The Wisdom of Solomon is a unique biblical book. It was one of the last books of the Old Testament to be produced and it was the only one written in Greek (about 50 BC). The author was probably a Greek-speaking Jew who lived in Egypt, where there was a large Jewish community at the time.
The book was written in honour of King Solomon, who was famous for his great wisdom. It draws on Greek philosophy and ideas to explain that true wisdom comes only from God. The work was also designed to appeal to politicians and so, it explains the benefits of wisdom for those in authority (Wisdom 1:1; 6:9).
From the very beginning of Christianity, the second chapter of the book of Wisdom was considered a prophecy of the death of Christ. In this passage, the writer describes how a godless group of people become the enemies of a righteous man.
The righteous man is described as “a child of the Lord” who “boasts that God is his father”. His preaching and blameless life make his enemies “lie in wait” for him. His opponents say:
“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.” (2:17-20)
On one level, the text refers to how righteous people in general can be and are mistreated. However, it’s not hard to see how the words were later understood to have a double meaning – and to also point to the final sufferings of Christ. Jesus himself explained that in the Old Testament, “it is written that the Son of Man must be much ill-used and despised.” (Mark 9:12). Perhaps this passage is one of those that he had in mind.
This chapter, with its description of the insults given to a male child of God at “the end of his life”, finds an echo in the shouting of those who were present at the crucifixion. The brutal scourging of Christ was certainly “torture”, while his condemnation to be crucified definitely ticks the box of “a shameful death” (Matthew 27:11-44).
This terracotta scene of Christ being condemned to that “shameful death” is found within the cloister of the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate. It’s the First Station of the Cross in the traditional series of 14 (see also the Eighth Station). Dating to 1893, it was produced by the Belgian artist Alois de Beule in the Gothic Revival style.
In the centre, Christ raises his eyes to heaven while the death sentence is passed. The scene is especially interesting as it focuses on the reactions of those around him. Pontius Pilate, sat on the judgement seat, attempts to ‘wash his hands’ of responsibility for the death. To his left, his wife tries to warn him against the decision. On the right, however, various Jewish leaders usher him onwards to his doom.
Where to find this work of art
Shrine of St Augustine, Ramsgate
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The Death of the Messiah is also prophesied in Psalm 22.
- From the New Testament: Pontius Pilate condemned Christ to a painful death on the cross, then had him scourged before his crucifixion.
3 thoughts on “The Death of God’s Son (Wisdom 2:12-20)”
The Book of Wisdom is one of the seven Sapiential or wisdom books in the Septuagint, the others being Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Song of Solomon), Job, and Sirach. It is included in the canons of the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Most Protestants consider it part of the Apocrypha.
Wisdom 4 can be read as a prophecy of Jesus, too: early death, convicted through his life leprous man as sinner and not good before god, the blind laugh at him and his death:
“But though the righteous be prevented with death, yet shall he be in rest.
8 For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years.
9 But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age.
10 He pleased God, and was beloved of him: so that living among sinners he was translated.
11 Yea speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul.
12 For the bewitching of naughtiness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind.
13 He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time:
14 For his soul pleased the Lord: therefore hasted he to take him away from among the wicked.
15 This the people saw, and understood it not, neither laid they up this in their minds, That his grace and mercy is with his saints, and that he hath respect unto his chosen.
16 Thus the righteous that is dead shall condemn the ungodly which are living; and youth that is soon perfected the many years and old age of the unrighteous.
17 For they shall see the end of the wise, and shall not understand what God in his counsel hath decreed of him, and to what end the Lord hath set him in safety.
18 They shall see him, and despise him; but God shall laugh them to scorn…”
Thanks Ron. There is also a case to be made that Wisdom 4 refers to Enoch from Genesis 5.