Wisdom 13:1-5 (translation mine)

1 Truly vain are all men by [their] nature in whom there is not the knowledge of God: who, though they have seen the good things [of creation], do not know him that is. Neither by appreciating his works have they recognized in them their Artificer. 2 But instead they took to be gods which ruled the world either fire, or wind, or blasts of air, or the cycles of stars, or raging waters, or the luminaries of heaven. 3 But if on account of their beauty they took these to be gods, let them know how much more excellent the Lord1 of them is: for he that created them is the author2 of beauty. 4 For if they are impressed by the power of these, or their workings, let them understand therefrom how much more powerful he is that prepared them. 5 For from the greatness and the beauty of these creations, by analogy, their Maker3 can be seen.

1 δεσπότης—lord or master; largely synonymous with κύριος (the more common word for Lord, which answers to the Tetragrammaton יהוה in LXX)

2 τοῦ ... γενεσιάρχης—or he that first made; or the originator

3 ὁ γενεσιουργὸς αὐτῶν

It's clear from the context that we are talking about God Almighty, the God of the Jewish people, YHVH.

The highlighted portion in Greek is τὸν ὄντα ("[he] who is").


Is this:

  • A deliberate attempt to refer to or translate יהוה (accusative form of ὁ ὢν used in Exodus 3:14 of יהוה)?

  • Or a more common designation or appellation for God more generically, such as elsewhere in the Greek Bible, or even other contemporaneous literature?

  • I think this is a difficult question to answer. Presumably Wisdom was translated later than the Torah. So, would the translator have relied on the Greek of Exodus 3:14, or would he have referred directly to the Hebrew? If the latter, the Name may mean "I will be what I will be" rather than "I am that I am." In which case, a statement of pure existence would not suffice. – Pilgrim Nov 18 '17 at 22:30
  • Unless I'm mistaken, Wisdom is an originally Greek work. – Sola Gratia Nov 18 '17 at 22:59
  • Yes, I've confused it with Sirach (Ecclesiasticus). Well, what do you expect of folks who don't read these books as often? – Pilgrim Nov 19 '17 at 1:52
  • Haha, no problem. I believe a case can be made that St. Paul made use of this book's theology and argument in his epistles; I highly recommend their reading. – Sola Gratia Nov 19 '17 at 14:16

Yes, this text almost certainly draws on Exodus 3:14. While the reference is unique within the Book of Wisdom, it is not unique among contemporary Greek Jewish literature. To clarify the question/issue for those who may not be familiar with the Greek and Hebrew, in Exodus 3:14, as the OP mentions, God tells Moses his name:

אהיה אשר אהיה
I am who I am
εγω ειμι ο ων
I am the [one] being

God then shortens this name, instructing Moses to tell the people that

אהיא שלחני אליכם
“I am” sent me to you.
ο ων απεσταλκεν με προς υμας
The one being” has sent me to you.

In the following verse the Tetragrammaton (yhwh, “the LORD”) is introduced, and it is this appellation which is utilized extensively throughout the Hebrew Bible, consistently translated into Greek as kurios (“lord”). Remarkably, the “I am” title1 gets very little attention in the remainder of the Hebrew bible (with one possible exception of which I am aware). The same is not true of the later Jewish Greek literature. This begins (to my knowledge) in the LXX, most prominently in the book of Jeremiah. Here God is addressed by the prophet repeatedly:

אהה אדני יהוה
Ah, lord YHWH.
ο ων δεσποτα κυριε
The [one] being, master lord

See Swete’s edition of Jer 1:6, 14:13, 39:17(= 32:17 in Hebrew/English).2 In these, the identity of the addressee is stated redundantly, so there is no doubt regarding the reference.3 Although no precise date can be given for LXX Jeremiah, it’s probably safe to place it in the 2nd C. BCE, predating the Book of Wisdom about which OP asks. Later, we have extensive use of ο ων as a reference to Ex 3:14 in the writings of Philo. John Whittaker states:

Philo employs the Septuagint designation [referring to ο ων in Ex 3:14] as an important link between Jewish faith and Platonism… [his] identification of the supreme deity with Platonic reality constitutes the cornerstone of Philo’s system and no doubt of Alexandrian Jewish theology in general.4

Philo wrote around the turn of the era in Alexandria, the same approximate time and place that (per Wikipedia), the Book of Wisdom is thought to have been composed. Later still, we have NT usage of the appellation which are, to my knowledge, uncontested as references to Ex 3:14 (Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8).

Given this background, I see no reason to doubt that Wisdom 13:1 derives the title from Exodus 3:14. As has been shown, this usage was also precedented in contemporary Jewish literature. These are not mutually exclusive options any more than a modern song referring to "I Am" fails as a reference to this same text.


1. Despite frequent claims to the contrary, “I am” is not a possible translation of the Tetragram itself.

2. There appears to be a text critical issue here about which I have asked another question.

3. Although the Greek text is clear, exactly how this relates to the Hebrew is more opaque.

4. John Whittaker. Moses Atticizing. Phoenix, 21:3 (1967), pp. 196-201. This paper discusses the possibility that ο ων may have been known/used outside the Jewish community of the era. In preparation for that argument, the evidence that it was well known within that community (such as pertains to our Q&A) is reviewed.

  • Fantastic. Thanks for a careful, scholarly answer! – Sola Gratia Mar 6 '18 at 14:11

Since the Book of Wisdom was written by a Greek-speaking Alexandrian Jew, who most probably used the Septuagint, it is most probable that Wis 13:1 refers to the exegetic non-literal translation in the Septuagint of the full Name of God in Ex 3:14, "Ego eimi ho ōn" = "I Am He Who Is".

  • It's good to see I am not the only one who is unhappy with Brenton's, "I am THE BEING". – enegue Mar 26 '18 at 8:28

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