Beginning with this post some months ago, we began looking at the wisdom tradition’s close, albeit the forgotten, relationship to cooperation, peace, and diplomacy in the old-world Middle East. A few weeks later I began to illustrate those ideas, and this surprised people, on the diplomatic roles that were hiding in plain sight in the narratives of Daniel and Ezra.
Now it is never good procedure to rest a case for the recovery of a lost way of seeing – in this case wisdom and the diplomatic – on one or two narratives – even if they are as impressive and convincing as Daniel and Ezra. Fortunately, the theme of wisdom and diplomacy is not an irregularity in the Scriptures. Daniel and Ezra are merely two narratives of many disclosing political actors, in one way or another in the old-world Middle East, functioning as part of what today we today would a regional foreign policy community.
In these narratives, the two most prominent classes of high-level officials that we see in the diplomatic corps were known in the Hebrew Bible as the hakamim and soperim. In brief, the former served chiefly as what we today would call ambassadors, diplomats, foreign ministers, secretaries of state, international negotiators and mediators, and so forth. The latter included diplomats, royal secretaries, master secretaries (usually professional writers whom English translators usually call scribes), and even, occasionally, high-level ecclesiastical figures and civil servants.
These two classes of high-level officials would have been educated in the wisdom traditions of their royal courts, they worked alongside each other, and their their roles could overlap. Both the hakamim and the soperim, along with other kinds of royal court officials, were indispensable to a nation’s domestic politics and international relations.
One of our difficulties is that we may be so familiar with reading the Bible in certain ways that we don’t see the wisdom-diplomatic connection and the vital insights that this way of seeing Scripture has to offer for today. For instance, if we are reading chiefly for our devotional life and personal moral development, and perhaps for help with our families and our finances, it will probably take a deliberate turning of the head to see wisdom in its diplomatic role.
There is of course nothing wrong with engaging with Scripture in those other ways, and we wouldn’t want to ignore them. But on this blog we are turning to Scripture, “reading” it, in a way that asks different, yet importantly relevant, kinds of questions.
I began getting a buzz on how significant wisdom and the diplomatic corps of the old-world Middle East was many years ago, when I was researching the period when “Israel the people” became “Israel the state.” In other words, when ancient Israel became a nation among the nations (a monarchy among monarchies) and was recognized internationally as such. There are some telling clues about this in the Scriptures, which may help us in furthering our understanding of the diplomacy of wisdom. I want to look at those clues in the next post.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image by Silver Rose (permission via Creative Commons)