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Journal of Biblical Literature

creation and its multiple mythoi in Job is made all the clearer and more important
against the backdrop of the very different uses of creation employed by Qoheleth, for
This is really a splendid study, beautifully researched, richly nuanced, and
superbly written. I have but one practical caveat. In this world of advanced computer
technology, could a publisher not figure out a way to get the nearly seven hundred notes
on the bottom of the pages rather than collected en masse at the end? It is frustration
beyond endurance to flip back and forth ad nauseum to trace a reference. If I may paraphrase my opening quotation: the last question I want to ask when reading such a splendid book is 'Where shall the note be found?" I would hope someone more than God
would know the way to it.
John C. Holbert
Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275-0133

Early Israelite Wisdom, by Stuart Weeks. Oxford Theological Monographs. New York:
Oxford University Press; Oxford: Clarendon, 1994. Pp. xii + 212. $39.95.
The author of this significant monograph seeks to undermine what he takes to be a
consensus view of wisdom literature for the last seventy years: that professional sages
composed literary texts for use in instructing potential courtiers, and that originally secular texts were subsequently edited to comply with later theological interests. Determining consensus in intellectual enterprises is enormously difficult, if not perfidious; in this
instance, the judgment is downright wrong. Weeks allowed a few scholars, specifically
R. N. Whybray, William McKane, Gerhard von Rad, and H. J. Hermisson, to shape his
view. Had Weeks read my own extensive analyses of wisdom literature or the works of
Claus Westermann (Wurzeln der Weisheit [Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990],
and 'Weisheit im Sprichwort," in Forschung am Alten Testament: Gesammelte Studien II
[TB 55; Munich: Kaiser, 1974] 149-61) and Friedemann W. Golka ("Die israelitische
Weisheitsschule oder 'Des Kaisers neue Kleider/" VT 33 [1983] 247-70, and "Die
Knigs- und Hofsprche und der Ursprung der israelitischen Weisheit," VT 36 [1986]
13-36), he would have realized that no consensus existed. From the beginning, I have
recognized the popular origin of most proverbial collections in Israel, downplayed the
importance of the royal court, denied the appropriateness of distinguishing between secular and sacred periods in the evolution of wisdom literature, rejected the notion of a
Solomonic Aufklrung, discounted wisdom influence on the narrative about Joseph, and
urged caution in assessing evidence for the existence of schools throughout Israel.
To be sure, what Weeks calls the consensus view had dominated British and German scholarship. He examines the evidence for such a reading of the texts, finding it
insubstantial. Fundamentally, he views wisdom literature as belles lettres; such works
aimed to bring pleasure and to provide a moral prod. He argues that wisdom literature
lacks the specificity essential for elementary education, and that detectable linking
devices do not enhance memory. Accordingly, he rejects the usual description of wisdom literature as instruction manuals on coping with the demands of daily existence
although he comes close to endorsing this understanding elsewhere in the book when
describing their function in assisting students to reach greater attunement with the

Book Reviews


social and moral world. Weeks's statistical analysis of the linking devices in Proverbs
thematic, verbal, literalaccording to the principle of "nearest neighbor" strives for
objectivity, but he conjectures that chaps. 10-14 may once have consisted of entirely
antithetical sayings. This analysis yields the minimal assessment that the sayings are
broadly atomistic.
Weeks accepts Michael V. Fox's judgment that wisdom literature occupies no distinct group among scribes in Egypt, but that view does not rule out formal differences
(see Nili Shupak, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? [OBO 130; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck
& Ruprecht, 1993]). The decisive issue concerns whether or not this distinctive literatureinstructions and school textswas composed by a professional group of sages for
its own educational use. Weeks notes that no real distinction exists between sentence and
instruction, a point I have often made with respect to authority (see "Wisdom and
Authority: Sapiential Rhetoric and its Warrants," in Congress Volume: Vienna 1980 [ed. J.
A. Emerton; VTSup 32; Leiden: Brill, 198] 10-29). Formal differences certainly exist.
The evidence for a professional group of sages at the court does not hold up to
Weeks's close scrutiny, although the troubling superscription in Prov 25:1 remains. He
recognizes the difficulty but insists that at best the verb hytqw means "transcribe, copy."
Others have often noted that the mere mention of a king and the court does not necessarily imply membership in a professional class of courtiers. Conversely, allusions to
farming do not identify the speakers as actual workers of the soil. Weeks may be right
that foreign literary topoi have influenced the language about kings. Nevertheless, the
allusion to patrons of Hezekiah makes an undeniable connection between the collection
of proverbs in chaps. 25-29 and the royal court.
The strongest argument in the book appears in connection with the discussion of
secular and sacred, although Weeks does not consider adequately the evidence for wisdom and the cult that Leo G. Perdue gathered in his Ph.D. dissertation. In any event,
Weeks successfully refutes the view that single words like mzmwt indicate later editing
of earlier secular sayings or that a text such as Isaiah 5 attacks professional sages. Like
several others, he recognizes the logical leap in the claim that the wise woman of Tekoa
was a professional sage, given the clear attribution of her discourse to Joab, who
"instructed" the woman on what to say. Weeks wonders why neither Ahithophel nor
Hushai is ever identified as hkm, although he discounts the synonym ycs. The insistence
that hkm never occurs with reference to professionals, except in Daniel and Jer 50:35,
51:57 where Babylonian and Persian diviners are meant, overlooks texts like Eccl 12:11
and superscriptions in the collections of Proverbs. Even R. N. Whybray eventually conceded that Proverbs 1-9 and 22:17-24:22 were composed as textbooks for young pupils
("The Sage in the Israelite Royal Court," in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East
[ed. J. G. Gammie and Leo G. Perdue; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990] 139).
Weeks examines the titles for professional functionaries at the royal court, searching in vain for anyone representing official sages. He points out that the essential meaning of swpr related to counting, and he insists that the absence of any title for hkm
implies that no such office existed in Israel. He also denies the appropriateness of the
expression "nature wisdom" to characterize onomastica. Although this literary type certainly embraces more than phenomena of nature, such a descriptive term usefully points
to the difference between ordinary wisdom literature and these lists pertaining to
nature, among other things.


Journal of Biblical Literature

With regard to the story about Joseph, Weeks expresses astonishment that anyone
could claim that such an account serves as a paradigmatic text for aspiring sagesfor
whom it promises a stint in prison as reward for virtue. Moreover, he remarks that the
religious teaching in proverbial sayings about humans proposing and God disposing pertains to human limits rather than to the role of human deeds in the divine plan.
The section on schools in Israel offers the most thorough examination of evidence
thus far, updating my "Education in Ancient Israel" ( JBL 104 [1985] 601-15) in respect
to the inscriptional material adduced by Andr Lemaire in conjecturing a wide network
of schools (Les coles et h formation de la Bible dans Vancien Isral [OBO 39; Fribourg:
Editions Universitaires; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981]). Among other
things, he notes that only about one hundred people lived at <Izbet aitah at the time of
the inscription, and that the Israelite population did not coincide with the occupation of
nearby Aphek. The abecedaries at Deir Alia represent crude efforts to decorate a dish;
the Gezer calendar is probably a magical/votive text; the inscriptions at Arad represent
clumsy mirror writing and inventories, perhaps a lottery for priestly duties; the assured
handwriting from Qadesh Barnea cannot be that of a child learning to write; the small
room at Kuntillet cAjrud would not have been ideally situated nor sufficiently large to
serve as a classroom; and the only access to Nahal Michmash was a rope ladder. Weeks
rejects the argument for schools from consistency in spelling and orthography, remarking that very few options were open to scribes dealing with such a limited alphabet.
Weeks does not offer an alternative view to the "consensus" he hopes to demolish.
He seems content to question others' views. He does lament that "our ignorance of educational methods in Israel remains profound" (p. 156). Even his outline of the contents
of wisdom literature in Egypt and Mesopotamia does little more than lay out main
themes. Anyone who tries to arrive at a synthesis of these disparate texts realizes the difficulty of the task. Naturally, the safest procedure is to criticize those who dare to conjecture how the material came into existence and for what purpose. Moving beyond
criticism of others to a positive description of wisdom literature requires courage and
imagination. Weeks has demonstrated the former; one hopes that he will take the next
step and show that he also has a capacity for reconstruction. This book is not as innovative as it purports to be, but it certainly deserves to be read by all who want to understand ancient Israelite wisdom.
James L. Crenshaw
Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC 27708

The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, by James C. VanderKam. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Pp. xiv + 210. $12.99 (paper).
The way in which books come into being may at times seem strange, but in this
case the overwhelming interest in matters concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls dictated that
a publisher would seek out a qualified author to produce a popular discussion of the
texts and the controversies that have swirled around them since their discovery. It is fortunate that Eerdmans chose to ask VanderKam, one of the current team of text translators, to produce this volume. His writing style draws readers along without fatiguing
them with overly detailed discussions of textual minutiae. The impact that the Scrolls

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