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4: Natural Theology in the Jewish Tradition

We left it a little uncertain just where St Paul stood in relation to the possibilities of natural theology. In order to make further progress we have to look at Jewish traditions that are akin to natural theology. The study of these traditions may make it easier to decide exactly where Paul himself stood; and, even if it does not decide that question, the study of these traditions will be important in its own right. But, because we have started through Paul, we will give pride of place to one particular document, the Wisdom of Solomon; for it shows an unusually high similarity to aspects of Paul's language and thought.

Now we do not know whether Paul had actually read the Wisdom of Solomon, or whether it counted for him as an authoritative scripture. Since he came so close to its diction at a number of points, the probability is that that he knew the book, and, if he knew the book, that it did count for him as an authoritative religious text. If not, it does not matter much for our immediate purpose, because it means only that Paul belonged, though independently, to a very similar tradition of thought. That this was so can be demonstrated from another aspect shared by Wisdom and by Paul, an aspect which by common consent should belong very definitely to revealed theology: namely the understanding of the first man, Adam, in relation to death and immortality. To this therefore we have to devote some attention.

Within the New Testament the typology of Adam and Christ, extremely familiar to all of us, is actually unique to Paul—or, if we are strict, to Paul and the deutero-Pauline 1 Timothy. It is absent from the teaching of Jesus, from the Synoptic Gospels generally, from the Johannine literature, from Hebrews and Peter, from everything. None of them even mentions Adam except incidentally.1 It is Pauline property.2

Moreover, when we go back to the Old Testament, we find two similarly significant facts. Firstly, after the story of Adam and Eve is first narrated in Genesis, nowhere in the books of the Hebrew canon does anyone go back to that incident in order to use it as an explanation for the origin of sin, evil, and death. It just does not happen. The phrase of Isaiah 4327, ‘your first father sinned’, refers to Jacob or some other pioneer of the people of Israel. The Hebrew Bible is certainly deeply conscious of the actuality and pervasiveness of sin and evil. But nowhere in all the books of the Hebrew canon is the existence or the profundity of evil accounted for on the grounds that Adam's disobedience originated it or made it inevitable. It is not surprising, therefore, that Judaism, as we know it,3 has no doctrine corresponding to the Christian traditions of ‘original sin’, no idea that sin and evil exist as a heritage passed on from the first human beings.

Indeed, secondly, it is not only that the story of Adam and Eve was not so used within the Hebrew Bible, but also in itself that story was not primarily a story of a catastrophic ‘Fall of Man’ at all. It was a story which had a different style and purport altogether, and the ‘origin of sin’ was only marginal to it. I will not go into this further here, except to say what in my opinion is the central theme of that story: it is a story of how the first humans through a disobedience, possibly a minor one, came close to two elements of divine status, firstly the knowledge of good and evil, which they gained, and secondly eternal life, from which they were now excluded.4
This is of central importance for the whole subject of natural theology.5 The ‘Fall’, so-called, was appealed to again and again by Barth in his angry arguments against Brunner: natural theology might have worked all right, if only Adam had not sinned.6 Barth repeats it frequently, wheeling out from time to time that well-worn catch-phrase si integer stetisset Adam.7 We cannot attempt to follow out the details of this here: suffice it to say that, if the Genesis text does not support the idea of a cataclysmic and catastrophic Fall’, then the appeal to that story ceases to be useful as a resource for argument against natural theology.8

Even more essential, however, was one detail, namely the place of death in that same story. Traditional Christianity believed, following Paul, that Eve and Adam by their sin brought death into the world. This implies, or appears to imply, that if there had been no sin there would have been no death. But in Genesis itself, though there are possible variations in the interpretation, something like the reverse appears to be intended. The problem created, and created in particular for God himself, by the disobedience of the man and woman is that, as a consequence of what they have done, they may come to live for ever! This is the reason, and the only reason, why! he human pair are expelled from the Garden of Eden. The natural cultural assumption, supported by a mass of evidence in the Hebrew Bible, is that the humans were mortal from the beginning. They would have died, and death as an end to life was perfectly natural, proper, and acceptable, provided that the circumstances were good—in good old age, surrounded by children and later offspring, just as Job died, rightly and well, after his sufferings were over. In Genesis itself, then, there is no reason to understand that the point is that the first human disobedience brought death into the world. The text does not say that and, except through extremes of exegetical ingenuity, it seems to say something quite different.

But all these things, which are lacking in the Genesis text itself, and which are found in Paul and are essential to his argument, are found first in the Wisdom of Solomon and found there together.

Thus Wisdom 223 has:

For God created man with incorruption (evp¾ avfqarsi,a|),9
and made him in the image of his own eternity,10

but through the devil's envy death entered the world,

and those who belong to his party (meri,j) experience it.

For the main thought of the passage it makes little difference whether man was created with immortality (as if this was a built-in constitutional difference) or for immortality (which would have to be gained or merited). Death was, originally, not part of the human scene: only after the devil's intervention did it emerge as a prospect. Afterwards, according to the thought of Wisdom, humans might gain immortality through the possession of wisdom; but this was after death had entered in. In either case death was not originally part of human destiny. The translation ‘in’ or ‘with’ incorruption therefore seems to be right. REB translates well with its: ‘God created man imperishable, and made him the image of his own eternal self.’

The idea that possession of immortality is a common point between God and humanity is supported by comparison with 1 Enoch 6911, ‘for men were created exactly like the angels, to the intent that they should continue pure and righteous, and death, which destroys everything, could not have taken hold of them, but through this their knowledge they are perishing’. In any case no substantial difference is made: for, if death is not part of the scene for the original humans, it makes little difference whether they ‘were’ immortal from the beginning or ‘were to be’ immortal: in either case they were not going to die. Moreover, the words ‘in the image of his own eternity’ imply that humanity, being made in the image of God, had from the beginning a share in God's own immortality. Again, Wisdom 113 explicitly states that ‘God did not create death’—and formally speaking this is true. The Old Testament speaks of God as the living God and the giver of life, and the creation stories, seen from some points of view, do not tell of his creating death. Elsewhere, however, we do hear that God brings death just as he gives life, so for instance in Hannah's song, 1 Samuel 26, ‘the Lord kills and makes alive’, similarly Psalm 10429 ‘when thou takest away their breath they die’, corresponding to their revival or recreation in the next verse. Thus God, as the giver of life, is not to be construed as one who gave life without limit, as if no person, animal, or insect would ever perish. Such a conclusion, however, Wisdom drew, at least for humans. It would naturally encourage the view that the humans had immortality, or at least the prospect of it, from the start. Anyway, they lost it, and death entered the world. Wisdom's understanding of Genesis is in this regard the same one that is basic to Paul; and like Paul's use of the passage, it works from a broad generalization and fails to pay attention to the numerous details in Genesis which point very clearly in a different direction.

We shall not pursue further, however, the matter of Adam, Eve, and the origin of sin and entry of death into the world. What has been said is sufficient to suggest a strong affinity or common tradition relating the thought of this document to St Paul.

The second theme that is prominent in Wisdom is the theme of idolatry. After Deutero-Isaiah, no Old Testament book devotes more space to idolatry than Wisdom, and if anything it exceeds the great exilic prophet in its concern for the question. The three chapters 13–15 form a solid and continuous polemic against this evil practice. The emphasis the author lays upon it stands out by contrast with the other books of the Wisdom tradition. The original Proverbs seems to make no direct mention of idolatry, though all sorts of other sins are thoroughly castigated in the book. Nor does it trouble Qoheleth. More striking still, the Book of Ben Sira, more nearly contemporary with Wisdom, does not bother much about the subject either.11 It is well known that Ben Sira represents a combination of wisdom traditions with legal traditions, yet, though the law contains severe condemnations of idolatry, Ben Sira does not take up this subject into his (quite lengthy) book. The book that particularly specializes in idolatry is Wisdom.

And Wisdom not only specializes in idolatry, but it handles it in specific ways which have great similarity to Paul's procedure in Romans. For instance, the view that idolatry is the source from which all moral evils flow is common to them both.

The idea of idols was the beginning of fornication;

the invention of them was the corruption of life (Wisd. 1412)

and so, he goes on, later, after idolatry has taken over, a catalogue of moral perversions follows:

They perform ritual killing of children (teknofo,nouj teleta,j) or secret ceremonies (kru,fia musth,ria); or else they conduct the frenzied orgies of foreign rites (evza,llwn qesmw/v). They no longer keep life or marriage pure, but a man lies in wait for another to murder him or torments him by seducing his wife. Everything is mixed up—blood and murder, theft and fraud, corruption, treachery, riot, perjury, disturbance of the good, forgetfulness of kindness, defilement of souls, changes affecting the processes of generation (gene,sewj evnallagh,), disarray of marriages, adultery, debauchery. For the worship of unnameable idols is the beginning, the cause, and the end of every evil. (Wisd. 1423 ff.)

Paul in Romans has a similarly extensive catalogue. He does indeed have an important variation, for he speaks as if, in reaction against idolatry, God had actually inflicted moral corruption upon humanity. He had deliberately given them up to dishonourable lusts, in which homosexual relations are given prime attention. Apart from this aspect of divine abandonment, there is an analogy to the mode in which Wisdom, as just mentioned, begins its catalogue of evils with the ritual killing of children, something that likewise falls into the category of extreme and unnatural vice. And Paul, having started in this way, goes on to a wide-sweeping catalogue of moral faults, very much in the same style as Wisdom, including in the same bag such various faults as covetousness, murder, gossip, slander, and boastfulness. Persons whose background lies in idolatry, he maintains, although they know the decree of God to the effect that those who do these things deserve to die, not only do them but approve of anyone else who does them. Wisdom similarly works up to a ferocious climax: idolaters not only worship animals, but they worship the most revolting animals that exist. ‘They worship the most disgusting animals; for, being compared in point of brutishness, they are worse than all the others’ (Wisd. 1518). They do not have a trace of attractiveness about them. Indeed, when God (in Genesis) approved and blessed his work (of creation), the author tells us, he did not include these particular beasts—not a bad idea, as it happens, indeed a very reasonable thought: can God really have declared ‘good’ absolutely every living creature? Anyway, it is these horrible creatures that are adored by the idolaters, and this powerful rhetorical climax closes the case against them. Both Wisdom and Paul argue in like manner.

One other point about idolatry that has far-reaching importance. To Jews, idolatry meant, primarily, having physical images supposed to represent the divine. It might include, by a natural extension, any indication of polytheism, such as the mention of the names of heathen gods. But apart from these necessary conditions it did not extend to mere thoughts about deity.12 In much Christian theology the concept of idolatry was extended to the realm of ideas: people's ideas of God, if they do not come from divine revelation, are idolatrous, they are human manufacture of likenesses of the divine. Jews generally, perhaps always, did not make this extension of the concept. Philo is a prime example. To show that the Torah was wholly consonant with traditions of Greek philosophy was entirely proper and estimable, and was a most excellent confirmation of Judaism. Idolatry lay in the physical existence of the images, in the treatment of the finite as if it was divine. To share other people's ideas of God, or to use them in order to form one's own ideas of God, there was nothing necessarily idolatrous in that, unless some other characteristic that was repugnant to Jewish religion was added on. This is an additional reason why natural theology had a fertile soil: opposition to idolatry could easily co-exist with the acceptance of large doses of Greek ideas and thought-forms.

Returning to our main theme, Wisdom and Paul alike build their arguments against idolatry on the basis of creation. Idolatry is wrong because it puts the created in the place of the creator; it venerates that which God has made instead of venerating the God who made it.

Now this argument is hardly fully present within the canonical Hebrew books. There are several laws that forbid the use of idols in workship, some of them doubtless very ancient, but most of them fail to provide this particular connection. Thus the prohibition of graven images in the Decalogue of Exodus 20 identifies the images as images of things that are in heaven or in earth or in the waters, in terms that recall the creation story, and the connection with the creation story is also made explicit in the sabbath command; but there is no identification that specifies that the fault of idolatry lies in putting the created things in the place of the creator. And other old laws prohibiting the use of images probably made a bald and simple prohibition without giving any rationale at all. Even that great opponent of idolatry and protagonist of the idea of creation, Deutero-Isaiah, did not make explicit the connection between the two which in later documents becomes so clear. He indeed much emphasizes creation: the God of Israel is the creator God and thus vastly superior to the vain and futile non-existent ‘gods’ supposed to compete with him. And on the other hand he much satirizes the foolishness of idolatry, as already mentioned above. But the particular analysis of idolatry, as allowing the created being to enjoy the place of reverence due to the creator, seems not to be prominent with him. He satirizes more the man-made character of the idol: how foolish to venerate something that you have made yourself! God is not equal with other things, not comparable. But the particular emphasis on worshipping the created thing in place of the creator seems to be lacking or muted. The specific condemnation of the role of animals and animal figures in idolatrous and polytheistic worship is also lacking. And thus in Deutero-Isaiah, and in most of the Old Testament, there is lacking a theory that provides the steps from creation to idolatry, and from idolatry to moral perversion. In both Wisdom and Paul these steps are provided, and are extremely conspicuous. In Romans it is emphasized that:

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. (Rom. 120 ff., RSV)

Paul then goes on to say how God had therefore delivered them to lusts and dishonourable impurities, as already mentioned. This is the first stage; the second is that they are given up to homosexuality; the third is that they are given up, yet again, to all sorts of ethical depravity, some of it more obviously appalling, some of it more of the character, we might say, of misdemeanours. But the whole account takes its departure from creation, and the false placing of the creatures in the position that belongs to the creator.

Wisdom has a different, but analogous, process to relate. Its writer likewise begins from creation:

For foolish by nature were all men, in whom there was ignorance of God, and who from the good things that are seen were unable to know him who exists. Nor while paying heed to his works did they recognize the craftsman; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven, were the gods who preside over the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things they supposed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Master. (Wisd. 131 ff., RSV)

Wisdom is more inclined than Paul to give an explanation of what went wrong. It begins from the elements of the created world, fire, air, water, and the stars. If people could admire these, there was some sort of excuse, for they were really beautiful things created by God: the only trouble was that they ought, from seeing these things, to have perceived the creator who was behind them. Much much worse, he goes on, are those who give the name of ‘gods’ to idols which are just pieces of wood or stone made by human hands. It is preposterous, he points out, to pray about possessions, about marriage and children, to a lifeless piece of wood, to pray for health to something that has no strength, to pray for a successful journey to something that cannot walk a step itself, and so on (1317 ff.). Again, he says, warming to his argument, what sense is there in a man who goes to sea in a ship and yet prays for safety to a piece of wood more fragile than the ship he sails in, while neglecting the aid of the divine Helmsman whose providence alone can save from danger? This leads on, in very Pauline style, to the sentence already quoted (1412): ‘The idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication’, and here the writer proceeds to offer some more original arguments. Idols got into the world through the vanity of human beings, that is, more or less by foolishness or plain error.

The course upon which he here embarks is that of euhemerism, that is, the explanation of gods as human persons or phenomena which by some error or inadvertence came to be elevated to divine status.13 A father, consumed by grief at the death of a beloved child, made an image of the child, and came to honour a dead human being as if it was a god. Again, kings might live far away from their subjects, and they, wishing to please the ruler, might make a likeness; the multitude, attracted by the charm of the work, came to venerate as an object of worship one whom they had previously known to be a man. And so, whatever the exact explanation, we come back to the gross immoralities that are the result of these processes. To sum up this point, then, both Paul and Wisdom begin from creation and provide an account of the way in which people, failing to recognize the reality of the creator God, entered into idolatry and thence into the vilest immorality. Both say that God, the true God, was known to people, which is why their idolatry was disgraceful and inexcusable. Both hold it clear that God is knowable through the things that he has made (Wisd. 135; Rom. 120). The similarities are very great. And, just as Romans uses this argument in order to establish, among other things, that humanity is without excuse, so the matter of inexcusability is touched on by Wisdom 138: if people mistook air, or fire, or stars, for divine beings, the blame for that might, at first sight, conceivably seem to be slight, because these were real and beautiful creations of the creator; but even so they cannot really be J excused (pa,lin δ¾ ouvδ¾ auvtoi. suggvwstoi,), for, if they had so much perception, how did they not sooner come to know the Master of them all?

But, finally, for this aspect, the Wisdom of Solomon is, by more J or less universal judgement, a vessel of natural theology.

From the greatness and beauty of created things

the Creator of them is by analogy perceived (avnalo,gwj qewrei/tai). (135)

Solomon, who has the gift of wisdom, is a sort of early scientist:14 chronology, astronomy, zoology, botany, and psychology are all within his range, and he learned them all from Wisdom, who was also his guide in natural theology:

For it is he [God] who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists

to know the structure of the world and activity of the elements…

the cycles of the year and the positions of the stars,

the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts,

the powers of spirits and the reasonings (δialogismoi.) of men,

the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots. (717 ff.)

Wisdom is a breath of the power of God, a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God (725). God's immortal spirit is in all things (121). All this comes close to what has commonly been regarded as natural theology and, as I say, scholars show little hesitation in accepting this judgement about the book—a judgement, one must add, not unconnected with the fact that, for many of them, being Protestants, it is an uncanonical book. Naturally, in the Wisdom of Solomon we do not have pure or mere natural theology: it is an element mixed in with all sorts of thoughts that would traditionally count as revealed theology: the story of the Exodus (expanded and elaborated in 16 ff.), the doctrine of creation itself. But this is so of the Letter to the Romans also: no one supposes that it contains nothing but natural theology, the only question is whether an element of natural theology is mixed in with the rest. We may take the key point as this: if it is natural theology to think that God is knowable through one's perception of the world, and to think that this knowledge has been available or accessible to all, then Wisdom contains natural theology.

But if Wisdom contains natural theology, it becomes much more likely that Romans also contains it. The similarity of the type of argument seems so strong. The community of the chain of thought suggests a common tradition, and makes it more probable that Paul is using this common tradition. The emphasis on the place of idolatry, in relation to the accessible knowledge of the creator God on the one hand, and the descent of humanity into fearful immorality on the other, seems to be particularly strong evidence. The fact of this common tradition, if correct, may also go some way to over—come the objections of those who have been most unwilling to accept that there is any element of natural theology or similar thinking in Romans. For example, Käsemann's argument that for Paul creation was not an independent theme may be weakened when we perceive that creation is an essential element in the argument, by now traditional, against idolatry. Equally, his argument that Paul is not interested in the ta,zij and δioi,khsij of the world may be made less convincing in view of the other relations with the book of Wisdom: and Paul's view that homosexual relations are contrary to fu,sij (cf. Wisd. 1426) would seem to suggest a clear implication of a ‘natural’ order in creation which it is wrong to override.

It is interesting also at this point to return to the Areopagus speech, for, as we have seen, many have been willing to concede the presence of natural theology in it when they have denied it in Romans. In this regard we should observe that, paradoxically, the thought of Romans appears to be closer to that of Wisdom than is the thought of the speech in Acts. The Acts speech is also concentrated on the theme of idolatry, and takes creation as starting-point. But—more like the canonical Hebrew books—it concentrates on idols made by human hands and says nothing about humanity having mistaken the created things, such as stars, animals, or the like, for divine beings. The place of the animals in this argument is particularly significant. The older Hebrew polemic against both idolatry and polytheism concentrated on the plurality and vanity of the other gods, and upon the absurdity of the making of images. Apart from the one case of the Golden Calf (Exod. 32), it said little or nothing of the objects that were depicted in these idolatrous cults. Thus it is one of the striking things about the Book of Exodus that, though depicting the sufferings of Israel while in bondage in that land, it says nothing at all about the theriomorphic character which is so conspicuous a feature of the Egyptian religion and its iconography.15 Images were wrong just because they were man-made images, it did not matter of what, and gods were wrong because they were plural, and other than the God of Israel. But later this was to change. Very probably, residence of Jews in great numbers in Hellenistic Egypt was a major factor. The Wisdom of Solomon emphasizes this point: the fact that images are of animals is a particularly disgusting feature, and they were animals more horrible than usual that were used for this purpose. Romans makes exactly the same point: people had exchanged the immortal God for images, not only those resembling mortal man, which would have been bad enough, but resembling birds or animals or reptiles (Rom. 123), which is a good deal worse.

Moreover, as already remarked, Acts 17 says nothing about idolatry leading to foul immorality, and on the contrary speaks of God's overlooking of past idolatry. On the other hand it shares something of the universalist spirit of Wisdom, while Paul in Romans is much more fixed upon the diversity of the two classes of Jews and Gentiles. Again, Wisdom includes the theme of people ‘seeking God and desiring to find him’, somewhat reminiscent of the groping and seeking to find him mentioned in the Areopagus speech (Wisd. 136); and so likewise in the theme of the seeking of Wisdom, becoming her lover, and the like.16 It would seem most natural to suppose that the Areopagus speech rests upon a branch of Hellenistic Jewish tradition related to that of Wisdom and Romans but substantially different in interest and emphasis. Whether this makes it more probable that Paul really spoke a speech of the tenor of that reported by Luke, it is difficult to decide. I would surmise that, if I have been right in the handling of Wisdom and Romans, it makes it slightly more likely that Paul did historically make a speech along these lines, but that Luke in his writing up of it was influenced by traditions which slanted it in the direction of the speech as we now have it. In general, any sort of recognition of natural theology in Romans must have the effect of bringing Romans and the Areopagus speech closer together.

It is not my purpose, however, to prove that the arguments of this part of Romans definitely and necessarily constitute evidence of natural theology. For my purpose it is sufficient to have shown that there is reasonable exegetical ground for the opinion that something like natural theology is there, and that it is entirely understandable and reasonable that the older exegetical traditions of the Churches thought so too. More important for my purpose is that we have moved behind the New Testament and seen the importance of a tradition of natural theology existing within Judaism and operative in the understanding of the Old Testament. We shall have to pursue this possibility back into the Hebrew Bible itself.

As soon as we even mention this possibility, we must mention once again that we are conscious of making a break with the major traditions of biblical theology in this century. To these traditions, very often, indeed predominantly, a major function of the Hebrew Bible and of Hebrew thought was to protect the New Testament from the possibility of infection by natural theology. Natural theology, it was thought, derived from Greek thought, and of the most powerful and developed exemplifications of natural theology this may well be true. The New Testament was a Greek document and might therefore have had some such infection, as its use of Greek words like fu,sij and suvei,δhsij might have indicated, but its world of ideas was Jewish and Hebraic, and that Semitic material was essentially revelational and could be used to explain the New Testament thoughts accordingly. But what if natural theology came into the New Testament out of the Hebrew background anyway? Then all that argumentation becomes vain.

But before we leave this subject something should be added on another and essential factor which affects our understanding of the Jewish natural theology, if we may so call it, of the Wisdom of Solomon. The knowledge of God, let us say, is available or accessible. From the greatness and beauty of created things it can be analogically perceived. But, as the title of the book rightly indicates, the realization of this knowledge is not automatic but depends upon Wisdom. So we quickly come to see that this knowledge, though available, is not quite possessed by all humans merely in virtue of their being human. Humans fall into two classes the wise and the fools. Idolaters, naturally, form the main body of the latter class: as also in Paul, who points out (Rom. 121 f.) that those who failed to perceive God for what he was became futile (evmataiw,qhsan) in their reasonings, their foolish heart was darkened, and thinking themselves to be wise they became fools (evmwra,nqhsan). This is a remarkably intellectualistic approach to the matter of idolatry: there are, it seems, no idolaters who had any sense or any brains of any kind.

‘For a real knowledge of God and His will, man must receive wisdom.’17 Only with grave difficulty (mo,lij) can one divine the things that are on the earth (916); how then can one ever trace out the things that are in heaven? Wisdom, in the thought of this book, introduces subtle complications. On the one hand wisdom is more mobile (kinhtikw,teron) than any other motion, and because of her purity she enters into everything (724); she interpenetrates everything, a thought that reminds us of the Areopagus speech with its God in whom we all live and have our being. Some of the terms used are very Greek in style. But in order to have wisdom one has to ask for it, as Solomon himself did, as he narrates (71 ff.). So it looks as if access to wisdom might be difficult. Not so, it seems, for she goes about seeking those worthy of her (616); she makes herself easily accessible (612: euvcerw/j qewrei/tai u`po. tw/n avgapw,ntwn auvth.n kai. eu`ri,sketai u`po. tw/n zhtou,ntwn auvth,n). But on the other hand wisdom will not enter a soul that devises evil, nor will it dwell in a body (sw/ma) mortgaged or burdened with debt (RSV enslaved) to sin (evn sw,mati kata,crew| a`marti,aj, 14). So it looks somewhat as if it is a matter decided by morality in the last resort. Wisdom is accessible, but sinners will not realize this access, while those who seek it sincerely will have no difficulty in finding it.

Is a position of this kind close to natural theology or is it not? In some ways it seems closer to it, in some ways it is more like revealed theology. One principle is clear, namely that from the created world one can discern the infinitely greater greatness of the creator, and it is fault and foolishness if one does not do so. But the effect of this argument is somewhat spoiled, for our purposes, because it is so tied to the question of idolatry and the provision of an account of how idolatry got started in the first place. The argument is never an account simply of how God is known or of how one normally gets to know God; it is always part of an account of how, where people ought to have known God for what he is, they went astray and followed idols. And, because it is tied to an explanation of the origin of idolatry, it is so concerned about the created world and how one could either (rightly) conclude from it to the reality of God, or (wrongly) take the created things to be themselves divine, thus falling into idolatry. It thus fails to give proper thought to the question whether one might, by other mental processes, come to know something about God, perhaps through simply thinking about God, or through innate intuitions which belong to humanity, or in some other way. The tie to idolatry seems to limit the discussion to some form of cosmological argument. Within this ground, as scholars seem to agree, it does imply a kind of natural theology. But, on the other hand, through the question of attainment of wisdom, it seems to turn away from any idea of a theology working by rational process accessible to anyone, and to turn towards an idea of an access to wisdom determined by moral purpose, purity of heart, and the like. Yet again, however, in keeping with the wisdom traditions of the past, there is no suggestion that access to wisdom is limited by the strict lines of special revelation: in principle anyone can gain wisdom, provided they have morality and purity of heart. But, in spite of the large borrowings made from Hellenistic philosophy and its terminology, the argument suffers in the last resort from a narrow prejudice, in that it seems totally unable to see that any idolater might be a person of intellectual ability or indeed possess any sense or morals at all. And the wholesale taking over of this argument by Paul in Romans seems to be a weakness, for he seems to talk as if all Greeks or Gentiles are complete idolaters, totally sunk in idolatry, which was hardly true and could hardly have fitted with his own experience on his journeys in the Hellenistic world; and not only this, but he seems to extend this by infinite logical consequence to suggest that all of them were full of wickedness, envy, murder, disobedience to parents, and the like, and that they all not only did these things but commended others when they did so. There are therefore some substantial gaps, to put it mildly, between the Hellenistic-Jewish anti-idolatrous rhetoric that Paul inherited and applied, and the realities of life in the Greco-Roman world. Equally, even if we grant that there was natural theology in all this, one can see that it was a very simple natural theology, which covered only a limited range of the problems normally associated with that term.

With our interest in the Wisdom of Solomon, however, we have to consider more generally the place taken by Greek philosophy in the transmission of Jewish thought in this period. Characteristic of the Book of Wisdom is its very substantial usage of terms and ideas familiar to us from Greek thought. We may mention, for example, the clearly marked distinction between soul and body—a concept the indigenization of which in Jewish thought and language is clearly marked in the teaching of Jesus. Even more striking, the idea that the body is perishable and weighs down the soul, an idea which modern theology took to be the most heinous of the errors of the Greek tradition, is here within this, at least semi-canonical, book:

fqarto.n ga.r sw/ma baru,nei yuch,n,
kai. bri.qei to. gew/δej skh/noj nou/n polufro,ntiδa