The Book of Secrets

Where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding? Such was the cry of the author of Job (28:12), and an entire literature, even a literary movement, stood behind that cry. “Wisdom books” are the biblical writings that embody this search for understanding: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (or Koheleth), end Job. Indeed, almost every culture of the ancient Near East had its own representative books of”wisdom,” and the oldest collections of proverbs are not Israelite, but Egyptian, and go back to the late third millennium B.C.E.

Often the collections of proverbs are framed by what scholars call an “instruction,” that is, the literary device of a wise sage instructing his pupils or his children in the ways of wisdom. Sometimes the instruction is patently fictional, and the sage that “speaks” through the proverbs is anonymous; sometimes the teacher is a real historical figure, such as Jesus teen Sira, who wrote the book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, in the second century B.C.E. At least two compositions among the Dead Sea Scrolls are wisdom instructions, The Book of Secrets and the longer work called The Secret of the Way Things Are (text 88). In The Book of Secrets, although the name of the sage is not preserved, one can hear the distinctive voice of a real, and redoubtable, teacher.

The wisdom movement in Israel had fairly humble beginnings in homely proverbs but grew to produce intense speculation about God’s ways of governing the world. The idea that a basic order lay hidden behind the apparent randomness and injustice of daily life was fundamental to the religion of the ancients, and this divine order was in Israel known as hokhmah, “wisdom.” But the difficulty of grasping the essence of wisdom through practical maxims later led to deeper rurninations on God’s way with the world. Ben Sira came to identify God’s pattern with the Law revealed to Israel, in this way reconciling ancient “philosphy” with Israel’s covenant faith.

The scroll writers generally took a different tack in their wisdom instructions. Although honoring the Law as much as Ben Sira, the hiddenness of the divine pattern impressed them as much as its splendor. It was clear to them that, unaided, the human mind could not grasp wisdom; it would have to be given to individuals as a gift. Certain men, then, were singled out to be the lucky recipients of revelation, and they would then know the “secrets” of God, especially the “secret of the way things are,” a sectarian title for divine hokhmah. The scroll writers did not believe that the unaided human mind, however pious, could understand the ways of God. The path to true understanding was through revelation, not reason.

The “instructor” announces his intention to reveal his learning to all who are interested, even the benighted Gentiles.

4Q301 Frag. 1 1[ . . . ] I shall speak out freely, and I shall express my various sayings among you [ . . ] 2[ . . . those who would understand] parables and riddles, and those who would penetrate the origins of knowledge, along with those who hold fast to [the wonderful mysteries . . . ] 3[ . . . ] those who walk in simplicity as well as those who are devious in every activity of the deeds of [humanity . . . ] 4[those with a stiffl neck, [a hard] pate, [a]ll] the mass of the Gentiles, with [ . . . ]

The instructor asks the motivation for learning. It must not be for before worldly power and privilege.

4Q301 Frag. 2 1the customs of the fool, and the inheritance of the wise [ . . . ] Now what good is the riddle to you, you who search for the origins of knowledge? 7Why is the heart honored, for it is the dominion [ . . . ] a parable? Why is it splendid to you, for it is [ . . . ] Why is a prince [ . . . ] ~ruler? [ . . . ] without strength, and he dominates him with a whip that cost nothing.Who would say 4[ . . . ] who among you seeks the presence of Light and Illu[munation] 5[ . . . ] the plan of memory without [ . ] 6[ . . . ] by the angels of [ . . . ] 7[ . . . ] those who praise [ . . . ]

In times past people ignored this teaching and disaster came upon them.

4Q300 Frag. 3 2so that they would know the difference between g[ood and evil . . . ] 1Q27 Col. 1 2secrets of sin 3[ . . . ] but they did not know the secret of the way things are nor did they understand the things of old and they did not 4know what would come upon them, so they did not rescue themselves without the secret of the way things are.

The time for ignoring true wisdom is past. Those who have not reformed their lives b, means of it will soon be eliminated.

5 This shall be the sign that this shall come to pass: when the sources of evil are shut up and wickedness is banished in the presence of righteousness, as darkness in the presence of 61ight, or as smoke vanishes and is no more, in the same way wickedness will vanish forever and righteousness will be manifest like the sun. 1The world will be made firm and all the adherents of the secrets of (MS: wonder) shall be no more. True knowledge shall fill the world and there will never be any more folly. 8This is all ready to happen, it is a true oracle, and by this it shall be known to you that it cannot be averted.

It is not enough simply to honor goodness or desire truth. The attainment of wisdom lies beyond human effort, and it is beyond the reach of the rich.

It is true that all 9the peoples reject evil, yet it advances in all of them. It is true that truth is esteemed in the utterances of all the nations yet is there any tongue or language that grasps it? What nation wants to be oppressed by another that is stronger? Or who wants his money to be stolen by a wicked man? Yet what nation is there that has not oppressed its neighbor? Where is the people that has not 2robbed the wealth [of another . . . ]

Even the so-called righteous have fallen short of the ideals of true wisdom.
4Q299 Frag. 2 ( + 4Q300 Frag. 5) Col. 2 2what should we call [a man who . . . his] deeds [ . . . ]

3 but every deed of the righteous has been judged im[pure. And what] should we call a man [who . . . call no one on earth] 4wise or righteous, for it is not a human possession [ . . . ] and not [. . . wisdom is hidden, exe] Scept for the wisdom of cunning evil, and the s[chemes of Belial . . . ] 6a thing that ought never to be done again, except [ . . . ] 7the command of his Maker; and what shall a m[an] do [and live? . . . he who] 3has violated the command of his Maker shall have his name erased from the mouthofall[ . . . ] 9[ . . . ]

God knows all hidden things; indeed, he has determined how everything should come about.

So listen, you who hold fast [to the wonderful secrets . . . ] of eternity, and the plots behind every deed, and the pur[pose of . . . He knows] every secret and stands behind every thought, He does every [ . . . the Lord of all] ~2is He, from long ago He established it, and forever [ . . . ] [ . . . ] the purpose of the origins He opened up to [ . . . ] 4[ . . . ] for He tests His son, and gives him as an inheritance [ . . . ] [ . . . ] every secret, and the limits of every deed; and what [ . . . ] [ . . . ] the Gentiles, for He created them and their deeds [ . . . ]

Magicians and soothsayers have not been able to penetrate God’s secrets.

4Q300 Frag.1 Col. 2 1[Consider the sooth]sayers, those teachers of sin Say the parable, declare the riddle before we speak, then you will know if you have truly understood. 2[ . . . ] your foolishness, for the vision is sealed up from you, and you have not properly understood the eternal mysteries and you have not become wise in understanding [ . . . ] 3[ . . . ] for you have not properly understood the origin of wisdom; but if you should unseal the vision [ . . . ] 4[ . . . ] all your wisdom, for to you [ . . . ] Hear now what wisdom is.

The secret of true wisdom is as hidden as God’s design of the natural world.

4Q299 Frag.5 [ . . . lighqs ofthe stars for a m[emo]rial of [His] name . . . 2[ . . . hidden] things of the mysteries of Light and the ways of Darkness [ . . . ] 3[ . . . ] the times of heat with the period[s of cold . . . ] 4[ . . the breaking of day] and the coming of night [ . . . ] 5[ . . . ] t:he origins of things [ . . . ]

Wisdom is available by humble submission to the unchangeable plan of God.

4Q299 Frag.8 5[…] How can a man understand without knowledge or hearing? [ . . . ] 6[ . . . ] He created insight for His children, by much wisdom He uncovered our ears that we may h[ear . . . ] 7[ . . . ] He created insight for all those who pursue true knowledge and [ . . . ] 8[ .,, ] all wisdom is from eternity, it may not be changed [ . . . ] 9[ . . . ] He locked up behind the waters, so that not [ . . . ] [ . . . ] the heaven above heaven [ . . . ]

True wisdom is also found among his people Israel.

4Q301 Frag. 3 4[ . . . ] and He is well known for His patience, and [mighty] in His great anger, and [splendid] 5[ . . . ] He in His numerous acts of mercy, and terrible in His wrathful purposes, and honored [ . . . ] 6[ . . . ] and over the land He made him ruler, and God is honored among His holy people, and splendid 7[among] His chosen, yes, splendid [ . . . ] holy, great in the blessings Of [ . . . ] 8[ . . . ] their splendor and [ . . . ] when the era of Wickedness is at an end, and [evil]doing [ . . . ]

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