The Instructions of Anii (Proverbs 20)

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Illustration: The Instructions of Anii. Papyrus of Anii (from the Egyptian Book of the Dead).

A number of ancient texts are desribed as “wosdom literature” in that they give the reaeder adice on how to live a prudent life. Some have similarities to Proverbs, illustrating that the quest for virtue was a widespread phenomenon in the ancient Near East. These include the Instruction of Anii (also spelled “Any”), a writing that dates to Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. The text purports to have been written by the scribe Anii and is set in the context of the Egyptian middle class. Like the book of Proverbs, Anii:

  • exhorts the reader to avoid beer drinking and warns about the disgrace of public drunkenness (see Proverbs 20:1).
  • asserts that an individual should avoid the company of brawlers and violent men (see 20:3).
  • advises against taking vengeance, urging the reader instead to seek divine help (cf. 20:22).
  • warns the reader to stay away from the “strange women”, the prostitute or adulteress (20:23-35).

Not surprisingly, many of the other admonitions in Anii are unlike those in Proverbs. For example, Anii exhorts the readers to maintain the external, formal devotion the gods demand (making sacrofices, showing obeisance before idols etc.), but in a perfunctory manner that is totally unlike the heartfelt piety in Proverbs. Anii also has some pleasant advice on domestic life, such as a warning for husbands not to fail to show appreciation for their wives’ management of household affairs.

A curiosity of Anii is that it ends with a debate between Anii and his son Khoshotep, who complains that few people are able to maintain the virtuous life Anii prescribes. Anii counters that even a beast can be taught; Khonhotep’s excuse will not stand.


 

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