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Wisdom in Distress

Title: Wisdom in Distress: A Literary and Socio-Historical Approach to the Aramaic Book of Ahiqar.
Name(s): Bledsoe, Seth A., author
Goff, Matthew J., professor directing dissertation
Slaveva-Griffin, Svetla, university representative
Levenson, David B., committee member
Kelley, Nicole, 1975-, committee member
Florida State University, degree granting institution
College of Arts and Sciences, degree granting college
Department of Religion, degree granting department
Type of Resource: text
Genre: Text
Issuance: monographic
Date Issued: 2015
Publisher: Florida State University
Florida State University
Place of Publication: Tallahassee, Florida
Physical Form: computer
online resource
Extent: 1 online resource (410 pages)
Language(s): English
Abstract/Description: The Aramaic Book of Ahiqar, an ancient instruction that combines a novella and set of wise sayings, was discovered among a cache of papyri dating to the 5th c. B.C.E. belonging to a community of Judeans on the southern Egyptian Nile-island of Elephantine. The text describes a court scribe named Ahiqar who is betrayed by his nephew and successor Nadan and sentenced to deathy by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon. Ahiqar is saved, however, by his friend Nabusumiskun, the very person who is supposed to execute him. At this point the text breaks off, but it picks up again in the middle of a series of instructions, presumably from Ahiqar to his son. The content and form of these sayings share significant stylistic, thematic, and contextual similarities to the biblical wisdom corpus, particularly the book of Proverbs and the Egyptian instructions. Much of the past century of research on Ahiqar has centered on philological, paleographical, and lexical matters in an effort to determine the text's original language, provenance, and date. There are some very large methodological gaps. In particular, very little analysis has been done with respect to Ahiqar as a piece of literature. What is the overall message and character of Ahiqar? What is its underlying ethic? What does Ahiqar say about the divine, humanity and the cosmic order? How do the answers to each of these questions relate to the text's material context and readership? Three primary impulses will guide this study in trying to answer these questions: (1) the Book of Ahiqar will be treated as is, thus the narratve and sayings will be interpreted together and not separated according to some diachronic-redactional analysis; (2) comparison with external sources will feature the Egyptian materials, especially the instructions, which have been largely ignored in previous studies; and (3) the message and characteristic features of Ahiqar will be measured against the backdrop of the Judean community at Elephantine. After a survey of previous scholarship and methodological response (Chapter 1), I begin with a literary and formal analysis of Ahiqar (Chapter 2). Narratological and other recent approaches to the Ahiqar narrative reveal a complexity in plot movement and character. Two significant aspects come to the surface: the ambiguous role of the king and the opposition drawn between Nadan and Nabusumiskun. A survey of the formal and stylistic features among the sayings demonstrates a tremendous amount of variety and yet at the same time a significant amount of coherency and overlap, indicating that a saying's context is integral to understanding the nuances of its meaning. The overall structure, content, and function of Ahiqar suggest that its generic background lies within the ancient instruction tradition, particularly those from Egypt. In Chapter 3, I find that the primary message of Ahiqar revolves around the power and danger of the spoken word. Discretion is generally advised. A pervasive ethic of caution undergirds this message. The text also extols the virtues of contentment and humility. In Chapter 4 I take a rhetorical approach that centers on the financial and economic advice. In contrast to several other instructions, the social outlook in Ahiqar typically appropriates the perspective of someone in financial distress or from a lower socio-economic position. Shifting to the socio-political sphere, I determine that the narrative and sayings blur ethnic boundaries, resulting in a reimagining of community that no longer depends on strict ethnic or familial ties. Finally, I turn to anthropological and theological issues (Chapter 5). Here, I argue that Ahiqar evinces a negative anthropology, a conclusion supported by the ethic of caution and a few sayings that speak to human nature and its limits explicitly. Ahiqar's portrayal of the divine contributes to a pervasive tone of anxiety, whereby the gods are symbols for justice but at the same time are inscrutable in their benevolence and wrath. The king, who symbolically stands at the intersection of humanity and the gods, is a similarly ambivalent figure, and, like the gods, can be terriblly and unpredictably destructive.
Identifier: FSU_migr_etd-9553 (IID)
Submitted Note: A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Degree Awarded: Summer Semester 2015.
Date of Defense: July 10, 2015.
Keywords: Ahiqar, Egypt, Elephantine, Instruction, Judaism, Wisdom
Bibliography Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Advisory Committee: Matthew Goff, Professor Directing Dissertation; Svetla Slaveva-Griffin, University Representative; David Levenson, Committee Member; Nicole Kelley, Committee Member.
Subject(s): Religion
Judaism -- Study and teaching
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Host Institution: FSU

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Bledsoe, S. A. (2015). Wisdom in Distress: A Literary and Socio-Historical Approach to the Aramaic Book of Ahiqar. Retrieved from