In Part 3 of ”The Prologue of John, the Logos, The Creation, Philo and Wisdom,” we’ll be continuing from Part 1 and Part 2, this time talking about the Jewish wisdom literature, specifically Proverbs 8, The Wisdom of Solomon 7, and The Wisdom of Sirach 24. The reason for this is to show that the concept of “Wisdom” personified in these writings could be a source for the logos concept of Philo and John, or at least have influenced the “Logos” theology of Philo and John. Let’s start with Proverbs 8 (all quotations from the NRSV):
22 The Lord created me (Wisdom) at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
In the Greek from the LXX:
κύριος ἔκτισέν με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ
πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐθεμελίωσέν με ἐν ἀρχῇ
A key term here that I want to focus on is “ἐν ἀρχῇ”, or “from the beginning.” This parallels John 1:1, 2
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
And in the Greek:
1Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
2οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
In the beginning, he (or it) was with God. This in the beginning means in the beginning of creation in Proverbs. Since all things are being made through the Logos in John, it would be reasonable to assume that in the beginning also refers to the beginning of creation. Both Wisdom and the Logos were with God “ἐν ἀρχῇ,” in the beginning. Notice in both texts it’s stated twice that they were there from the beginning, the fact that both texts are saying the same thing twice might indicate some sort of connection. The prologue is describing the “Logos” in the same way “Wisdom” was described in Proverbs 8, using the same double repetition and emphasis of it being there from the beginning, perhaps wanting the reader to remember the “Wisdom” in Proverbs when reading the prologue.
Another point to notice is that “Wisdom” is created by God, this isn’t directly paralleled in the prologue, but it is in Philo’s work as discussed in Part 2 of this series. Philo conceived of the “Logos” as the first created being, there from the beginning of creation, created prior to the rest of creation.
Of course, the writer of Proverbs was writing this to make a larger point, comparing wisdom to a woman, saying one should cherish wisdom. It’s very possible that the personification was not to be taken literally, but that’s beside the point for my purpose here, all I want to show is that there was a possible reading of Proverbs 8 that could have influenced Philo’s and John’s “Logos” theology that consisted of a created being through which creation was made and who was with Yahweh from the beginning. Just as we don’t need to affirm that messianic texts in the Hebrew bible were all written by the writer with a future messiah in mind in order for those texts to qualify as a messianic text, neither do we need to affirm that the writer of proverbs intended his “wisdom” to be taken literally for it to serve as an influence for John’s and Philo’s “Logos” theology. That being said I believe it’s plausible it was to be taken literally.
Now let’s turn to the Deutero-Canonical book of “The Wisdom of Solomon” chapter 7:
22 for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
irresistible, 23 beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
and penetrating through all spirits
that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.
24 For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
25 For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
26 For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Notice it describes “Wisdom” as the fashioner of all things, the Greek word used is πάντων τεχνῖτις, τεχνῖτις meaning a craftsperson or artisan. This reminds me of what we read in Part 2 of this series, when Philo talks about “The Logos” as an “instrument” which God used to make the world. “Wisdom” being called an artisan, or craftsperson, could be compatible with Philo’s concept of the “Logos” being a type of Demiurge, the hands on craftsperson through which God creates everything.
Something else we need to notice, not for the prologue of John, but more for Pauline texts, is that Wisdom is described as the mirror of the working of God, and an image (εἰκὼν) of his goodness. Jesus himself is described, in Colossians 1:15, as the Image (εἰκὼν) of God, the same way “Wisdom” is described, but that’s for another discussion.
Now let’s look at our final text in “The Wisdom of Sirach” Chapter 24:
8 “Then the Creator of all things gave me (Wisdom) a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.’
9 Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
Here it’s more of the same. Wisdom is identified as that which was created first.
So what’s the point here? The point is simply that within Judaism there was a tradition of speaking of Wisdom as a person, a woman, who was created by God before anything else, but who also had a hand in the rest of creation. This tradition could have easily been taken up by Philo of Alexandria and turned into his “Logos” theology which is very similar to the personification of Wisdom. Why Philo changed “Wisdom” into “Word” I’m not sure, it could be that he was influenced by the Stoic philosophers, who used the concept of “Logos” to describe a universal operating principle, to use the “Logos” language and subsequently apply that concept to the personification of wisdom. After Philo, this “Wisdom” personification could have also influenced John, and his application of the “Logos.”
I need to emphasize that we don’t need to affirm that the writers of the Wisdom literature meant their personification to be taken literally, or that they actually believed in a demiurge like figure called “Wisdom,” it’s possible they did, but my point doesn’t depend it. All that’s needed is for the literal reading to be a plausible reading, a plausible interpretation and plausible application of the Wisdom texts.
So when we get to the prologue of John we aren’t looking at something brand new, with no precedent. We are looking at a concept which has a history in Judaism, and which would be understood within that Jewish historical context by Jewish readers (especially well read Jewish readers) of the Gospel of John. This Jewish historical context goes all the way back (at least) to the writing of Proverbs, and all the way up to just a couple decades before the Gospel of John was written in the writings of Philo.