The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit

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But his use of wisdom language is free and unfettered by allegiance to any wisdom school or tradition. When Hosea uses words and themes characteristic of the wisdom tradition it is not as if he is representing some authoritative source which, as a member of a wisdom fraternity, he is obliged to reproduce unvaried and unaltered.

He is free to yoke the language of wisdom with the metaphors of prophecy, and the realities that they represent, in order to underline the urgency of his message, as is well illustrated by xiii 13, despite its difficulty. Isaiah, where it all started as regards prophecy and wisdom, looks as if it could also be where it all ends as we read Hugh Williamson's account of recent Isaiah scholarship and of the trends in wisdom studies that make it ever more difficult to speak of a discrete wisdom tradition within Israelite society.

But a redefining of the issue makes further exploration possible and worthwhile, for it is shown that both Isaiah and his audience shared a common epistemological basis in that they assumed natural standards of behaviour the recognition of which was not dependent upon any special revelation.

This was a viewpoint particularly congenial to the writers of Israel's wisdom literature. It was partly on this basis that Isaiah sought to convince the royal advisers - the 'wise men' of xxix 14 - who influenced the policy decisions of Hezekiah in his relations with the Assyrians. At the same time, the prophetic element that Isaiah introduced into his analysis of Judah's situation brought him into conflict with the royal counsellors.

For Isaiah personally there was the vision of the Lord 'high and lifted up', with its implications of God's supremacy over, and orderly superintendence of, the created order. As William McKane notes, the claim by the wise that the wellbeing of Judah depended upon their intellectual discernment and judgement was strongly opposed by the pre-exilic prophets.

At the same time, there are occasions when the statesmen speak in Jeremiah's favour, as in ch. In point of fact, an absolute distinction between 'word' and 'counsel' is not one that McKane finds helpful. The transmutation required to convey a divinely-given insight in appropriate human language, when the prophet concerned is deeply immersed in current political realities, imparts a counsel-like character to the oracular word.

There is even one occasion, recorded in ch. The prophetic word and the counsel of the wise did proceed from different sources, but, as in Williamson's discussion of Isaiah, it is noted that the acknowledgement of'international customary law', as expressing a concept of common humanity and commonly agreed standards, at least had the potential to bring prophet and wise man closer together. In asking the question, 'What is a wisdom psalm? Since liturgical texts may be said to have a didactic function, an absolute distinction between wisdom and other psalms is regarded as mistaken.

Two factors contribute to the existence in the psalter of psalms that are more in the nature of reflection than of worship and cultic observance: the development of regular private devotions inspiring the composition of new psalms, and the creation of a 'psalm-book' arranged so as to be read consecutively by private individuals. Part of the editorial work will have involved the writing of new psalms for inclusion in the new psalter, and these will have included those for instructional or devotional purposes, which are at any rate unlikely to have originated in the context of temple worship.

A few are 'wisdom psalms' in the sense that certain features in 8 John Day, Robert P. Williamson them have affinity with the wisdom writings, but the use of the term is deemed not to be helpful when it is applied to a wider range of psalms of a more broadly reflective or didactic character. When the relationship between wisdom and apocalyptic - here represented by Daniel, the primary Old Testament example - comes under scrutiny, the discussion-point for Brian Mastin is necessarily whether apocalyptic had its roots in wisdom thinking, as was first suggested by L.

Noack in and argued more recently by Gerhard von Rad. A conclusion in such broad terms is resisted, but evidence of a link between apocalyptic and mantic wisdom is visible in both the narrative and the visionary halves of the book of Daniel, whose authors shared many of the presuppositions of mantic wisdom.

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Yet the fundamental beliefs of the learned men responsible for the book of Daniel 'were not compromised by the fact that the religious synthesis which prevailed in the circles to which they belonged was more favourable to divination than either the Deuteronomists or Second Isaiah had been'. Mastin is careful to leave room for other currents of influence, including the prophetic, in the development of Israelite apocalyptic.

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This relative late-comer in the history of Jewish religious thought was heir to accumulated biblical traditions as well as to such elements of Canaanite mythology as had been domesticated in Judaism by the time the apocalyptic literature began to be written. Ben Sira, author of Ecclesiasticus, was one of the last of the traditional wisdom writers. Thanks to information provided by his grandson in the preface that he wrote for his Greek translation of his grandfather's work, the original version can be dated to the early second century BC, just before the onset of the Hellenistic reforms.

The political and social circumstances of Ben Sira's own time are therefore especially significant for the understanding of what he wrote. Surrounded by a sea of Hellenism he may have been, but John Snaith insists that Ben Sira was no reactionary against every Hellenistic innovation. He shows his awareness of Greek literature and is clearly dependent on Egyptian wisdom writings for some of his ideas and expressions, yet at the same time his basic loyalty to Judaism finds expression in his warnings against philosophical speculation, with its tendency to weaken commitment to Torah.

This loyalty is also evident in the way in which true wisdom is equated with Torah and the way of wisdom with the observance of Torah. In his 'In Praise of the Fathers' in Ecclus xliv 1-xlix 16 Ben Sira's purpose was to remind loyal Jews of their spiritual and cultural heritage and to show them how they could remain loyal to God even while integrating Greek ways with their Jewish faith. Whereas Ecclesiasticus is quite generously supplied with information relating to origin and background, the Wisdom of Solomon is not so forthcoming. Though almost certainly of Jewish origin, its earliest Introduction 9 attestations are in Christian writings.

William Horbury therefore concerns himself with the important questions of date, status, authorship and authority. The book was probably compiled in Egypt and had assumed its present Greek form by the early first century BC. As regards status and authority, some knowledge of the development of the Old Testament canon on both the Jewish and Christian sides is helpful, though accessible only after skilfully conducted passage through a number of relevant issues. It is suggested that Wisdom's place in the church - 'a leading position in the class of non-canonical but acceptable books' - may reflect its status among Jews at the end of the Second Temple period.

Wisdom makes few concessions either to Greek literary tastes or, on the question of future hope and immortality, to 'Epicurean' tendencies such as are found even in Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus. The Solomonic authorship was questioned early in both Jewish and Christian circles, but the book was valued by Jews as containing inspired prophecy and by Christians as including prophecies concerning the sufferings of Christ and as being specially suitable for study by catechumens.

The link between wisdom in its more specialist and intellectual forms and school education is easily forged, but the Old Testament evidence for the existence of schools is slight and easily summarized. Graham Davies seeks to improve the situation with two 'persuasive indirect arguments'. The first is the existence of scribal training schools in other ancient near eastern countries, with the likelihood of such in Israel in view of Israel's similar need of trained administrators, and the second builds on the possible analogy between the book of Proverbs and certain non-Israelite writings such as the Egyptian 'Instructions' which are known to have functioned as school text-books.

The paucity of epigraphic evidence for the existence of scribal schools in Israel compared with the more copious information coming out of Egypt and Mesopotamia may be owing in part to the perishable material used for writing by Palestinian scribes, while the largely accidental nature of archaeological discovery is another possible factor the more so when there are so few inscriptions of any sort emerging from Jerusalem, where scribal arts must have flourished most of all. But the epigraphic evidence is significant, and growing, and Davies draws attention particularly to some inscriptions, probably the practice exercises of trainee scribes, from a Judaean outpost at Kadesh-barnea.

If scribal skills were being sharpened and employed there, the likelihood of formal school training in the main cities and administrative centres is strong. Sitemap

Some Old Testament literary types at least look as if they should stand in a special relationship to wisdom writing. In particular, fable, parable and allegory, the subject of Kevin Cathcart's essay, have been seen as 'wisdom literary types' G. Fohrer or, in the cases of fable, and allegory, as 'forms in 10 John Day, Robert P.

Williamson which knowledge is expressed' G. As with imagery and metaphor generally, these have not received as much attention from Old Testament scholars as they deserve. Given the determinative role of religion in the formation and preservation of the traditions that make up the Old Testament, it is hardly surprising that fable especially has not been given much prominence in the Old Testament itself. It is, nevertheless, represented.

On the other hand, it may be cause for legitimate surprise that the Hebrew wisdom literature, which is to a considerable extent fathered on Solomon who 'discoursed about animals and birds, and reptiles and fish' 1 Kings v 13 [iv 33] , has no fables and few allegories. And fables, like parables in and out of the Old Testament , may in any case easily disintegrate into allegory. These and similar issues are discussed by Cathcart in his introduction to a survey of those Old Testament fables, parables and allegories in which trees, animals and birds appear in an acting capacity.

There is no personification in the Old Testament that can compare with that of wisdom, according to Roland Murphy. For though justice and peace may kiss, and alcohol may be a rowdy, 'only Wisdom is given a voice that resembles the Lord's Prov.

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Nevertheless, wisdom personified is an enigmatic figure personification, hypostasis or person? Murphy elects, therefore, to examine the significance of personified wisdom in the contexts of the books in which she features. In Proverbs she stands for the fulness of life open to those who follow in her way, and, since this is in contrast with the fate of those who go after Dame Folly, the issue becomes one of life and death and of fidelity to God or infidelity. Here wisdom 'has assumed the burden of the covenant, fidelity to the Lord, in language reflecting the old struggle so mercilessly bared in the book of Hosea and elsewhere'.

In Ecclus xxiv, on the other hand, we have a theology of presence according to which it was wisdom that came down and became concretized in Torah and not vice versa , while Wisdom vii-ix presents her as 'spirit, all-pervasive, an artisan in creation, the divine consort' and 'a divine gift who is also a saviour'. Small wonder, then, that Murphy claims that, from a 'literary-theological' standpoint, personified wisdom is unequalled in the Old Testament. Personified wisdom, moreover, helped wisdom in general to survive the 'crisis of wisdom' reflected in Job and Ecclesiastes and to live on in Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Solomon.

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Because 'Lady Wisdom' has divine attributes in several Old Testament and apocryphal texts a number of scholars have thought to detect a goddess behind thefigure,or have argued that the bestowal of divine characteristics upon wisdom is an attempt to legitimize the worship in Israel and Judah of an 'established' goddess such as Asherah. Wisdom personified is approached from another angle by Judith Hadley who argues that it functions as a Introduction 11 literary device intended to compensate for the eradication of the worship of goddesses in Israel.

This apparent apotheosis of wisdom took place as a reaction to the displacement or assimilation of the goddess figure and sought to secure a place for the feminine where it needed to be expressed in the context of the divine. Extra-biblical evidence of the association of Yahweh with goddess consorts in the pre-exilic period is found at Kuntillet 'Ajrud Asherah and Elephantine Anat.

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Parts of the most important texts are, accordingly, presented in translation, and with brief comments, by A. What emerges clearly is that the relevant texts lack unambiguous Qumranic traits or references to the Qumran community e. Van der Woude therefore concludes that the Qumran community itself did not compose wisdom literature, 'although its members certainly handed down writings of this kind and held them in esteem'.

A possible explanation suggested by van der Woude is that, in the view of the community, true wisdom came with the Teacher of Righteousness' and it was this that most interested his followers. But their respect for traditional wisdom teaching is seen in the fact that they copied the sapiential literature that was handed down to them, and that they made room for its terminology even in their non-sapiential writings. Wisdom, as Rudolf Smend observes in his overview of the subject in nineteenth-century scholarship, has been less of a preoccupation of German scholars in the present century than in the nineteenth.

Slightly more discouraging is his observation that, often unawares, the recent debate has repeated much of the ground covered a century and more ago. Smend's own efforts are trained mainly on the book of Proverbs and its treatment at the hands of its nineteenth-century interpreters.

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Thus in discussing the date of the book he can trace a trajectory of opinion from J. Eichhorn's early dating and substantial Solomonic attribution through to T. Cheyne's assertion that 'in its present form the Book of Proverbs is a source of information, not for the pre-Exilic, but for various parts of the post-Exilic period'.

The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit
The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit
The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit
The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit
The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit
The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit The Unremembered Genius of Ugarit
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