Amenemope and the proverbs.

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blakerussell

Puritan Board Freshman
Well. Reading through my ESV study bible today, and read a note about the thirty wisdom sayings and how many of them more or less come from Amenemope's writings (an egyptian pharoah I believe).

So I suppose my question has to do with, why did God decide to adopt and adapt a bunch of egyptian wisdom sayingsand then throw them in His canon of scripture?

It's just interesting to me and I would love to hear some more information about this. The section of scripture starts at proverbs 22:17, and what's even more confusing is some commentators (The one I read came from the expositors commentary) say that these sayings do indeed come from amenemope.

Anyhow. It's just wracking my brain a bit. :doh:
I have some thoughts on the matter, but I'd like to hear all of you chime in...
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
Whatever of the Egyptians' wisdom sayings were worth keeping came from God in the first place, probably from their consciences. (There may have been some other exchanges too, like from Joseph's time period, I don't know. I'm not an Egyptologist. =)
 

Porter

Puritan Board Freshman
So I suppose my question has to do with, why did God decide to adopt and adapt a bunch of egyptian wisdom sayingsand then throw them in His canon of scripture?

Generally speaking, the scriptures, in some parts, affirm the truthfulness of pagan sayings...

One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. (Titus 1:13)

This does not mean that the original pagan speaker/author was a "holy man of God carried along by the Holy Spirit", but rather, by virtue of Paul including it in his letter to Titus (affirming its accuracy therein), the saying by a Cretan becomes God-inspired (again, only by virtue of the fact the Paul quoted it, he being under divine inspiration).

Now, regarding the case of the proverbs, appropriating the form or style of ancient writing is different from assimilating pagan ideas into Israelite religion. One can - God can, since He is the one who gave all breath and made them in His image - employ linguistic forms and style of literature while not sullying, or compromising, the pure religious distinctives that separate the biblical worldview from pagan thought. There are clear differences between the content (explicit, or implicit) of the ancient pagan literature and that of biblical monotheistic religion (that of the Living and True God of Holy Scripture), though there may be similarity in forms of literature, etc.
 

blakerussell

Puritan Board Freshman
So I suppose my question has to do with, why did God decide to adopt and adapt a bunch of egyptian wisdom sayingsand then throw them in His canon of scripture?

Generally speaking, the scriptures, in some parts, affirm the truthfulness of pagan sayings...

One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. (Titus 1:13)

This does not mean that the original pagan speaker/author was a "holy man of God carried along by the Holy Spirit", but rather, by virtue of Paul including it in his letter to Titus (affirming its accuracy therein), the saying by a Cretan becomes God-inspired (again, only by virtue of the fact the Paul quoted it, he being under divine inspiration).

Now, regarding the case of the proverbs, appropriating the form or style of ancient writing is different from assimilating pagan ideas into Israelite religion. One can - God can, since He is the one who gave all breath and made them in His image - employ linguistic forms and style of literature while not sullying, or compromising, the pure religious distinctives that separate the biblical worldview from pagan thought. There are clear differences between the content (explicit, or implicit) of the ancient pagan literature and that of biblical monotheistic religion (that of the Living and True God of Holy Scripture), though there may be similarity in forms of literature, etc.

Well, the form is certainly taken from amenemopes writings. Amenemope has thirty chapters if you will, and this section of the proverbs has thirty sayings.

I suppose what's more disconcerting and causes questions in my mind are not the similarities in form, but content. While nothing is blatantly copied, there are places where both writings essentially say the same thing.

Of course, I understand this is possible because of the titus passage you even mentioned, but it still leaves some form of discomfort in my mind for some reason.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Blake, I think there are several things worth saying.

1. Just because an expert says a parallel exists, doesn't mean it's true. Literary critics of all kinds get paid to write and talk about literature - since part of that is, perhaps out of sheer boredom or a desire for illustriousness, trying to say something new, comparing documents that no one else has compared is an easy step to take; sometimes the parallels are there, sometimes they are just contrived. That's not meant to knock literary criticism or all literary critics: I personally am quite convinced that Paul was familiar with Wisdom, but just to remark that people in pursuit of parallels are likely to find them: just as human ingenuity has conceived of no writing which cannot be allegorized by human ingenuity.
2. There is nothing wrong with the form or the content of many uninspired writings. The Bible, as many Reformed theologians have noted, does not inculcate a spirit of suspicion towards literature.
3. We should expect there to be many points of overlap between what Scripture says and what uninspired literature says, especially when it comes to morality. The 10 Commandments are a compendium of the law of nature, so you would expect other people to say similar things. And what you do find is what you would expect: that with greater force, profundity, and consistency, the Bible asserts all the good that other people asserted: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as C.S. Lewis observed, is quite similar to Confucius' "Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you" but it's better.
4. Those similarities should probably be less troubling with regard to Proverbs than anywhere else, since Proverbs contains a farrago of maxims which vary from profound theology to shrewd observation: shrewdness or intellectual penetration are not specifically spiritual gifts.

I think the reason for the discomfort might be that it seems to undercut the uniqueness of Scripture: after all, if they borrowed from others, in what sense were they inspired? Well, leaving aside the difficult questions of chronology and who borrowed from whom, points 2 and 3 above should help cut against what is often just an uneasy feeling based on unexamined premises. But we can add that "unique" doesn't mean "without points of contact", or to put it another way, the existence of points of contact, like Paul found in Aratus and Menander, does not in any way undercut the unique inspiration or authority or perfection of Scripture. It is a strength, and not a weakness of Scripture.
 
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blakerussell

Puritan Board Freshman
I mean, I suppose another thing that even makes it tough is conservative guys like Bruce Waltke unashamedly say that there are certainly references to Amenemopes writing in this particular section of scripture.

I think I'll type out my thoughts on the situation tomorrow, but still want to see what others think.

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies.
 

larryjf

Puritan Board Senior
Keep in mind that it's a very small section of Proverbs that are associated with him - 22:17-24:34 (or less, depending on who you ask)

Also consider one of the "similarities"...

"Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge?" (Prov 22:20 ESV)
"Look to these thirty chapters; they inform, they educate." (Amenemope 30:539)

The "thirty" in Prov 22:20 is actually "three days ago" in the Hebrew...and when you consider that, it's not so similar.

The subject matter on some of the similarities such as stealing being wrong are found in pretty much every culture, so you would expect to see such subjects discussed in similar terms in such wisdom writings no matter which culture.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Waltke isn't conservative, which is why he got booted out from a conservative seminary a few months ago.
 

blakerussell

Puritan Board Freshman
From Allen P. Ross in the expositors commentary on proverbs


"... Proverbs has affinities with literature from other countries, and the bible itself alludes to the wisdom of egypt and mesopotamia"

"The biblical figure of personified wisdom (prov 8) corresponds to the personification of Maat in egyptian art and literature"

"Finally, many specific emphases in proverbs find parallels in the wisdom literature of the ancient near east. But even though the collections share some of the same interests, the biblical material is unique in its prerequisite of a personal faith in a personal God."

"... Any ancient wisdom used by the hebrews had to harmonize with this religious world view (the faith of our Lord), and any ancient wisdom use i tis collection took on greater significance when subordinated to the true faith."

"Whatever the Spirit of God inspired the ancient writers to include became a part of the Word of the Lord. Such inclusions then took on a new and greater meaning when they formed part of scripture; in a word, they became authoritative and binding, part of the communication of the divine will."

"Very likely the writers deliberately used well-known concepts and expressions from the pagan world to subordinate them to the true religion... By incorporating wise sayings and motifs, and investing them with the higher religious value, the hebrew sages were in a sense putting new wine into old wine skins. They could forcefully teach, then, that true wisdom was from above and not from below.

"Most scholars, including many conservatives, see some dependence of 22:17-24:34 on the instruction of amenemope. The nature of this dependence is debatable but it may be that Israel knew these sayings by the time of Solomon."

Yup... all of this really doesn't sit well with me for some reason.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Until you define the reason, though, it's quite difficult to address it. Are you concerned over the impact on the doctrine of inspiration? Do you feel it gives away too much to a sort of syncretism? Do you think it's all untrue or unnecessary or unproveable? Is it the inclusion of something said without inspiration being included as true within an inspired document?
 

Rich Koster

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Whatever of the Egyptians' wisdom sayings were worth keeping came from God in the first place, probably from their consciences. (There may have been some other exchanges too, like from Joseph's time period, I don't know. I'm not an Egyptologist. =)

Agreed. Just because the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, doesn't mean that the wisdom that they possessed was ignored by the Egyptians. It may have been plagiarized.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
"... Proverbs has affinities with literature from other countries, and the bible itself alludes to the wisdom of egypt and mesopotamia"

1Ki 4:30 so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.

Even the Egyptians would have seen Waltke as a fool. But that doesn't mean God had to plagiarise them.
 

Rich Koster

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
"... Proverbs has affinities with literature from other countries, and the bible itself alludes to the wisdom of egypt and mesopotamia"

1Ki 4:30 so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.

Even the Egyptians would have seen Waltke as a fool. But that doesn't mean God had to plagiarise them.

You caught the wrong drift.....I was saying the Egyptians lifted the God-given wisdom from the Hebrew slaves.
 

blakerussell

Puritan Board Freshman
Until you define the reason, though, it's quite difficult to address it. Are you concerned over the impact on the doctrine of inspiration? Do you feel it gives away too much to a sort of syncretism? Do you think it's all untrue or unnecessary or unproveable? Is it the inclusion of something said without inspiration being included as true within an inspired document?

I really appreciate your probing questions and your willingness to walk through this with me. Thank you.

I think it has something to do both with the inspiration of the text, and the inclusion of something said without inspiration being included as true within an inspired document.

I'm not even sure how many of these proverbial sayings actually were included in the book of proverbs, but i find myself asking Why would God include these uninspired documents from pagan lands and have them all of sudden become inspired. Does that make sense?

I'm not necessarily concerned about syncretism because most of these proverbial sayings deal with every day issues more so than salvation issues.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I think it has something to do both with the inspiration of the text, and the inclusion of something said without inspiration being included as true within an inspired document.

I'm not even sure how many of these proverbial sayings actually were included in the book of proverbs, but i find myself asking Why would God include these uninspired documents from pagan lands and have them all of sudden become inspired. Does that make sense?

I think I understand why it's troubling, but I don't think it's a problem. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but this is my idea. Inspired history is not necessarily more true than uninspired: for instance, that Elkanah married Hannah is not necessarily truer than that Henry III married Eleanor of Provence. But our assurance as to the fact is greater because it's backed with divine authority, not merely human testimony. So when God includes something written by an uninspired person, the truth value of the statement doesn't change; but our certainty about its truthfulness is rendered infallible, because there is a divine stamp of approval on it.
 

blakerussell

Puritan Board Freshman
I think it has something to do both with the inspiration of the text, and the inclusion of something said without inspiration being included as true within an inspired document.

I'm not even sure how many of these proverbial sayings actually were included in the book of proverbs, but i find myself asking Why would God include these uninspired documents from pagan lands and have them all of sudden become inspired. Does that make sense?

I think I understand why it's troubling, but I don't think it's a problem. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but this is my idea. Inspired history is not necessarily more true than uninspired: for instance, that Elkanah married Hannah is not necessarily truer than that Henry III married Eleanor of Provence. But our assurance as to the fact is greater because it's backed with divine authority, not merely human testimony. So when God includes something written by an uninspired person, the truth value of the statement doesn't change; but our certainty about its truthfulness is rendered infallible, because there is a divine stamp of approval on it.

This is a logical answer.
And I like it.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Great answers by Ruben above. A couple of things to keep in mind.

1. Check out this interview of D.A. Carson by Mike Horton from 2003 that is in the most recent issue of MR: Modern Reformation - Articles

I believe you simply have to register to read it in full but I recommend MR to everyone.

Carson points out what is pretty common in scholarship today where Exegesis is pitted against Systematic theology (here it is in part):
Do you think there has been a lot of polarization where systematicians aren't always very good exegetes and exegetes aren't very good systematicians? These groups are sort of suspicious of each other, and sometimes that filters into the ministry and the pulpit. Is the forest and the trees analogy useful here? You either sacrifice the trees to the forest in some systematic approaches, or you have painstaking detail on this tree and that tree, but no sense of a forest. Is that the balance we need to strike?

That's certainly part of it. I think also that the danger springs from a culture of specialization--more and more knowledge about less and less--so that a person who really is on top of the exegetical literature quite frankly just doesn't have time to be right on top of the systematic literature, and vice versa. I've some-times told students who say they want to do a Ph.D. in systematic theology, that one doctorate won't do--they'll need at least five: one or two in New Testament, at least one in Old Testament, a couple in church history, one in philosophy, and then they can do one in systematics. That's the problem--the nature of the discipline is integrative and synthetic. If instead people do systematics without any grasp of Scripture, they're likely to cut themselves off from what they confess to be their authority base, and so they're not really rigorous.
On the other hand, it has to be said that there are large numbers of New Testament scholars and writers who think so atomistically that they're ashamed to link two thoughts together. Everything has to be peculiarly narrow. If they can't find a whole system in a particular text, they don't dare link it to some other text where they might help to construct a system. Everything is atomistic.

So if we end up having suspicions of any kind of organization of Scripture, then we're going to have trouble with the analogy of Scripture interpreting Scripture--we're going to become masters of irony in Matthew or experts on the Johannine understanding of "X." But to see the Bible as a canonical unity is what is increasingly difficult these days and that affects systematic theology.

It not only affects systematic theology but is implicitly a denial without explicitly saying so; it is an implicit denial of God's authorship of Scripture. If there's one mind behind Scripture, then even after you've put in all of the explanations about the diversity of genre, vocabulary, idiolect, historical position and stance, and all the rest, there is still one mind behind Scripture. And unless that mind is schizophrenic or utterly confused or terribly fragmented, none of which presumably we want to postulate about God, then there is some sort of cohesion to Scripture, and thus a purely atomistic exegesis is in fact an implicit denial of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. That, in my view, is really frightening.

So in your estimation, Old and New Testament scholars ought to be at least good enough systematic theologians to see the unity of the canon.

Yes, absolutely. Not only does Scripture warrant you to construct some sort of system or cohesion, the system--whether you like it or not--is going to help you or hinder you in your interpretation of Scripture. In other words, the Christian who believes that Scripture teaches the deity of Christ does not have to prove that point every time he or she comes back to the text--that's part of the given; whereas a naturalist interpreter of Scripture denies that point and therefore will inevitably not see what other people see in Scripture. So your systematic theology needs to be good because--again, whether you like it or not--it is filtering your reading of Scripture. There is a sense in which Scripture shapes your systematic theology, and that is the direction in which things should ultimately go; nevertheless, your theology--how rigorously and carefully it is constructed, the baggage you bring--is your systematic. Whether it's a nicely thought through systematic or not, you bring baggage. And this helps you or hinders you in your interpretation of Scripture: the questions you put to a text, the kinds of answers you give, your knowledge of how the text has been interpreted in the past by other Christians and so on--all of these filter into how good an exegete you are. And I would want to argue that ideally, provided we still let Scripture speak and the ultimate authority base is in Scripture, responsible knowledge of historical theology and responsible knowledge of systematics will enrich our exegesis of Scripture rather than limit it.

You mentioned a sort of neo-fundamentalism on the right as a problem initially. Do you think when it comes to this question of systematic theology, there is a suspicion for different reasons both on the left and on the right of systematic theology--that the suspicion on the right is something close to what we generally refer to as biblicism, where certainly anybody who thought that just by finding a doctrine taught on the surface of a cluster of texts is the only way you could justify believing in a particular doctrine? You run into problems with the Trinity. You run into problems with the two natures of Christ. Here you have to engage in a synthetic operation where you're taking the fruit of exegesis and analyzing it in its logical connections. Do you think this is too little understood, that there are so many assumptions, such as belief in the Trinity, that are really the product of the church's reflection on the implications of what is taught in Scripture, rather than a lot of direct references?

Where systematic theology tries to bring together what is genuinely taught in Scripture to make sense of them, then you're talking about the implications of Scripture. So it is important to see that in any systematic system there are different levels of authority base grounded in Scripture. In other words, I think I should always be open to thinking afresh about how some bits can be put together, just as I should always be open to correction in exegesis. It is what Scripture says that has the final voice, rather than precisely how I've got the bits together.
There is a good analogy from computers. You want the direct line of flow to be from Scripture through biblical theology with input from historical theology to construct your systematic theology. But the fact of the matter is, there are also feedback loops--information loops that go back and reshape how you do any bit of it. Now, you don't want the loops to take over the final voice. But at the same time, those loops do shape you whether you like it or not, and therefore you need to use them intelligently.

In other words, don't assume that the exegetical scholar you're reading cares in the least about how his view harmonizes with the rest of Scripture.

2. That said, we don't hold to a mechanical view of inspiration. In addition to what has been said about all truth being God's truth, all men are created in the image of God and some wisdom is going to translate. A writer may have been familiar with these sayings and they may have even first been said by Egyptians but we never abandon the truth that the writer of the Proverbs was carried along by the Spirit and the words are, in that sense, God-breathed in a particular way. I deny any sense that the writer is merely aping ANE literature based on a broader understanding of inspiration but we need not completely remove the human element to guard against any sense in which the author heard something that was used as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit to record the Truths.
 

Rangerus

Puritan Board Junior
Truth is true even if nobody believes it, and falsehood is false even if everybody believes it. (from Tabletalk magazine)
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Truth is transfigured by being placed by God in the pages of Scripture.

'Mope springs eternal.

All men - including 'Mope - knew God, but suppressed that Truth, so they didn't worship Him as God (Romans 1-2). They knew Wisdom, they knew the Logos, which enlightens every man that comes into the World (John 1).
 
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