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Altes Testament


Perdue, Leo G. [Ed.]


Scribes, Sages, and Seers. The Sage in the Eastern Mediterranean World.


Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2008. VIII, 344 S. gr.8° = Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, 219. Geb. 91,95. 978-3-525-53083-2.


John J. Collins

In 1990, Leo Perdue and the late John Gammie edited a volume of essays on »The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East« (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns). The present volume covers a smaller range of material with a new cast of contributors. Despite the reference in the subtitle to the »eastern Mediterranean«, Greece does not fall within the purview of the more recent volume; the earlier one included essays on Hellenistic and Roman, and also Iranian, material. In the current volume there are 15 essays in all. (The earlier one had 36.) After an introductory essay by the editor, contributors treat ancient Egypt ( Thomas Schneider), Ancient Mesopotamia (Bendt Alster, Victor Hurowitz), Ugarit (Ignacio Márquez Rowe), Ahikar (Ingo Kottsieper), First Temple Israel and Judah (Katharine Dell), Job (Konrad Schmid) Psalms (Manfred Oeming), Ezra (Reinhard Kratz), Ecclesiastes (Choon-Leong Seow), Ben Sira (F. V. Reiterer), Wisdom of Solomon (Michael Kolarcik), Enoch and Daniel (Andreas Bendenbender), Qumran (Armin Lange) and Rabbinic Judaism (Günter Stemberger). Whereas the contributors to the earlier volume were predominantly American, these authors are mainly drawn from Europe. Apart from the editor, only two, Seow and Kolarcik, are based in North America.
The primary concern of the volume is to identify and character­ize the people who composed wisdom literature in the ancient Near East, especially in Israel and Judah. »Seers« are presumably included because of the »mantic wisdom« of Enoch and Daniel, but they barely figure in the other essays. Neither is there much engagement with scribalism, which has been a hot topic in recent scholarship. David Carr’s study of writing in Israel and the ancient Near East (Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, New York: Oxford University Press 2005) receives a single mention in a footnote. Karel van der Toorn’s major study, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge, MA: Harvard 2007) is not noted at all. (It is possible that the book went to press before van der Toorn’s study appeared.) The main focus, then, is on sages, mainly on the social location of the authors of wisdom literature, but also to some extent on the image of the sage projected in the literature. As the editor notes in the introduction (1): »the operating assumption driving this volume is the view that the wisdom tradition cannot be understood apart from the larger social history of the cultures in which it took root and flourished.«
Nonetheless, the essays are of different kinds. Schneider’s essay is a reflection the nature of knowledge in ancient Egypt, more broadly than the »wisdom« literature. Alster shows the discussion of the scribal profession in ancient Mesopotamia. Hurowitz focuses rather on the image of the wise man. Among the essays on biblical material, Dell goes against the trend of much recent scholarship in defending the traditional view that the court of Solomon was formative for the wisdom tradition in Israel. Schmid argues that the scribal and scholarly activity reflected in Job can only have taken place in Jerusalem in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Oeming notes the presence of formal wisdom elements (aphorism, proverb etc.) in the Psalms, but hardly makes a case that these forms are dominant in the Psalter. He notes, but does not develop, the ques­tion of wisdom redaction of the Psalms. Leong Seow argues for a Persian date for Ecclesiastes, and his essay is largely concerned with the evidence for a monetary economy in this period. Kratz claims that the people responsible for the Ezra tradition were themselves members of the priestly or scribal class, who used the figure of Ezra to describe a development that they themselves were part of: the transformation from scribe to scholar of the law. He finds this de­velopment celebrated in Ben Sira. Among the essays on postbiblical Judaism, those of Reiterer and Kolarcik are concerned to locate Sirach and Wisdom in the political and cultural context of their origin. Bedenbender points out that there is no real counterpart to Babylonian mantic literature either in the Bible or in the Pseud­epigrapha. He attributes the early Enoch literature to alienated priests, but notes a rapprochement with Mosaic tradition after the Maccabean revolt. Lange attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of sages and scribes in the literature from Qumran, distinguishing between Essene and non-Essene literature. (Other schol­ars might prefer to say »non-sectarian« and »sectarian«). Except for the Enoch literature, the description of the sage as a scribe is surprisingly rare in the non-Essene literature, and the Essene texts do not refer to scribes at all, despite the undoubted presence of scribal activity at Qumran. Moreover, the sectarian texts do not reflect the prominence of mantic wisdom in the Aramaic texts from Qumran. Stemberger concludes his survey of rabbinic literature with the observation that wisdom is no longer a separate literary genre with a well defined agenda in this corpus, although many of its forms and traditions continued to be handed on.
All the contributors to this volume are distinguished scholars, and each of the essays is valuable in its own right. The significance of the collection as a whole is more difficult to assess. The editor claims that it illustrates an approach that is grounded in philo­-sophical realism, that recognizes the social embeddedness of wisdom literature, in contrast to the older idealistic approach that regarded it as timeless truth. But the historicality of wisdom literature was demonstrated 45 years ago by H. H. Schmid (Wesen und Geschichte der Weisheit, BZAW 101; Berlin: Töpelmann 1966), and is hardly in dispute. While much of this material is reasonably understood as one tradition, some of it is anomalous. Despite the common veneration of the Torah, the books of Ezra and Ben Sira have actually little in common, and the so-called mantic wisdom of Enoch and Daniel is very different from collections of proverbs and instructions. Moreover, the synthesis offered by the editor is sometimes at odds with the individual contributions. Perdue thinks that Job was most probably written by a sage in the exile, while Konrad Schmid locates it in Jerusalem in the Persian or Hellenistic periods. Perdue makes the astonishing claim that Qoheleth is »the only Jewish sage who may have been active in the period of the Helle­nistic rule of Judah« (8; Ben Sira is located, tentatively, in the syna­gogue!). Seow defends a Persian date. Of course the volume does not claim to present a unified perspective in any case, so differences of opinion are not necessarily problematic, but one might have ex­-pected them to be explicitly acknowledged.
It is also unclear how far the terms »sage« and »scribe« should be thought to overlap. They are distinguished in the Bible, and as Lange notes there is scarcely any mention of scribes in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nonetheless, the distinction is often blurred here. Perdue claims that the sages shaped and edited the literature of Israel and Judah, and this claim is not unusual. Undoubtedly this literature was shaped by scribes, but were these necessarily the same people who wrote the wisdom books? The essays in this volume contribute to our understanding of the social context of sages in ancient Judah in many ways, but many questions still remain to be clarified.