Centuries after the Joseph narrative, along come Moses, an Israelite who, soon after birth, becomes the adopted son of a pharaoh’s daughter and is raised and educated in the Egyptian royal court. Commenting on Moses’ schooling in Egypt, the New Testament book of Acts explains that “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). This statement squares with the findings of modern scholarship, that Egypt’s royal court was where gifted and chosen young men were formally educated in Egypt’s wisdom tradition. And such an educations would have included both religious and political instruction. (See this post and also this post, both about Daniel, for brief descriptions of the wisdom schools of the old-world middle East.)
Decades later, however, Moses has switched national allegiances. He is now a patriotic Israelite and, now also commissioned by Yahweh, he becomes a clear and present danger to Egypt’s national security (Exodus 2-12). In hopes of thwarting the looming existential threat, pharaoh summons his “wise men” [the Hebrew word is “hakamim”] to seek advice (Exodus 7:11). You know the outcome. Pharaoh loses the war. Perhaps a million people or more, mostly Israelites but many non-Israelites as well, have been freed from oppression and slavery, while much of Egypt lies devastated and pharaoh’s army has been decimated.
Some months afterward, Moses appoints hakamim from each of the twelve tribes of Israel as advisers and judges to keep order over the roiling multitude, which is now stuck in a hot desert, where temperatures are flaring and arguments and fights are breaking out everywhere. These newly appointed officials, with Moses as the sort of Supreme Court Justice over them, become a defacto governing structure of the nascent society that is now in the process of being formed out of Egypt (Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1). In a future post I want us to take some time with this absolutely fascinating narrative, but here I am merely continuing what we began in the previous post, which is to briefly acquaint us with some biblical addresses where the role of wisdom in the governments of the old-world Middle East, although clearly evident, has often been unseen by contemporary Christians.
To continue, then. In Persia, King Xerxes, in the delicate matter of deciding Queen Vashti’s fate, sends for his “wise men” [hakamim] for advice on the legal issues he will face when devising a policy to deal with this sensitive matter of the nation’s domestic life (Esther 1:13). The same language, hakamim, is also used in the book of Esther for the officials who advise Haman, King Xerxes treacherous courtier (Esther 6:13).
There are numerous other examples that could be cited of what we may call the diplomatic corps of the Middle East. For anyone seeking wisdom for international affairs and foreign policy, a close reading of these narratives will yield many gems. Women, too, were notable for their wisdom. In the next post we will look at two fascinating stories of women who were diplomatic figures.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image by timtom.ch (permission via Creative Commons)