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)
Helpful, insightful post. I liked the suggestion that the Bible provides narrative peeks at the wisdom involved in Israel’s journey of being a people separated in Goshen to becoming a formal state, which made necessary the appointment of kings, judges, and diplomatic corp. It also, to me, provokes a revisiting to certain portions of church history where the demands of Christendom were confused with the demands of the kingdom of God.
Thank you. And, yes, too right. We really do need to get our minds round those “narrative peeks” [nice phrase, that] because they provide important clues as to how ancient Israel evolved its social and political life not only via Yahweh’s revelatory Law but in consociation with the regional powers. You must have been reading my notes, hehe, because you’ll see some clues about this discussed in Monday’s post (June 23). Also, extremely significant in this sense is the (overlooked) Moses/Jethro narrative. In some future posts I want us to consider just how vital this time (weeks/months?) at the foot of Sinai was for the Israelites AND the non-Israelites. There are clear wisdom tradition fingerprints — from outside the covenant community — all over Moses’ initial work in establishing a just political/juridical social structure — before the giving of the Law but which then later get taken up positively — after Sinai — to become part of the Law. It was wonderfully exciting to see this emerge from some close readings of the text. And the narrative has a humorous thread running through, which I have some fun with along the way.
And, yes, you’re right, this kind of engagement with the text should indeed provoke us to revisit, e.g., the church’s support of imperialist projects, from Constantianism onwards, including during the time of the British Empire and the so-called American Century. By the way, there’s an enlightening book by Steven Maugham: “Mighty England Do Good: Culture, Faith, Empire, and World in the Foreign Missions of the Church of England, 1850-1915 (Studies in the History of Christian Missions),” Eerdmans, which, in part, extensively sites, in amazingly detailed ways, the critical, very public approach that parts of the British church took toward the British Empire. ‘Nuff said.