The failure of the Egyptian magicians (Wis 17:7-17:10)

“The delusions of their magic art lay humbled.

Their boasted wisdom was scornfully rebuked.

Those who promised to drive off

The fears of a sick soul,

Those who promised to drive off

The disorders of a sick soul,

Were sick themselves

With ridiculous fear.

Even if nothing disturbing frightened them,

Yet scared by the passing of wild animals,

Scared by the hissing of serpents,

They perished in trembling fear.

They refused to look even at the air,

though it nowhere could be avoided.”

Here we have a specific reference to the magicians (μαγικῆς) in Egypt as in Exodus, chapters 7-9. These magicians were humbled. They had promised to drive away the fears and ills of the Egyptians, who remain unnamed here. These magicians were sick with a ridiculous fear themselves. They were afraid of the wild animals and the serpents. They perished in their own fear. Once again we have an embellishing of the original story to add a more dramatic effect.

Darkness (Wis 17:1-17:6)

“Great are your judgments.

They are hard to describe.

Therefore uninstructed souls have gone astray.

When lawless people supposed

That they held the holy nation in their power,

They themselves lay as captives of darkness.

They were prisoners of a long night.

They were shut in under their roofs.

They were exiles from eternal providence.

Thinking that in their secret sins

They were unobserved

Behind a dark curtain of forgetfulness,

They were scattered.

They were terribly alarmed.

They were appalled by specters.

Not even the inner chamber

That held them

Protected them from fear.

But terrifying sounds rang out around them.

Dismal phantoms with gloomy faces appeared.

No power of fire was able to give light.

Nor did the brilliant flames of the stars avail

To illumine that hateful night.

Nothing was shining through to them,

Except a dreadful,

Self-kindled fire.

In terror

They deemed the things which

That they saw

To be worse

Than that unseen appearance.”

This is an ode to God’s power, whose great judgment is hard to describe. The uninstructed have gone astray. The lawless (ἄνομοι) refers to Egypt, while the holy nation (ἔθνος ἅγιον) is Israel. These uninstructed lawless ones (Egypt) thought that they had the holy nation in their power. However, they were the captives of darkness. They were prisoners of the long night as they were under their own roof. They were exiles from divine providence. They thought that their secret sins would be forgotten. However, they were scattered, alarmed, and appalled. They were full of fear (ἀφόβως) in this darkness. They heard terrifying sounds and saw visions (φάσματα) of gloomy ghost faces. No fire was able to break this darkness. Nothing was shining on them except their own fear. They actually thought that things were worse than what they appeared to be.