The prophecies of Neferti

I’ve finally got to read James Linville‘s Amos and the Cosmic Imagination

[amtap book:isbn=0754654818]

I know it was published back in ’08, but books (especially expensive European books take a while to get to our library down here ;)

The book itself is stimulating, not least because he seems to be starting in the right place i.e. assuming that Amos is something like a work of historical fiction written sometime in the Persian or Hellenistic period, and without making too much fuss about the textual archaeology that seems so often to render studies of the prophetic corpus dull and insipid, he takes the reader (at least in the first chapter or two) on a journey of imagination into reading this work.

The pyramid of Snefru (photo by Charlie Phillips)

However, that’s not what I want to write about here, in an almost passing comment he refers to the Prophecies of Neferti an Egyptian work that I’ve not paid much attention to. It really is fascinating stuff, well at least to me, set back in the days of Snefru some four or five hundred years in the (presumed) writer’s past it tells of a prophetic speech, delivered to the ancient king by a sage. The contents are much like a biblical prophetic book, though with the narrative frame in place of a superscription. So, already a sort of paradigmatic prophetic fiction from the 20th century (BCE), but beyond or as well as that there are loads of phrases and images that resonate with Amos…

Now, how can I work all this together to make a paper on either Complaint or Isaiah and Empire, since I need material for abstracts on those topics fast!?

Is biblical scholarship science or an artistic performance?

Jean-Philippe Rouchon - Chef d'orchestre by Augustin Rouchon

For the article I am writing I am looking closely at various proposals for understanding the structure of the book of Amos. Once again I am struck by the variety of positions scholars can take. The issue of course is the evidence we use to convince each other. We weigh that evidence differently.

For example Klaus Koch and colleagues grew to scholarly maturity in a world dominated by Form Criticism, they place great emphasis on the use of introductory formulae, and on changes of genre. So the phrase “Hear this…”

  • 3:1 שמעו  את־הדבר  הזה
  • 4:1 שמעו  הדבר  הזה
  • 5:1 שמעו  את־הדבר  הזה

They believed, as the process which produced the chapter divisions also believed, that these three introductions represented three blocks of material. (But note already some selection has gone on, similar phrases that lack the “this” do not mark sections in the same way:

  • 3:13 שמעו (also starts a sentence and a speech unit)

However the example in:

  • 8:4 שמעו־זאת

seems to start a unit, and includes “this”… Other information has come into play. There are similar issues, but perhaps even more ones that require judgment of an aesthetic kind when one looks at the “woe oracles”.

See: Klaus Koch, Amos: untersucht mit den Methoden einer strukturalen Formgeschichte, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 30 (Kevelaer: Butzon und Bercker, 1976)

Similarly a number of other scholars have proposed chiastic structures for all or part(s) of the book. These chiasms are sometimes similar to each other, though with interesting differences, but often they use different cues, and arrive at different results. Some rest mainly on verbal repetitions, others put more weight on repetition of themes, or content (like “a judgement against Israel”). In evaluating these we again rely on a sort of aesthetic sense, scholar X’s chaism convinces because it provides a “reading” of the passage, or the book, that “feels right”.

See: Jan de Waard, “The Chiastic Structure of Amos V 1-17,” Vetus Testamentum 27, no. 2 (1977): 170-177; a similar idea was proposed independently by Claude Coulot, Propositions pour une structuration du livre d’Amos au niveau rédactionnel Revue des sciences religieuses, extrait (tome 51, n°2-3, 1977) ([s.l.]: Revue Religieuse, 1977); J Lust, “Remarks on the Redaction of Amos V 4-6, 14-15,” Old Testament Studies 21 (1981): 129-54; N.J. Tromp, “Amos V 1-17: Towards a Stylistic and Rhetorical Analysis,” Oud-testamentliche Studien XXIII (1984): 56-84. Who all examined chiastic structures in 5:1-17, but compare Widbin, R Bryan. “Center Structure in the Center Oracles of Amos.” In Go to the land I will show you, edited by Joseph E. Coleson, Victor Harold Matthews, and Dwight W. Young, 177-192. Eisenbrauns, 1996. Or compare David A. Dorsey. “Literary Architecture and Aural Structuring Techniques in Amos.” Biblica 73 (1992): 305-30 with  de Waard, Jan, and William A.S. Smalley. In A translator’s handbook on the book of Amos. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1979 on the book as a whole.

To be sure, both the form and the chiastic scholars attempt to support their arguments with scientific-sounding arguments, but in the end it is an aesthetic judgment which schemes are found convincing. The standard processes of scientific scholarship (like “blind” peer review) perhaps work well in the sciences and social-sciences, but do they work for more “artistic” fields? Could we rely on two other conductors to judge the worth of a third conductor’s reading of a particular piece? If we did musical performance would become much more tradition-bound and less exciting!

In the end we judge such performances by a complex process that includes the views of professional colleagues, critics and the general concert-going or CD-buying public. Perhaps such a process is also at work long term in biblical studies? But in the short-term, we play the peer review game, and perhaps also try to game the system to get our readings heard ;)

See: Paul Nikkel on Deinde “Trying to stay open-minded” and “An Open Return” the link to the DOC file that contained his ideas on open review in more detail seems to have been lost in the restructuring of the site.

Another contribution to the already copious and comprehensive literature concerning transparency as a feature of imperial clothing

Photo by janetmckI am nearing the end of the literature review section of my article on the Structure of Amos. There is nothing like such an exercise to encourage one to examine the nature and worth of scholarly publication.

As an undergraduate student, newly converted to a quasi-literary or historical discipline (Biblical Studies) from the rather different disciplines of Psychology, I eagerly explored the arcane works to be found in the Theology Library (then just across the road in Pusey House), sometimes when unusually excited by an idea I even supplemented them with the wonders available in the Bodleian (a little further away but still a pleasant stroll).

[One of the major delights of study at Oxbridge, in addition to the marvelous erudition of one’s fellow students, and entertaining excentricity of one’s teachers, and even sometimes the reverse, is the freedom from the lecture courses that lesser institutions inflict on unwary students. This freedom allows the exploration in depth of ideas that catch one’s interest :)]

Regularly in such exploratory missions, endeavouring to map this new (to me) terrain of biblical studies, I wondered at the capacity of any collection of renowned scholars whose books and articles I pulled from the shelves to fail to agree about anything, much.

This capacity had ceased to amaze me, but still amused me, when I wrote a brief review article comparing Hayes little: [amtap book:isbn=0687010403] and Andersen and Freedman’s huge :[amtap book:isbn=0300140703] Amos commentaries. [Incidentally now the relative prices amaze but do not at all amuse me. How can a 250 page paperback cost more than a 1000 page hardback?] Both claimed to present clear evidence allowing the reader to reconstruct, following the tram lines laid down by the omniscient authors, the details of the ministry activity of the prophet Amos some seventeen hundred years earlier. The confidence with which the author of the short book could assert that Amos had enjoyed a very brief but powerful ministry, while the authors of the 1000 page tome assured us that his ministry was long and complex, was dazzling ;)

In those days my own “publications record” had no effect whatever on my employer’s income, and little on anything else. Since then the NZ government has introduced a clever scheme to get more accountability for all the pennies they rather stintingly dole out for higher education: the successive Performance Based Research Funding exercises. Since this generosity extends to private as well as public institutions, provided only they can demonstrate that they conform to the goals the government sets, have good retention and pass rates, get most of their graduates into employment etc… I get “assessed” by these exercises. We do not know the marking schedule, have no idea of the details of the criteria by which each of us will be judged and found wanting, but we are fairly sure articles in International Journals count quite a bit. Wouldn’t you find something with which you could plausibly disagree given such motivation?

But wouldn’t it be so much better for the world if scholarship (at least in the humanities, where research does not mean killing animals or smashing atoms, or anything else that is quantifiable, or will lead to a clear and evident improvement in human economies) were measured and rewarded by some more meaningful criteria?

[amtap book:isbn=0687010403]