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Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces

Some Preliminary Thoughts from Proverbs*

By Richard W. Medina
(Pontifical Biblical Institute, Italy)

1. Introduction
The book of Proverbs has been neglected as an important source to
inform our understanding of life and death in the Hebrew Bible. They
have been described as motifs merely occurring in several pithy maxims
about the present life and the underworld, lacking sound reflections on
what they might represent.** My thesis is that life and death1 are under-
stood both as physical spaces (the land and the underworld) and as lived
spaces (of blessedness and wickedness). After an introduction about the
Hebrew conception of the cosmos, I attempt to describe these physical
and lived realities; I then round off the study with a summary and some
This study has nothing to do with the search for the original context
and supposed historical background of the book of Proverbs. It aims
instead to translate the ancient understanding of life and death into the
language (both semantically and conceptually) of modern mind. It is im-
portant to consider that we are dealing with an ancient (not contempor-
ary) text which reflects its own world of ideas far different from our own.
Our Western conception of the world is mechanic, closed and naturalistic
so different from the ancient Near East (ANE). Accordingly, one should
take into account the Hebrew Bible cosmology (what the world con-

* I wish to thank my wife Rubia B. Medina for being my conversational partner to articu-
late my ideas while I was writing this essay. I am also grateful to Christine R. Yoder for
her beneficial remarks.
** Cf. K. H. Richards, Death, AncB Dictionary 2, 109; L. R. Bailey, Biblical Perspectives on
Death, Overtures to Biblical Theology, 1979, 39; P. S. Johnston, Afterlife, Dictionary of
the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, 2008, 57. For a recent study on
death in Ancient Israel, see A. Berlejung and B. Janowski, eds., Tod und Jenseits im alten
Israel und in seiner Umwelt, FAT 64, 2009.
1 An innovative contribution on how Job reacts to his childrens death is found in

R. W. Medina, Jobs Entre into a Ritual of Mourning as Seen in the Opening Prose of
the Book of Job, WO 38 (2008), 194210.
2 All translations from Hebrew, unless otherwise noted, are my own.

ZAW 122. Bd., S. 199211 DOI 10.1515/ZAW.2010.015

Walter de Gruyter 2010
200 Richard W. Medina

sists of) against the backdrop of the ANE in order to understand any
notion of life and death in the book of Proverbs. Although one has to
admit that there is no single systematized uniform view of the world
in the ANE,3 it seems that the idea of a tripartite or three-leveled world
(heaven, earth, underworld or subterrestrial ocean) is common.4 The
ancient Israelites share the tripartite cosmology of heaven (,ym> ), earth
(/rX or lbt ) and underworld (lvX> or ,vht ) with their neighbors.5 lvX>
does not possess the independence characteristic of the heavens or the
earth.6 Because the dead are buried in the earth, lvX> is beneath the
earths surface; because water is found under the earth, there too is ,vht
(primeval waters, chaos waters, abyss, deep).7 The underworld is also
the place where the pillars of the earth rest on the subterrestrial ocean
(I Sam 2,8b).8 For a depiction of the biblical world see figure 1 below.

2. Life and Death as Physical Spaces in Proverbs

In this section I endeavor to present a snapshot of life and death as physi-
cal realities with specific functions. The land motif stands in striking
contrast to the underworld (2,18 f.) and thus occurs as a metonym for
life.9 Firstly, /rX , land, designates the earth in a cosmological sense.
The land as well as its deepest foundations and extremities appear as es-
tablished by YHWH with wisdom in a distant past (3,19; 8,23.29; 30,4).
Further it refers to the fields, the fauna (30,2431), and the human race
(8,26.31). As such, the land belongs to God and is only given/promised
to the upright or righteous. The second connotation of /rX here desig-
nates a particular territory, presumably one governed by kings.10 Within
this frame, the land represents an exclusive habitation for the upright
or blameless with no room ever for the wicked or faithless (2,21 f.;
10,2931); it is sustained by the king with justice (29,4), and constitutes

3 H. A. Frankfort et al., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Specu-

lative Thought in the Ancient Near East, 1946, 316.
4 L. I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World: A Philological and Literary
Study, AnBib 39, 1970, 9 f.
5 Ps 104,26; 135,6; 148,17; 133,68; 115,16 f.; Prov 3,19 f.; 8,2631; I Sam 2,610;
Hi 26,613. See I. Cornelius, Visual Representation of the World in the Ancient Near
East and the Hebrew Bible, JNSL 20 (1994), 200.
6 O. Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and
the Book of Psalms, trans. T. J. Hallett, 1997, 35.
7 Keel, Symbolism, 39.
8 T. Podella, Grundzge alttestamentlicher Jenseitsvorstellungen lvX> , BN 43 (1988),
80 f.
9 B. K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 115, NICOT, 2004, 204.
10 The language of kingship or rulership is pervasive in Proverbs; for instance, the noun
lm , king, ruler, appears 34x, and the verb l>m , to rule, govern,11x.
Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces 201

a religious, civil, and judicial territory (31,23).11 Secondly, lvX> , the

underworld, is a peculiar word for the kingdom of the dead, the most
common name for the beyond.12 In Proverbs lvX> is an insatiable place
beneath (27,20; 30,16; 15,24) that swallows people alive and whole
(1,12). It is located somewhere in the earth (see figure 1) and, by meto-
nym, equated to (the chambers of) tvm , death, (5,5; 7,27; cf. 9,18;
23,14), rvb , pit, (1,12; 28,17), ,yXpr, the dead/death (2,18; 9,18;
21,16), and >x , darkness (2,13). In sum, for the upright to dwell in
the /rX is to possess ,yyx , life; by contrast, for the wicked to be de-
prived of the /rX is to embrace tvm ; their inevitable fate is to lie in lvX> .
It is interesting to note here that the land envisioned as a particular
territory in Proverbs is probably perceived as the center of the universe.
When the world representations of Mesopotamia and Egypt are com-
pared with the Hebrew Bible, a major feature and analogy protrudes: The
idea of the center of the universe. This is found on the MMA sarcophagus
and the Babylonian world map. To regard certain cities as the center of
the universe was common amongst many ancient peoples; this is the idea
of the navel of the earth,13 the omphalos, which may not be foreign to
the Hebrew Bible. Shechem was located at /rXh rvbu , the navel of the
earth (Jdc 9,37);14 also said of Jerusalem (Ez 38,12). In Ezekiel 5,5 it
is said of Jerusalem tvjrX hytvbybcv hytm> ,yvgh vtb , I have set her in
the center of the nations, and countries around her. This is also reflected
in the book of Jubilees (8,19) and Enoch (26,1). Jerusalem also occurs as
the center on the famous Madaba mosaic (600 CE) and on a 13th-century
CE map of the world.15 In view of that, the unidentified land in Proverbs
may represent the axis mundi of the universe connecting heaven and
So what does it mean to promise the land or life to those who are
upright and the underworld or death to those who are wicked when
everyone knows that all die (cf. 2,1622)? I will attempt to provide an ex-

11 The word ]qz , elder, in plural and in genitival relationship with a place is mostly a
designation to a governing body along the history of Israel. The Elders shared the weight
of administration (Dtn 1,15). Sitting at the gate of the city (Dtn 21,19; 22,15; Thr 5,14;
Prov 31,23), among other things they settled many questions such as disputed virginity
(Dtn 22,15), ratification of property settlements (Ruth 4,9.11), and murder cases
(Dtn 19,12; 21,1f; Jos 20,4).
12 N. J. Tromp, Primitive Conceptions of Death and the Nether World in the Old Testa-
ment, BibOr 21, 1969, 21.
13 See E. A. S. Butterworth, The Tree at the Navel of the Earth, 1970; M. Eliade, Patterns in
Comparative Religion, trans. R. Sheed, 1958, 231235.
14 G. R. H. Wright, The Mythology of the Pre-Israelite Shechem, VT 20 (1970), 7582,
15 J. Rogerson, Atlas of the Bible, 1986, 64 f.; Cornelius, The Visual Representation of the
World, 200 f.
202 Richard W. Medina

planation based upon the passage of Proverbs 2,21 f. and its broader con-
text.16 The ,yr>y, upright,17 and the ,ymymt , men of integrity,18 are
synonymous titles to designate a discernible and God-fearing group of
people who adheres to the ethos and social values of the land. They dwell
in YHWHs intimacy and favor (3,32; 11,20; 14,9); their paths are
straight, paved and safe because of their integrity and righteousness
(11,3.5 f.; 12,6; 15,19; 16,17; 28,10.18); when they bless prosperity and
joy come true (11,11). Due to their character, the upright or the men of
integrity inherit goodness (28,10), settle permanently in the land (2,21)
and grow in number and influence (14,11; Jes 27,6).19
On the other hand, the ,yi>r, wicked,20 and the ,ydgvb , treach-
erous,21 are disloyal people to YHWH. Among them are the estranged/
folly/adulterous woman, those who refuse discipline, the bloodguilt, or
the ones who stray from the path of wisdom and straightness. They live
in the shadows of the underworld, lacking vision of what life is (4,19).
They are guilty of violation of the social rights of others, for they are
violent, oppressive, greedy, engaged in plotting against and trapping poor
people, and quite willing to murder to gain their ends22 (cf. 10,6.11.32;
11,11; 12,5.10.21; 28,12.15.28; 29,2). In a word, they threaten the com-
munity. Proverbs provides several insights into the fate23 of the wicked.
Their reputation will be like rotten wood (10,7). God will reject all their

16 Seeing through eschatological lens, Van Leeuwen hold that Proverbs 2,2022 move
toward considering the final justice of God over the entire earth. It is linked by the con-
viction that evil will be cut off from Gods land/earth and that only good will remain.
R. C. Van Leeuwen, The Book of Proverbs, in: The New Interpreters Bible 5, 1997, 45.
On the other hand, McKane says that the contents of these verses are related to Deute-
ronomy in an important respect in the emphasis which is laid on possession of the land
(of Canaan) and the conditional character of this possession. W. McKane, Proverbs:
A New Approach, OTL, 1970, 288; cf. T. Longman III, Proverbs, BCOTWS, 2006, 125.
17 It is an adjective masc. pl. abs. substantivized from r>y, straight, right.
18 It is an adjective masc. pl. abs. substantivized from ,ymt , complete, sound.
19 It is interesting to note that the semantic load of >r> , root, in uvmy lb ,yqydj >r>v,
the root of the righteous will never be moved (12,3), seems to suggest that neither the
righteous nor their lineage will never be uprooted from the land; dmiy ,yqydj tybv, and
the household of the righteous will endure (12,7; cf. Jes 27,6).
20 It is an adjective masc. pl. abs. substantivized from i>r, wicked, criminal.
21 It is a verb Qal ptcpl. masc. pl. abs. substantivized from dgb , act or deal treacherously.
22 G. H. Livingston, i>r, TWOT 2, 863.
23 Viewed purely in economic terms, Perdue interprets the fate of the wicked as being
removed from the household land. He observes that a households land provided the
basis for survival. Removal from it would result in the dispersion of the family. If no
related family could absorb the dispersed members, slavery, day labor, concubinage,
prostitution, and even starvation and death awaited. L. G. Perdue, Proverbs, IBC, 2000,
93 f.
Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces 203

desires (10,3), and all their hopes will come to nothing (10,28; 11,8.10).
Their worst fears will be realized (10,24). The wicked will know nothing
but calamity (12,21, depicted as a relentless hunter in 11,19), as well as
contempt and reproach (18,3). They will flee even when there are no pur-
suers (28,1) and eventually will be driven off to death (14,32; cf. 10,27).
Without a future habitation awaiting them in the land (10,30), they are
overthrown by God (21,12; 2,22; 10,31; 15,25) and are swept away like
chaff (10,25).24
It is here evident that for the upright to dwell in the land25 is a prom-
ise that they and their descendants will remain in it and enjoy life; their
name or reputation will endure; for the treacherous to be cut off from the
land denotes that they and their household will be literally exterminated,
put to death;26 no memory of them will be left in the minds of later gen-
erations.27 The upright will live (long), the wicked will die (prematurely).
The theme recurrent in Proverbs is (long) life for the upright, (early)
death for the wicked.28
The fact that the wicked along with their families are completely
annihilated,29 only because of their moral character, presents an ethical
dilemma. Such an execution appears to be unacceptable in light of our
current Western worldview and requires some explanation. It is my con-
tention that the ,rx , that is to say the utter destruction of a place or
people by divine order,30 especially its language from the Pentateuch is, to

24 E. Carpenter and M. A. Grisanti, i>r, NIDOTTE 3, 1203.

25 Murphy brandishes the idea that the land is a metaphor to express the security of the
wise, but it picks up a theme strongly entrenched in biblical tradition (e.g. Dtn 28,114;
Ps 37). R. E. Murphy, Proverbs, WBC 22, 1998, 17.
26 Interestingly, Milgrom notes that one of the possible meanings of trk , to cut off, in
Leviticus is the extirpation of ones lineage (J. Milgrom, Leviticus 116, AncB, 1991,
27 Horne observes that the imagery of the land ownership is familiar from Psalm
(37,, which pictures land ownership as signs of Gods pleasure and bestowal
of blessing. Loss of the land, however, results from Gods displeasure and punishment.
Gaining wisdom becomes a way to possess the land. M. P. Horne, Proverbs-Ecclesiastes,
SHBC, 2003, 47.
28 M. V. Fox, Proverbs 19, AncB, 2000, 123.
29 The destruction of the wicked along with their families must be understood within the
frame of the principle personal decision and corporate responsibility, so common in the
Hebrew Bible as well as in the ancient Near East. See G. A. Klingbeil, Entre individua-
lismo y colectivismo: hacia una perspectiva bblica de la naturaleza de la iglesia, in:
Pensar la iglesia hoy: hacia una eclesiologa adventista. Estudios teolgicos presentados
durante el IV Simposio Bblico-Teolgico Sudamericano en honor a Raoul Dederen, ed.
G. A. Klingbeil, M. G. Klingbeil and M. . Nez, 2002, 323.
30 Cf. Ex 23,24; 34,13; Lev 26,30; Num 33,52; Dtn 7,5.25; 12,2 f.; II Reg 19,11;
II Chr 20,23; Jes 11,15; Jer 50,21.26; 51,3; and Dan 11,44.
204 Richard W. Medina

some extent, echoed and recast in Proverbs. The verb trk , cut off, cut
down, specifying the removal of the wicked from the land (Prov 2,22) is
used in Exodus 31,14 to remove, to sentence to death, the violators of the
Sabbath. It is also employed in Deuteronomy (12,29; 19,1) to denote the
destruction of the peoples of Canaan.31 Similarly, the verbal root dm> ,
to be exterminated, pointing to the devastation of the wickeds house
(Prov 14,11) occurs in Deuteronomy (4,25 f.; 6,15; 9,3.14; 31,3) to
strongly refer to the destruction of the idolaters and the Canaanites.
Moreover, the word hbivt , abomination, resounds in Proverbs. It
denotes the persons, things, or practices that offend ones ritual or
moral order.32 In the Pentateuch, with respect to YHWH there are
some abominable practices that deserve the death penalty, mainly homo-
sexuality (Lev 18,22; 20,13) and idolatry (Dtn 7,25 f.; 13,1315; 17,4 f.;
27,15); other activities bring defilement to the land such as remarriage
and the ingest of unclean animals (Dtn 24,4; 14,3 f.). The reason to
exterminate the practitioners of these abominations is also given in
Deuteronomy 20,18: So that they may not teach you to do according
to all their abominations that they have done for their gods, and so you
sin against YHWH your God. As to Proverbs, a series of abominations,
distinguishing the wicked from the upright, presumably defile the land
and sentence the wicked to death. Among these are misrepresentations
(as of false weights and measures: 11,1; 20,10.23; cf. Dtn 25,1316),
the evil and haughty thoughts (15,26; 16,5; 11,20), the lying lips (esp.
as covenantal breakers and false witnesses: 12,22; cf. 17,15; Ps 44,18;
Gen 21,23; Jes 63,8; Ex 20,16; Dtn 19,18), the evil-intent sacrifice
(15,8 f.; 21,27), and the hands that shed innocent blood (6,16). In short,
due to their crookedness the wicked become an abomination to YHWH
The destruction of the wicked must be understood within the frame-
work of the worldview in the Hebrew Bible, where YHWH himself con-
stitutes the ethical foundation, expressed in his instructions, and where
religion, ritual and ethics are embedded realities comprising the under-
lying ontological structure,33 as opposed to our modern Western con-
straints of political correctness.34 Likewise, the sacred space in the

31 Mays suggests that the verb trk is colored by the purifying laws of excommunication in
Israel (e.g. Lev 17,10; 19,19; 20,3.5 f.18), a sacred measure designed not only as a judg-
ment on a person but to preserve the corporate people in the face of the YHWHs wrath
against the unholy. The verb designates excommunication by extermination. J. L. Mays,
Micah, OTL, 1976, 125 f.
32 M. A. Grisanti, hbivt , NIDOTTE 4, 314318.
33 A. Bornap, El problema del ,rx en el Pentateuco y su dimensin ritual, DavarLogos 4
(2005), 116, 5.11.15 f.
34 R. Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, The NIV Application Commentary, 2004, 321.
Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces 205

religion of Israel is essential.35 If the space inhabited by the upright is

holy,36 i.e. the land, and defines their identity and social frontier, the com-
plete destruction of the wicked may be considered as a possible act of
purification or as a removal of ungodly and evil impurity. The issue of
how life and death are viewed as lived spaces is the concern of the ensuing

3. Life and Death as Lived Spaces in Proverbs

For time and space limitations, my analysis is framed within Proverbs
19. Although it does not represent a comprehensive view of life and
death in Proverbs, it serves as a starting point and foundation to compre-
hend these motifs in the rest of the book. I argue that life and death are
lived spaces,37 i.e., promised or envisaged experiences of blessedness and
crookedness respectively.38 The term ,yyx occurs 12x, whereas the word
tvm 4x in Proverbs 19. In the following I sort out the passages where
they appear according to life-and-death expressions possessing wording
resemblance; I also underline several phrases to help the reader make as-
sociations and observe the interrelatedness of the experiences suggested.
This semantic arrangement must not be thought of as an iron frame with
which to shape interpretation, but as a lamp to illuminate the intricacies
of the meaning of these words.

35 Z. Zevit, Preamble to a Temple Tour, in: Sacred Time, Sacred Place. Archaeology and
the Religion of Israel, ed. B. M. Gittlen, 2002, 7381. He writes, The pertinence of
time, text, ritual, story, and belief to understanding religion has been long recognized;
not so the spatial dimension (76).
36 The sacralizing effect is due to the presence of YHWH in the land. See D. P. Wright, Holi-
ness, Sex, and Death in the Garden of Eden, Bib 77 (1997), 305329, 306 f.
37 I use here the phrase lived space considering only its semantic meaning. It seems that
the expression was coined by the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre who defines space
a social product. He establishes three perspectives on the production of space in
society, which are intrinsically intertwined: perceived space, the geographical dimension;
conceived space, the cultural evaluation or ideology; and lived space, the human experi-
ence. See H. Lefebvre, The production of Space, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith, 1991,
38 The Hebrew Bible speaks of life as the experience of life rather than as an abstract prin-
ciple of vitality which may be distinguished from the body. This is because the view of
the nature of the human being is holistic, that is, his/her function as body, mind, spirit
is a unified whole spoken of in very concrete terms. Life is the ability to exercise all ones
vital power to the fullest; death is the opposite. See E. B. Smick, hyh , TWOT 1, 279.
206 Richard W. Medina

3.1. (Path of) Life as an Experience of Wisdom, salm39 and Longevity


dvbkv r>i hlvXm>b hnymyb ,ymy rX (3,1618)

,vl> hytvbytn lkv ,in ykrd hykrd
r>Xm hykmtv hb ,yqyzxml Xyh ,yyx /i
Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and abundance.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are salm.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; and those who grasp her are
,yyx tvxrX vgy>y Xlv ]vbv>y Xl hyXb lk (2,19)
None who go to her come back, nor do they overtake the paths of life.
idt Xl hytlgim vin clpt ]p ,yyx xrX (5,6)
She does not wish40 to keep straight to the path of life; her courses wander,
she does not know.
rvX hrvtv hvjm rn yk (6,2324)
rcvm tvxkvt ,yyx rdv
hyrkn ]v>l tqlxm ir t>Xm rm>l
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of instruction are the way of life,
to keep you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the stranger.
hmzmv hy>t rjn ynyim vzly lX ynb (3,2124)
ytrgrgl ]xv >pnl ,yyx vyhyv
[vgt Xl lgrv krd xubl lt ]X
tn> hbriv tbk>v dxpt Xl bk>t ,X
My son, do not let them escape from your sight: keep sound wisdom and
and they will be life to your spirit and grace to your neck.
Then you will walk on your way safely and your foot will not hurt.
If you lie down, you will not be in dread; and you will lie down and your sleep
will be sweet.
nzX uh yrmXl hby>qh yrbdl ynb (4,2023)
bbl vtb ,rm> ynyim vzyly lX
Xprm vr>b lklv ,hyXjml ,h ,yyx yk
,yyx tvXjvt vnmm yk bl rjn rm>m lkm
My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
More than all that you guard, keep your heart, for from it are the outgoings of

39 The Hebrew ,vl> has been rendered in various ways such as peace, welfare,
health, prosperity, wholeness, felicity, blessedness, etc. Due to the poly-
semous nature of the word, translators often have difficulty to find a single English
equivalent. Therefore, I prefer to use the transliterated form, salm, in order to maintain
its wide spectrum of meaning.
40 The particle ]p is used here to indicate a negative wish of a speaker or speakers. See
P. Joon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, trans. and rev. T. Muraoka, Subsidia Bib-
lica 27, 2006, 168g.
Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces 207
bl rjy ytvjmv xk>t lX ytrvt ynb (3,12)
l vpycvy ,vl>v ,yyx tvn>v ,ymy rX yk
My son, do not forget my teaching; and let your heart keep my command-
For length of days and years of life and salm they will add to you.
,yyx tvn> l vbryv yrmX xqv ynb im> (4,10)
Hear, my son, and take in my words, and the years of life will be many for you.
,yyx tvn> l vpycvyv ymy vbry yb yk (9,11)
For by me your days will be many, and they will add to you years of life.
yyx Xyh yk hrjn [rt lX rcvmb qzxh (4,13)
Take hold of instruction; do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.
yxtp tzvzm rm>l ,vy ,vy yttld li dq>l yl im> ,dX yr>X (8,34 f.)
hvhym ]vjr qpyv ,yyx Xjm yXjm yk
Blessed is the man who hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the
posts of my doors.
For whoever finds me, finds life, and obtains the favor from YHWH.

3.2. Death as an Experience of Foolishness,

non-salm and Shortened Lifetime
hytlgim ,yXpr lXv htyb tvm lX hx> yk (2,18)
For her house sinks down to death, and her courses to the shades.
vkmty hydij lvX> tvm tvdry hylgr (5,5)
Her feet go down to death; her steps grasp Sheol.
tvm yrdx lX tvdry htyb lvX> ykrd (7,27)
Her house is a highway to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
tvm vbhX yXn>m lk v>pn cmx yXuxv (8,36)
But he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.

In the same way, in Mesopotamian literature life is viewed as a divine

gifted experience often anchored to wisdom, prosperity, fertility, and
the preservation and/or perpetuation of the name beyond death through
the offspring (= transgenerational longevity).41 This can be seen, for
example, in the royal inscription of a certain Agum, an early Kassite king
from the mid-second millennium B.C., which describes how Agum
recovers and refurbishes the cult statues of Marduk and his consort,

41 In a similar way, Clifford says that in the opening scene of the Ugaritic legend of ^Aqhatu,
life is equated to the ability to have progeny. Dani^ilu for seven days piously sets food
and drink before the gods to obtain life, progeny, the extension of life proper to mortals
(R. J. Clifford, Proverbs IX: A Suggested Ugaritic Parallel, VT 25 [1975], 303). For the
translation of this tale, see The ^Aqhatu Legend, translated by D. Pardee (COS 1, 103,
208 Richard W. Medina

Sarpanitum. The section where the king asks divine blessings upon his
work of restoration reads as follows:42
(vii II) May King Agums days be long, may his years be prolonged,
may his reign be awash (?) in prosperity. May the bosom of the vast
heavens be opened for him and the clouds [ ] rain. [ ] Marduk
orchard [ ] forever [ ] fa[i]r fruit let it produce for good King
Agum, who constructed the sanctuaries of Marduk, who exempted
the craftsmen.
(vii 34) May Anu and Antu bless him in heaven, may Enlil and Nin-
lil in Ekur ordain him a destiny of (long) life, may Ea and Damkina,
who dwell in the great depths, grant him a life of long days! May
Dingirmah, Lady of the Great Mountains, perfect for him pure
offspring. May Sin, the luminary of heaven, grant him royal descent
for all time! May the young (hero) Shamash, young (hero) of heaven
and netherworld, make firm the foundations of his royal throne for
all time! May Ea, lord of the deep, perfect him in wisdom! May Mar-
duk, who loves his reign, the lord of the deep, perfect him with re-
spect to his prosperity!
As shown above, life43 is an experience of divine favor; paths of life44 are
paths of wisdom and salm. The promise of length of days seems to refer
to a long journey as well as transgenerational longevity in the land.45 Con-
versely, death represents a condition of reversal with respect to life, filled
with foolishness, non-salm, evilness, insecurity and briefness of life,46 in

42 B. R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, 3rd ed., 2005,
43 Cosser defines life in Wisdom literature as follows: It is a life without excess of any kind,
a harmony of disciplined elements. In it mans reason has full play; his senses are con-
trolled but not suppressed; he has no outbursts of passion; he knows neither the excesses
of wealth nor the distresses of poverty; he is diligent and punctilious in the discharge of
his duties to God, to man and to himself. He has all his desires satisfied except one, the
desire to gain an even deeper insight into Wisdom, and as he advances in that quest he
advances of necessity towards an even fuller life, a life of perfect fellowship with Wisdom
and with Him who alone possesses her in perfection. W. Cosser, The Meaning of Life
(hayyim) in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, Transactions of the Glasgow University
Oriental Society 15 (19531954), 52.
44 Life in Egyptian (and Hebrew) implies vitality and soundness (Fox, Proverbs 19, 118).
45 Clifford points out that Proverbs uses dwelling on the land, more generally, as a meta-
phor for living in peace; enjoyment of life is portrayed under the image of remaining on
the land. R. J. Clifford, Proverbs, OTL, 1999, 49.
46 The passage of Psalm 21,110 presents a nice parallel between the king being granted
long life, splendor, blessings and his enemies along with their offspring being consumed,
destroyed from the land.
Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces 209

the land.47 In the meantime, awaiting their ultimate end, the wicked in
Proverbs are zombies.48

4. Conclusion
The language of Proverbs is often decontextualized and notorious for its
economy and brevity, thus it becomes timeless and universal. It reads as
wisdom for everyone because it appears particular to no one.49 It is in
this cosmical literature that I have ventured to explore life and death, first
of all, as concrete spaces rooted in the land and the underworld. For the
righteous to dwell in the land is to possess life. They live long, enjoy many
years of life, and have their name perpetuated through their offspring.
The righteous may die, but are remembered; their reputation remains
forever. Quite the opposite, for the wicked to be cut off or removed from
the land is to embrace death. They along with their household are lit-
erally exterminated, leaving trace neither in the land nor in the memoirs
of it. The wicked perish to lie in the underworld and become as though
they had never been. This execution could well be understood as an act of
purification or removal of evil impurity. Secondly, I have examined life
and death as lived spaces of blessedness and wickedness; in this sense life
is offered to the righteous as a gifted experience of wisdom, welfare, in-
tegrity, security and longevity. On the contrary, death is portrayed as the
wickeds way of living flooded with foolishness, evilness, ungodliness,
despair, dread and shortness of life. In a word, it is an experience of volte-
face and descent with respect to life. The possibilities that these notions
of life and death are to some extent shared by the rest of the wisdom lit-
erature must still await for further research.

47 In her new commentary, Christine Yoder observes that the ambiguity of the land educes
a number of connections, all of which bode very well for the security and longevity of
those who are upright. In contrast, the wicked are cut off and torn away. C. R. Yoder,
Proverbs, AOTC, 2009, 33.
48 Fox, Proverbs 19, 118.
49 Yoder, Proverbs, xxiii.
210 Richard W. Medina

Fig. 1: Biblical World (Cornelius & Deist)50

50 This was developed by Izak Cornelius and Ferdinand Deist. Above is the heavenly ocean
(1). In heaven is the cherubim throne (i.e. a winged sphinx [2]) which is a well-known
concept in the Bible (e.g. Ps 18,11; 80,2; Jes 37,16) and its world. The same is true of the
winged sun. The winged figure depicted here (3) is a combination of the sun god and the
storm god with a bow (cf. Ps 104). The earth is a disk (4), not floating in the ocean, but
resting on pillars (5). Jerusalem and the temple mount are the center of the earth (6). The
underworld is a dark pit beneath the surface of the earth (7) as described in Ps 88. In the
subterrestrial ocean (8) is the serpent of chaos (9). See Cornelius, The Visual Represen-
tation of the World, 203.
Life and Death Viewed as Physical and Lived Spaces 211

From a geographical dimension, the land is a metonymy of everlasting life given to the right-
eous while death is mostly the wickeds inevitable fate and habitation. This raises the ques-
tion of what it means to live long in the land and to be exterminated from it when one knows
that in fact all die to remain in Sheol. My explanation is that to live long, for the righteous,
is to enjoy many years of life and have their name perpetuated via their offspring. For the
wicked to be cut off from the land means that they, along with their household, are literally
put to death, leaving trace neither in the land nor in the memoirs of it. This execution may be
viewed as an act of purification or removal of evil impurity. From an experiential dimension,
life is offered to the righteous as a gifted experience of longevity, wisdom, welfare, integrity,
and security taking place in the land. By contrast, death is an experience of volte-face and
descent with respect to life.
Vu dune perspective gographique, le pays est la mtaphore de la vie ternelle accorde au
juste, alors que la mort dsigne le destin inluctable et le lieu dhabitation du blasphmateur.
Ceci pose la question: que signifie vivre longtemps dans le pays ou en tre exclu, lorsquon
sait que tous doivent mourir pour sjourner au Shol. Lexplication en est que le juste pourra
vivre de longues annes et voir son nom perptr par les gnrations futures, alors que pour
le blasphmateur, tre exclu du pays signifie que lui et sa maison sont destins la mort et
quil ne subsistera deux nul souvenir. Cet anantissement peut tre compris comme un acte
de purification, lannulation de toute impuret mauvaise. Du point de vue de lexprience, la
vie est accorde au juste comme longvit, sagesse, bien-tre, intgrit et rsidence sre dans
le pays. Par contraste, la mort est lexprience inverse, savoir une dcadence par rapport
la vie.
Aus geographischer Perspektive steht das Land als Metapher fr das dem Gerechten ge-
schenkte ewige Leben, whrend der Tod zumeist das unabwendbare Schicksal und die Wohn-
sttte des Frevlers bezeichnet. Damit erhebt sich die Frage, was es bedeutet, im Land lange zu
leben oder daraus vertilgt zu werden, wenn man wei, dass alle sterben, um in der Scheol zu
verbleiben. Als Erklrung wird hier vorgeschlagen, dass langes Leben fr die Gerechten be-
deutet, dass sie sich an vielen Lebensjahren erfreuen knnen und ihr Name in ihrer Nach-
kommenschaft weiterlebt. Fr die Frevler bedeutet, vom Lande abgeschnitten zu sein, dass
sie mit ihrem gesamten Hausstand buchstblich dem Tod ausgeliefert sind und weder im
Land noch im kollektiven Gedchtnis eine Spur hinterlassen. Diese Vernichtung kann als
reinigender Akt bzw. als Auslschung von frevelhafter Unreinheit angesehen werden. Aus
der Erfahrungsperspektive wird das Leben dem Gerechten als Geschenk von Langlebigkeit,
Weisheit, Wohlergehen, Unversehrtheit und sicherem Wohnen im Lande angeboten. Im Ge-
gensatz dazu ist der Tod die Erfahrung des Gegenteils, nmlich ein Abstieg hinsichtlich des