How Many Editions of the ESV Bible Text Are There?

The ESV Bible was originally released by Crossway Books in 2001. This new word-for-word style translation, which was a significant revision of the RSV Bible, has now been adopted by many Christian communities including the Catholic Church in India. Like many translations, the ESV has been released in many different editions. I don’t mean simply hardback, leather and paperback bindings, but that there are actual changes in the biblical text. Over the years, Crossway has published a handful of textual changes and has produced some unusual editions of the ESV for specific audiences—from the English, to the Gideons, to the Catholic Church. In this post, I will list out and explain the editions of the ESV Bible text that have been produced over the years.

 

2001 First Edition of the English Standard Version Bible

The first edition of the ESV Bible was published in 2001 by Crossway. It was hoped that this new revision of the RSV would replace the KJV, the NRSV and compete with the NIV in the evangelical Bible marketplace. Other translations would soon contend for the same turf: the Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004), the TNIV (2005), the NET (2005) and ISV (2011). The ESV was the product of a serious revision process undertaken in 1998–2001, when Crossway’s Translation Oversight Committee (TOC) held its periodic meetings to hammer out the text that would become the ESV. Its translation philosophy was to modernize the RSV text along the lines of an “essentially literal” approach, aiming for maximum transparency to the original language while maintaining elegant English style.

 

2001–2006 Silent Changes to the ESV

The first edition of the ESV was not flawless. In fact, a small number of verses were tweaked after the first edition without any public notification. An example of this phenomenon is in Romans 3:9. Take a look:

  • 2001 First Edition ESV: “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin.”
  • Later ESV: “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks are under sin.”

The RSV had added the word “power” (not in the Greek) to clarify that people were under the spiritual domination of sin, not physically beneath an invisible entity. That went against the ESV’s “essentially literal” translation philosophy and had to be removed. I would imagine this change was brought to the attention of the TOC by readers familiar with the King James, which does not have “the power of.” These silent changes are small and infrequent, but no one has ever compiled a complete list of them. It would take a monumental effort by someone with eyes like a hawk!

 

2007 Brings 360 Changes to the ESV Text

Fortunately, Crossway collected ideas for little edits and changes over the years and kept its Translation Oversight Committee meeting on a periodic basis. By 2007, after pastors, churches, professors and seminaries had six years to examine the translation, the TOC released an official, public list of 360 changes to the ESV text, meant to improve the text and bring it further into accord with the ESV’s stated translation philosophy. These textual changes are small and systematic—the “wizards” in the Old Testament became “necromancers”, “reptiles” became “creeping things” (Rom 1:23), instead of “fighting with” we find Jephthah “fighting against” the Ammonites in Judges 11. Some of the changes involve word order, as in Acts 1:3, which had been “To them he presented himself alive,” but is now “He presented himself alive to them.” It is a phrase here and a word there. These minor changes altered the text of the ESV permanently. You can even view these changes through an automated software tool.

 

2009 ESV with Apocrypha from Oxford University Press

Building on the 2007 ESV Text, Crossway launched a joint publication project with Oxford University Press to bring out the 2009 ESV with Apocrypha. This standalone edition, bound in vermilion hardcover, included the texts of the Deuterocanon, which are in the Catholic Bible:

  • Baruch
  • Bel and the Dragon (=Daniel 14)
  • Greek Esther
  • Judith
  • The Letter of Jeremiah (=Baruch 6)
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
  • The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men (=Daniel 3)
  • Sirach
  • Susanna (=Daniel 13)
  • Tobit
  • The Wisdom of Solomon.

It also included a handful of other texts that are not part of the Catholic Bible, but are regarded as canonical by certain Orthodox Churches, namely

  • 1 Esdras
  • 2 Esdras
  • 3 Maccabees
  • 4 Maccabees
  • The Prayer of Manasseh
  • Psalm 151

This edition laid the groundwork for the ESV-CE since it brought out the texts necessary to include in a Catholic Bible. The tiny one-page preface written by “The Translation Committee of the Apocryphal Books” credits three scholars (David A. deSilva, Dan McCartney, Bernard A. Taylor) and one editor (David Aiken). It is unclear who else, if anyone, was involved in the publication or on the Committee. The ESV with Apocrypha was initially released in just one format, with no electronic editions that I am aware of. Recently, over the past few years (2019–2021), we have seen new editions of it come out from SPCK and Cambridge University Press.

 

2011 – Another 275 Verses Changed in the ESV Text

In 2011, Crossway released a statement with a new list of changes intended “to correct grammar, improve consistency, or increase precision in meaning.” This list encompassed 275 verses and “less than 500 words.” No more would the Lord be “sorry” that he made man; now he “regretted” it (Gen 6:6). Abraham changes his word order, so he no longer says, “Here am I” but “Here I am.” Now the Apostle John is no longer merely “reclining at table close to” Jesus, but “leaned back against him” (John 21:20). And he asks that the friends be greeted “each by name” now not just “every one of them” (3 John 1:15). These are the kinds of tweaks that scholars love for their precision, but that the typical reader will never even notice.

 

2012 – Anglicised ESV Bible

One of the virtues of the ESV is that it was designed to be in “Standard English.” That meant the Translation Oversight Committee included both Englishmen and Americans. The text of the Bible should not be nationalized, nor should the English language—though many have tried, going back to Noah Webster and his American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). However, it is true that certain spelling conventions have divided the language across the Atlantic—“theater” or “theatre,” “center” or “centre,” and so on. To deal with this problem, Crossway came up with an “Anglicised” (not “Anglicized”) version of the ESV for publication in England that seeks to offer “British spellings for some words.” It was prepared with HarperCollins UK. The “Collins Anglicised ESV Bible” seems to have originally come out in 2012, but I have not found an official release date. All editions now being published in England through SPCK—whether Anglican, Catholic or otherwise have the “Anglicised” label.

 

2013 ESV Gideon Edition With NT Based on Textus Receptus

The Gideons are famous for distributing Bibles, placing them in hotel rooms and promoting the reading of the Bible around the world. While they distribute Bibles in many languages, the Gideons used to exclusively distribute the King James Version in English. Then they switched to the New King James Version (1982), but as of 2013, the Gideons have adopted the English Standard Version. This special edition is very different from the regular ESV Text because it uses a different Greek textual base for the translation. “Huh?” you ask. The regular ESV Bible uses the latest critical edition of the Greek New Testament (now the Nestle-Aland 28th edition), while the ESV Gideon Edition uses the so-called Textus Receptus as its base.

Why? The Textus Receptus was the Greek base text for the King James Version and some Protestants still hold it in high regard. A great example of the difference is Acts 8:37. If you look it up in the regular ESV, you won’t find it! It’s not there! Ok, it is in a footnote. But if you look up Acts 8:37 in the Gideon ESV, you will find this: “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Though the regular ESV is based on more ancient and more accurate Greek manuscripts than the Textus Receptus, it was startling to some English Bible readers to have verses disappear. The Gideons and Crossway reached a compromise agreement, allowing the Gideons to “restore” verses and phrases present in the King James, but not the ESV. The copyright page even says, “Crossway is pleased to license the ESV Bible text to The Gideons, and to grant permission to The Gideons to include certain alternative readings based on the Textus Receptus.” The Gideon edition is the most dramatically different version of the ESV text compared to all other editions, but also the one you’ll never have to pay for!

 

2016 Permanent Text Edition Changes

In 2016, by this time fifteen years after the original release, Crossway released a final list of changes to the ESV text changing 52 words in 29 verses. The most important change was to Genesis 3:16, which altered God’s speech to Eve from “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” to the more competitive “your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Both translations are plausible, and the ESV 2016 also changes Gen 4:7 to show the relevance of the change, but with gender issues always being a controversial area, this change did not go unnoticed by critics.

The members of the TOC were aging and the idea of releasing changes on an on-going basis forever seemed implausible. Citing the permanence of the King James Version, Crossway issued the list of changes with a statement that from now on, this would be the “Permanent Text” of the ESV. To me, this strategy seems completely reasonable. Once a book is published, you cannot take it back from readers and rework it, so why keep tweaking a Bible text forever? Weirdly (from my vantage point), Crossway came under attack from certain quarters for issuing a Permanent Text. I really don’t see why anyone would care to stir up controversy over this, but they did. Eventually, responding to critics, Crossway released an additional statement saying that they would be open to “minimal and infrequent” changes to the ESV text.

 

2018 ESV Catholic Edition

In 2018, Crossway published the first edition of the ESV Catholic Edition in combination with the Asian Trading Corporation in India. This edition came to be incorporated in the liturgy in India as part of the 2019 ESV Lectionary approved by the Vatican. The ESV-CE was released by the Augustine Institute in the United States in 2019 as “The Augustine Bible” and it is now under consideration for being adopted in the Lectionary by the bishops of England, Scotland and Wales. If you are interested in learning more about were the ESV came from, its translation philosophy and how it fits in to the landscape of Catholic Bible translations, I have written a whole book about it: Bible Translation and the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition

The List of ESV Bible Text Editions

In sum, then, I think we can say that there are at least ten different text editions of the ESV Bible text:

  1. First Edition ESV (2001)
  2. Silent Changes ESV (2001–2007)
  3. 2007 ESV Bible Text
  4. 2009 ESV with Apocrypha
  5. 2011 ESV Bible Text
  6. 2012 Collins Anglicised ESV Bible
  7. 2013 Gideon Textus Receptus ESV
  8. 2016 Permanent Text Edition
  9. 2018 ESV Catholic Edition
  10. 2019 ESV Catholic Edition, Anglicised

Video: How is the Bible Translated?

Here is a video interview I did with Dr. Ben Akers on Formed Now about how the Bible is translated. We talk about which bishops’ conferences are adopting the ESV Catholic Edition, the way in which Catholic Lectionaries are edited, the Vatican’s translation norms as represented in Liturgiam authenticam, what “essentially literal” translation means, dynamic equivalence, the tradition of English Bible translation, transparency to the original text, Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth, the canon of biblical books, Tobit in the Nova Vulgata, the Protestant translators and Catholic reviewers of the ESV-CE. I hope you enjoy the conversation!

How is the Bible Translated? Interview with Mark Giszczak

St. Teresa and Life as an “Inconvenient Hotel”

You might have read this quotation at some point:

In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.

This quote is often attributed to Mother Teresa, but elsewhere it is attributed to St. Teresa of Avila. I looked high and low for a source. I found my way to p. 47 in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith. But there, the quote is actually in the mouth of the famous Catholic author, Peter Kreeft citing “St. Teresa.” Kreeft himself alludes to the quotation on p. 139 in his book, Making Sense Out of Suffering, but he does not actually quote it. So where does that leave us?

An Alternate Version

I found an alternate version of the quotation that goes like this:

From heaven even the most miserable life will look like one bad night at an inconvenient hotel.

That one is attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, but these two quotes must have a common lineage, right?

Finding the Source of the Quotation

I think I finally tracked the thread of the quote down to chapter 40 of The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila, where she is comparing life in hell to life on earth as two alternate hotels. I will quote the larger context here:

What will become of the poor soul that, after being freed from the sufferings and trials of death, falls immediately into these hands? What terrible rest it receives! How mangled as it goes to hell! What a multitude of different kinds of serpents! What a terrifying place! What a wretched inn! If it is hard for a self-indulgent person (for such are the ones who will be more likely to go there) to spend one night in a bad inn, what do you think that sad soul will feel at being in this kind of inn forever, without end?

Let us not desire delights, daughters; we are well-off here; the bad inn lasts for only a night. Let us praise God; let us force ourselves to do penance in this life. How sweet will be the death of one who has done penance for all his sins, of one who won’t have to go to purgatory! Even from here below you can begin to enjoy glory! You will find no fear within yourself but complete peace.

(Source: Teresa of Ávila, The Way of Perfection, Meditations on the Song of Songs, and The Interior Castle, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, vol. 2 of The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila [Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2017], 195.)

So there it is, I think. Life on earth is like a bad night at a bad inn. Mother Teresa loved St. Teresa of Avila, so it is very possible that she recycled the quotation and expanded it, but I have not found any evidence of it in print yet. If you do, let me know in the comments. If I do, I guess I’ll have to post a follow-up.

My New Book: “Bible Translation and the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition” by Mark Giszczak

If you have been following my blog the past few years, you might have guessed that I would be writing something official on the ESV Catholic Edition Bible translation. And now I have! This new book, “Bible Translation and the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition,” tells the story of where the ESV-CE Bible came from and the translation strategies it employs.

When I first heard that the ESV was coming out in India as a Catholic Edition, I was so happy that we would finally have access to this to translation as a fully approved Catholic version. That Protestants are way out ahead of us Catholics when it comes to options in Bible translations. They have so many! In English, we Catholics have only had access to about three families of translations and it is such a relief to get a new translation out.

Where Did the ESV Come From?

But as soon as I started sharing with people about the ESV Catholic Edition, they started asking me questions:

  • Why are there so many Bible translations?
  • What is unique about the ESV-CE?
  • Who translated it?
  • What original texts does it rely on?
  • How is it different from the RSV-CE or other translations?

Since it seemed like I was uniquely situated to respond to these types of questions, as a biblical scholar at the Augustine Institute (the North American publisher of the ESV-CE), I thought I would pen a whole book. So, yes, during the Covid-19 lockdowns which we all remember so clearly, I was reading up and typing away.

Similarity Between Evangelical and Catholic Translation Discussions

My hope was to tell the backstory of the ESV-CE so that people would know where it came from, who translated it and why it was so suitable for adoption by English-speaking Catholic countries. What I found as I researched and read surprised me. It seemed like discussions and controversies that Protestants (specifically, evangelical Protestants) were having about Bible translation mapped on to the debates about translation taking place in Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world. Indeed, it seems the bishops are always talking about how to translate the Bible, the liturgy and even the Catechism.

What is in the Book?

In this book, I cover the conversations that preceded the ESV project and the promulgation of the Vatican document on translation, Liturgiam authenticam (2001). The meeting of the minds represented by the ESV translation philosophy and the Vatican’s own translation norms is remarkable. To get a sense of the topics that I cover in the book, here is the Table of Contents:

Part I – Origins

Chapter 1 – Why Another Translation?
Chapter 2 – The Catholic Lectionary Problem
Chapter 3 – The King of Bibles and the Toil of Revision
Chapter 4 – Catholic Battles in the Inclusive Language Debate
Chapter 5 – Evangelical Battles in the Inclusive Language Debate
Chapter 6 – How the ESV Came to Be

Part II – Translation

Chapter 7 – Which Text Is Really the Bible?
Chapter 8 – The Case for Essentially Literal Translation
Chapter 9 – A Christian Translation by Design
Chapter 10 – A Christ-Centered Answer to the Inclusive Language Wars
Chapter 11 – Can Evangelicals Produce a Trustworthy Catholic Translation?
Chapter 12 – The Origin and Destiny of the ESV-CE

I hope that gives you a good idea of what I am up to in the book. If you are interested in taking a closer look, you can get the book from catholic.market

Two Ways to Calculate the Value of a Talent

Yesterday, I came across a helpful calculation of the sum of money that Tobit sent his son, Tobias, to retrieve from his relative: ten talents of silver. How much is ten talents actually worth?

Robert J. Littman’s commentary offers this helpful note:

“The only way to calculate the value of ten talents is to compare it to wages and buying power. At this period the wages for an individual were approximately one drachma per day. Ten talents would contain 60,000 drachmas, in comparative American wages of 2006, $6,000,000. In terms of silver value, a talent weighs approximately 20 to 40 kgs., and 26 kgs. in ancient Greece. At the 2006 price of silver at $11.50 per ounce, the value of one talent, weighing 26 kg, would be $10,547, and the value of 10 talents would be $105,468. In any case, this is an enormous sum of money.” (Source: Robert J. Littman, Tobit: Commentary, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Richard S. Hess, and John Jarick, Septuagint Commentary Series (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2008), 57.)

Ok, so to re-work the calculation for today, a talent of silver works out to about 75 pounds (at least most of the reference books use this number–and it is within Pittman’s parameters at 34 kgs).

  • Calculation #1: By Weight
    Today’s spot-price on silver: $22.69/oz
    One talent = 1200 ounces = $27,228 (in 2022 dollars)
    Tobit’s stash of ten talents = $272,280
  • Calculation #2: By Wage
    Daily wage in ancient Greek world: One drachma
    Daily wage in 2022 America (I’m using a median hourly wage of $29.55 from data tables provided by the State of Washington multiplied by an 8 hour day): $236.40
    One talent = 6,000 drachma = 6,000×236.40 = $1,418,400
    Tobit’s stash of ten talents = $14,184,000

Here’s a chart showing the dramatic difference in the two calculations:

While I am not going to calculate out every possible instance here, take a look at this chart I’ve prepared of other biblical instances of talents of silver, calculated two different way:

Silver Talents Talents Ounces By Weight By Wage
Exod 38:25 100 120,000 $2,722,800 $141,840,000
Exod 38:29 70 84,000 $1,905,960 $99,288,000
1 Kings 10:10 120 144,000 $3,267,360 $170,208,000
1 Kings 10:14 666 799,200 $18,133,848 $944,654,400
1 Kings 16:24 2 2,400 $54,456 $2,836,800
2 Kings 5:5 10 12,000 $272,280 $14,184,000
2 Kings 5:23 2 2,400 $54,456 $2,836,800
2 Kings 15:19 1000 1,200,000 $27,228,000 $1,418,400,000
2 Kings 18:14 100 120,000 $2,722,800 $141,840,000
2 Kings 23:33 100 120,000 $2,722,800 $141,840,000

It is important to remember that some of the talents in the Bible are actually in gold, not silver. I don’t have a good way of translating gold talents to a daily wage, but we can easily measure them by weight using today’s spot price on gold of $1802.90. Take a look at these examples:

Gold Talents Talents Ounces By Weight
Exod 38:24 29 34,800 $62,737,440
1 Kings 9:14 420 504,000 $908,611,200
1 Kings 10:10 120 144,000 $259,603,200
1 Kings 10:14 666 799,200 $1,440,797,760
2 Kings 18:14 30 36,000 $64,900,800
2 Kings 23:33 1 1,200 $2,163,360

So, we have two different precious metals and two different ways of calculating the value of a talent. Even though we can perform these kinds of conversion, it’s worth saying that economic value in the ancient world isn’t exactly translatable to economic value today. The way that we can reduce the value of land, food, personal property, diamonds and oil to American dollars is not really the way things worked in Ecbatana in Tobit’s time. These calculations are fun, but not necessarily accurate. That is, they are as accurate as we can get, but we have to account for the giant gulf of centuries of time, economic and cultural change. For me, the importance of this observation–that there are two different ways to calculate the value of a talent–puts many of these biblical passages into perspective. There’s a big difference between $272,000 and $14 million (in the case of Tobit’s stash). Considering both sides of the calculation might help us reach a more nuanced view of many of these passages.

What is the Sword of Damocles?

For some reason, I keep hearing the phrase “the sword of Damocles” over and over. I’m not sure if everyone in the world decided to brush off their Latin and read some classics during the Covid quarantine or what. But somehow, this particular classical reference is back in vogue and you’ve probably heard it too. So what is this famous sword?

Who is “Damocles” Anyway?

Here’s a short entry on him from The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870):

DAMOCLES (Δαμοκλῆς), a Syracusan, one of the companions and flatterers of the elder Dionysius, of whom a well-known anecdote is related by Cicero. Damocles having extolled the great felicity of Dionysius on account of his wealth and power, the tyrant invited him to try what his happiness really was, and placed him at a magnificent banquet, surrounded by every kind of luxury and enjoyment, in the midst of which Damocles saw a naked sword suspended over his head by a single horse-hair—a sight which quickly dispelled all his visions of happiness. (Cic. Tusc. v. 21.) The same story is also alluded to by Horace. (Carm. iii. 1.17.) Source: Edward Herbert Bunbury, “DAMOCLES (Δαμοκλῆς),” Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1870) 935.

Just so we all have our bearings: Syracuse (today Siracusa) is in Sicily, not upstate New York. Cicero is the extremely famous Roman orator and senator.

Wait – Who is Dionysus?

Dionysus I the Elder was tyrant of Syracuse, a Hellenistic ruler. He lived about 432 to 367 BC. Let’s just say he was not famous for his kindness. In fact, Dante places him in the River Phlegethon made of boiling blood in the Inferno:

“These are the souls of tyrants, who were given
To blood and rapine. Here they wail aloud
Their merciless wrongs. Here Alexander dwells,
And Dionysius fell, who many a year
Of woe wrought for fair Sicily. …” (Harvard Classics 1909)

But, at least in the afterlife, Dionysus gets to suffer forever with his tyrant buddies like Alexander the Great.

Tell us About the Sword

Ok, but we really want to know more about the sword hanging from a single horse hair over the head of Damocles. Damocles was a sycophant–a member of Dionysus’ court who flattered him and enjoyed his largess. Well, sort of. Dionysus was cartoonishly fearful of plotters and assassins–a typical tyrant perhaps. He wouldn’t even let a barber shave him for fear that the razor would “slip”, so he had his daughters burn off his beard with red-hot walnut shells. In order to keep his people on their toes, Dionysus did not take it lightly when Damocles the flatterer paid him some nice compliments about how great his life as tyrant must be. Dionysus, in order to teach Damocles a lesson decided to give him a taste of the tyrant’s life.

The Sword of Damocles by
Giuseppe Piattoli, Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain

He had a huge feast prepared for Damocles, put him on a golden couch, surrounded him with all of the luxuries of the day. And while Damocles was enjoying himself immensely, Dionysus had a sword suspended over his neck, hanging from only a single horse hair. (You might wonder how the geometry works here since we sit in chairs while we eat so a sword could only be suspended over our heads, not necks. But the Greeks and Romans reclined on couches while they ate, so the neck could be an easy target for such a sword.) Needless to say, Damocles found the situation rather uncomfortable and asked to be released from the bizarre situation. Dionysus had the satisfaction of teaching Damocles the lesson of his life: “that there can be no happiness for him over whom some terror is always impending.” That’s the moral of the story.

Let’s Hear it From Cicero

Here is how Cicero himself tells the tale:

When Damocles, one of his flatterers, in talking with him, recounted his forces, his power, the majesty of his reign, the abundance of his possessions, the magnificence of his palace, and said that there had never been a happier man, he replied, ” Damocles, since this life charms you, do you want to taste it yourself, and to make trial of my fortune ? ” He answering in the affirmative, Dionysius commanded the man to be placed upon a golden couch with a covering most beautifully woven and magnificently embroidered, and furnished for him several sideboards with chased silver and gold. Then he ordered boys chosen for their surpassing beauty to stand at the table, and watching his nod, to serve him assiduously. There were ointments, garlands. Perfumes were burned. The tables were spread with the most exquisite viands. Damocles thought himself favored of Fortune. In the midst of this array Dionysius ordered a glittering sword attached to a horse-hair to be let down from the ceiling, so as to hang over the neck of the happy man. After this, Damocles had no eye for the beautiful servants nor for the silver richly wrought, nor did he reach forth his hand to the table. The gar- lands were already fading. At length he begged the tyrant to let him go; for he no longer wanted to be happy. Does not Dionysius seem thus to have declared that there can be no happiness for him over whom some terror is always impending? Yet it was no longer possible for him to return to justice, and to restore to the citizens their liberty and their rights. In his youth, at an improvident age, he had so ensnared himself by wrong-doings, and had committed them to such an extent, that he could not be safe if he began to behave reasonably. (Source: Andrew P. Peabody, trans., Cicero’s Tusculan disputations, [Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1886] Book V, 21, pp. 286-88)

Is the Sword of Damocles on the Rise?

According to Google nGram, peak “sword of Damocles” usage was in 1996. Perhaps I’ve just heard it a lot recently. Maybe if we check back in a few years, we’ll see a new spike in usage of the term. Anyway, there you have it. Now you know what the Sword of Damocles is all about.

The Quest of the King in the Wisdom of Solomon

My new article, “The Quest of the King in the Wisdom of Solomon,” was just published in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, Volume 31, issue 1. I presented an early version of this paper at the 2020 SBL Annual Meeting.

If you want to know what is all about, here is the abstract of the paper:

Historians largely agree that Hellenistic kingship was founded, not primarily on heredity, but on military achievement (MacDonald, 2015). The right to rule was thus militarily meritocratic, but philosophically unsteady, so kings felt the need to propagandize by commissioning writings peri basileias. Diogenes Laertius gives evidence that this type of kingship literature was widely produced in this era, though only fragments of these texts survive. The tracts attributed to Ecphantus, Diotogenes, and Sthenidas, along with the Letter of Aristeas, reveal that Hellenistic kingship was supported by a mythos that viewed obtaining kingship as a kind of moral achievement. The king’s virtues are emphasized as godlike and worthy of imitation by his subjects, as he embodies the law in his person. The Wisdom of Solomon reworks this kingship tradition by “democratizing” kingship (Newman, 2004) to all to call his readers to imitate Solomon’s choice of wisdom over folly. Solomon’s search for and embrace of wisdom (7:7; 8:2) takes the place of militaristic emphases and establishes a universalizable pattern for the moral quest of the individual. Wisdom domesticates a Hellenistic pattern of seeking wisdom and thus achieving kingly rule, which eventually allows one to be a benefactor of others. Wisdom is beneficent (7:23) and, rather than becoming a god, the wise Solomon benefits others with his wise and just rule (Wis 8:10–15; 9:12). Even the wise Israelites become benefactors to others (19:14). Thus, the quest of the king for wisdom follows a familiar outline of the journey of a king from obscurity, to conquest, to rule, to beneficence.

If you are interested in reading the whole thing, here is the permanent link to it: https://doi.org/10.1177/09518207211032890