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Proverbs 22b-23a – The Instruction of Amenemope

Proverbs 22:17a says, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise” (ESV).  “Wise” here is plural – the wise ones.  This section of Proverbs focuses on a number of wise sayings that apparently were drawn from more than just Solomon – they were taken from “the wise ones.”

                  One of those wise ones might’ve been a guy named Amenemope, an ancient Egyptian scribe that lived at least 100 years before Solomon.  Amenemope had collected 30 chapters of sayings for his son.  Since the early 1900s when the text was published, scholars have noted a connected between Amenemope’s sayings and the proverbs in Proverbs 22:17 – 23:11 (there are a few parallels after 23:11, but most of the more closely-worded sayings stop there).

                  Though scholars are divided about how much influence Amenemope had on the biblical text, most agree that there is some evidence of a relationship there.  Even the translation of Scripture has been influenced by this extra-biblical text, for in 22:20 the text reads, “Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge?”  That’s the ESV translation.  Many others also translate the Hebrew word here as “thirty sayings.”  This provides an interesting link with the “30 chapters” of Amenemope’s sayings.  There are some textual difficulties at this point in the verse, so whether it should read “30 sayings” or something different (e.g., “excellent things” – KJV) remains a question.  But the majority of translations today seem to lean towards the “30 sayings,” likely due in part to the influence of Amenemope.

                  Either way, the links are plentiful and intriguing.  Below is a chart comparing the two texts.  All Scripture is from the ESV, and the translation of Amenemope is from James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 421-24.

22:17 Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, 18 for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. 3:9-11 Give thy ears, hear what is said, Give thy heart to understand them. To put them in thy heart is worth while, 3:16 They shall be a mooring-stake for thy tongue. (Ch 1)
22:19 That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you. 1:7 in order to direct him to the ways of life (Intro)
22:20 Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge, 27:7-8 See thou these thirty chapters: They entertain; they instruct; (Ch 30)
22:21 to make you know what is right and true, that you may give a true answer to those who sent you? 1:5-6 To know how to return an answer to him who said it, and to direct a report to one who has sent him, (Intro)
22:22 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, 4:4-5 Guard thyself against robbing the oppressed And against overbearing the disabled. (Ch 2)
22:23 for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them. No parallel
22:24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, 11:13-14 Do not associate to thyself the heated man, Nor visit him for conversation. Preserve thy tongue from answering thy superior, And guard thyself against reviling him. (Ch 9)
22:25 lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. 13:8-9 (Ch 9) – No translation in ANET.
22:26 Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. 27 If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you? No parallel
22:28 Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set. 7:12-15 Do not carry off the landmark at the boundaries of the arable land, Nor disturb the position of the measuring-cord; Be not greedy after a cubit of land, Nor encroach upon the boundaries of a widow. (Ch 6)
22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. 27:16-17 As for the scribe who is experienced in his office, He will find himself worthy (to be) a courtier. (Ch 30)
23:1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, 2 and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. 3 Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. 23:13-18 Do not eat bread before a noble, Nor lay on thy mouth at first. If thou art satisfied with false chewings, They are a pastime for thy spittle. Look at the cup which is before thee, And let it serve thy needs. (Ch 23)
23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. 5 When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. 9:14 – 10:5 Do not strain to seek an excess, When thy needs are safe for thee. If riches are brought to thee by robbery, They will not spend the night with thee; At daybreak they are not in thy house: Their places may be seen, but they are not. The ground has opened its mouth… that it might swallow them up, And might sink them into the underworld. (Or) they have made themselves a great breach of their (own) size And are sunken down into the underworld. (Or) they have made themselves wings like geese And are flown away to the heavens. (Ch 7)
23:6 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, 7 for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. 14:5-10 Be not greedy for the property of a poor man, Nor hunger for his bread. As for the property of a poor man, it (is) a blocking to the throat, It makes a vomiting to the gullet. If he has obtained it by false oaths, His heart is perverted by his belly. (Ch 11)
23:8 You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words. 14:17-18 The mouthful of bread (too) great thou swallowest and vomitest up, And art emptied of thy good. (Ch 11)
23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. 22:11-12 Spread not thy words to the common people, Nor associate to thyself one (too) outgoing of heart. (Ch 21)
23:10 Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, 11 for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you. 7:12-15 Do not carry off the landmark at the boundaries of the arable land, Nor disturb the position of the measuring-cord; Be not greedy after a cubit of land, Nor encroach upon the boundaries of a widow. (Ch 6) 8:9-10 Guard against encroaching upon the boundaries of the fields, Lest a terror carry thee off. (Ch 6)
24:11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. 11:6-7 Not represented in ANET.

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