Quora answer: How many of the proverbs in the Bible predate the Old Testament?

Oct 23 2011

As far as I know, this question is unanswerable as stated. There are wisdom literature in both Egypt and Mesopotamia I believe and Proverbs is the reflection of this in the Bible, however whether these wisdom literature predate the bible is open to question because the copies we have of the bible are rather late. I am not familiar enough with these wisdom literature to know if the same statements are in both the bible and those literature from the two close civilizations, but even if they were then it would be a problem knowing which was the more original source because of the lateness of the Bible versions we have for Proverbs. But this is not my area of expertise. So perhaps someone will come along who knows the real answer. There may however be a book on it you might try to find, because I know this question is of interest to scholars. There may be a dissertation on it somewhere.

In general I will say this. The bible has many genres of literature within it. It is really a mini-library, and so proverbs are just another genre which was definitely popular in the Middle East in general during early times. It is not something specific to the bible, but I have never seen a study comparing the wisdom literature in the bible with that in Mesopotamia and Egypt. But one would imagine that they are very similar. But what has had the greatest impact on our understanding of the bible is the discovery of the library at Ugrit. This literature shows that the bible and heroic literature we see in Greece, and plays all differentiated out of proto-literature that was a mixture of Genras from our point of view. We also now know because of that literature that the Greek Literature derives more from Mesopotamia than from Egypt. I have seen a study on that which was very good.

So the real question, is not so much whether wisdom literature in the bible is similar to similar kinds of works in Mesopotamia or Egypt, but rather how did these genres themselves differentiate to give us something like the bible, i.e. a book containing multiple genres. What were the forces that produced this differentiation. The Ugrit material suggests that the Bible, with separated genres is rather late. However, I defer to others who know more about these things than my meager studies have turned up.

See http://www.historywiz.com/images/neareast/baal-lg.jpg

But since I brought up Ugarit, I want to tell you my favorite story from those tales. It is about Baal, who asks the maker God whose name I forget, to build him a palace. The Maker God asks Baal if he wants a window in his palace, and Baal says yes, and in the very next line death comes in and seizes Baal and there is a life and death struggle that ensues. To me this is an incredibly significant scene. This is because Baal is essentially the same as Zeus. Zeus is a two faced God of dark clouds with thunder and lightening, i.e. who represents nihilism which is either too light or too dark. Baal is also the god of covetousness. I talk about this in my book Fragmentation of Being and the Path beyond the Void. Baal has a genealogy in Greece which is very interesting. When we realize that Baal and Zeus are the same then that Genealogy becomes even more interesting which I trace in my book. But to me the story about Baal and the window is about groundlessness. As soon as Baal asks for a window, then that gives an entry way for death and leads to his struggle with death. The window might have been for Baal to look out over his kingdom but in fact it was a weakness in his palace defenses. The fact that Zeus has two faces one dark and the other light tells me that nihilism is at the center of the Greek worldview in the form of Zeus, and the fact that Baal, the earlier Zeus was covetousness explains Zeus’s behavior, his philandering has its root in covetousness. And in the bible it specifically says you should not covet your neighbors wife.So as we already know the Jewish faith was anti-Baal and this comes out by the specific denial of covetousness. But also we see in Baal this acting out of the problem of groundlessness. To see what is outside the palace you must create a weakness in it, and any kink in the defenses allows death in and leads to a struggle for life. If we think of Baal’s palace as a bit of technology, then what we see is that this bit of technology, the palace for a god, is fragile, by exactly what makes it something with a view, i.e. an important affordance, to be able to see outside. Nietzsche and Heidegger both point out that
technology is connected to nihilism and to fragility and ultimately groundlessness. In this story we can see that these concerns can be seen to go way back but this only becomes when we realize that both cultures had a maker god who builds things for the other gods, and this maker gods contraptions sometimes get out of hand, for instance in the case of Pandora’s box. But even more profoundly, it is when the maker god makes a home for Baal that a choice is given to Baal which leads to the hole in the wall of the dwelling of the God and that place of looking out on ones kingdom is precisely the point of entry of death and thus the groundlessness of the entire structure.

Zeus http://blogoscoped.com/files/zeus.jpg
Thetis Appeals to Zeus (by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1811)

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