Instruction of Amenemope (also called Instructions of Amenemopet, Wisdom of Amenemopet) is a literary work composed inAncient Egypt, most likely during the Ramesside Period (ca. 1300–1075 BCE); it contains thirty chapters of advice for successful living, ostensibly written by the scribe Amenemope son of Kanakht as a legacy for his son. A characteristic product of the New Kingdom“Age of Personal Piety”, the work reflects on the inner qualities, attitudes, and behaviors required for a happy life in the face of increasingly difficult social and economic circumstances. It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of ancient near-easternwisdom literature and has been of particular interest to modern scholars because of its relationship to the biblical Book of Proverbs.
Though all extant copies of Amenemope are of a later date, the work is thought to have been composed in the Ramesside Period, during which the tribes of Israel first became a unified nation. Egyptian influence on Israel and Judah was particularly strong in the reigns of Solomon and Hezekiah during Egypt's Third Intermediate Period; as a result, "Hebrew literature is permeated with concepts and figures derived from the didactic treatises of Egypt", with Amenemope often cited as the foremost example. Even in his first brief publication of excerpts from Amenemope in 1922, Budge noted its obvious resemblance to the biblical wisdom books. He amplified these comments in his 1923 and 1924 publications, observing that the religiously based morality of Amenemope "closely resembles" the precepts of the Hebrew Bible, and adducing specific parallels between Amenemope and texts in Proverbs, Psalms, andDeuteronomy. Others soon followed his lead.
The most notable of these was Adolf Erman, "the Dean of all Egyptologists", who in 1924 published an extensive list of correspondences between the texts of Amenemope and the biblical Book of Proverbs, with the bulk of them concentrated in Proverbs 22:17-23:11. It was Erman who used Amenemope to emend a difficult reading in the text of Proverbs 22:20, where the Hebrew wordshilshom ("three days ago") appeared to be a copyist's error that could be meaningfully translated only with difficulty. Erman pointed out that substituting the similar word sheloshim ("thirty") not only made good sense in context, but yielded the following close parallel between the two texts, with the now-restored "thirty sayings" in Proverbs 22:20 corresponding exactly to the thirty numbered chapters in Amenemope:.
Hebrew plagarized copy (Proverbs 22:20): "Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge?" (ESV)
Egyptian Kemetic Original (Amenemope, ch. 30, line 539): "Look to these thirty chapters; they inform, they educate."
Erman also argued that this correspondence demonstrated that the Hebrew text had been influenced by the Egyptian instead of the other way around, since the Egyptian text of Amenemope explicitly enumerates thirty chapters whereas the Hebrew text of Proverbs does not have such clear-cut divisions, and would therefore be more likely to lose the original meaning during copying. Since Erman's time there has been a near consensus among scholars that there exists a literary connection between the two works, although the direction of influence remains contentious even today. The majority has concluded that Proverbs 22:17-23:10 was dependent onAmenemope; a minority is split between viewing the Hebrew text as the original inspiration for Amenemope and viewing both works as dependent on a now lost Semitic source.
A major factor in determining the direction of influence is the date at which Amenemope was composed. At one time the mid-1st millennium BC was put forward as a likely date for the composition of Amenemope, which gave some support to the argument for the priority of Proverbs. However, Jaroslav Černý, whose authority on New Kingdom paleography was so great that his conclusions were considered "unquestionable", dated the fragmentary Amenemope text on the Cairo 1840 ostracon to the late 21st dynasty. Since a 21st-dynasty date inevitably makes Amenemope chronologically prior to the earliest possible date for Proverbs, this would definitively establish the priority of Amenemope over Proverbs and make influence in the other direction impossible.
Other evidence for Egyptian priority includes:
- the close literary relationship between Amenemope and earlier Ancient Egyptian works such as the Instruction of Kagemni and theInstruction of Ptahhotep (both dated to at least the 12th dynasty) and the Instruction of Ani (dated to the late 18th or early 19th dynasty);
- the demonstrably native Egyptian character of the genre, themes, and vocabulary of Amenemope;
- the discovery of the editorial and structural mechanisms by which the Egyptian original was adapted by the biblical author.
- By the 1960s there was a virtual consensus among scholars in support of the priority of Amenemope and its influence on Proverbs.For example, John A. Wilson declared in the mid-20th century: "[W]e believe that there is a direct connection between these two pieces of wisdom literature, and that Amen-em-Opet was the ancestor text. The secondary nature of the Hebrew seems established." Many study Bibles and commentaries followed suit, including the Jerusalem Bible, introductions to the Old Testament by Pfeiffer and Eissfeldt, and others. The translators of the Catholic New American Bible, reflecting and extending this agreement, even went so far as to emend the obscure Hebrew text of Proverbs 22:19 (traditionally translated as "I have made known to you this day, even to you") to read "I make known to you the words of Amen-em-Ope." [44EVIDENCE:A number of passages in the Instruction of Amenemope have been compared with the Book of Proverbs, including:Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(Bible) copy (900 B.C.) Over a thousand something years later (Proverbs 22:17-18):"Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, And apply thine heart to my doctrine; For it is pleasant if thou keep them in thy belly, that they may be established together upon thy lips"Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300–1075 BC) older (Amenemope, ch. 1):"Give thine ear, and hear what I say, And apply thine heart to apprehend; It is good for thee to place them in thine heart, let them rest in the casket of thy belly; That they may act as a peg upon thy tongue"Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(bible) copy (900 B.C.) Over a thousand something years later (Proverbs 22:22):"Rob not the poor, for he is poor, neither oppress (or crush) the lowly in the gate."Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 2):"Beware of robbing the poor, and oppressing the afflicted."Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(Bible) copy (900 B.C.) Over thousand years later (Proverbs 22:24-5): "Do not befriend the man of anger, Nor go with a wrathful man, Lest thou learn his ways and take a snare for thy soul."Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 10): "Associate not with a passionate man, Nor approach him for conversation; Leap not to cleave to such an one; That terror carry thee not away."Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(Bible) copy (900 B.C.) Over a thousand years later (Proverbs 22:29):"[if you] You see a man quick in his work, before kings will he stand, before cravens, he will not stand."Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older Amenemope, ch. 30):"A scribe who is skillful in his business findeth worthy to be a courtier"Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(Bible) copy (900 B.C.) over a thousand years later (Proverbs 23:1):"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, Consider diligently what is before thee; And put a knife to thy throat, If thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties, for they are breads of falsehood."Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 23): "Eat not bread in the presence of a ruler, And lunge not forward(?) with thy mouth before a governor(?). When thou art replenished with that to which thou has no right, It is only a delight to thy spittle. Look upon the dish that is before thee, And let that (alone) supply thy need." (see above)Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(bible) copy (900 B.C.) over a thousand years later (Proverbs 23:4-5):"Toil not to become rich, And cease from dishonest gain; For wealth maketh to itself wings, Like an eagle that flieth heavenwards"Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 7):"Toil not after riches; If stolen goods are brought to thee, they remain not over night with thee. They have made themselves wings like geese. And have flown into the heavens."Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(bible) copy (900 B.C.) over a thousand years later (Proverbs 14:7):"Speak not in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words"Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 21):"Empty not thine inmost soul to everyone, nor spoil (thereby) thine influence"Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(bible) copy (900 B.C.) over a thousand years later (Proverbs 23:10): "Remove not the widows landmark; And enter not into the field of the fatherless."Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 6): "Remove not the landmark from the bounds of the field...and violate not the widows boundary"Hebrew Plagarized Byblos(bible) copy (900 B.C.) over a thousand years later (Proverbs 23:12):"Apply thine heart unto instruction and thine ears to the words of knowledge"Egyptian Kemetic original Manuscript (1300-1075 B.C.) older (Amenemope, ch. 1):"Give thine ears, hear the words that are said, give thine heart to interpret them."