left biblioblography: The Plagiarism Of The Diaspora – The Purloined Chapters Of Proverbs

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Plagiarism Of The Diaspora – The Purloined Chapters Of Proverbs


Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

Make holiday, don't weary of it ! Look there is no one allowed to take their things with them, and there is no one who goes away comes back again. – Lyric from the tomb of King Intef VI

It is no surprise to those of us who have studied religious history with an über-critical eye – the Semitic tribe of Israelites borrowed heavily from their neighbors or whichever society they happened to be living in the middle of. Obvious Genesis was a generalized copy of Sumerian/Babylonian mythology, the flood was lifted almost in toto from Gilgamesh, and I’m sure some of our gentle readers can likely extrapolate other various cases of direct (or indirect) ‘borrowing’ of or from mythologies in the Middle East.

The example today is about the Instruction of Amenemope:

Instruction of Amenemope (also called Instructions of Amenemopet, Wisdom of Amenemopet) is a literary work composed in Ancient Egypt, most likely during the Ramesside Period; it contains thirty chapters of advice for successful living, ostensibly written by the scribe Amenemope son of Kanakht as a legacy for his son. A characteristic product of the New Kingdom “Age of Personal Piety”, the work reflects on the inner qualities, attitudes, and behaviors required for a happy life in the face of increasingly difficult social and economic circumstances. It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of ancient near-eastern wisdom literature and has been of particular interest to modern scholars because of its relationship to the biblical Book of Proverbs.

Proverbs, in fact, is probably the least insane of the books of the Bible.

Amenemope belongs to the literary genre of "instruction" (Egyptian sebayt). It is the culmination of centuries of development going back to the Instruction of Ptahhotep in the Old Kingdom[. but reflects a shift in values characteristic of the New Kingdom's "Age of Personal Piety": away from material success attained through practical action, and towards inner peace achieved through patient endurance and passive acceptance of an inscrutable divine will.The author draws an emphatic contrast between two types of men: the "silent man", who goes about his business without drawing attention to himself or demanding his rights, and the "heated man", who makes a nuisance of himself to everyone and is constantly picking fights with others over matters of no real importance. Contrary to worldly expectation, the author assures his reader that the former will ultimately receive the divine blessing, while the latter will inevitably go to destruction. Amenemope counsels modesty, self-control, generosity, and scrupulous honesty, while discouraging pride, impetuosity, self-advancement, fraud, and perjury—not only out of respect for Maat, the cosmic principle of right order, but also because "attempts to gain advantage to the detriment of others incur condemnation, confuse the plans of god, and lead inexorably to disgrace and punishment."

One can very easily subtract all the supernatural ingredients, and still take most of the advice in that last sentence.

Though all extant copies of Amenemope are of a later date, the work is thought to have been composed in the Ramesside Period, during which the tribes of Israel first became a unified nation.Egyptian influence on Israel and Judah was particularly strong in the reigns of Solomon and Hezekiah during Egypt's Third Intermediate Period; as a result, "Hebrew literature is permeated with concepts and figures derived from the didactic treatises of Egypt", with Amenemope often cited as the foremost example. Even in his first brief publication of excerpts from Amenemope in 1922, Budge noted its obvious resemblance to the biblical wisdom books. He amplified these comments in his 1923 and 1924 publications, observing that the religiously based morality of Amenemope "closely resembles" the precepts of the Hebrew Bible, and adducing specific parallels between Amenemope and texts in Proverbs, Psalms, and Deuteronomy.  Others soon followed his lead.

There are (as there always is in the realm of Egyptology) disputes as to which came first, but the majority of scholars have ruled otherwise:

By the 1960s there was a virtual consensus among scholars in support of the priority of Amenemope and its influence on Proverbs. For example, John A. Wilson declared in the mid-twentieth century: "[W]e believe that there is a direct connection between these two pieces of wisdom literature, and that Amen-em-Opet was the ancestor text. The secondary nature of the Hebrew seems established." Many study Bibles and commentaries followed suit, including the Jerusalem Bible, introductions to the Old Testament by Pfeiffer and Eissfeldt, and others. The translators of the Catholic New American Bible, reflecting and extending this agreement, even went so far as to emend the obscure Hebrew text of Proverbs 22:19 (traditionally translated as "I have made known to you this day, even to you") to read "I make known to you the words of Amen-em-Ope."

There are of course text comparisons, and they tend to be startling. In the interest of brevity, I’ll only quote three:

(Proverbs 22:17-18):"Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, And apply thine heart to my doctrine; For it is pleasant if thou keep them in thy belly, that they may be established together upon thy lips"

(Amenemope, ch1):"Give thine ear, and hear what I say, And apply thine heart to apprehend; It is good for thee to place them in thine heart, let them rest in the casket of thy belly; That they may act as a peg upon thy tongue"

(Proverbs 22:22):"Rob not the poor, for he is poor, neither oppress (or crush) the lowly in the gate."

(Amenemope, ch2):"Beware of robbing the poor, and oppressing the afflicted."

(Proverbs 22:24-5): "Do not befriend the man of anger, Nor go with a wrathful man, Lest thou learn his ways and take a snare for thy soul."

(Amenemope, ch10): "Associate not with a passionate man, Nor approach him for conversation; Leap not to cleave to such an one; That terror carry thee not away."

While some may say that plagiarism is too strong a word to use (ancient peoples did borrow from one another copiously, and without attribution was likely a foreign concept back in the day), the vast majority of the content can be directly or indirectly attributed to older cultures and mythologies.

Go figure.

Till the next post, then.

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