The ancient Near Eastern texts commonly referred to as Wisdom literature by modern scholars are concerned with formulating rules for a good life on the basis of experience. The literary genre runs from counsels and proverbs to speculations on the problem of undeserved suffering and the meaning of life. Although the intellectual outlook of the ancient Near Eastern sages is religious throughout, Wisdom literature transcends the cultural differences in cult and belief.



See James L. Crenshaw, “Ecclesiastes—Odd Book In,” BR 06:05.


Hubert Grimme, “Babel und Koheleth-Jojakhin,” Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 8 (1905), pp. 432–438.


Andrew George, The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation (London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 1999), p. 124 (Meissner tablet, iii, 6–13).


After George A. Barton, The Book of Ecclesiastes, (International Critical Commentaries (Edinburgh, 1908), p. 162, the quotation of Shiduri’s counsel became almost a standard ingredient in commentaries to Ecclesiastes 9:7–9.


Morris Jastrow and Albert T. Clay, An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic, Yale Oriental Researches 4/3 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1920).


Aaron Shaffer, “The Mesopotamian Background of Qohelet 4:9–12, ” Eretz-Israel 8 (1967), pp. 246–250 (Hebrew). And “New Light on the Three-ply cord,” Eretz-Israel 9 (1969), pp. 159–160 (Hebrew).


Note especially Oswald Loretz, Qohelet und der Alte Orient: Untersuchungen zu Stil und theologischer Thematik des Buches Qohelet (Freiburg, Basel, Vienna: Herder, 1964).


For literature on the correspondences between Qoheleth and Gilgamesh see, in addition to the studies mentioned above, Jean de Savignac, “La sagesse de Qohéléth et l’épopée de Gilgamesh,” Vetus Testamentum 28 (1978), pp. 318–323; Bruce W. Jones, From Gilgamesh to Qoheleth, in The Bible in the Light of Cuneiform Literature: Scripture in Context III (Ancient Near Eastern Texts and Studies, vol. 8), ed. William W. Hallo et al.; Lewiston etc.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), pp. 349–379.


For the principal studies of the genre see Hans G. Güterbock, “Die historische Tradition and ihre literarische Gestaltung bei Babyloniern und Hethitern bis 1200,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 42 (1934), pp. 1–91, esp. pp. 19–20, 62–86; A. Kirk Grayson, Babylonian Historical-Literary Texts (Toronto and Buffalo: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1975), pp. 7–9; Erica Reiner, “Die akkadische Literatur,” in Wolfgang Rollig, ed., Altorientalische Literaturen (Neues Handbuch der Literaturwissenschaft 1 (Wiesbaden: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1978), pp. 151–210, esp. pp. 176–180; Brian Lewis, The Sargon Legend: A Study of the Akkadian Text (American Schools of Oriental Research [ASOR] Diss.Ser. 4 (Cambridge, MA: ASOR, 1980), pp. 87–93; Joan Westenholz, “The Heroes of Akkad,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 (1983), pp. 327–336; Tremper Longman III, Fictional Akkadian Autobiography: A Generic and Comparative Study (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1991).


Joan Goodnick Westenholz was the first to draw the parallel (review of The Sargon Legend, by Brian Lewis, in The Journal of Near Eastern Studies 43 [1984], pp. 73–79, esp. 77). She was followed by Longman, Fictional Akkadian Autobiography, pp. 120–123; and Choong Leong Seow, “Qohelet’s Autobiography,” in Fortunate the Eyes That See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Astrid B. Beck et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 275–287; Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible 18C (New York: Doubleday, 1997), esp. pp. 60–65.


Translation by Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 3 vols. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1973), vol. 1, pp. 196–197.


Harper’s Song 17.2–3, in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, p. 198.


Papyrus Insinger 20.6, in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, p. 175.


Ankhsheshonq 32.18, in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, p. 211; cf. 31.1, p. 209.


Ankhsheshonq 22.5, in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, p. 176.


Joseph Blenkinsopp, Safe, Priest, Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995), p. 58.


For a description of the genre, see Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 1, pp. 5–7.


Paul Humbert, Recherches sur les sources egyptiennes, Memoires de l’Université de Neuchätel 7 (Neuchätel: Secretariat de l’Université, 1929), chap. 4, p. 124.


See, e.g., Roger Norman Whybray, Ecclesiastes, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1989), pp. 8–9; Ronald E. Murphy, Ecclesiastes (Word Biblical Commentary 23A (Dallas: Word Books, 1992), pp. xxi-xxii; Seow, Ecclesiastes, p. 37.


Edmund Pfleiderer, Die Philosophie des Heraklit (Berlin, 1886).


R. Braun, Kohelet und die frühhellenistische Popular-philosophie, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1973), p. 170.


Pfleiderer, Philosophie des Heraklit, p. 255.


Blenkinsopp, “Ecclesiastes 3.1–5: Another Interpretation,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 66 (1995), pp. 55–64.


Peter Machinist, “Fate, miqreh, and Reason: Some Reflections on Qoheleth and Biblical Thought,” in Solving Riddles and Untying Knots: Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield, ed. Ziony Zevit, Seymour Gitin and Michael Sokoloff (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995), pp. 159–175, esp. 165.


See, for example, Martin Hengel, Judentum und Hellenismus, 2nd ed., Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 10 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1969), esp. pp. 220–221.

The objection that the word miqreh is also found in earlier biblical books (1 Samuel 6:9, 20:26; Ruth 2:3) is not valid (Kurt Galling, “Stand und Aufgabe der Kohelet-Forschung,” Theologische Rundschau, n.s. 6 (1934), pp. 355–373, esp. p. 362). There the word refers to a chance occurrence, whereas Qoheleth uses the erm exclusively in connection with death as the predetermined boundary of human (and animal) life (Machinist, “Fate, miqreh, and Reason,” p. 170). Qoheleth, in other words, turns the word into an abstract notion, which puts him in the vicinity of the Greek philosophical tradition.


Quotation from Murphy, Ecclesiastes, p. xiv.


See also Michael P. Streck, Die Bildersprache der akkadischen Epik, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 264 (Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 1999), p. 101, who refers to Greek anemolios, “windy,” i.e., vain, empty, insubstantial.


I am quoting from Seow, Ecclesiastes, p. 64.


See Lichtheim, Late Egyptian Wisdom Literature in the International Context, Orbis biblicus et orientalis 52 (Fribourg: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), p. 27.


Lichtheim, Wisdom Literature, pp. 13–22, 22–24.