4QInstruction’s Mystery and Mastery of Wisdom

in Dead Sea Discoveries
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To paraphrase Victor Shklovsky, the idea that 4QInstruction presents a combination of distinct apocalyptic and sapiential components has survived the downfall of the theory that supports it. Scholars increasingly describe wisdom and apocalypticism as coexistent, mutually influencing currents of thought within a broader Hellenistic environment. Nevertheless, characterizations of their co-presence in texts like 4QInstruction tend to rely upon more simple, typological notions. This paper explores how the relationships of similarity and difference among various texts alter significantly when we discard such typologies and instead adopt a more complex, structural approach to the logic underlying their discursive components. I discuss several texts from Proverbs, Job, Daniel, and Ben Sira, but I focus on 4QInstruction, which I argue presents apocalyptic-infused teachings within a framework that is congruent with—even more logically rigorous than—traditional wisdom. However, amidst Second Temple Judaism’s heightened concerns with knowledge, this logical advance accompanies dangerous sociopolitical consequences.

Dead Sea Discoveries

A Journal of Current Research on the Scrolls and Related Literature




Karl Marx, Grundrisse (trans. Martin Nicolaus; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), 110.


See, for example, John J. Collins, Seers, Sibyls and Sages in Hellenistic Roman Judaism (JSJSup 54; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 369–404; and George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Wisdom and Apocalypticism in Early Judaism,” in Lawrence M. Wills and Benjamin G. Wright, eds., Conflicted Boundaries in Wisdom and Apocalypticism (SBLSymS 35; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 17–37.


Jefferies, Wisdom, 109.


Goff, Worldly, 50, 51.


See Goff, Worldly, 13.


See Goff, Worldly, 189–97.


Goff, Worldly, 193. 4Q417 1 is classified as 4Q417 2 by some e.g., Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1997–1998).


Newsom with Breed, Daniel, 300.


Claudia V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs (Sheffield: Almond, 1985), 214, 217.


See Torleif Elgvin, “An Analysis of 4QInstruction” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997), 61; and idem., “Wisdom and Apocalypticism,” 239.


Knauert, “Limits,” 320–21.


Knauert, “Limits,” 321.


See Harrington, “Wisdom,” 141–42; Strugnell and Harrington, djd 34:113; and Goff, 4QInstruction, 115.


Matthew J. Goff, Discerning Wisdom: The Sapiential Literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 13–29, discusses further the technical issues facing translators of this central but enigmatic phrase.


See, for example, Harrington, “Wisdom,” 150. Harrington likens the mystery to “kingdom of God” in the Synoptic Gospels.


Goff, 4QInstruction, 15.


Newsom, Self, 23–75.


Fredric Jameson, “Symbolic Inference; Or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis,” in The Ideologies of Theory (London: Verso, 2008 [1978]), 144–60 (158).


For a discussion of dating, see Goff, 4QInstruction, 27–29; he concludes that 4QInstruction is “roughly contemporary with Ben Sira, whose instruction was written ca. 180 b.c.e.” (29).


Newsom, Self, 42–43.


See Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I (trans. Ben Fowkes; London: Penguin Books, 1976), 163–77, esp. 164–66.


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