“WISDOM LITERATURE” – BABYLONIAN – ANCIENT EGPTIAN – JEWISH FUNDAMENTALIST versus MODERN LIBERAL JEWISH THINKING – THE EXCOMMUNICATION OF SPINOZA, THE EMINENT JEWISH PHILOSOPHER

JEWISH HISTORIAN ELOQUENTLY WRITES ABOUT THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE INCLUDING SECTIONS ON FUNDAMENTALIST JEWS AS OPPOSED TO MODERN MORE LIBERAL JEWISH THINKING.  PARTICULARLY RELEVANT IS HIS REFERENCE TO THE “WISDOM” WRITING OF THE MIDDLE EAST BY JEWISH AND NEARBY OTHER PEOPLE THE BABYLONIANS AND THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS.

THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN “WISDOM LITERATURE” – PROVERBS  – AND OLD TESTAMENT – HEBREW BIBLICAL “BORROWING” FROM AFRICAN ANCIENT EGPTIAN SOURCES

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The Book of Jewish Knowledge: an Encyclopedia of Judaism and the Jewish People, Covering All Elements of Jewish Life from Biblical Times to the Present by Nathan Ausubel (Crown Publishers, Inc: New York), 1964

Nathan Ausubel on the dedication page stated:

To the Memory of my father and mother … Gentile People who in a world of dross and tumult walked beside the still waters.

The Example of their own devout lives taught me the urgency of

finding a motivation for my own. The ethical and spiritual truths i learned from them I have entered in this, their book.

May these truths drawn from the accumulated wisdom and humanity of the Jewish People find their continuity in the lives of others! Selah.

In the Foreward Nathan Ausubel stated:

The learned Jews of ancient times showed no less dedication in their pursuit of knowledge than the scholar prients of Egypt, the Magi of Persia, the Pundits of India, and the philosophers of Greece. Nonetheless, they gave it a markedly different emphasis.

In that emphasis, no doubt, lay the individuality of traditional Jewish culture. Each people in the family of mankind plays, as it were, a different instrument in the orchestra of civilization.

Contributing with its system of cultural values its own characteristic tone, timbre, and color to the total ensemble.

THE GREAT MASSES OF THE PEOPLE – THE COMMON PEOPLE – IN THE REPUBLICAN ATHENS

– MERE CHATTELS OR BEASTS OF BURDEN

PRIOR TO THE ENORMOUS

(“RACIALLY-” “NATIONALITY” AND “SUBCONTINENTALLY”- LABELED)

“WHITE”

“EUROPEAN” (PORTUGUESE, ENGLAND, SPAIN) –

”AFRICAN” SLAVE TRADE:

The great masses of the people, even in republican Athens, during the memorable days of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Euripides,

were kept suppressed and illiterate, in line with the antisocial philosophy of “slavocracies,” in which

the common people

were looked down upon as mere chattels or beasts of burden.

It was different with the Jews. [Note, however, in the first five books (Torah) of the Hebrew Bible Abraham is indicated to have been a slaveholder!)

The pursuit of learning, especially ‘Torah learning’ was highly revered among the Jews during the Second Temple Period;

it has been elevated to an exalted form of religious worship by Ezra the Scribe about the Year 444 B.C.E.

The obligation to study perpetually the precepts, laws, and teachings contained in the scriptures had evolved in time into a religious-national dedication.

The internal conditions and social organization of Jewish community life

made it possible for even the poorest and the humblest to acquire at least some learning;

Many of the most illustrious of rabbinic sages, like Hillel and Akiba, sprang from the common people.

It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that, in the democratric and ethical climate of Jewish community life (in which all men, at least theoretically, stood equal),

illiteracy and ignorance

were scorned because they prevented the individual from acquiring an adequate knowledge of the religious-cultural heritage of Israel.

… But it remained for

the genius Moses the liberator

and of those inspired

‘tormentors of Israel’s conscience, the defenders of the poor and weak against their oppressors’

the Prophets Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, and Jerimiah;

to evolve a new conception of the one god:

one that was moral and just and girt with holiness.

From this hitherto unprecedented idea developed a new ethos

in which ideas and sentiments of humanity, brotherly love, mutual aid, and social responsibility predominated.

It was a new light intended to lead mankind

out of the pathless jungle of animism, cruelty, greed, and war.

Indeed, it was an awesome design of man’s untapped potential for food and for self-perfection,

his optimism remained,

despite the fact

that during several cultural periods in jewish life the pure vision of Moses, the Prophets, and the Rabbinic Sages SUDDENLY DARKENED AND WAS DISTORTED BY A GENERAL SLIDING BACK INTO SUPERSTITION AND FANATICISM. (Emphasis Added)

The Fundamentalists wished the people

to exchange the rational for the irrational,

THE SPIRITUAL AND ETHICAL CONTENT OF RELIGION

FOR THE MERELY TRIVIAL AND THE FORMALISTIC. (Emphasis AAdded)

The Gentle Philosopher of Amsterdam, Spinoza, himself

driven out of the Jewish Community BY THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS FANATICS

FOR THE UNFORGIVABLE CRIME OF THINKING HONESTLY AND FOR NOT CONFORMING,

mused bitterly in his essay “On Superstition Over the Ironic Condition of Man:

THE MULTITUDE, EVER PRONE TO SUPERSTITION

AND CARING MORE FOR THE SHREDS OF ANTIQUITY

THAN FOR ETERNAL TRUTHS,

PAYS HOMAGE TO THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE,

RATHER THAN TO THE WORD OF GOD.

THEGENERALITY OF MEN, THE PHILOSOPHER SEEMED TO SUGGEST,

DO THE VERY OPPOSITE OF THAT WHICH WOULD SERVE THEIR BEST INTERETS:

THEY THROW AWAY THE KERNEL AND KEEP THE CHAFF.

… The Late Edward Sapir, the American anthropologist who himself seems not to have had any formal affiliations with the Jewish Religion and who demonstrated only the scientific humanist’s impartial interest in Jewish culture, and who appears not to have participated in any organized aspect of Jewish community life,

still became intrigued by the irony of this psychological phenomenon:

even the most sophisticated Jew is proud of at least two things.

While he may have no personal use for a Savior, it pleases him to think that his ancestors gave one to Christendom;

AND THOUGH COMFORT AND ENLIGHTENMENT MAY LONG HAVE DISABUSED HIM OF THE NECESSITY OF A GOD,

he takes satisfaction in the thought that his remoter ancestors invented the purest kind of a God That We Have Record Of: the God of Monotheism.

SUCH A JEW HAS ONE OF THE KEENEST OF KNOWN PLEASURES WHICH MAY BE DEFINED AS THE ART OF ENDOWING OTHERS WITH A PRICELESS BOON THAT ONE FINDS IS MORE CONVENIENT TO DISPENSE WITH FOR ONE’S OWN PART.

While it is patently true that, in the past, the principles and practices of the jewish religion were primarily keyed to the traditional theocratic ; pilosophy of Jewish life,

IN MORE MODERN TIMES AN EVER INCREASING NUMBER OF JEWS, BOTH KNOWLEDGEABLE AND CULTURED, NO MATTER WHAT THE EXTENT OF THEIR AFFILIATION WITH JUDAISM MIGHT BE, HAVE BEEN ACTIVELY PURSUING ‘NON-JEWISH INTERESTS’ INTERESTS BASED ON SCIENTIFIC AND PURELY SECULARISTIC PREMISES AND GOALS.

Such, after all, do represent the major cultural characteristic of twentieth-century civilization in which Jews are playing an undeniably important role.

The Author’s (Nathan Ausubel’s) note to the reader:

“ … WHEREVER POSSIBLE, I HAVE SOUGHT TO PRESENT DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW AND EVALUATIONS SO THAT THE OPEN-MINDED READER WOULD BE ABLE THE BETTER TO DRAW FROM THEM HIS OWN CONCLUSIONS.

… IN ALL CONSCIENCE, AS A SERIOUS POPULARIZER OF JEWISH KNOWLEDGE, I COULD NOT BYPASS THE NECESSITY OF PROBING FOR INSIGHTS, BOTH FOR THE READER’S ENLIGHTENMENT AND FOR MY OWN, INTO THE DYNAMICS OF JUDAISM, JEWISH LIFE, AND CULTURE. …

SECTION A: THE BIBLE – THE WISDOM BOOKS:

More Earthy kind of poetry than the hortatory verse of the prophets or the threnodies to God of the Psalmists is found in the Biblical writings called ‘Wisdom Books’:

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.

They are composed in pithy verse, and at least the first two works are marked by much sophistication, worldliness, and a skepticism that is in equal measure mellow and ironic. For their time, these writings were considered intellectually challenging.

Read in the light of our day, they appear to be steeped in A KIND OF ARISTOCRATIC WELTSCHMERZA TWILIGHT MOOD OF WORLD-WEARINESS AND DISENCHANTMENT WITH LIFE.

THE WRITERS OF PROVERBS AND ECCLESIASTES PRESUMABLY UPPER-CLASS JEWS BELONGING TO THE SADDUCEAN RELIGIOUS -POLITICAL PARTY OF THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD

UTTER WITH APLOMB THE MOST ASTONISHING HERESIES. AMONG THESE IS THE SADDUCEAN DISBELIEF IN THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL AND IN THE WORLD-TO-COME:

two subjects of bitter controversy that engaged in rebuttal all the passions and dialectical skill of the rival Pharisees.

ECCLESIASTES, FOR EXAMPLE, IS COLORED BY THE HEDONISTIC VIEWS OF THE GREEK EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY.

IT PREACHES A RESIGNATION TO LIFE AND A QUIETISM IN ALL OF ITS AFFAIRS.

IT ALSO ADVANCES A RAISONNÉ FOR THE FULL ENJOYMENT OF THE LIFE OF THE SENSES

SINCE THE GRAVE IS MAN’S COLD DESTINATION.

THIS IS A POINT OF VIEW HARDLY CONSONANT WITH THE PURITANISM THAT IS TRADITIONAL IN JEWISH LIFE AND WITH THE MORAL SIGNIFICANCE IT ENDOWS HUMAN STRIVINGS.

“ … ALL THE ADVANCED NEAR EASTERN AND MIDDLE EASTERN NEIGHBORS OF ISRAEL,

SUCH AS THE EGYPTIANS, ASSYRIANS, BABYLONIANS, AND PERSIANS,

CREATED ‘WISDOM’ LITERATURES OF THEIR OWN.

… Already, at the end of the third millennium B.C.E., the Babylonians boasted a Book of Proverbs. A Wise Book to teach right and profitable conduct.

… OTHER BABYLONIAN COMPOSITIONS OF THIS TYPE, PERHAPS ALSO MORE ANCIENT IN ORIGIN THAN THE JEWISH,

[NOTE; BABYLONIANS AND THE HEBREW RABBINICAL WRITECOPYING FROM AFRICAN EGYPTIAN SOURCES !]

THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN “WISDOM” LITERATURE AND THE PROVERBS:

“The Wisdom of Egypt” – “The Instructions of Amenemope”

PROVERBS, Chapters 22 and 23:

Prudential Wisdom: Wisdom of Solomon

Book of Proverbs, Chapters 22 and 23 – Egyptian Wisdom

Text: Pharaoh Amenhotep “Instructions of Amenemope

Reflective Wisdom: Job, Ecclesiastes

Prudential Wisdom is the older of the two, an expression of an ancient and international form of Near Eastern moral philosophy. …

THE BOOK OF PROVERBS” EXPRESSLY BORROWS FROM THE STOCK OF WISDOM IN OTHER LANDS.

PROVERBS CHAPTERS 22 AND 23 CONTAIN A NUMBER OF UNACKNOWLEDGED BORROWING FROM THE “INSTRUCTIONS OF AMENEMOPE,” AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN WISDOM TEXT.

[See Glendon Bryce, Israel and the Wisdom of Egypt, 1975]”

EGYPTIAN “WISDOM” LITERATURE AND THE PROVERBS:

THE EGYPTIAN PRIEST-SCIBES, TOO, WERE WHOLEHEARTEDLY DEDICATED TO THE PURSUIT OF WISDOM.

THEY PRODUCED BOOKS OF PROVERBS AND EPIGRAMS ALMOST FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO.

THE BEST-KNOWN, BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN SOMETIMES DURING THE TENTH TO SEVENTH CENTURIES B.C.E. WAS THE TEACHING OF AMENEMOPE.

THIS CELEBRATED WORK SHOWS STRIKING SIMILARITIES TO THE HEBREW BOOK OF PROVERBS.

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Robert Graves & Raphael Patai, in Hebrew Myths: Stories of Cosmic Forces, Deities, Angels, Demons, Monsters, Giants and Heroes – Interpreted in the Light of Modern Anthropology and Mythology (Anchor Books: Doubleday: New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland, Australia), 1963, 1964, pp. 226-227, indicated:

The Book of Deuteronomy, published under Josiah, bans numerous Canaanite rites, among them ritual Prostitution, ritual sodomy, and all forms of idolatry.

GENESIS, WHICH IS FAR MORE CLOSELY LINKED WITH GREEK, PHOENICIAN, HITTITE, UGARITIC, SUMERIAN, AND OTHER BODIES OF MYTH THAN MOST PIOUS JEWS AND CHRISTIANS CARE TO ADMIT, WAS … EDITED AND RE-EDITED FROM PERHAPS THE 6TH CENTURY B.C. ONWARDS, FOR MORALISTIC ENDS.”

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About Harold L Carter

Bachelor of Science, Columbia University Masters degree, Ohio State University Undergraduate National Officer, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Eastern Asst Vice President, when a student at Columbia University Profile Photograph: Mom & Me, when I was a graduate student
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