Ship’s wooden idols and providence (Wis 14:1-14:5)

“Again,

One preparing to sail,

About to voyage over raging waves,

Calls upon a piece of wood

More fragile than the ship that carries him.

It was desire for gain

That planned that vessel.

Wisdom was the artisan who built it.

But it is your providence,

O Father!

That steers its course.

Because you have given it a path in the sea,

A safe way through the waves.

You show that you can save it from every danger.

Thus even a person who lacks skill

May put to sea.

It is your will

That works of your wisdom

Should not be without effect.

Therefore people trust their lives

Even to the smallest piece of wood.

They pass through the billows

On a raft

So that they come safely to land.”

Apparently there was a custom to put a wooden idol on the front or the prow of the ship to protect them. Even today we see some sort of decoration on the front of ships. Obviously, this decorative idol was less firm than the whole ship. However, this author points out that it was the wisdom (σοφίᾳ) of the carpenter and the desire for gain that built the ships. God was the providence (πρόνοια) and father (πάτερ) of all who steered their course through the waves of the sea. Once again, this is a Greek philosophical and biblical concept about providence guiding the world. Thus even those who lacked skill were still protected by divine wisdom (τῆς σοφίας). People put trust in the tiniest piece of wood to guide them through rough patches on the sea.

The address of the second letter (2 Macc 1:10-1:10)

“The people of Jerusalem

And of Judea

And the senate

And Judas,

To Aristobulus,

Who is of the family of the anointed priests,

Teacher of King Ptolemy,

And to the Jews in Egypt,

Greetings!

Good health!”

Once again, it is the people of Jerusalem and Judea who are sending this letter. However, here there is a mention of a Jewish senate, perhaps modeled after the Roman Senate that was also mentioned by Jonathan in chapter 12 of 1 Maccabees. Judas, mentioned here in this letter, is Judas Maccabeus. Thus this letter actually preceded the first letter since it about 40 years earlier, around 164 BCE. Once again we are not sure of the author. The recipient, however, is Aristobulus, who was an Alexandrian Jew, who somehow was a teacher to King Ptolemy VII in Egypt who died in 144 BCE. This may be Aristobulus of Paneas, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who attempted to combine Hebrew Scripture with Greek philosophical thought who lived in the 2nd century BCE. He argued that the essentials of Greek philosophy and metaphysics were derived from Jewish sources. He may have been the author of the Book or Sirach. Somehow he was related to a family of anointed priests that came with King Ptolemy I (367-283 BCE) to Egypt. This greeting is for all the Jews in Egypt. So this is a Greek letter to the Greek speaking Jews in Egypt from the Jews in Judea and Jerusalem who were against the Greek influence in their life.