Tag Archives: writing

Biblical Wisdom and the Ancient Near Eastern Writings

Learning about Ancient Near Eastern writings

Back in Week 3, I struggled to understand and articulate what I had learned using the books of Wisdom so here is my second attempt. To have a better understanding of how to interpret the biblical writings of Wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, first we need to learn about the writings which influenced them.

Christopher Stanley reminds that people observe and predict patterns in nature so then those who are religious thinkers try and apply this to determining consequences based on human actions and choices. Today these thinkers continue to attempt to answer moral questions. He further discusses how both Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures had traditions of wisdom which the writers of the Hebrew Bible would have been impacted by. The writers of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job were very highly educated and yet they were written in ways and dealing with topics which would have resonated with people across the classes. (pg. 494-496)

Starting with Proverbs 

Barry Banstra talks about them some instructional literature from ancient Egypt called the “Maxims of Ptahhotpe” and “The Teaching for Merikare” which are written as instructions from a father to a son. Proverbs is also written to a son how to be a good public servant. Another Egyptian writing which influences Proverbs is “The Instruction of Amenemope” especially Proverbs 22:17-24:22.

As historians study Sumerian proverbs they can note the similarities to the book of Proverbs those found on the hundreds of clay tablets discovered in places like Nippur, Susa, and Ur. They can directly be paralleled to Proverbs 10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27. (Waltke)

Looking at Ecclesiastes

According to Bandstra Ecclesiastes is comparative to “The Dialogue of Pessimism” a Babylonian writing is also known as the Babylonian Ecclesiastes. He also shares the style of writing including the language, choice of words, and the themes can be compared to Greek philosophy which scholars feel means it may be one of the last books of the Hebrew Bible to have been written.

In an article by Claude Mariottini he shares how humans have questioned life through both wisdom and pessimism writings as they try to understand why do good people suffer and what is the meaning of life. Often people are confused or uncomfortable with Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible since it is one of the most pessimistic writings and misunderstood from the original context in which it was written. He lists them taken collectively out of a book by James B. Prichard “Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament”, 3rd. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)

And Job

Job is paralleled with some Mesopotamian writings “A Man and his God” the Sumerian composition informs an individual to pray to God and humbles oneself during sickness and suffering. The writing called “Ludlul Bel Nemeqi” deals with a suffering man who blames a higher power and finds deliverance. Another writing based on the story of Ahiqar is about a scribe who deals with misfortunes but at the end of the story prevails. (Bandstra)

Miriam Lichtheim has translated an ancient Egyptian writing called “The Dispute between a man and his Ba” (The Debate Between a Man and his Soul) which has qualities of lyric poetry, prose, and a symmetrically structured speech discussing a man struggling with life feeling like his soul wants to leave him. The soul speaks on the sadness of death and because it doesn’t want the man separated from humanity decides to stay with the man. (Wikipedia) When I read this description I felt it sounded very similar to parts of Job’s story. Although Job’s friends try to blame Job’s suffering on him, there is still a poetic dialog trying to understand suffering.

Scratching the Surface

As I pull this information together I am overwhelmed just in the sources supplied as class readings at how many ancient writings there are that actually can be attributed to the Hebrew Bible writings. The Bruce Waltke article shares list upon list and he is not the only scholar studying in this area. Please feel free to research even more and share your findings with the rest of us as a comment on this post. It would be exciting to see what others have discovered and learned.

The Bible Project story videos

For your learning enjoyment, I am including a series of videos from the Bible Project each which are under 10 minutes and describe the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. These three videos go together and they are designed for learners of all ages and levels of comprehension.

The Book of Proverbs-The Bible Project

The Book of Ecclesiastes-The Bible Project

The Book of Job-The Bible Project

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Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-19-ch14.html

Mariottini, Claude https://claudemariottini.com/2012/03/05/the-pessimistic-literature-of-the-ancient-near-east/

Stanley, Christopher “The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach”

Waltke, Bruce http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/20-proverbs/text/articles/waltke_proverbsane_bsac.pdf

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispute_between_a_man_and_his_Ba

Hat Lies

“I like hats.” That’s what Donald said the day before he killed Sally. Of course, he didn’t mean it. Anyone who knew him was quite aware he never wore hats. Yet something deep inside prompted him to state aloud that blatant lie. No one in the room questioned why he had said it. Actually, they barely even noticed Donald spoke any of the other times he had been with them. Maybe this was why he was confident in proclaiming such a bold faced lie because there is comfort in being surrounded by people who don’t know you and you could care less about them. Bored he looked at his phone wondering how much longer this mundane conversation would drag on. It had to end soon he was getting hungry. Chinese takeout? No, he had that for lunch on Tuesday. How about that sandwich shop two blocks up and around the corner? The food was decent, reasonably priced and he would be able to avoid anyone he didn’t want to see.

Suddenly, he felt as though someone was looking at him. Bringing up his bowed head he saw her across the room. Meeting her gaze Donald realized he had to walk over to her before she made a scene. He couldn’t believe she had found him. Or was it fate? He just happened to be going out about his busy life and their paths had intersected at this moment. Nearing her side she curtly stated, “There you go making up lies again.” That’s what they told me once a long time ago he thought. And who was she to say that to him?

It had been at least eight years since he had seen her and here she was glaring at him in a hotel board room in a state he never even wanted to visit let alone live in for the past eight years. Donald realized she was talking to him because her lips were moving, but his brain prevented him from hearing or understanding what she was saying. When he focused on her words it was apparent she was bitching about the day Lillian learned to drive. Why did that even matter after all this time? He was disappointed the day was ruined and he had lost his appetite.

Creative writing group met and we practiced writing with random sentences we unknowingly selected. In the story above, these prompts are highlighted in pink. I hope you enjoy the randomness of this story. I had tons of fun writing it. This post is in honor of Kari McKenna, Heidi (Nitka) Satori, and anyone else who attended Manitowoc Public Schools (Especially Washington Junior High, I am proud to be south-side scum) in the 1980’s when stories were started in notebooks and passed one to another between classes for the other person to continue the story you had started. Maybe we could bring this practice back? Anyone want to join me?

Two Churches and a Tavern

Two Churches and a Tavern

One church,
Unassuming,
Recognized,
Familiar from afar.

Red door,
Self-modeled,
Busy intersection,
Unknown on the inside.

Second church,
Up the road,
Adolescent,
Less than score.

Both believe,
While serving others,
Many hands make light work,
Still not done together.

Newer church,
Says of established church,
Summer outdoor services,
Yet they are no more.
Already two years gone.

Younger church,
Believes the older church,
Is the farm church,
But today’s families,
No longer till the land.

Neighbors.
Perceptions limited.
Observations obscured.
No communication.
Unintentional misrepresentation.

Reaching those in need?
The ones in their midst?
Are needs assessed?
How is help decided?
Who is it for?

At the tavern,
Loving community,
Sacramental,
For God is everywhere.
Including a tavern and two churches.

What’s that you say?

What exactly is “prophecy”?

I should have guessed at some point I would be challenged to think about why I decided to market myself as the Modern Prophet and what that means compared to Hebrew Bible prophets. So here we go! As a poet, I am a fan of Merriam-Webster as the place to find words which I believe will assist me in telling my stories. Definition two: prophet states “one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially:  an inspired poet”, a sentiment which resonated with my ministry. Today I shall explain what biblical prophecy is in regards to the following prophets: Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos because their prophecy is not the same as mine. Barry Bandstra defines prophecy as using ancient Israelite literature and culture to state what peril lies ahead for people if they don’t change their disrespectful behaviors. Meaning these men were not “future” predictors instead they were leaders called by the Universe to speak about social conditions and the politics of their day. Prophetic messages informed people how to live meeting the Universe’s demands (pg. 195).

 Who was Isaiah?

Isaiah was a prophet who lived in the eighth century BCE and is believed to have only written Chapters 1-39 in the book of Isaiah and scholars theorize that these Chapters have been supplemented by later writers. He had a wife and they had at least two sons. It is believed that he may have been a wealthy aristocrat and even a priest. His preaching took place in Judah (click here for map link) and he is set apart from the other two for his use of how the Universe/God related to the people and their actions (Stanley, pg. 433-434). Dr. Brooke Lester in the second half of his lecture points out that the prophets were able to speak out against governments and those in leadership because these prophets had their own wealth and stature which afforded them that ability. Let’s take a look at some scripture from Isaiah 1:1-31; 5:1-30; 10:1-27; 28:1-22. 

In Chapter 1:1-31 Isaiah reminds the people they are disobedient and not acting like they should. He talks about how those noncompliant individuals should “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.” As he continues on in his tirade it reinforces the consequences to come if behavior changes don’t happen. Unlike laments and apocalyptic lessons which often ended positively prophecy typically does not.

Chapter 5:1-30 includes lines about drunkenness and a part where God’s wrath destroyed evildoers so that “their corpses were like refuse in the streets.” Reading this makes me wonder about those who chose not to listen. If a preacher was sharing this message out in public today I would have nightmares and lose sleep!

Here are the opening verses of Chapter 10:1-27; “Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
    who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
    and that you may make the orphans your prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.” After reading these verses d
o you feel those sentiments are applicable today?

We find in Chapter 28:1-22 another prophecy targeted at those individuals who choose to consume copious amounts of alcohol and again the consequences the Universe will be brought upon those who do not change their actions and do what is pleasing to the Universe.

Okay, who is Hosea?

According to Christopher D. Stanley, Hosea’s ministry took place in about the same time as Isaiah but he was prophesying to the north in Israel. Hosea’s background story is very likely allegory used to symbolize the Universe’s relationship with the people of Israel. The Universe demanded he marry a woman of ill repute, an unfaithful woman, (whatever THAT means). Yet if true it may explain why Hosea chose to use marriage comparisons throughout his prophecies. Not much about him is known. He may have been a priest. His wife bore three children and only one may have been his. Hosea’s style of prophecy is to focus on personal behavior and not social ills like poverty and abuse of power by the wealthy. He preaches people must return to a covenant with the Universe to be spared. Finally, Hosea feels the reason people are so off-course is because religious institutions are not doing what they need to be. (pg. 430-432) Do you feel religious institutions are creating behavior problems that can apply to our society today?

*Head's up to any warriors reading this blog if you choose to read Hosea trigger warnings are needed because domestic violence is discussed.
And what about Amos?

And last is Amos who ironically is first. Amos is the earliest known prophet written about in the Hebrew Bible. Like Hosea, he was living in Judah but was called to preach in Israel. Amos was a foreigner and because he was claiming that the rich were going to be punished by the Universe if they didn’t change their ways and provide for the poor the authorities ordered him to stop preaching. He persisted. Unlike Hosea targeting religious institutions, Amos felt the problem was with the government and wealthy leaders. They were abusing others using their wealth and power (Stanley, pg. 429-430). You may have head Amos’s famous quote, “Let justice roll down like water”. Amos strove to bring justice and warned as the others did that the Universe would punish those who didn’t change. Amos probably took many years to write and is why when the prophecy that Israel would be overrun came true the last part was written of Judah rising again, not Israel where he had been preaching. The book closes reminding the reader that salvation comes through the Universe so that people were not left in complete despair (Bandstra, pg. 288-293). How might Amos be heard in our current political time? If Amos was preaching now do you feel the wealthy would take heed? Why or why not?

What does Dr. Brooke Lester have to say about the importance of studying the prophets for us today?

In his Prophecy lecture: Part A Dr. Lester challenges students (including those not enrolled in his class) to read the scriptures as if you are analyzing them for the first time (for some of you on my blog it may be your first time and I am proud of you!) so that you might discover new ways of thinking about them. Knowing the history behind them will help us to “hear” lessons as they are applicable to us today even if these understandings of the lessons were not possible or intended for the original audience.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/

Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-09-pt2.html

Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-14-ch10.html

http://www.bible-history.com/maps/israel_judah_kings.html

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+1%3A1-31%3B+5%3A1-30%3B+10%3A1-27%3B+28%3A1-22&version=NRSV

Stanley, Christopher D. The Hebrew Bible A Comparative Approach. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010.

Wise or Foolish?

Good advice or not?

Always work hard for it is through your good deeds and providing for yourself and your family that you will obtain the rewards God grants you. Everyone knows that working hard is a sign of doing God’s will because God helps those who help themselves. Yet, you did not create yourself. Instead, God formed you just as God made Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, Jeremiah 1:5 and as reiterated in praise by the psalmist in Psalm 139:13-14. So it is God who should get your praise because without God you would not even exist. Do not toil for the world’s wealth instead labor in love for what God has given you.

Can you spot conventional wisdom?

It is easy to see how the conventional wisdom, “God helps those who help themselves”, sounds Biblical when it is not. In his blog, Erick Sorensen believes we want this saying to be true so that we can feel we are in control of our lives. Relinquishing control to the Universe is scary. An anonymous blogger reminds her readers that Deuteronomy 8:17 states that wealth comes from God even though the world wants us to believe we can be self-reliant. Clearly, we need to remember that God expects us to do good and work hard, but that doesn’t mean to amass financial wealth.

What do the experts have to say about conventional wisdom?

In his lecture videos, Dr. G. Brook Lester explains how Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs make up the Wisdom tradition genre in the Hebrew Bible. He further explains how wisdom texts often use a binary approach in explaining lessons. Binary means comparisons are made up of two variables, like wise and foolish. It is important to note that there are two main types of wisdom in Ecclesiastes, conventional and dissenting. In my illustration, I use both. According to Barry Bandstra, at barrybandstra.com, the writer of Ecclesiastes determined that throughout our lives we humans are probably not capable of figuring out the purpose of why we exist. Instead, we should strive to enjoy God’s creation always mindful that God is in charge. God holds the key to our future so we must live according to God’s teachings for we will still be judged by God. Christopher Stanley in his book The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach discusses how the wisdom writings are skeptical and pessimistic. Yet he believes the writer of Ecclesiastes shares ways we can live in a hurtful world and still find peace. We should take the time to celebrate “the simple pleasures of life” because trying to understand life’s meaning is a waste of time. The other thing he suggests we focus on is to remember the importance of God in our lives because just as Bandstra states we are accountable to God.

Writing a Lament

Are you looking for a way to release emotions, especially grief or sadness in a way which could be shared easily with others?

If so, maybe writing a psalm of lament would work for you. The post before this one is my psalm of lament and it is a piece of writing I am excited to share because it is steeped in my personal experience. It was a new, exciting way to share emotions poetically with those of you reading it. Two of my classes this week discussed the importance of why we should use lament. It helps each person let go and express grief and suffering as part of coping and healing from great sadness.

There are typically five components of a psalm of lament: address God with an introductory cry, share your complaint or lament, confess you trust God, pray for deliverance, and finally praise God. I used each of the five components in my own writing but if you choose to read the Biblical psalms you may find that not all were written using every component. Another challenge is to share your experience in a way that is about your feelings, but that is broad enough it will resonate with the readers.

It was my intent to create a psalm that I felt was timeless and that even the ancient psalmists would have recognized the pain of being hurt by another person.