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Wisdom Personified, Mother of the Word

In The Wisdom of Jesus Sirach (c. 200 BCE), Wisdom is personified twice, in chapters one and 24.

Sirach 1

1: All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is with him for ever.
2: Who can number the sand of the sea, and the drops of rain, and the days of eternity?
3: Who can find out the height of heaven, and the breadth of the earth, and the deep, and wisdom?
4: Wisdom hath been created before all things, and the understanding of prudence from everlasting.
5: The word of God most high is the fountain of wisdom; and her ways are everlasting commandments.
6: To whom hath the root of wisdom been revealed? or who hath known her wise counsels?
7: [Unto whom hath the knowledge of wisdom been made manifest? and who hath understood her great experience?]
8: There is one wise and greatly to be feared, the Lord sitting upon his throne.
9: He created her, and saw her, and numbered her, and poured her out upon all his works.

Sirach 24

1: Wisdom shall praise herself, and shall glory in the midst of her people.
2: In the congregation of the most High shall she open her mouth, and triumph before his power.
3: I came out of the mouth of the most High, and covered the earth as a cloud.
4: I dwelt in high places, and my throne is in a cloudy pillar.
5: I alone compassed the circuit of heaven, and walked in the bottom of the deep.
6: In the waves of the sea and in all the earth, and in every people and nation, I got a possession.
7: With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide?
8: So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest, and said, Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thine inheritance in Israel.
9: He created me from the beginning before the world, and I shall never fail.

At Sirach 1:4 the genesis of Wisdom is described much as it is at Prov 8:22.
Like Prov 8, in Sirach 24 Wisdom tells us that she “came forth from the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures.” Wisdom also keeps souls from sin (Sir 24:22).

Of course, Philo personified the word (of God) as the Logos, and claimed the same thing – that the Logos keeps people from sin 200 years later:

And the same is the case with regard to the soul, the good things, namely food, he gives to men by his power alone, but those which contain in them a deliverance from evil, he gives by means of his angels and his Logos.”

– Philo, Allegorical Interpretaion III (178)

Philo even says that Wisdom gave birth to the Logos.

And the divine Logos, like a river, flows forth from wisdom as from a spring, in order to irrigate and fertilize the celestial and heavenly shoots and plants of such souls as love virtue, as if they were a paradise.

On Dreams Book 2, (242)

Philo calls the Logos (word or reason) the firstborn of god's creation, the son of god, a mediator between humans and god, the mind of god (compare with 1 Cor 2:16), a heavenly mediator of sins (apparently in “De Agricultura Noe,” § 12 and “De Profugis,” § 20 but I can’t find those online anywhere. Which is really annoying because Philo didn’t even write in Latin yet they’ve given them Latin titles…).

And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a supplicant (or paraclete) to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, “And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You; neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work. For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.

[…]

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? (Gen 9:6). Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself? Nevertheless he also wished to intimate this fact,
that God does rightly and correctly require vengeance, in order to the defence of virtuous and consistent men, because such bear in themselves a familiar acquaintance with his Word, of which the human mind is the similitude and form.

These ideas all seem to have been the result of Greek influence and the Hellenism of Judea. An very interesting and informative blog gives an outline of Greek history in Judea.

Anyway, in a text of the Jewish Gnostic Sethians (c. 100 CE) called Trimorphic Protennoia (Threeform First Thought) it identifies the Father, Son and Sophia as a trinity: God the Father, Sophia (wisdom) the Mother, and Logos (word) the Son. So taking Philo and Jesus Sirach into account, it seems as though there was already a precedent for a “trinity” prior to the Christian era among Hellenized Jews.

And then, Theophilos of Antioch wrote the same later on in the 2nd century: “God, his Word (Logos) and his Wisdom (Sophia)” in To Autolycus 2.15. Theophilos himself is a weird case, which I wrote a bit about earlier and I plan on revisiting in another post. He seems to be a Christian that was a direct link between Jesus Sirach and Philo without any Jesus.

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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in ben Sirach, gnosticism, sethians, trinity

 
 
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