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The Hebrew Wisdom, though it has been a distinct 
subject of investigation for more than fifty years, has 
still its unsettled problems ; and of these there are per- 
haps two of paramount importance at the present time. 
The first is the question of the age in which this remark- 
able movement flourished. The prevalent opinion has 
been that the Wisdom belongs to no one age in particular. 
It has been viewed as a permanent bent or aptitude of 
the Hebrew mind, operative throughout almost the entire 
history of the nation, and throwing off its literary pro- 
ductions at widely separated stages of its development. 
Originating in the time of Solomon, it is supposed to have 
been carried forward by a succession of Sages or Wise Men, 
who were ultimately incorporated as a regular teaching 
profession or guild. From this circle of thinkers there 
emanated the various writings which we group together 
under the title of the Hokmah literature : — first, perhaps, 
the Proverbs of Solomon, next the Book of Job, and 
lastly — as works born out of due time — the late post- 
Exilic books of Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus. 

Of late years, however, another view has been gaining 
ground. The tendency of recent criticism has been to 
draw together the separate remains of Hokmah writing 
within a comparatively narrow compass of time ; and to 
assign the composition of Job, of the Proverbs, of Ecclesi- 

1 The first of two lectures delivered at the Summer School of Theology, 
Edinburgh, 1904. The second lecture will be published in a later number 
of the J. Q. R. 


astes and Ecclesiasticus to one stage in the history of 
Jewish religion. Just as we can speak of a golden age 
of prophecy, or an age of legalism, or an age of Apo- 
calyptic, so it is thought there may have been a period 
which was pre-eminently the age of the Wisdom, — an age 
when its peculiar mode of thinking was in the ascendant, 
and when it formed a vital contribution to the develop- 
ment of Judaism. If that theory is to be entertained, 
there can obviously be no question about the particular 
time to which the movement is to be assigned. It must 
have been the age immediately preceding the Maccabean 
rebellion, — that great upheaval which by universal acknow- 
ledgment divides post-Exilic Judaism into two entirely 
dissimilar phases. On the very eve of that conflict Jesus 
ben-Sira lived and wrote : Ecclesiastes certainly cannot 
be much earlier ; and the two remaining books must then 
be assigned to a date considerably earlier indeed, but still 
within the middle period of post-Exilic history. Thus, 
from about the year 180 B.C., backwards for perhaps two 
centuries, is the period which would have to be considered 
the golden age of the Hebrew Wisdom. And there is no 
doubt that within that tract of time there were influences 
at work which might be very closely related to the spirit 
of the Wisdom movement. There was, for example, the 
transference of religious interest from the Temple-cultus 
to the study of the written law, and the rise of the scribe 
to a position of rivalry with the priesthood. There was 
the substitution of the Church for the State as the basis 
of religious fellowship ; and accompanying that the trans- 
lation of the theocratic conceptions of the prophets into 
terms of personal religion, and the elaboration of an ethical 
code suitable for the individual life. These are internal 
changes which must have been in progress during the 
interval between Ezra and the Maccabees ; and it can 
readily be seen that the process was one in which the 
conceptions of the Hokmah were fitted to play an in- 
fluential part. Besides all this there was the presence of 



Hellenic culture, which is not unnaturally supposed to 
have had some share in the formation of the peculiar type 
of thought represented by the Wisdom. I think it is not 
at all surprising that keen students of the Jewish Wisdom 
should be attracted to this period of history as affording 
an explanation of some of the characteristic features of 
that many-sided and interesting literature. 

Now, touching on this question at many points, but 
fundamentally independent of it, is the other unsettled 
problem to which I referred. It may be stated generally 
thus : Was the Wisdom purely a native product of Israel- 
itish life and thought, unalloyed with foreign elements ; 
or was it influenced to any degree by movements of a 
similar character in other countries? The latter alter- 
native, of course, may cover a wide range of possibilities. 
It night amount to nothing more than the admission of 
a casual and sporadic influence exerted on the develop- 
ment of the Wisdom from without, and revealing itself 
in certain subordinate features of the system. Or it might 
mean that the Wisdom of the Old Testament was simply 
the Hebrew phase of a great international movement of 
thought, deriving its energy from intellectual impulses 
not peculiar to the religion of revelation, but common to 
the civilized races of the East. Between these extremes 
any number of intermediate positions might be assumed, 
each of which would justify us in speaking of a cosmo- 
politan aspect of the Hebrew Wisdom. This, then, is the 
class of questions to which I am now to direct your 
attention. And before entering on the discussion of them, 
I will try to express in few words where I conceive the 
true importance of the inquiry to lie, and how I have 
been led to think of it at all. 

Any one who has followed recent developments of theo- 
logical research must have been struck by the rise of a 
somewhat novel application of the comparative method 
to the problems of historical theology. We have long 
been familiar with the science of Comparative Religion 


as a handmaid of theology. We have come to know much 
of the great faiths of the world; and have learned to 
studj' them reverently and dispassionately, as sincere and 
not wholly unrewarded efforts to solve the enigmas of 
existence and meet the deepest need of the human soul. 
We have learned also to compare them one with another 
and estimate their relative worth; and in the comparison 
we have found a proof of the intrinsic and immeasurable 
superiority of the religion of the Bible. But for the most 
part we have proceeded on the tacit assumption that the 
ethnic religions can be handled as separate and independent 
entities, dwelling apart, each within its own sphere of 
influence, and developing its own genius without much 
help or interference from without. At least we have been 
accustomed to look on the religion of Israel as an entirely 
isolated fact of history. Now the new point of view to 
which I have alluded involves the negation of this assump- 
tion. It is denied that the religions of antiquity were 
thus secluded from each other's influence ; it is maintained 
on the contrary that, through the common medium of a 
vast and immemorial civilization, they had acted on and 
interpenetrated each other to an extent that has hardly 
as yet been dreamed of. In the later pre-Christian ages 
especially it is held that the interchange of religious ideas 
went on with astonishing rapidity; and that the effects 
are to be seen in the dissolution of the old bond between 
religion and the state, in the rise of new religious fellow- 
ships, the amalgamation of divine names, and the diffusion 
of similar customs and beliefs over the whole surface of 
the Oriental world. From this process of syncretism 
Judaism was least of all exempt. While the most con- 
servative of all faiths, it was at the same time the most 
receptive; and from all quarters, — from Babylonia, from 
Persia, from Egypt, and from Greece, — it drew much of 
the material imbedded in its later theological constructions. 
In the language of one writer, Judaism was the alembic 
into which was thrown the heterogeneous deposit of many 

B % 


phases of religious speculation; and from which was to 
emerge, under the name of Christianity, a sort of sub- 
limated essence of the religious consciousness of the race. 
Such, in crude outline, appears to be the view of things 
common to theologians like Gunkel and Bousset, of Assyrio- 
logists like Zimmern and Winckler, and a historian like 
Eduard Meyer; not to mention more extreme develop- 
ments of the theory in the recent utterances of Friedrich 
Delitzsch and the writings of the Abbd Loisy. The claim 
of the Bible to be the revelation of the perfect religion 
would thus ' have to be based, not. so much on its self- 
contained superiority to all other sacred literatures, but 
rather on its capacity for assimilating what was best in 
the religions around and utilizing the results of the highest 
human thought as the vehicle of its peculiar message to 

Now the inquiry into the external affinities of the 
Hebrew Wisdom is a special and restricted case of this 
far-reaching investigation. The cosmopolitan character of 
the movement has been emphasized by Gunkel and Bousset ; 
and both have found in this fact a confirmation of the 
soundness of their main thesis. The former in particular 
has indicated certain specific channels of communication 
between the Wisdom movement in Israel and parallel 
phenomena, in other countries. And it seemed to me that 
it might be worth while to follow out these hints carefully 
and arrive, if possible, at some definite judgment on the 
evidence within this limited sphere. The results, I admit, 
have not been very decisive ; but such as they are I will 
now endeavour to put them before you. 

The subject may be approached from two sides : first, 
from the side of the Old Testament itself; and secondly, 
from the side of foreign systems which are thought to 
present points of contact with it. 



I begin, then, by observing that the Old Testament 
betrays the consciousness of a certain international signifi- 
cance attaching to the Wisdom tradition. There are several 
passages which prove that the quality so highly esteemed in 
Israel under that name was not regarded as an exclusive 
possession of the Hebrew people. In the account of Solo- 
mon's wisdom in 1 Kings iv. 29-31, we read that "God 
gave Solomon wisdom and understanding very much, and 
breadth of mind, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. 
And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the sons 
of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser 
than all men ; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and 
Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol ; and his fame was in 
all the nations round about." Ethan and Heman and Calcol 
and Darda are as yet unknown personages, though it is at 
least possible they were non-Israelites ; but Egypt and the 
sons of the East are perfectly understood designations ; and 
the fact that this foreign wisdom could be compared with 
the wisdom for which Solomon was famous shows clearly 
that it was considered of the same quality as his, however 
far he may have surpassed them. But Solomon was not 
only a wise king ; he was also regarded as the patron of 
the later literary Wisdom and the schools from which it 
proceeded ; hence we may perhaps infer that the comparison 
of his wisdom to that of the East and Egypt implies the 
recognition of an essential affinity between the whole body 
of Hebrew Wisdom and the parallel developments which 
certainly existed among the neighbouring peoples. Of these 
countries, Edom appears to have enjoyed a special reputation 
for wise men and wisdom down to the latest ages of the 
monarchy. In Jer. xlix. 7, the scornful question, " Is there 
no longer wisdom in Teman?" obviously implies that the 
fame of the Temanite wisdom was traditional ; and the same 
inference may be drawn from the threat in the eighth verse 


of Obadiah : " In that day I will destroy the wise men from 
Edom, and understanding from the mount of Esau." These 
allusions are amply sufficient to prove a knowledge of the 
existence of foreign wisdom on the part of Old Testament 
writers; though of course they say nothing of actual influence 
or intercourse on either side. 

A more positive argument might perhaps be based on 
some facts of the Hokmah writings. There are two well- 
known sections of the book of Proverbs which appear at 
least to be assigned to foreign sources, — the words of Agur 
the son of Jakeh (xxx. 1), and those of Lemuel, king of 
Massa (xxxi. 1). The text of the superscriptions is no 
doubt uncertain, and the meaning almost hopelessly obscui*e. 
But in the second case I hardly think that any of the 
emendations proposed has as much claim to respect as the 
simple construction of the Massoretic text, that Lemuel was 
a king of an Ishmaelite tribe of Massa. The other title is 
less decisive, but even there there is a presumption that 
a non-Israelite origin is suggested. It is possible of course 
that this is merely a literary invention, and that the con- 
tents are purely Hebrew or Jewish ; but even the fact that 
a Jewish writer could put them in the mouths of foreign 
sages counts for something in favour of the international 
character of the movement \ Still more striking is the 

1 Here, for want of another opportunity, I may just call attention to a 
remarkable series of Indian parallels which Mr. Jacobs has pointed out in 
Prov. xxx (Studies in Biblical Archaeology, p. 125 f.) : — 

4. Who has gone up to heaven and Who knows or who here can 

come down ? declare 

Who has gathered the wind in Whence has sprung — whence this 

his fists ? creation — 

Who has bound up the waters in From what this creation arose, 

a garment ? Whether any made it or not ? 

Who has established all the ends He who in the highest heaven is 

of the earth ? its ruler, 

What is his name, and what his He verily knows, or even he 

son's, if thou knowest? knows not ! 

(Rig-veda, X, 129.) 


case of the book of Job, where the facts are fortunately not 
in dispute. That the hero of that great poem is a non- 
Israelite, that the scene is laid outside the Holy Land, that 
all the human personages of the drama are Edomites or 
Arabs of the eastern deserts, are circumstances which taken 
together, and taken along with some rather remarkable 
Arabisms in the language, are perhaps barely appreciated 
in the ordinary theories of the composition of the book. 
To speak of the book (with Renan) as an echo of the 
ancient wisdom of Teman, or to say that it is not more 
specially Hebrew than Idumean or Ishmaelite, may be 
a romantic extravagance ; and to suppose that it is a trans- 
lation into Hebrew of a work originally written in another 
tongue is a view which does not require serious refutation. 
But avoiding these extremes, and allowing that the back- 
ground and atmosphere of the poem belong to the art of 
the writer, we have still to ask why his sense of artistic 
fitness took this particular turn. It must surely mean, at 
the very least, that the author wished to present the pro- 

15. The horseleech has three daugh- 
ters, they say alway, Give, give. 

There are three things never Fire is never sated with fuel, 
sated, Nor Ocean with the streams, 

Yea, four that never say, Enough: Nor the god of death with all 

Sheol is never sated with dead, creatures, 

Nor the womb's gate with men, Nor the bright-eyed one with men. 

Earth is never sated with water, (Pants., I, str. 153.) 

And fire says never, Enough. 

1 8. There be three things too wonder- The path of ships across the sea, 
ful for me, The soaring eagle's flight Varuna 

Yea, four which I know not : knows. 

The way of an eagle in the air . . . (Rig-veda.) 

The way of a ship through the &c. 



None of these might be very impressive by itself ; but taken altogether 
from a single chapter, and that chapter ostensibly of foreign origin, they 
do create a presumption in favour of Mr. Jacobs' s suggestion, that Prov. xxx 
consists of fragments of Indian Wisdom which had made their way into 
Palestine by way of Arabia. 


blem which exercised his mind as a problem of universal 
religion, and not a difficulty arising from the special revela- 
tion given to Israel. Whether we can go further and infer 
that he knew such matters to be the theme of discussion 
amongst wise men of the East, is just the point at issue ; 
and it is one very difficult to determine. On first thoughts 
one is inclined to say that the problem of the moral 
government of the universe could only arise on the soil 
of a strictly monotheistic faith ; but that is a matter on 
which it is easy to be too confident. Through all the more 
developed religions of antiquity, polytheistic though they 
are on the surface, there runs a strain of monotheistic 
reflection ; and we have no right to say beforehand that 
this could not be sufficiently earnest to create difficulties 
regarding the distribution of providential rewards and 
punishments in this world. As a matter of fact, there 
exists an Egyptian papyrus, of late date, in which this 
very question of the righteousness of the world-government 
is discussed with much heat and acrimony between a great 
cat and a small jackal, representing doubtless two deities 
of the Egyptian pantheon. It illustrates the possibility 
of discussing the theodicy on a basis of superficial poly- 
theism ; and that may be accepted as a proof that this 
grave difficulty could be felt outside the pale of revealed 
religion. While, therefore, we must hold that the book of 
Job is "the genuine outcome of the religious life and 
thought of Israel," and its author a true son of Israel, we 
may believe that the setting of the poem was due to his 
knowledge of the higher thought of the neighbouring 
peoples ; and that this knowledge made the scene chosen 
attractive to the writer himself and suggestive to his 

There is one general feature of the Wisdom literature 
which, though perfectly familiar to all students of the 
subject, acquires a fresh interest in connexion with the 
question we are considering. The Wise Men of Israel, it 
has often been pointed out, are in a sense Humanists. 


Their point of view is universal and individual ; they do 
not concern themselves with the religious relations and 
obligations of the Israelite as such, but only with those 
which pertain to him as a man, living under the rule of 
a perfectly righteous Governor of the world. Their in- 
difference to the positive institutions and theocratic ideals 
of the national religion surprises us by its consistency and 
apparent deliberateness. In the book of Proverbs, for 
example, while the divine proper name Yahweh is regularly 
used, the name Israel never occurs ; and the distinction 
between Israel and the other nations finds no place what- 
ever. In Job, Yahweh is employed in the prose framework, 
but (with the exception of one doubtful verse) sedulously 
avoided in the speeches, where it is frequently replaced 
by 'Elotih, which is just the Arabic name of God, 'Ilah. 
Both books ignore the whole cycle of peculiarly prophetic 
ideas : those, namely, which cluster round the conception 
of the Kingdom of God and the Messianic hope. Equally 
marked is their silence regarding the legal aspect of the 
national religion. The study of the written law is nowhere 
recommended ; allusions to sacrifice and priesthood are not 
found ; and the few references to points of ritual are of the 
most vague and cursory nature. All this shows that the 
Wisdom represents a tendency of mind secluded in some 
way from the main currents of Hebrew piety, and contain- 
ing the germs of a philosophy of life applicable to mankind 

Now there are two ways in which this peculiarity of the 
Wisdom has been explained. Some writers, holding that 
the Wisdom sprang up on the soil of Judaism, maintain 
that the legal and national standpoint, though never ex- 
pressed, is always presupposed ; that the Wise Men never 
really look beyond the little circle of the Jewish community ; 
and that the questions they ignore regarding the special 
relation between Yahweh and Israel form the silent as- 
sumption of all their thought and teaching. There is 
undoubtedly an element of truth in that view. The un- 


swerving faith which these men had in the principle of 
retribution can only be accounted for by the teaching 
of the prophets and a rigorous training under legal condi- 
tions. Nevertheless I think the explanation is inadequate. 
If the written law was the source whence the Wise Men 
drew their ethical teaching, it is not easy to understand 
why they avoid referring to it and prefer to deduce every 
maxim from observation of life or the tradition of the 
sages. And this attitude is all the more remarkable when 
we compare the Proverbs of Solomon or the book of Job 
with the Wisdom of Ben-Sira. The greater part of the 
latter work is essentially similar to the book of Proverbs ; 
but there is also an unmistakable vein of legalism, which 
manifests itself in many ways : such as the inculcation of 
the study of the Scriptures, the identification of the divine 
Wisdom with the Mosaic legislation (of which more in the 
next lecture) ; there is also a vivid sense of the unique 
privileges of Israel, and an ardent enthusiasm for the insti- 
tutions and history of the theocracy. The natural conclusion 
is that originally the Wisdom was independent of legalism; 
and that in the book of Ben-Sira we see the two streams 
beginning to coalesce, and the functions of the Sage on the 
point of being absorbed by the scribe, the professional ex- 
pounder of the written law. But if we accept that inter- 
pretation of the facts, we cannot exclude the possibility 
that the humanistic tendency in the Wisdom was stimulated 
by intercourse with men of other nations whose natural 
piety took a direction somewhat similar to that which we 
find in the Wisdom literature. 

It would serve no good purpose to dwell longer on this 
side of the question. We may now proceed to the second 
branch of the inquiry, and examine some of the foreign 
sources of wisdom from which the Hebrew Sages are thought 
to have drunk. 



The beginnings of Hebrew Wisdom may be traced ulti- 
mately to certain primitive instincts and habits of thought 
congenial to the Semitic mind. A faculty of close observa- 
tion of nature and life, joined to a love of sententious and 
eloquent speech, constitute perhaps the mental endowment 
which effloresced in the primary form of written Hokmah, 
the proverbial literature. These tendencies are strongly 
marked amongst the Bedouin of the desert, where the 
tribesmen spend much of their day in the tents of the 
sheiks, listening to the eloquence which is bred of large 
experience and acute judgment. " These Orientals," says 
the traveller Doughty, "study little else, as they sit all day 
idle at the coffee in their male societies ; they learn in this 
school of infinite human observation to speak to the heart 
of one another. His tales " (referring to a certain Moorish 
rogue named Mohammed Aly) " seasoned with saws, which 
are the wisdom of the unlearned, we heard for more than 
two months; they were never-ending. He told them so 
lively to the eye that they could not be bettered, and part 
were of his own motley experience." The great collection 
of Arabic proverbs by Meidani shows that this species of 
wisdom has been popular among the Arabs since the dawn 
of their literary history. 

But amongst the civilized Semites of antiquity we have 
as yet little direct evidence of a wisdom tradition com- 
parable to that of the Old Testament. We may cherish the 
hope that from the immense accumulation of unexplored 
cuneiform material some documents of Babylonian or Assy- 
rian wisdom will be recovered, which may bear an instruc- 
tive comparison with the gnomic poetry of the Israelites. 
Up to the present nothing of this kind appears to have 
been published, with the exception of a short collection of 
proverbs and riddles translated by Jager in 1894. It is 
thought to have been part of a scholar's exercise-book ; and 


its chief importance lies in the proof it yields of a Babylonian 
gnomic literature of at least greater antiquity than the age 
of Asshur-banipal, in whose reign the extant copy is thought 
to have been made. With regard to the contents, the 
resemblance to the Hebrew proverbs seems to me to have 
been somewhat over-stated. There are only eighteen say- 
ings in all ; and of these a considerable proportion contain 
obscure astrological or mythological allusions of no interest 
for our present purpose. Others are conundrums, similar 
in character to Samson's riddle in the book of Judges. 
There are, however, a few which bear a family likeness to 
the moral maxims of the Old Testament. For example : 
" He who says, O that I might exercise vengeance, and 
more also (the common Hebrew idiom), draws from a well 
without water, and rubs his skin without anointing it." 
" If in the time of wind I consume my (store of) garlic, my 
heart shall be straitened in the time of rain." "Thou wentest 
and seizedst the property of thine enemy : the enemy came 
and seized thine." "The strength of a worm, . . . the 
drunkard is no better." — These are the most striking 
instances ; and scanty as the harvest is, the conclusion 
is undoubtedly suggested that a proverbial philosophy of 
life was cultivated in Babylonia as well as in Israel. 
Looking at the age to which these maxims must be traced, 
it is not reasonable to deny off-hand the antiquity of some 
of the collections of proverbs current under the name of 

The closest parallels to the Wisdom writings of the Old 
Testament as yet discovered are not in the Semitic world 
at all, but in the didactic literature of the Egyptians. In 
this particular department the Egyptologists have been 
more fortunate than the Assyriologists. A small group 
of treatises has been deciphered which shows not only 
that a practical philosophy was extremely popular in the 
Nile Valley, but that its origin goes back to an almost 
incredibly remote period of history. The two leading 
documents are the Precepts of Ptah-hotep, professing to 


have been written under the Fifth Dynasty, and published 
by Chabas under the title of "The Oldest Book in the 
World " ; and the Maxims of the sage Aniy, addressed to 
his son Khonsu-hotep. Besides these we have the Book of 
Kaqemni (from the same papyrus as Ptah-hotep, and of 
very similar character) ; the Poem of Dauuf, a turgid and 
stilted composition in praise of the learned profession ; 
a Demotic papyrus in the Louvre ; and some other MSS. 
less important for our present purpose. Here, then, wo 
have abundant material for a comparison with the Hebrew 
Hokmah; and if the resemblance should be such as to 
reveal literary dependence, there can obviously be no 
question as to which side has borrowed from the other. 

The resemblance of this class of writings to the Jewish 
Hokmah has been noted ever since they were first dis- 
covered. One writer has ventured on the assertion that 
several of the Jewish maxims are translated word for word 
from those of Ptah-hotep (Reveillout). That, to be sure, 
is a gross exaggeration. There is no single Jewish proverb 
which can by any stretch of courtesy be described as 
a literal transcript of any known Egyptian original. The 
truth is expressed by the more guarded language of Renouf : 
that " these books are very similar in character to the book 
of Proverbs in our Bible. They inculcate the study of 
wisdom, the duty to parents and superiors, respect for 
property, the advantages of charitableness, peaceableness 
and content, of liberality, chastity and sobriety, of truth- 
fulness and justice ; and they show the wickedness and 
folly of disobedience, strife, arrogance and pride, of sloth- 
fulness, intemperance, unchastity and other vices." The 
general and formal similarity of the two bodies of literature 
is indeed very striking : I will just enumerate some of the 
outstanding features. (1) Three at least of the Egyptian 
treatises are thrown into the form of an address from 
a father to his son. It is very possible that this is one of 
the literary artifices of which at all times the Egyptian 
writers were prodigal, the father being really the teacher 


and the son the pupil; but that does not in the least 
detract from the significance of the usage. It is precisely 
the form of address constantly recurring in the Wisdom of 
Ben-Sira, and employed in two sections of the book of Pro- 
verbs, where, beyond reasonable doubt, the name " father" 
designates the master, and " son " the disciple. (2) As in 
the Proverbs, the instruction consists of detached maxims, 
thrown loosely together, without much regard to consecu- 
tiveness of subject. As to the form of the sentences, it is 
difficult to judge from translations ; but sometimes at least 
one detects the familiar rhythm of the parallel distich, 
which is the unit of gnomic poetry in Hebrew. A verse 
like the following: "The magnanimous man is the object 
of God's regard : but he who listens to his belly is scorned 
by his wife," is just a typical Hebrew Mashal. (3) A more 
important fact is that the precepts are addressed to a select 
and privileged class, who considered themselves superior 
to the mass of the population : viz. the youths of the 
literary caste whose education opened the avenue to honour- 
able office in the service of the state. There is nothing exactly 
corresponding to this in the Hebrew Wisdom ; though even 
there the instruction of the Sages seems directed mainly to 
young men of the leisured and well-to-do classes. It is not 
improbable that some of these men were candidates for em- 
ployment under the foreign government (see Sir. xxxix. 4) ; 
and the conditions may well have been such as to account 
for the borrowing of certain rules of conduct by Jewish 
teachers from Egyptian models. There are, at any rate, 
a good many injunctions which presuppose that the pupils 
might have the entree to the best society at home and at 
the court. (4) Another point that requires to be emphasized 
is the strongly marked utilitarian character of the ethical 
system in both cases. It has often been urged in disparage- 
ment of the morality of the Hebrew Wisdom that it incites 
men to the pursuit of virtue for the sake of the earthly 
rewards which follow it. The criticism is unjust. The 
Wise Men of Israel did not hold that the morality of 


a course of action consisted in its tendency to produce 
happiness ; but only that earthly happiness is the outward 
sign that the life which leads to it is approved by God in 
his providential government, and is thereby shown to be 
truly moral. It may be prejudice, but one can hardly resist 
the impression that the utilitarianism of the Egyptian ethic 
is much deeper-seated than that of the Hebrew Wisdom. 
That is to say, the Egyptian sages appear really to recom- 
mend virtuous conduct for the sake of its advantages. 
However that may be, the utilitarian point of view is 
forcibly presented in both literatures : in the Jewish 
writings there is a whole department of conventional eti- 
quette and savoir vivre, in which no ethical principle is 
involved, and which must in any case have been based 
on foreign customs. (5) Lastly, the range of duties covered 
by the two sets of writings is largely identical. That 
appears from the words of Renouf quoted above, and still 
more clearly from a more exhaustive classification which 
I take from Amelineau: "Household economy, religion, 
study of ancient books, industry, drunkenness and glut- 
tony, discretion, luxury, avoidance of faults, modesty, 
the end of life, slander, loquacity, generosity, education, 
propriety, respect for old age, occupations, courage, 
dissipations, vicissitudes of life, friendship and neigh- 

It is extremely difficult to estimate the evidential worth 
of general resemblances like these. Similar social con- 
ditions tend to produce similar ethical codes, and similar 
institutions for propagating them ; and it might be held 
that the parallelism is not greater than was to be expected 
from that consideration, without the hypothesis of direct 
contact and dependence. Accordingly, a good deal depends 
on the occurrence of particular coincidences, which are 
not likely to have happened apart from real and direct 
influence of the Egyptian teaching on the Jewish. Such 
coincidences undoubtedly exist: whether they are suf- 
ficiently numerous to convert the improbability into an 


impossibility, I do not venture to say. I can only cite 
a few of those I have noted : naturally they are the most 
striking I have been able to find ; but their number could 
easily be multiplied. 

(1) There is an interesting passage in chapters xxxviii 
and xxxix of Ben-Sira — too long to quote — in which the 
advantages of the scribe's calling are set forth in contrast 
with several manual occupations : the husbandman, the 
builder, the seal-engraver, the smith, the potter. Now 
the poem of Dauuf is constructed on the very same lines : 
it is a praise of the learned profession as contrasted with 
a number of handicrafts, sixteen in number, including all 
those of Ben-Sira, except the potter. Contempt for manual 
labour, however, was a characteristically Egyptian sentiment 
which finds no countenance from Ben-Sira : no Hebrew 
writer would have agreed with Ptah-hotep that "manual 
labour is little elevated ; the inaction (of the hands) is 
honourable." — In the same poem of Dauuf, the son is ex- 
horted to " set his heart after knowledge, and to love her 
as a mother, for there is nothing that excels knowledge," — 
words recalling the terms in which the search for wisdom 
is inculcated in Prov. i-ix. 

(a) The descriptions of the " strange woman " in Prov. 
ii. 16-19; v. 3-23; vii. 5-27; ix. 13-18 (?), find a close 
parallel in the maxims of Aniy (viii). It is thus translated 
by Erman : " Guard thee against the woman from without, 
who is not known in her city. Look not upon her . . . , 
know her not carnally. A deep water whose eddies one 
knows not is a woman who is far from her husband. ' I 
am gay,' she will say to thee day by day. If she has 
no witnesses, she will stand and lay her snares." The 
question has been discussed whether the 'ishshah zardh 
in Proverbs means merely the wife of another man, or a 
foreign courtesan, like the Greek Hetairai. To judge from 
the Egyptian maxim, she may have combined both cha- 
racters : she is at once a stranger in the city where she 
dwells, and a wife far from her husband. 


(3) " When thou sittest at table with a magnate, consider 
well what is before thee. Thou puttest a knife to thy 
throat if thou be a gluttonous person. Do not hanker 
after his delicacies ; they are a deceitful enjoyment." So 
we read in Prov. xxiii. 1-3. In Ptah-hotep: "If thou art 
among the persons seated at meat in the house of a greater 
man than thyself, take that which he gives thee bowing 
to the ground. Regard that which is placed before thee 
but point not at it; regard it not frequently: he is a 
blameworthy person who departs from this rule." The 
interest of this striking parallel is that it shows that in 
both countries a code of table-etiquette formed part of 
the instruction of the Wise Men. There are many similar 
passages in the book of Ben-Sira: a curious specimen 
will be found in chap, xxxiv. iaff., where the author enters 
into details that throw a strange light on the feasting 
customs of the time. Wisdom of this nature is little likely 
to have been the native product of Jewish society or 
of Jewish religion. 

(4) Talebearing, so often denounced in the Proverbs and 
Ben-Sira, is discountenanced in these terms : " Do not 
repeat any extravagance of language; do not listen to 
it; it is a thing that has escaped from a hasty mouth. 
If it is repeated, look, without hearing it, towards the 
earth ; say nothing in regard to it " (P.-H. xxiii). And 
again : " What thine eye sees in thy house keep silence 
about ; and do not tell it abroad to another, lest it become 
an offence worthy of death when it is heard " (Aniy, vii). 

(5) Severity in family discipline is insisted on in the 
Proverbs, and still more forcibly in Ben-Sira. In the 
Egyptian Wisdom we have such rules as the following: 
"Bring up a son who shall be pleasing to God. If he 
conforms, &c. . . . But if he conducts himself ill and trans- 
gresses thy wish . . . strike him on the mouth in return " 
(P.-H. xii). "Discipline in the house is life: use repri- 
mand and thou shalt find thyself better for it (?) " 
(Aniy, xx). 



(6) Eeaders of the Proverbs have possibly been sur- 
prised at the prominence given to the "faithful messenger" 
(e.g. x. 26; xiii. 17, &c). It is not apparent why the 
ordinary Jewish burgher came to have so many important 
messages to transmit, or how he was so dependent on 
the accuracy of his subordinate. If we could suppose that 
the origin of these rules was the code of the Egyptian 
civil service, the matter might be elucidated by such a 
precept as this : " If thou art one of those who bring the 
messages of one great man to another, conform thyself 
exactly to that wherewith he has charged thee ; perform 
for him the commission as he has enjoined thee. Beware 
of altering," &c. 

(7) The Egyptian Wisdom, like the Hebrew s is pro- 
foundly impressed with the dangers of the tongue, the 
value of wise speech, and on the whole the advantage of 
silence. " The ruin of a man is in his tongue." " Guard 
thee against sinning in words ; let them not be wounding : 
a reprehensible thing in the bosom of a man is the malicious 
loquacity which never rests." — The "soft answer that 
turneth away wrath" appears in Aniy (lviii): "Speak 
gently to him who speaks with vehemence ; that is the 
remedy for pacifying his heart." 

These examples must suffice. They might, as I have 
said, be multiplied, if one were to take note of every co- 
incidence of thought and expression; but if those quoted 
do not make the hypothesis of a common origin plausible, 
I do not think that any number of less decisive parallels 
would produce conviction. The only other question is, 
whether or at what time such communication as is pre- 
supposed between Egypt and Palestine was probable. Now, 
if there was any period more than another when the in- 
fluence of the one country on the other was natural, and 
almost inevitable, it was the century or more during which 
the Jews were ruled directly from Alexandria under the 
Ptolemies. The son of Sira must have spent the best part 
of his life under that dominion ; and we may be quite sure 


that Egypt was one of the foreign countries in which he 
claims to have travelled. Nothing, therefore, could be less 
surprising than that his mind should have been impressed 
by the hoary wisdom of the Egyptian sages, or that he 
should have been a diligent student of their writings. The 
book of Proverbs is no doubt older, though how much 
older it is impossible to say. It is quite possible, indeed 
probable, that the final redaction of the book preceded the 
date of Ben-Sira by much less than a century, so that any 
traces of Egyptian influence which appear there might 
belong to an earlier phase of the same intercourse which 
had become more frequent in the days of Ben-Sira. In 
these circumstances, the nebulous hypothesis of Gunkel, — 
that the origin of the proverbial literature is to be sought 
in Egypt, and that the Egyptian wisdom was transmitted 
to Israel through the medium of Arabia and Edom, — seems 
to me altogether unnecessary. 

I have said nothing as yet about the book of Ecclesiastes, 
which is the book of the Old Testament with regard to 
which the question of external influences has been most 
keenly debated. The discussions, however, have turned 
almost exclusively on the possible acquaintance of the 
writer with the systematic teaching of the Greek philo- 
sophical schools. On that large and difficult inquiry I do 
not propose to enter here; but I may be permitted in 
closing this lecture to advert to some interesting parallels 
between Ecclesiastes and th •> class of Egyptian writings 
from which I have been quoting. 

I begin with a pair of casual coincidences. (1) Take 
first the well-known verses which contain the preacher's 
curiously moderate recommendation of religious duties, 
v. 1 ff. (E. V.). " Keep thy foot when thou goest into the 
house of God, for it is better to draw near to hear than 
to offer a fool's sacrifice ... Be not rash with thy mouth, 
and do not utter a word precipitately before God; for 
God is in heaven . . . When thou vowest a vow unto God, 
defer not to pay it . . . Better it is that thou shouldest 

s a 


not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay . . ." 
To this there are two analogies in the maxims of Aniy: 
"The sanctuary of God abhors (noisy manifestations'?). 
Pray humbly with a loving heart, all the words of which 
are uttered in secret. He will protect thee in thy affairs, 
he will listen to thy words, he will accept thine offerings." 
And again : " In making thine oblation to God, beware 
of what he abhors . . . Exaggerate not the liturgical pre- 
scriptions ; it is forbidden to give more than what is 
prescribed " (Renouf). (2) The sequel of the above passage 
in Qoheleth is as follows : " Suffer not thy mouth to bring 
thee into condemnation, and say not before the angel that 
it was an inadvertence . . ." As usually explained, the 
" angel " means the priest ; and the case supposed is that 
of a man pleading off from the fulfilment of a vow on the 
ground that he had made it inconsiderately. Professor 
Dillon finds that inteipretation unsatisfactory ; and thinks 
the underlying allusion must be to some notion of an angel 
of death who appears suddenly to a man, and whom the 
man tries to evade by some pretext. I confess I do not see 
very well how that exegesis can be carried through ; but 
if it could, an illuminating parallel would be found again 
in the maxims of Aniy : " When thy messenger comes to 
take thee, let him find one who is ready. Surely thou wilt 
not have time to speak, for when he comes he will present 
himself suddenly. Do not say, I am a young man . . . &c." 
The point is that the messenger, who is evidently the angel 
of death, is spoken of quite generally as "thy messenger," 
showing that the idea was firmly rooted in popular 

Of far greater weight than these isolated coincidences 
is a profound similarity between the temper of the book 
and one of the persistent strains of Egyptian meditation. 
The combination of a cheerful abandonment to the pleasures 
and occupations of life with a gloomy resignation to the 
fate of death is a characteristic note of the teaching of 
Qoheleth, which is all the more remarkable because the 


very same sentiments seemed to the later author of the 
Wisdom of Solomon the essence of impiety. " Go thy way, 
eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry 
heart, for God hath already accepted thy works. Let thy 
garments be always white ; and let not thine head lack 
ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest 
all the days of the life of thy vanity which he hath given 
thee under the sun; for that is thy portion in life and 
in thy labour wherein thou labourest under the sun. 
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might ; 
for there is no work nor device nor knowledge nor wisdom 
in the grave whither thou goest." " Truly the light is 
sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold 
the sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice 
in them all ; but let him remember the days of darkness, 
for they shall be many." " Rejoice, O young man, in thy 
youth . . . , &c." Now, this is precisely the mood which 
so frequently finds expression in the tombs of Egypt, and 
whose influence on the life of the ancient people has struck 
all observers from Herodotus downwards. Here are a few 
illustrations : " Possess what thou hast in the joy of thy 
heart. What thou hast not, obtain it by work. It is 
profitable for a man to eat his own bread ; God grants this 
to whosoever honours him " (Leiden papyrus). " Fulfil thy 
desire while thou livest. Put oils upon thy head, clothe 
thyself with fine linen . . . yield to thy desire — fulfil thy 
desire with thy good things whilst thou art upon earth, 
according to the dictation of thy heart. The day will 
come to thee when one hears not the voice — when the one 
who is at rest hears not their voices. Feast in tranquillity; 
seeing that there is no one who carries his goods with 
him." " Make a happy day, O divine one (?). Let odours 
and ointments stand before thy nostrils, garlands and lotus- 
flowers for thy shoulders . . . Let song and music be before 
thy face, and leave behind thee all evil cares. Mind thee 
only of joys, till cometh the day of pilgrimage when we 
draw near the land that loveth silence." " O brother, cease 


not to drink, to eat, to be drunken, to practise love, to 
make a happy day, to follow thy heart day and night ; 
let no grief affect thy heart: what are the years, how 
numerous soever they be which one passes on the earth.'' 
The feeling is admirably rendered in the following lines 
of a modern poet: — 

O swart musician, time and fame are fleet, 

Brief all delight, and youth's feet fain to fly ! 
Pipe on in peace ! To-morrow must we die ? 

What matter if our life to-day be sweet ! 

Soon, soon, the silver paper-reeds that sigh 
Along the Sacred River will repeat 
The echo of the dark-stoled bearers' feet, 

Who cany you, with wailing, where must lie 

Your swathed and mummied body, by and by, 

In perfumed darkness with the grains of wheat. 

The preacher did not learn that strain from the songs 
of Zion; may he not have borrowed it from Egyptian 
sources ? 

John Skinner.