In Wisdom of Solomon and Proverbs, did the writers mean to call Wisdom a goddess, or were they just using poetic personification?

In portraying Wisdom as a goddess, the author of Wisdom of Solomon is harkening back to Proverbs, which makes a similar claim. In chapter 8 of Proverbs, Wisdom speaks as a lover and co-creator of the world with God, and this reference may have been a way to appease those who were being asked to give up the worship of Ahserah, Anat, and Astarte, important goddess figures. 

Here are Wisdom’s words in Proverbs 8.22: 

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Proverbs 8.22-31 (NRSV)

Wisdom is also referenced in Job and the Psalms as a goddess figure. 

In a similar way, when Wisdom of Solomon was written, many Jewish people were, like the author, attracted to all that Greek culture (we call it Hellenism) had to offer. Jewish Hellenism encountered the Greek worship of Athena, the goddess of Wisdom (In Hebrew Hokmah or Chokmah, which was translated into Greek as Sophia). In Athens (Athena being a patron saint of that city), Wisdom and its arts are held up as the highest form of life, and many Jews wanted to participate in Hellenistic culture (art, drama, dance, gymnastics, philosophy, oratory). 

Here is what Plato, who heavily influenced the authors of Wisdom of Solomon AND Paul and the authors of the gospels, said about Athena ((I lifted this quote from the Wikipedia entry on Athena):

[Most poets] assert that he [Homer] meant by Athena "mind" [noũs] and "intelligence" [diánoia], and the maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and indeed calls her by a still higher title, "divine intelligence" [theoũ nóēsis], as though he would say: This is she who has the mind of God [ἁ θεονόα, a theonóa). Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe may mean "she who knows divine things" [τὰ θεῖα νοοῦσα, ta theia noousa] better than others. Nor shall we be far wrong in supposing that the author of it wished to identify this Goddess with moral intelligence [εν έθει νόεσιν, en éthei nóesin], and therefore gave her the name Etheonoe; which, however, either he or his successors have altered into what they thought a nicer form, and called her Athena. — Plato, Cratylus 407b 

So I think the reference to Wisdom as a goddess was deliberate. Hokmah (Chokmah) was often pictured as a goddess with wings, taking over some of the iconography associated with Asherah (pre-exile) and Isis (post-exile). She is still worshipped by those who follow Kabbala. The Jews and Greeks didn’t capitalize words to show significance the way we do in English, so the capitalization or lack of it is the choice of a modern English-speaking editor. We can’t form conclusions based on it. 

Incidentally, Sophia (the Greek word for Wisdom, which was feminine) was changed by other hellenistic Jews to Logos (Word), which is masculine. This is the Greek word used in the gospel of John to describe Jesus: In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This is a clear reference to the story of Wisdom in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon, but it is made masculine so that the aspect of God can be God’s son, not a goddess. The Greek culture was even more patriarchal than the Jewish culture. 

For more on Athena, see this link:

For more on Wisdom (Hokmah or Chokmah), see this interesting Wikipedia article:

For information about the concept of Logos in Greek culture, Jewish Hellenism, and Christian thought, see this entry in the New World Encyclopedia:

A more detailed article on Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenistic Jew who brought the Stoic concept of the Logos into Jewish thought, where he identified it with the “utterance of God”:

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