The Wisdom of Amenemope (Conclusion)

Travis Rogers, Jr.

The Wisdom of Amenemope (Conclusion)

5 mins
July 27, 2020

The Wisdom of Amenemope (Conclusion)

A Question of Influence

Scholars were not arguing that this correspondence between Proverbs and Amenemope demonstrated that the Hebrew text had been influenced by the Egyptian texts, instead of the other way around, since the Egyptian text of Amenemope explicitly enumerates thirty chapters, whereas the Hebrew text of Proverbs does not have such clear-cut divisions and would, therefore, be more likely to lose the original meaning during copying. Since Erman's time, there has been a near consensus among scholars that there exists a literary connection between the two works, although the direction of influence remains contentious even today. 

The Majority View

The majority has concluded that Proverbs 22:17-23:10 was dependent on Amenemope; a minority is split between viewing the Hebrew text as the original inspiration for Amenemope and viewing both works as dependent on a now lost Semitic source. That conclusion seems mistaken to me.

A major factor in determining the direction of influence is the date at which Amenemope was composed. At one time, the 500s BC was put forward as a likely date for the composition of Amenemope, which gave some support to the argument for the first-occurrence of Proverbs. However, the Czech Egyptologist Jaroslav Černý, whose authority on New Kingdom paleography was so great that his conclusions were deemed "unquestionable", dated the fragmentary Amenemope text on the Cairo 1840 ostracon to the late 21st dynasty. Since a 21st-dynasty date inevitably makes Amenemope chronologically prior to the earliest possible date for Proverbs, this would definitively establish the priority of Amenemope over Proverbs and make influence in the other direction impossible.

What this clearly shows is that, as I have written before, for the ancients, “Wisdom is Wisdom, no matter who says it.” The ancient Hebrews were not so arrogant as to believe that wisdom resided exclusively with them.

A Near Consensus 

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 the renowned scholars Charles Pfeiffer and Otto Eissfeldt, and others. The translators of the Catholic Church’s 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."  

Comparison of texts

A number of passages in the Wisdom of Amenemope have been compared with the Book of Proverbs, including:

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

(Amenemope, ch. 1): "Listen, and hear what I say, And apply your heart to apprehend; It is good for you to place them in your heart, let them rest in the casket of your belly; That they may act as a peg upon your tongue"

(Proverbs 22:22): "Do not rob the poor, for he is poor, neither oppress the lowly in the gate."

(Amenemope, ch. 2): "Beware of robbing the poor and oppressing the afflicted." 

(Proverbs 22:24-5): "Do not befriend the person of anger, Nor go with an angry person, for you will learn their ways and take a trap for your soul."

(Amenemope, ch. 10): "Do not associate with a passionate person, Nor approach them for conversation; Do not leap to cling to such an one; That terror does not carry you away." 

(Proverbs 22:29): "If you see a person quick about their work, before kings will they stand, before coawards, they will not stand."

(Amenemope, ch. 30): "A scribe who is skillful in his business is found worthy to be a courtier"

(Proverbs 23:1): "When you sit to eat with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you; And put a knife to your own throat, if you are a person given to appetite. Do not crave after his delicacies, for they are the breads of falsehood."

(Amenemope, ch. 23): "Do not eat bread in the presence of a ruler, And do not lunge forward (?) with your mouth before a governor (?). When you are replenished with that to which you have no right, it is only a delight to your saliva. Look upon the dish that is before you and let that (alone) supply your need."

(Proverbs 23:4-5): "Work not to become rich and cease from dishonest gain; For wealth makes wings for itself, like an eagle that flies heavenwards"

(Amenemope, ch. 7): "Work not to gain riches; If stolen goods are brought to you, they do not remain overnight with you. They have made themselves wings like geese. And have flown into the heavens." 

(Proverbs 14:7): "Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words"

(Amenemope, ch. 21): "Do not bare your innermost soul to everyone, nor spoil (thereby) your influence

(Proverbs 23:10): "Do not remove the widow’s landmark; And do not trespass into the field of the orphan."

(Amenemope, ch. 6): "Do not remove the landmark from the bounds of the field...and do not violate the widow’s boundary"

(Proverbs 23:12): "Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to the words of knowledge"

(Amenemope, ch. 1): "Listen, hear the words that are said, give your heart to interpret them."

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.