Proverbs and Amenemope

A claim that is made is that a portion of the Biblical book of Proverbs is actually copied from an Egyptian source, Amenemope. According to Introduction to the Old Testament by Georg Fohrer, Abingdon Press, 1968, p. 321:

As has long been recognized, the first subsidiary collection (22:17-23:11) is closely related to the Egyptian Instruction of Amen-em-opet, which probably dates between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The introductory poem (22:17-21) and the ten themes discussed (22:22-23:11) follow--often word for word--their Egyptian source. Even the division of this source into thirty chapters ("houses") seems to have been borrowed by the Israelite redactor for the entire collection 22:17-24:22 (cf. 22:20, where the RSV correctly reads "thirty sayings" for the Hebrew "day before yesterday" or "adjutants").

Now, Benjamin Shaw, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has written a series of short blogs answering this accusation on his personal journal, gptsrabbi. His analysis can be found in the following places:

Teaching of Amenemope -- A brief introduction to the problem.

Amenemope, Part 2 -- Prof. Shaw sets forth a complete list of the various verses which are alleged to have been from Amenemope to Proverbs.

Amenemope 3 -- Prof. Shaw sets forth some brief arguments that challenge the notion that Proverbs was copied from Amenemope.

Amenemope 4: "Excellent Things" or "Thirty?" -- Prof. Shaw compares two alternative translations of Proverbs 22:20 and determines whether the reading that the writer had passed along "thirty sayings" rather than "excellent things" is driven by the paradigm that Proverbs was copied from Amenemope.

Amenemope 5: Thirty Chapters -- Prof. Shaw takes a brief look at the question of whether Proverbs, following Amenemope, is actually divided into thirty sections as the paradigm suggests.

Amenemope 6 "Literary Dependence" -- Prof. Shaw looks at the question, "what constitutes literary dependence of one work upon another," in light of the question of the similarities between Amenemope and Proverbs.

I don't know if the series is complete, but the ending paragraph of part 5 actually sums things up rather nicely:

In short, a comparison of various translations that uses "thirty" in 22:20 shows that there is no consensus in how the text should be subdivided, and most do not even achieve thirty sections. But clearly the attempt to find thirty (or almost thirty) sections in this material is driven by the assumption that Proverbs is dependent on Amenemope. Once again, the question, based on the evidence, becomes, "Is such.a dependence really likely?"

The point that Prof. Shaw is raising is that while some similarities arise between Amenemope and Proverbs, the idea that the latter was copied from the former is not necessarily borne out because the discrepencies between the two are quite numerous. In fact, it appears that some of the supposed parallels are quite forced and may constitute efforts to shoehorn the facts into the theory.

One commenter to Prof. Shaw's fifth post raises an interesting question in my mind: Assuming for the sake of argument that the earlier books of the Bible (Genesis through Deutoronomy) are historical in nature (meaning that they are based on historical fact even if legends and myths have crept in over time), then the Israelites were in Egypt and the Exodus occured prior to the writing of Amenemope. Isn't it possible that the Proverbs (which may be wisdom handed down and collected by Solomon) that are similar to those found in Amenemope were originally devised by the Israelites while dwelling in Egypt with both the Proverbs and Amenemope simply representing different recollections of the original Hebrew proverbs?


Peter said…
Usually the Instructions of Amenemope are dated before 1200 BCE. British Museum Papyrus 10474 containing Instructions of Amenemope dates circa 1100 BCE. I wonder why Shaw dates those "between the tenth and sixth centuries BC".

BK wrote:
Isn't it possible that the Proverbs ... were originally devised by the Israelites while dwelling in Egypt with both the Proverbs and Amenemope simply representing different recollections of the original Hebrew proverbs?

I think here we have to take the word of the authors. Proverbs are the "word of the wise" (Proverbs 22:17) where Instructions of Amenemope tells us that the author was Amenemope. There are also many other reason to show Amenemope being written first.
Jason Pratt said…
Incidentally, I think you meant "Proverbs" not "Psalms" up in your description to the third link, Bill.

I'm not entirely sure why I would be bothered if someone picked up pieces of instruction from Amenemopet and used them in the Proverbs, whether directly at the time of authorship or handed down from a common source in Hebrew oral tradition. (This is aside from the question of whether Fohrer is overreaching in trying to argue for literary connections.)

BK said…
Thanks for noting the needed correction, Jason.

Peter, I cannot say specifically who Proverbs is referencing when it refers to the "word of the wise", but neither do I see any reason to believe that the "wise" is Amenemope. Again, it could be that Amenemope merely adopted and modified the earlier wisdom literature that existed at the time of his writing, thus claiming it as his own.

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