The Apocrypha’s “Wisdom of Solomon” II – All You Need Is (God’s) Love
Part of what I have enjoyed about this Bible project is that I have finally encountered some of the sources for a number of beliefs for which I had no context: where does that belief come from? I’ve often wondered this when reading a news story about a fringe sect with strange beliefs usually not shared by the rest of practicing Christians. Occasionally, these ideas surface in fiction.
Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home is a wonderful novel, at whose center is a fringe religious sect whose pastor brings dangerous snakes to Sunday services and, placing them in the hands of members of his congregation, suggests that their faith will protect them from any bites they receive. You can imagine how this turns out, because, as most people know, dangerous snakes act like snakes and kill. Turns out, no amount of praying will counteract the poison working in your veins.
When I read this book earlier this year (as I have often experienced when encountering these types of ideas), I couldn’t imagine that there was a religious precedent for what they believed. . But, when I read the Apocrypha’s Wisdom of Solomon, I found at least one source for this belief.
Among the many nuggets of (typically) practical pieces of advice in this former Bible book rests this one: Those of faith, no problem—the teeth (and presumably the accompanying venom) of a snake (serpent) won’t harm you (16:10). God’s word heals all (16:12).
This might be one place in a religious text that is meant metaphorically. Given how the snake represents the devil in the Garden of Eden—and convinces Eve to eat the apple—one could argue that a strong religious faith will protect you against the devil’s trickery, influence, etc. However, this could just as easily be taken literally, with devout people being convinced that God will protect them, no matter what—why not try petting a deadly snake?
But perhaps, when contemplating which books of the Bible should stay and which should go, this book was cut (collected into the Apocrypha) so to keep dangerous ideas out of susceptible people—much like you would want to hide a loaded gun from a child. After all, this former Bible book also contains the oft-repeated idea of how important wisdom is. For wise people should (and probably mostly do) know not to mess with danger just because they can, as if faith alone will always shield you.
On the rare occasion when I drive these days, I have faith that my experience and training as a driver will guide me safely to wherever I’m headed. But I still wear a seat belt, just as I obey the traffic laws and stop signs and stop lights, which cut down on the chances for accidents to happen.
Still, thinking back to Cash’s novel, I enjoy reading how fiction handles information, for the best stories are ones that don’t provide answer (this is how you should handle a situation); rather, they present a problem correctly, and in this case, that problem is what happens when people take too literally selective aspects of the Bible—especially ones that contradict the majority of the rest of it.