Once again I allowed myself to get behind in the reading schedule (spring break last week, backpacking the Ozarks with my wife and another couple from church), and as others can attest, to get behind is an obstacle nearly impossible to overcome. I thought I was doing good catching up on the Canonical Compositions when I realized the Archival Documents selections for this week were going to require some serious attention (see previous link)! So perhaps by next week, I will have caught up with the readings from the Archival Documents.
Of focus in the Canonical Compositions this week continues to focus on Egyptian literature, though we transition from with a Divine focus to texts with a Royal and Individual focus. Of the Royal texts, something worth noting is the observation James K. Hoffmeier makes concerning the King Lists (1.37). He recognizes a parallel between the Sumerian King-list and the genealogies in Genesis 1-11. In each text, you have outrageous lifespans, followed by a break (a deluge, according to the Sumerian King-list and Genesis), after which the age spans are realistic or significantly reduced.
Additionally, some of these Egyptian king-lists are not complete but selective. Hoffmeier reflects on the significance of this selectivity.
The practice of omitting entire epochs, such as the Amarna and Hyksos periods, were ways that later kings could expunge embarrassing forebears and not make offerings to them. On the other hand, there is no evidence that superfluous names were added to the Egyptian lists. Selectivity, apparently, violated no literary or political expectations in ancient Egypt. By extension, it holds that the omission of individuals or groups of ancestors from Israelite genealogies in the Bible was practiced for ideological or structural purposes, while not violating any Near Eastern canons of historiography. (1.37)
Hoffmeier highlights the way in which the literature we are reading helps us to understand the literature of the Bible. This, of course, is really the project of the Context of Scripture.
In The Shipwrecked Sailor (1.39), we see the interesting interaction between a person and a talking snake. There are few parallels between this text and the garden scene in Genesis. There was one that stuck out to me, that the person encountering the snake is not surprised to hear the snake talk. This is, I believe, due to the pervasive imagery of talking snakes in the ancient Near East. Jack Sasson recently linked (via agade) to this book, which approaches the human fascination with snakes from an anthropological perspective which recognizes our fascination with snakes as something deeply rooted in our evolution.
The Two Brothers (1.40) shares remarkable affinity to the conflict between Joseph, Potiphar, and Mrs. Potiphar. This affinity, however, should not be misunderstood as an occasion of literary dependence. The stories are, on the whole, very different. I would find it more likely that the triangular conflict is an Egyptian type-scene, though this too might be too speculative.
In the category of “Prophecy,” we encounter numerous parallels to Ecclesiastes. One such example would be the characteristic of speculative wisdom literature to have a man speaking to his heart (1.45 n.9). Another would be a similar theme to Eccl 1:9-10:
I said this in accord with what I have seen:
From the first generation,
Down (7) to those who come after,
They imitate that which is past. (1.44)
This weeks post hardly does justice to the wealth of information to be gleaned from the past two weeks’ readings. Do yourself a favor and begin following along if you have not yet. If you don’t have the set yet, save $100 and buy it at SBL, or have someone buy it for you if you can’t attend yourself.
Next Week in the Context of Scripture
27th – Instruction of Amenemope; The Queen to Yarmihaddu (1.47; 3.45S)
28th – Dua-Khety or the Satire on the Trades; Tiptiba`lu (Shibti-ba`lu) to the King (1.48; 3.45T)
29th – Papyrus Harris 500; From an Official in Alashia to the King (1.49; 3.45U)
30th – Cairo Love Songs; `Uzzinu to the King (1.50; 3.45V)
31st – Papyrus Chester Beatty I & Ostracon Gardiner 304; Unknown to the King (1.51&52; 3.45W)
1st – The Famine Stela; Message of ‘Iriritarmua to the Queen (1.53;v3.45X)
2nd – The Legend of the Possessed Princess (“Bentresh Stela”); ‘Urgitetub (Urhi-Tesub) To the Queen (1.54; 3.45Y)