The Teaching of Amenemope (Proverbs 22)

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Illustration: Proverbs of Amenemope

Arranged into 30 chapters of varying lengths, the Teaching of Amenemope is an Egyptian text probably dating to the time of Rameses. It is preserved complete on one papyrus housed in the British Museum, as well as in several fragments appearing in other collections. In this text Amenemope instructs his young son in the proper conduct and mindset of the ideal man. He is to be generous, contented, confidential, self-controlled, conciliatory toward his superiors and honouring to his god.

Scholars have found striking parallels to the Teaching of Amenemope in the book of Proverbs, especially in Proverbs 22 and 23. Chaper 1 of Amenemope begins with an injunction similar to that in Proverbs 2:2 to give one’s ears to wisdom and one’s heart to understanding (cf. 22:17). Both works warn against illegally expanding one’s property by mon\ving boundary stones demarcating the border of a field (Amenemope, VII.11-14, Proverbs 22:28, 23:10). Both warned against robbing the poor (Amenemope, IV.4-5, Proverbs 22:22), associating with hot-tempered persons (Amenemope, XI. 12-14, Proverbs 22:24-25), being glottonous at the table of an official (Amenemope XXIIII.13-20, Proverbs 23:1-3) and eating the food of a hoarder (Amenemope, XV.9-12, Proverbs 23:6-8). Both point out the propensity of riches to sprout wings and fly away like birds (Amenemope, C.4-5, Proverbs 23:4-5) and note that a person’s reputation is more valuable than wealth (Amenemope, XVI.11-12, Proverbs 22:1), that the skilled will serve rulers (Amenemope, XXXII.15-17, Proverbs 22:29) and that generosity is the proper response toward the poor (Amenemope, XVI.5-10, Proverbs 22:9). In fact, many scholars propose that Amenemope’s divisions into 30 chapters is referred to the original Hebrew version of 22:20.

It is quite possible that the writer of these proverbs incorporated wisdom material from other sources, such as Amenemope, when compiling his work. This does not negate the inspired nature of the Biblical text, however. The compiler of Proverbs was able to make use of those elements of foreign wisdom literature that demonstrated proper morality and justice, while maintaining that true wisdom always begins with the “fear of the Lord” (1:7).


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