefore 7 it was thy will to destroy them at the hand of our forefathers, so that the land which is of all lands most precious in thine eyes could receive in God's 8 children settlers worthy of it. And yet thou didst spare their lives because even they were men, sending hornets as the advance-guard of thy army 9 to exterminate them gradually. It was well within thy power to let the godly overwhelm the godless in a pitched battle, or to wipe them out in an 10 instant with cruel beasts or by one stern word. But thou didst carry out their sentence gradually to give them space for repentance, knowing well enough that they came of evil stock, their wickedness ingrained, and that 11 their way of thinking would not change to the end of time, for there was a curse on their race from the beginning. Nor was it out of deference to anyone else that thou gavest them an 12 amnesty for their misdeeds; for to thee no one can say 'What hast thou done?' or dispute thy verdict. Who shall bring a charge against thee for destroying nations which were of thy own making? Who shall appear 13 against thee in court to plead the cause of guilty men? For there is no other god but thee; all the world is thy concern, and there is none to whom thou 14 must prove the justice of thy sentence. There is no king or other ruler who 15 can outface thee on behalf of those who thou hast punished. But thou art just and orderest all things justly, counting it alien to thy power to condemn 16 a man who ought not to be punished. For thy strength is the source 17 of justice and it is because thou art master of all that thou sparest all. Thou showest thy strength when men doubt the perfection of thy power; it is 18 when they know it and yet are insolent that thou dost punish them. But thou, with strength at thy command, judgest in mercy and rulest us in great forbearance; for the power is thine to use when thou wilt. 19 By acts like these thou didst teach thy people that the just man must also be kind-hearted, and thou hast filled thy sons with hope by the offer of 20 repentance for their sins. If thou didst use such care and such indulgence even in punishing thy children's enemies, who deserved to die, granting 21 them time and space to get free of their wickedness, with what discrimination thou didst pass judgement on thy sons, to whose fathers thou hast given sworn covenants full of the promise of good! 22 So we are chastened by thee, but our enemies thou dost scourge ten thousand times more, so that we may lay thy goodness to heart when we sit in judgement, and may hope for mercy when we ourselves are judged. 23 This is why the wicked who had live their lives in heedless folly were 24 tormented by thee with their own abominations. They had strayed far down the paths of error, taking for gods the most contemptible and hideous 25 creatures, deluded like thoughtless children. And so, as though they were mere babes who have not learnt reason, thou didst visit on them a sentence 26 that made them ridiculous; but those who do not take warning from such derisive correction will experience the full weight of divine judgement. 27 They were indignant at their own sufferings, but finding themselves chastised through the very creatures they had taken to be gods, they recognized that the true God was he whom they had long ago refused to know. Thus the full rigour of condemnation descended on them.

The evils of idolatry

13 1 WHAT BORN FOOLS all men were who lived in ignorance of God, who from the good things before their eyes could not learn to know him who really is, and failed to recognize the artificer though they observed 2 his works! Fire, wind, swift air, the circle of the starry signs, rushing water, or the great lights in heaven that rule the world -these they accounted 3 gods. If it was through delight in the beauty of these things that men supposed them gods, they ought to have understood how much better is the Lord and Master of it all; for it was by the prime author of all beauty that 4 they were created. If it was through astonishment at their power and influence, men should have learnt from these how much more powerful is 5 he who made them. For the greatness and beauty of created things give us 6 a corresponding idea of their Creator. Yet these men are not greatly to be blamed, for when they go astray they may be seeking God and really wishing 7 to find him. Passing their lives among his works and making a close study of them, they are persuaded by appearances because what they see is 8 9 so beautiful. Yet ever so they do not deserve to be excused, for with enough understanding to speculate about the universe, why did they not sooner discover the Lord and Master of it all? 10 The really degraded ones are those whose hopes are set on dead things who give the name of gods to the work of human hands, to gold and silver fashioned by art into images of living creatures, or to a useless stone carved 11 by a craftsman long ago. Suppose some skilled woodworker fells with his saw a convenient tree and deftly strips off all the bark, then works it up 12 elegantly into some vessel suitable for everyday use; and the pieces left 13 over from his work he uses to cook is food, and eats his fill. But among the waste there is one useless piece, crooked and full of knots, and this he takes and carves to occupy his idle moments, and shapes it with leisurely skill 14 into the image of a human being; or else he gives it the form of some contemptible creature, painting it with vermilion and raddling its surface with 15 red paint, so that every flaw in it is painted over. Then be makes a suitable 16 shrine for it and fixes it on the wall, securing it with iron nails. It is he who has to take the precautions on its behalf to save it from falling, for he knows 17 that it cannot fend for itself: it is only an image, and needs help. Yet he prays to it about his possessions and his wife and children, and feels no 18 shame in addressing this lifeless object; for health he appeals to a thing that is feeble, for life he prays to a dead thing, for aid he implores something utterly incapable, for a prosperous journey something that has not even 19 the use of its legs; in matters of and business and success in handling craft he asks effectual help from a thing whose hands are entirely ineffectual.

14 1 The man, again, who gets ready for a voyage, and plans to set his course through the wild waves, cries to a piece of wood more fragile than the ship 2 which carries him. Desire for gain invented the ship, and the shipwright 3 with his wisdom built it; but it is thy providence, O Father, that is its pilot, for thou hast given it a path way through the sea and a safe course 4 among the waves, showing that thou canst save from every danger, so that 5 even a man without skill can put to sea. It is thy will that the things made by thy wisdom should not lie idle; and therefore men trust their lives even to the frailest spar, and passing through the billows on a mere raft come 6 safe to land. Even in the beginning, when the proud race of giants was being brought to an end, the hope of mankind escaped on a raft and, 7 piloted by thy hand, bequeathed to the world a new breed of men. For a 8 blessing is on the wooden vessel through which right has prevailed; but the wooden idol made by human hands is accursed, and so is its maker -- he because he made it, and the perishable thing because it was called a god. 9 10 Equally hateful to God are the godless man and his ungodliness; the doer and the deed shall both be punished. 11 And so retribution shall fall upon the idols of the heathen, because though part of God's creation they have been made into an abomination, 12 to make men stumble and to catch the feet of fools. The invention of idols is the root of immorality; they are a contrivance which has blighted human 13 life. They did not exist from the beginning nor will they be with us forever; 14 superstition brought them into the world, and for good reason a short sharp end is in store for them. 15 Some father, overwhelmed with untimely grief for the child suddenly taken from him, made an image of the child and honoured thenceforth as a god what was once a dead human being, handing on to his household the 16 observance of rites and ceremonies. Then this impious custom, established by the passage of time, was observed as a law. Or again graven images came 17 to be worshipped at the command of despotic princes. When men could not do honour to such a prince before his face because he lived far away, they made a likeness of that distant face and produced a visible image of the king they sought to honour, eager to pay court to the absent prince as 18 though he were present. Then the cult grows in fervour as those to whom 19 the king is unknown are spurred on by ambitious craftsmen. In his desire, it may be to please the monarch, a craftsman skillfully distorts the likeness 20 into an ideal form, and the common people, beguiled by the beauty of the workmanship, take for an object of worship him whom lately they honored 21 as a man. So this becomes a trap for living men: enslaved by mischance or misgovernment, men confer on stocks and stones the name that none may share. 22 Then, not content with gross error in their knowledge of God, men live in the constant warfare of ignorance and call this monstrous evil peace. 23 They perform ritual murders of children and secret ceremonies and the 24 frenzied orgies of unnatural cults; the purity of life and marriage is abandoned; and a man treacherously murders his neighbour or corrupts 25 his wife and breaks his heart. All is in chaos- bloody murder, theft and 26 fraud, corruption, treachery, riot, jury, honest men driven to distraction; ingratitude, moral corruption, sexual perversion, breakdown of 27 marriage, adultery, debauchery. For the worship of idols, whose names it is wrong even to mention, is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil. 28 Men either indulge themselves to the point of madness, or produce inspired utterance which is all lies, or live dishonest lives, or break their 29 oath without scruple. They perjure themselves and expect no harm because 30 the idols they trust in are lifeless. On two counts judgement will over take them: because in their devotion to idols they have thought wrongly about God, and because, in their contempt for religion, they have deliberately 31 perjured themselves. It is not any power in what they swear by, but the nemesis of sin, that always pursues the transgression of the wicked.

15 1 But thou, our God, art kind and true and patient, a merciful ruler of all 2 that is. For even if we sin, we are thine; we acknowledge thy power. But 3 we will not sin; because we know that we are accounted thine. To know thee is the whole of righteousness, and to acknowledge thy power is the 4 root of immortality. We have not been led astray by the perverted inventions of human skill or the barren labour of painters, by some gaudy painted 5 shape, the sight of which arouses in fools a passionate desire for a mere 6 image without life or breath. They are in love with evil and deserve to trust in nothing better, those who do these evil things or hanker after them or worship them. 7 For a potter kneading his clay laboriously moulds every vessel for our use, but out of the self-same clay he fashions without distinction the pots that are to serve for honourable uses and the opposite; and what the purpose 8 of each one is to be, the moulder of the clay decides. And then with ill-directed toil he makes a false god out of the same clay, this man who not long before was himself fashioned out of earth and soon returns to the place whence he was taken, when the living soul that was lent to him must be 9 repaid. His concern is not that he must one day fall sick or that his span of life is short; but he must vie with goldsmiths and silversmiths and copy the bronze-workers, and he thinks it does him credit to make counterfeits. 10 His heart is ashes, his hope worth less than common earth, and his life 11 cheaper than his own clay, because he did not recognize by whom he himself was moulded, or who it was that inspired him with an active soul and 12 breathed into him the breath of life. No, he reckons our life a game, and our existence a market where money can be made; 'one must get a living', 13 he says, 'by fair means or foul.' But this man knows better than anyone that he is doing wrong, this maker of fragile pots and idols from the same earthy stuff. 14 The greatest fools of all, and worse than infantile, were the enemies and 15 oppressors of thy people, for they supposed all their heathen idols to be gods, although they have eyes that cannot see, nostrils that cannot draw breath, ears that cannot hear, fingers that cannot feel, and feet that are 16 useless for walking. It was a man who made them; one who draws borrowed breath gave them their shape. But no human being has the power to shape 17 a god like himself: he is only mortal, but what he makes with his impious hands is dead; and so he is better than the objects of his worship, for he is at least alive- they never can be. 18 Moreover, these men worship animals, the most revolting animals. Compared with the rest of the brute creation, their divinities are the least intelligent. 19 Even as animals they have no beauty to make them desirable; when God approved and blessed his work, they were left out.

The pattern divine justice

16 1 AND SO THE OPPRESSORS were fittingly chastised by creatures like 2 these: they were tormented by swarms of vermin. But while they were punished, thou didst make provision for thy people, sending quails for 3 them to eat, an unwonted food to satisfy their hunger; for thy purpose was that whereas those others, hungry as they were, should turn in loathing even from necessary food because the creatures sent upon them were disgusting, thy people after a short spell of scarcity should enjoy unwonted 4 delicacies. It was right that the scarcity falling on the oppressors should be inexorable, and that thy people should learn by brief experience how their 5 enemies were tormented. Even when fierce and furious snakes attacked thy people and the bites of writhing serpents were spreading death , thy 6 anger did not continue to the bitter end; their short trouble was sent them as a lesson, and they were given a symbol of salvation to remind them of 7 the requirements of thy law. For any man who turned towards it was 8 saved, not by the thing he looked upon but by thee, the saviour of all. In this way thou didst convince our enemies that thou art the deliverer from 9 every evil. Those other men died from the bite of locusts and flies, and no remedy was found to save their lives, because it was fitting for them to be 10 chastised by such creatures. But thy sons did not succumb to the fangs of snakes, however venomous, because thy mercy came to their aid and healed 11 them. It was to remind them of thy utterances that they were bitten and quickly recovered; it was for fear the might fall into deep forgetfulness 12 and become unresponsive to thy kindness. For it was neither herb nor 13 poultice that cured them, but thy all-healing word, O Lord. Thou hast the power of life and death, thou bringest a man down to the gates of death 14 and up again. Man in his wickedness may kill, but he cannot bring back the breath of life that has gone forth nor release a soul that death has arrested. 15 16 But from thy hand there is no escape; for godless men who refused to acknowledge thee were scourged by thy mighty arm, pursued by extraordinary storms of rain and hail in relentless torrents, and utterly destroyed 17 by fire. Strangest of all, in water, that quenches everything, the fire burned 18 more fiercely; creation itself fights to defend the godly. At one time the flame was moderated, so that it should not burn up the living creatures inflicted on the godless who were to learn from this that it was by God's 19 justice that they were pursued; at another time it blazed even under water with more than the natural power of fire, to destroy the produce of a sinful 20 land. By contrast, thy own people were given angels' food, and thou didst send them from heaven, without labour of their own, bread ready to eat, 21 rich in delight of every kind and suited to every taste. The sustenance thou didst supply showed thy sweetness towards thy children, and the bread, serving the desire of each man who ate it was changed into what he wished. 22 Its snow and ice resisted fire and did not melt, to teach them that whereas their enemies' crops had been destroyed by fire that blazed in the hail and 23 flashed through the teeming rain, that same fire had now forgotten its own power, in order that the godly might be fed. 24 For creation, serving thee its maker, exerts its power to punish the godless 25 and relaxes into benevolence towards those who trust in thee. And so it was at that time too: it adapted itself endlessly in the service of thy universal 26 bounty, according to the desire of thy suppliants. So thy sons, O Lord, whom thou hast chosen, were to learn that it is not the growing of crops by which mankind is nourished, but it is thy word that sustains those who 27 trust in thee. That substance, which fire the did not destroy, simply melted 28 away when warmed by the sun's first rays, to teach us that we must rise 29 before the sun to give thee thanks and pray to thee as day light dawns. The hope of an ungrateful man will melt like the hoar-frost of winter, and drain away like water that runs to waste.

17 1 Great are thy judgements and hard to expound; and thus it was that uninstructed 2 souls went astray. Thus heathen men imagined that they could lord it over thy holy people; but, prisoners of darkness and captives of unending night, they lay each immured under his own roof, fugitives from 3 eternal providence. Thinking that their secret sins might escape detection beneath a dark pall of oblivion, they lay in disorder, dreadfully afraid 4 terrified by apparitions. For the dark corner that held them offered no refuge from fear, but loud unnerving noises roared around them and 5 phantoms with downcast unsmiling faces passed before their eyes. No fire, however great, had force enough to give them light, nor had the 6 brilliant flaming stars strength to illuminate that hideous darkness. There shone upon them only a blaze, of man's making, that terrified them and in their panic they thought the real world even worse than that imaginary 7 sight. The tricks of the sorcerers' art failed, and all their boasted wisdom 8 was exposed and put to shame; for the very men who profess to drive away fear and trouble from sick souls were themselves sick with dread 9 that made them ridiculous. Even if nothing frightful was there to terrify them, yet having once been scared by the advancing vermin and the hissing serpents, they collapsed in terror, refusing even to look upon the air 11 from which there can be no escape. For wickedness proves a cowardly thing when condemned by an inner witness, and in the grip of conscience 12 gives way to forebodings of disaster. Fear is nothing but an abandonment 13 of the aid that comes from reason; and hope, defeated by this inward weakness, capitulates before ignorance of the cause by which the torment comes. 14 So all that night, which really had no power against them because it came upon them from the powerless depths of hell, they slept the same 15 haunted sleep, now harried by portentous spectres, now paralysed by the treachery of their own souls; sudden and unforeseen, fear came upon them. 16 Thus a man would fall down where he stood and be held in durance, 17 locked in a prison that had no bars. Farmer or shepherd or labourer toiling in the wilds he was caught, and awaited the inescapable doom; the same chain of darkness bound all alike. The whispering breeze, the sweet melody of birds in spreading branches, the steady beat of water that rushes 19 by, the headlong crash of rocks falling, the racing of creatures as they bound along unseen, the roar of fierce wild beasts, or echo reverberating from 20 hollows in the hills -- all these sound paralysed them with fear. The whole world was bathed in the bright light of day, and went about its tasks unhindered; 21 those men alone were overspread with heavy night, fit image of the darkness that awaited them; and heavier than the darkness was the burden each was to himself.

18 1 But for thy holy ones there shone a great light. And so their enemies hearing their voices but not seeing them, counted them happy because 2 they had not suffered like themselves, gave thanks for their forbearance under provocation, and begged as a favour that they should part company 3 Accordingly, thy gift was a pillar of fire to be the guide of their uncharted journey, a sun that would not scorch them on their glorious expedition. 4 Their enemies did indeed deserve to lose the light of day and be kept prisoners in darkness, for they had kept in durance thy sons, through whom the imperishable light of the law was to be given to the world. 5 They planned to kill the infant children of thy holy people, but when one child had been exposed to death and rescued, thou didst deprive them of all their children in requital, and drown them all together in the swelling 6 waves. Of that night our forefathers were given warning in advance, so that, having sure knowledge, they might be heartened by the promises 7 which they trusted. Thy people were looking for the deliverance of the 8 godly and the destruction of their enemies; for thou didst use the same means to punish our enemies and to make us glorious when we heard thy 9 call. The devout children of a virtuous race were offering sacrifices in secret, and covenanted with one consent to keep the law of God and to share alike in the same blessings and the same dangers, and they were 10 already singing their sacred ancestral songs of praise. In discordant contrast there came an outcry from their enemies, as piteous lamentation for 11 their children spread abroad. Master and slave were punished together 12 with the same penalty; king and common man suffered the same fate. All alike had their dead, past counting, struck down by one common form of death; there were not enough living even to bury the dead; at one stroke 13 the most precious of their offspring had perished. Relying on their magic arts, they had scouted all warnings; but when they saw their firstborn dead, they confessed that thy people have God as their father. 14 All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course 15 was half spent, when thy almighty Word leapt from thy royal throne in 16 heaven into the midst of that doomed land like a relentless warrior, bearing the sharp sword of thy inflexible decree, and stood and filled it all 17 with death, his head touching the heavens, his feet on earth. At once nightmare phantoms appalled them, and unlooked-for fears set upon them; 18 and as they flung themselves to the ground half dead, one here, one there, 19 they confessed the reason for their deaths; for the dreams that tormented them had taught them before they died, so that they should not die ignorant of the reason why they suffered. 20 The godly also had a taste of death when a multitude were struck down 21 in the wilderness; but the divine wrath did not long continue. A blameless man was quick to be their champion, bearing the weapons of his priestly ministry, prayer and the incense that propitiates; he withstood the divine anger and set a limit to the disaster, thus showing that he was thy servant. 22 He overcame the avenging fury not by bodily strength or force of arms; by words he subdued the avenger, appealing to the sworn covenants made 23 with our forefathers. When the dead had already fallen in heaps one on another, he interposed himself and beat back the divine wrath, barring its 24 line of attack upon the living. On his long-skirted robe the whole world was represented; the glories of the fathers were engraved on his four rows 25 of precious stones; and thy majesty was in the diadem upon his head. To these the destroyer yielded, for these made him afraid; only to taste his wrath had been enough.

19 1 But the godless were pursued by pitiless anger to the bitter end, for 2 God knew their future also: how after allowing thy people to depart, and even urging their departure, they would change their minds and set out 3 in pursuit. While they were still mourning, still lamenting at the graves of their dead, they rushed into another foolish decision, and pursued as 4 fugitives those whom they had begged to leave. For the fate they had merited was drawing them on to this conclusion and made them forget what had happened, so that they might suffer the torments still needed to 5 complete their punishment, and that thy people might achieve an incredible journey, and that their enemies might meet an outlandish death. 6 The whole creation, with all its elements, was refashioned in subservience 7 to thy commands, so that thy servants might be preserved unscathed. Men gazed at the cloud that overshadowed the camp, at dry land emerging where before was only water, at an open road leading out of the Red Sea 8 and a grassy plain in place of stormy waves, across which the whole nation passed, under the shelter of thy hand, after all the marvels they had seen. 9 They were like horses at pasture, like skipping lambs, as they praised thee, 10 O Lord, by whom they were rescued. For they still remembered their life in a foreign land: how instead of cattle the earth bred lice, and instead of 11 fish the river spewed up swarms of frogs; and how, after that, they had seen a new sort of bird when, driven by greed, they had begged for delicacies to 12 eat, and for their relief quails came up from the sea. 13 So punishment came upon those sinners, not unheralded by violent thunderbolts. They suffered justly for their own wickedness, for they had 14 raised bitter hatred of strangers to a new pitch. There had been others who refused to welcome strangers when they came to them, but these made 15 slaves of guests who were their benefactors. There is indeed a judgement 16 awaiting those who treated foreigners as enemies; but these, after a festal welcome, oppressed with hard labour men who had earlier shared their 17 rights. They were struck with blindness also, like the men at the door of the one good man, when yawning darkness fell upon them and each went groping for his own doorway. 18 For as the notes of a lute can make various tunes with different names though each retains its own pitch, so the elements combined among themselves in different ways, as can be accurately, inferred from the, observation 19 of what happened. Land animals took to the water and things that 20 swim migrated to dry land; fire retained its normal power even in water 21 and water forgot its quenching properties. Flames on the other hand failed to consume the flesh of perishable creatures that walked in them, and the substance of heavenly food, like ice and prone to melt, no longer melted 22 In everything, O Lord; thou hast made thy people great and glorious and hast not neglected in every time and place to be their helper.

 










                                                                                               © Copyright 1998 Indian Christianity. All rights reserved.