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What an interesting review of a review (or should we call it a rebuttal?). I particularly enjoyed the phrase about Kitchen-Waltke maximalism being a type of literary minimalism! Genius.

On the one hand, I think the idea (and critique) from the final paragraph is very true, but not necessarily of Waltke. He, like most of us, tends to fall back on our heels and reject at times, but it's not too common in his work. I definitely do not think he would teach his students to reject certain types of scholarship or have an "either/or" mindset.

On the other hand, I do think the perspective could be descriptive of a type of common thinking that comes from Westminster and Reformed seminaries. In my opinion it goes back to the very arguments about common grace that split Cornelius van Til from the neo-Calvinists. Thus, I would expect more rejection of higher criticism from WTS than I would from Calvin seminary.

Andrew C

I wondered if you'd take this up, John!

Very nice post. Regarding the Kitchen article, when I read Onksheshonky, I was struck that while the overall structure of the two works seems similar (intro + longer discourse + sentence sayings), the *form* of the longer discourses in Onksheshonky and Proverbs 1-9 is very different in character. What is a collection of longer poems in Proverbs 1-9 is one continuous narrative in Onksheshonky, describing how he got himself into this mess (imprisonment). Thus while there seems to be a correspondence of sorts, I'm just not sure it's a very meaningful one, nor (for that matter) one that can allow something to be dated diachronically. Your reference to Ben Sira is especially apt there!


I hope I do not come across as overly critical of Bruce Waltke.

The fact is, he is always worth engaging. That puts him in a very elite category of Old Testament scholars. The vast majority do not seem to have anything of substance to say about the Sache of the text.

Pete Enns


I read BKW's review yesterday and had a similar set of reactions. Waltke controls Proverbs as well as most anyone, I think, and has earned the right to be heard. And authorship issues in Proverbs are very much an open topic.

But I do feel that Waltke of late has been taking a less flexible approach to modern biblical scholarship than in past years (e.g., when I was his student at WTS in the mid-80s). You may be aware of the exchange he and I had a year or so ago when some of this same temperament re: critical scholarship was clearly expressed.

Ranger makes a very important point about the difference between WTS "Puritan brand" Calvinism and the Dutch tradition of Calvin College (more so than at the Seminary, at least re: biblical studies).

At any rate, thanks for posting this. Can you remember a review of this length published in RBL?



Thanks for dropping by.

Now and then RBL has published some long reviews, sometimes even longer than this one. In an upcoming post, I want to summarize a few points made by Walter Dietrich in his just-released nine page review of Van Seters' recent volume.

Thanks for drawing our attention to your WTJ exchange with Waltke. I find myself persuaded by some of Waltke's points, by some of yours, but especially, by the very large extent in which you stand on common ground. It's easy to miss the latter, I'm afraid.

My other reaction: I think both of you often address issues that are almost light years away from the center of gravity of the texts themselves. There is a sense in which I think the both of you fall into the trap of an overly reader-response hermeneutics. We (post-) moderns take our difficulties with the text, what we find "disturbing," to use Waltke's adjective, terribly seriously. More seriously, I contend, than we take the text itself.

Here is the link to the instructive exchange you note - WTJ is to be commended for hosting it:


Honestly, I don't know a thing about Calvin Seminary's biblical studies program or even anyone who teaches there. I was just thinking that as a result of the common grace debates long ago such repercussions would still be expected.

Andrew C

I've never really thought of the biblical studies issue in terms of VanTillian approaches vs. Neo-Calvinist approaches. I'll have to do some chewing on that.

I guess I've always been struck by the very progressive (if that's the right word) approaches of such WTS types as Stonehouse, Silva, and Dillard. (Pete, I'm sure you could speak more authoritatively than I about how "VanTillian" they were.)

Still, I've felt like CVT (in "A Christian Theory of Knowledge") does actually leave a bit of room for biblical scholars when he notes that there is a sense that we hold to scripture in spite of appearances. (Sorry, my copy is boxed up for a move, so I can't find the page #.) I don't think many VanTillians have taken that where they could have, but it's still an interesting "Vantillian loophole" if you will.

I think that Calvin Seminary (of late) has begun to delve into biblical studies more (Nevada from Epiginoskein, if he's reading this, could chime in here), but I know in the CRC tradition, dogmatics has tended to be king. But unless I'm overlooking something from the past, I'm not sure that the Neo-Calvinist approach has *necessarily* let to a warmer reception of a believing critical approach (to use Sparks' helpful term). I'm willing to be corrected here of course.

A final note - John, I didn't take you as being too critical of BKW. I feel such an amazing amount of appreciation for him, though likewise feel that he does fall back towing the party lines when it comes to certain issues. The WTJ exchange (and further blog responses by Enns) were a very fine conversation; very constructive for me in my own work and reflection.

Alan Lenzi

Longest review in RBL that I've seen:
James Barr on Jobes' and Silva's Invitation to the Septuagint. 32 pages!

Waltke says: "biblical criticism . . . replaces faith in God’s revelation with faith in the sufficiency of human reason." That's right! It's called modern scholarship. We demand evidence, use reason, and don't generally take things on faith. Can you think of any field of scholarship taking a similar comment about their data seriously?


Great example, Alan. Barr of course was a consummate critic even if, which is not too surprising, his own attempts at synthesis were nugatory.

For the rest, I'm not convinced by your notion that modern scholars are one thing, and believers are another. This seems to be Waltke's notion, too: you agree more than you know.

Okay, neither of you quite say that. Bear with me a moment.

In the larger academic world, there are many interesting contrasts and parallels to the situation in biblical studies. That situation is that biblical studies is dominated by believers albeit of various kinds, with non-believers nonetheless not excluded.

Take Buddhist studies. It has long been dominated by "outsiders," which is the opposite of the situation in the case of the academic study of Judaism and Christianity. Is this is a good or a bad thing?

I would contend that it is a bad thing. Yes, I'm biased, since the University of Wisconsin is dear to my heart, a university which is famous for having a program taught by believing Buddhists. Without hesitation I would suggest that outsiders to Buddhism, if they want to specialize in Buddhism, need to study the texts of Buddhism under a believing Buddhist for an extended period of time.

Another example. Constitutional law. There must be exceptions, but every constitutional law professor I've ever read treats the constitution as scripture to be exegeted in accordance with precedent and a particular hermeneutical approach (there are several).

Now there might be a point to constitutional law professors taking seriously, I don't know, a Marxist historian of the US who sees the Constitution as above all a tool of the capitalist class. This would be equivalent to biblical scholars taking seriously a post-colonial colleague who sees the Bible as a tool of colonializers.

But do constitutional law professors even humor Marxist historians with a dime of their time and interest? Not that I know of. Perhaps the interaction is buried in some obscure journal read by a few handfuls of people.

In short, Alan, I am tempted to turn your observation on its head.

The fact is that there has been, since the Reformation, very robust forms of biblical criticism practiced by believers. A history of this kind is unattested in Islam, Buddhism, and even in Judaism until quite recently. It's only about a 100 years old in Catholicism.

The tradition of believing criticism is a tradition that your alma mater, Westminster, taps into in all sorts of ways, but not as extensively as it might. The tendency there is to be, in my opinion, a bit too much on the defensive.

I prefer offense myself. That is most easily done as a believing critic (I'm using Sparks' terminology, which is helpful).

As for unbelievers in the guild, they should be welcomed with open arms by believers. For example, the field of NT studies has gained immensely from the contributions of Jewish scholars like Samuel Sandmel, David Flusser, and Amy-Jill Levine. It turns out that Jewish and Christian scholars of the New Testament can agree on the interpretation of a huge number of facts.

In the case of the Hebrew Bible / OT, the situation is even better. For example, I'm convinced that Jacques Berlinerblau, Jon Levenson, and John Goldingay could co-teach a course on ancient Hebrew literature. They would differ on the interpretation of things in various ways, in part based on different faith perspectives or the lack of them, in part based on unrelated matters.

But they would also agree on the interpretation of a wide variety of things, and even make common cause against the tendentiousness of maximalists on the one hand and minimalists/ mythicists on the other.


Andrew C suggested I chime in... So here goes...

It's been a long time since I dealt with anything to do with Van Til vs. the neo-Calvinists... My sense is that Van Til is generally considered something of a rationalist in neo-Calvinist circles (ironic, I know)... But don't quote me on that! :)

As far as neo-Calvinism and a "believing critical approach" go, I think Andrew is generally right that neo-Calvinism does not automatically equal acceptance of higher critical approaches. Neo-Calvinism is by its very nature suspicious of any methodology arising out of the modern/Enlightenment period. At the same time, because of their view of scripture as a meta-narrative as opposed to a "system of truth," and because they are equally suspicious of the "soft" rationalism of Thomas Reid and Scottish Common Sense Philosophy (which pervaded Old Princeton and still holds sway over many of its descendants), neo-Calvinists appear (at least from my vantage point) to be more open to questions of multiple authorship, etc. (i.e., because scripture doesn't have to be a scientifically accurate textbook).

In some ways this is a difficult topic to discuss because neo-Calvinists have generally kept to philosophy. I can only think of one or two neo-Calvinist "biblical" scholars, and so it's difficult to expound on the tradition's view on the topic.

One thing I do want to clear up is the implied link between neo-Calvinism and Calvin Seminary. There may have been some connection a few decades ago, but for the most part that's dead and gone (i.e., there's only one prof at the seminary who would self identify as a neo-Calvinist, but he is a bit idiosyncratic). There is actually a history of antagonism between the seminary and neo-Calvinism. For example, Foppe Ten Hoor and Abraham Kuyper had a run in the early part of the 20th century. Likewise, in the early 70's, neo-Calvinists associated with the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto pushed to have the seminary closed down. In addition, H. Evan Runner who was at Calvin College was considered something of a controversialist. The result of all of this is that today the seminary is generally hostile towards neo-Calvinism (as it has developed via Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven), though there is some sympathy towards Abraham Kuyper. Probably the only hint of neo-Calvinism left is the extensive use made of Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics (which actually shows how alien neo-Calvinism is to the seminary).

As far as Calvin Seminary and Biblical Studies go, yes, there are a number of opportunities. Because the seminary has a ThM in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature, one can take Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Aramaic in addition to good old Hebrew.

Hopefully that is helpful. I realize it's all a bit off topic, but I thought I'd clear some of that up (or maybe just make everything muddier :)


And yes, if anyone is wondering I am a "neo-Calvinist" (it's just so much easier to write in the 3rd person plural... "We" sounds strange to me in this sort of context :)


Thanks, Nevada. Very interesting.


As I read back over my comment, I realize that someone might take it as a strong critique of everything in Ranger's earlier comment. While there is little connection left between neo-Calvinism and Calvin Seminary, that does not mean that Calvin Seminary is not open to "believing criticism." As at any institution there are a wide range of views on the topic, but my gut sense is that Ranger is right that Calvin Seminary would be more open to it than Westminster PA (I recall a prof or two making comments about how shameful it was that Enns had to leave WTS PA). Within the OT/Hebrew Bible department, different versions and permutations of form criticism, narrative criticism, and canonical criticism are taught.

Enns' comment about Calvin College is also on target. The college (which is a separate institution) would probably be even more open to a variety of methodologies which espouse more modern approaches the Bible (e.g., feminist criticism, etc.). In this case, I would say that it would be the legacy of a modified version of neo-Calvinism at work (Calvin College unlike Dordt or Redeemer has never been explicitly a neo-Calvinist institution). Though one may be able to argue that it has less to do with neo-Calvinism and more to do with the ethnic heritage of the school (i.e., the Dutch Reformed's connection with continental Europe which escaped the whole modernist/fundamentalism situation--this connection is accented by the large migration of Dutch Reformed to North America after WWII. Most of whom settled in the CRC). This, of course, doesn't mean that the CRC didn't go through the fundamentalist controversy in the States (it did), but it does mean that a significant chunk of post-WWII immigrants have had a hand in shaping Calvin College.

Alright, I'll be quiet now :)



I don't know how James Daane fits into this, but I have a fun story to tell. As a teenager, not long after a dramatic conversion experience within an Arminian context, I struggled because my experience of God did not correlate with the "God will meet you halfway" theology I was being taught. God hadn't met me halfway. He had covered all the distance and re-oriented my entire life.

Then, in the Madison public library of all places, at age 15 or 16, I ran across a copy of James Daane's The Freedom of God and thought right away, hey, this is real theology, appropriate to the Subject. Who is this Calvin guy? It wasn't long before I was reading everything from Calvin to Ellul to Barth and Bonhoeffer.

By the time I was 18 or 19 I was reading Dooyeweerd with Brian Walsh on the University of Toronto campus and becoming acquainted with the world of ICS. I think the magazine I enjoyed reading the most in those years came out of Calvin, with authors like Mavrodes, Plantinga, Smedes, and Wolterstorff.

Not bad for someone raised in a washed-out pietist environment (and eternally grateful for it, since I came to Christ through it).

Raymond Van Leeuwen

Nevada, I think Foppe's exchange of letters was with Herman Bavinck, not with Kuyper. Also the witch hunt that got Jansen kicked out of Calvin Seminary in 1922 had a terrible effect on Old Testament scholarship at CTS and in the CRC for many years, and still is not entirely overcome. Jansen had a German Ph.D and had been seeking to deal responsibly with critical scholarship.


Hi Raymond,
Yes, you are correct that Bavinck and Ten Hoor exchanged letters. What I am referring to is Ten Hoor's sharp criticism of Kuyper regarding theological education (perhaps "run in" was not the best term?). I refer you to chapter 6 of John Bolt's "Stewards of the Word." The two men differed over the role of the church in doing theology.

Bolt writes:

"In Kuyper's judgment, a Christian university like his own Free University of Amsterdam, and most definitely not a church-related seminary, was the proper place to do theology.
It was precisely here that Ten Hoor vigorously opposed Kuyper. For Ten Hoor, maintaining the ecclesiastical character and control of theological education was crucial and he rejected altogether Kuyper's distinction between ecclesiastical and scientific theology with his concern that the latter be truly scientific, organically linked to the "architectonic whole of sciencie."" (113)

Bolt spends the entire chapter laying out the differences between the two men. He also mentions how the Janssen case represented this very tension between Ten Hoor and Kuyper. Ten Hoor was very suspicious of Janssen not only for his "higher critical" views but also because Janssen "did not favor the ecclesiastical control of theology as a science." (116) In his defense in 1920, Janssen even appealed to Kuyper's doctrine of common grace (Janssen had also studied theology at the Vrije University from 1906-1908).

I know that there is a great deal of regret at CTS regarding Janssen. When the story is brought up in CRC history classes, it is not glossed over and the general conclusion is that he was greatly wronged.

I wonder what you mean by stating that the effects of the case are "still not entirely overcome." Could you give some examples? My experience was very positive and is part of the reason why I am currently working on a PhD in Hebrew Bible. I never got the sense that any questions were out of bounds.


Thanks for the wonderful insights Nevada, John, Andrew, Alan, etc. I'd particularly be interested in hearing neo-Calvinistic responses not just to the idea of whether or not there is a difference between the responses to higher criticism, but to this review by Waltke in particular. So, Prof. van Leeuwen and Nevada, if you get a chance, please share your thoughts.

dave b

I still have to get to the Waltke review--incidentally it was a couple of neo-Calvinist biblical scholars that put me on to it.

the discussion about whether neo-cals are more open to higher criticism is interesting but a bit frustrating because it is removed from actual examples of neo-cal biblical scholars. As I read the exchange here three names immediately came to mind: Al Wolters, Raymond van Leeuwen (so imagine my surprise when I saw that he had posted a comment!) and Craig Bartholomew--all quite influential scholars in their own ways (though I might be a bit biased).

I'll let Raymond van Leeuwen speak for himself but it seems to me that Wolters and Bartholomew are not categorically opposed to the results of higher criticism but they are VERY critical of the philosophical assumptions of modernity which underpin it and which arrogantly dismisses approaches to biblical interpretation which have a different starting point (the kind of view which is epitomized in the comment by Alan Lenzi above--you have infinite patience John!). Alvin Plantinga's article in the Scripture and Hermeneutics volume on history (I think it's called "Two [or More] Kinds of Scripture Scholarship ) is a fine example of a neo-calvinist critiquing modern biblical scholarship (an essay that Wolters thinks all would-be bible scholars should read).

that's my two cents anyway.


Thanks, Dave, for your thoughtful remarks.

As I touch on elsewhere, the goal of modern liberal thought is (consciously or unconsciously) to deprive or drastically circumscribe the authority of the Bible (and religion in general):

I think a Calvinist perspective with a strong understanding of culture as a positive is predisposed to accept Scripture for what it is, rather than force it into molds determined by (mostly modern) assumptions about the genres of literature God would have used to transmit truth in antiquity (or modernity). For example:

Bruce Waltke

First, let me thank Mr. Hobbins for taking time to review my review.

Second, my thanks to him for noting my oversight of Ben Sira. I should have noted that Kitchen bases his work on Egyptian analogies. I did not take the Ben Sira analogy seriously because he is influenced by the Book of Proverbs and so not an independent witness to types of sapiential collections.

Third, Hobbins says—if I read him correctly—that Fox thinks that what I call the Preamble and Prologue (1:1-9:18) were composed from the start as introductory to the aphorisms (10:1-22:16). Later, in his review, however, Mr. Hobbins correctly says the opposite, calling my reading of his review into question.

4. Regarding Solomonic authorship, I am not making an “impassioned” plea. I am looking at the evidence:

a. The natural/normal interpretation of 1:1 is the “Proverbs by Solomon” (a genitive of authorship). The interpretation that “Solomon” is an epithet for wisdom by others is an ad hoc interpretation to satisfy the canon that Solomon did not author what the book attributes to him.
b. Upon whom does the onus fall to falsify the other? In my judgment the onus to falsify falls upon the critic that rejects the normal interpretation.
c. Fox and I both agree that the material is pre-exilic and royal. Why not Solomon? The argument to restrict the date to the 8th-7th century court based on contact with Aramaic fails, I argue, because Solomon also had contact with the Arameans. Again, the question is: Upon whom does the onus fall to falsify the other?
d. Kitchen’s argument, if one accepts my explanation of Ben-Sira, points positively to the Solomonic court.
e. If 22:17-24:23 is not by Solomon, then the “I” uniquely has no antecedent. Again, why not Solomon? The author says it is the “sayings” of wise—that is by others-- that he now projects as “my knowledge.”
f. The term mishle shlomoh—note the assonance—contrasts with the “sayings of the wise” (22:17; 24:23; 30:1; 31:1). If “Solomon” is an epithet for royal/wise sayings by others, why the distinction?
g. Mr. Hobbins suggests a pre-Hezekiah date but offers no data, aside from citing others. Of those he cites the one I value the most is Christa Kayatz Bauer (1966).
h. My holding to Solomonic authorship is not a matter of an a-priori conservatism, but a matter of a-posteriori data. This should be clear, because in contrast to Septugaint and tradition, I do not argue that Solomon authored the whole book; rather the book achieved its final form in Achaemenid or even Greek period. I appreciated Pete Enns review in WTJ for noting this fact.
i. Today, in light of the Egyptian data now available but not available to scholars in the second half of the nineteenth century, no data exists to deny Solomonic authorship.

So it is a matter of default. I opt for the normal interpretation of 1:1, instead of an ad hoc interpretation without evidence, and argue that the onus to falsify the Scripture lies on the critic.

Because I line up the arguments in this way is not a matter of “passion.” I am bothered that younger scholars are too ready to parrot the academically politically correct position and an unwarranted willingness to reject Scripture’s witness to its own authorship.

5. I do take exception to the judgmental statement that my position “is a function of a vestigial fear of letting the Bible be literature as opposed to mere record.” My An Old Testament Theology is based on interpreting the Bible as literature. So is my commentary. May I suggest that Christians heed Christ’s word not to be judgmental?

6. My definition of an evangelical is indeed tangential. The key to that statement is “the sufficiency of reason”—not the denial of reason, as Calvin well knew. I hope younger scholars will not be ashamed of their faith and declare it boldly. As Mark Noll says: evangelical scholars have been credentialed but not confrontational. I do not like that way of putting the argument. But I am asking younger scholars not to parrot the confession of the academic party-line but to confess the Christian faith, while examining all the data and thinking soberly. See my An Old Testament Theology for more.

Duhem can be fitted into an “all encompassing Calvinian metaphysic,” but not Troeltsch and Spinoza, for they reject the metaphysic of the Bible and so of Calvin. Schlatter called their sort of criticism “systematic atheism.” The Romans and the Jews who put Christ on the cross also “lived and moved and had their being in the same God as we all do,” but their destiny is eternal damnation. The command to Peter to rise and eat is badly applied to eat the leaven of the Sadducees. Higher Biblical Criticism by its confidence in the sufficiency of reason and its rejection of Revelation, rejects the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ and the fundamentals of the faith. I hope younger scholars will have a passion for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.


Dear Prof. Waltke,

Thank you for taking the time to respond in a comment. The world of online discussion, second nature to many nowadays, is a stumbling block to others who grew up with very different media of communication. Your willingness to carry on a conversation online I take to be a sign of your commitment to the future of the discipline. That is in fact everywhere evident in the tenor of your remarks.

In the interests of carrying the conversation forward, I will respond as best I can. Here is a first attempt, by no means exhaustive, in that sense.

I concur with your counsel that scholars avoid arguments based on consensus as if consensus on topics discussed in biblical studies has not been subject to change over time and will no doubt change again in the future.

Another type of argument worth avoiding is the one you use more than once, that of declaring the onus of proof to be on the one who has a position at odds with yours. When people make that kind of argument – it is a favorite of minimalists and mythicists – I can’t help but thinking, “if that’s all they have, it doesn’t look good for them.”

I don’t remember being trained as a student of the ancient Near East or of antiquity to make a default assumption about the authorship of particular works. On the contrary, I remember being trained to think of the ascription of a set of laws to Hammurapi and Lipit-Ishtar, respectively, to be cases of honorary authorship. I remember being taught that the ascription of hymns and prayers to famous Mesopotamian kings is a default mode of ancient traditioning of said hymns and prayers.

The ascriptions make perfect sense within the self-understanding of particular religious-national polities. If they were not so ascribed according to the long-standing convention, but rather, left anonymous, or associated with the name(s) of the individual scribe(s) who authored and/or collected, arranged, and tweaked them, it would have been swimming upstream for the compositions to be integrated into the religious-national consciousness of their intended readerships.

It is not assumed by scholars today, despite your remarks, that such ascriptions are to be taken in what you refer to as the “normal” sense.

It behooves us, if we are to take ancient literature on its own terms, to understand why laws, hymns, prayers, and instructional literature were so often attributed to famous figures who were noted for those very things, even if those famous figures were not responsible for the specific compositions attributed to them.

At least as a thought experiment, you might ask yourself: what constructive purpose is served by the ascription of a set of laws to Hammurapi, even if H is their honorary author but not their material author? Of an instructional text to Ptahhotep? Of another instructional text to a famously wise king of Israel?

I’m not trying to be judgmental towards you as a brother in Christ if I imply, as I do, that your claim to treat the Bible and the book of Proverbs as ancient literature is open to question.

Our standing before God and before each other in the Body of Christ does not depend on – for example - whether we understand the book of Jonah to be an example of satire, a parable if you will, as opposed to a straightforward account of a series of events.

If a fellow believer, and I know many, fails to understand how the book of Jonah can be deemed truthful if it is not a straightforward account of a series of events, I am not one to insist.

In my dealings with a fellow-believer, I am a pastor first, a scholar second. Let the fellow believer keep his scruples. At the same time, I think it is worth defending those who have no such scruples, who dare to believe that the book of Jonah brings to expression a deep underlying dynamic of the entire history of God with his people Israel. Jonah understood as a parable, like the parables of Jesus, points to a dynamic that characterizes *more* of that history, not less, than it would if it only referred to a one-time set of events. At a most significant level, playing off "history" and "parable" misses the point.

I believe the same applies to the question of the authorship of the book of Proverbs. There are those who resist the notion that the ascription is honorific, perhaps also, a hermeneutical construct, because that is just too far outside the box of their sense of propriety. But there are others, myself included, who are convinced that ascriptions of this kind were normal in antiquity. We are still trying to figure out exactly what purpose they served. If you think otherwise, I would like to know why.

I will put it one more way.

You note that I point out that Fox thinks that the Preamble and Prologue of Proverbs (1:1-9:18) were composed from the start as introductory to the aphorisms (10:1-22:16). What I mean by that is that for Fox 1:1-9:18 were introductory in purpose from the get-go. I did not mean to suggest that according to Fox 10:1-22:16 or something like that could not at one time have stood on its own. It could have.

The same question arises in the case of the proverbs attributed to Ahiqar. A case can and has been made that the proverbs of Ahiqar and the narrative introduction have separate origins. In the discussion of authorship and date of components of Ahiqar, it is not usual to make "burden of proof" arguments, as you have done in the case of another example of ancient instructional literature.

The onus of proof argument is not helpful in determining the probable authorship of the wisdom instruction of Ptahhotep, the laws of Hammurapi, or the proverbs of Solomon. That being the case, it is appropriate for "believing" and "non-believing" students alike to allow for the possibility that the ascription of the book to Solomon is a literary choice. The ascription deliberately associates the canonical corpus of royal-court-transmitted educational instruction with the best-known in-house name, the famously wise Solomon.

In terms of the conventions of the day, to do so made eminent sense. Given the conventions of the day, not to do so would have been difficult to justify.

Bruce Waltke

Dear Mr. Hobbins:

Again, thank you for your response. But candidly I found your patronizing tone offensive.

Let me clarify that you misrepresent my position: “Another type of argument worth avoiding is the one you use more than once, that of declaring the onus of proof to be on the one who has a position at odds with yours.” Rather, my position is that the onus of proof belongs to those who wish to overthrow the normal reading of a text and its 2,500 year traditional interpretation.

If one grants that the book of Proverbs is pre-exilic and belongs to the royal court, then I cannot falsify any pre-exilic royal figure that a scholar may guess. But it seems to me to be mischievous to imply that the onus of proof is on the one who accepts the normal reading of the text and the traditional understanding.

Moreover, I have presented positive evidence for Solomonic authorship both in my RBL review and in your blog; for example, Kitchen’s data—I hope I answered your query about Ben-Sira; the brilliance of the collection; the attribution in the book to authors other than Solomon (“the sayings of the wise,” “Proverbs by Solomon ‘tq by the men of Hezekiah,” “Agur ben Jakeh; “Lemuel”); etc. You have addressed none of these except the first.

The hard data of your response pertains to ancient Near Eastern honorific authorship--which I take to mean what is traditionally called pseudepigrapha. You write: “On the contrary, I remember being trained to think of the ascription of a set of laws to Hammurapi and Lipit-Ishtar, respectively, to be cases of honorary authorship. I remember being taught that the ascription of hymns and prayers to famous Mesopotamian kings is a default mode of ancient tradition of said hymns and prayers.”

Later you assume this position: “At least as a thought experiment, you might ask yourself: what constructive purpose is served by the ascription of a set of laws to Hammurapi, even if H is their honorary author but not their material author? Of an instructional text to Ptahhotep? Of another instructional text to a famously wise king of Israel?
“I’m not trying to be judgmental towards you as a brother in Christ if I imply, as I do, that your claim to treat the Bible and the book of Proverbs as ancient literature is open to question.”

These statements paint the picture of ancient Near Eastern literatures with too broad a brush. Undoubtedly there is pseudepigrapha--though you do not use the term, that is the claim--in ancient Near Eastern literature and these have been identified by a broad scholarly consensus. But citing CH, the Code of Lipit-Ishtar and the Instruction of Ptah-Hotep as pseudepigrapha needs documentation/demonstration of a broad scholarly consensus.

I read the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Lipit-Ishtar almost fifty years ago now, but I do not recall my professors at Harvard regarded them as pseudipigrapha (i.e., honorific statements to give credibility to another’s work). In my commentary on Proverbs—did you read it?--I discuss pseudipigrapha with reference to sapiential literature, but I do not recall a scholarly consensus that Ptah-hotep belonged to that genre. So please document for me that these three quotations are honorifics in the sense of their being in fact being pseudepigrapha to give their work credibility:

“When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.” (First paragraph of Prologue).

“ When Anu and Enlil had called Lipit-Ishtar, Lipid-Ishtar the wise shepherd whose name had been pronounced by Nunamnir, to the princeship of the land in order to establish justice in the land, to banish complaints, to turn back enmity and rebellion by force of arms, and to bring well-being to the Sumerians and Akkadians, then I, Lipit-Ishtar, the humble shepherd of Nippur, the stalwart farmer of Ur, who abandons not Eridu, the suitable lord of Erech, king of Isin, king of Sumer and Akkad, who am fit for the heart of Inanna, established justice in Sumer and Akkad in accordance with the word of Enlil.

“Here begin the proverbs of fair speech, spoken by the Hereditary Chief, the High Priest, Beloved of the God, the Eldest Son of the King, of his body, the Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-hotep, when instructing the ignorant in the knowledge of exactness in fair-speaking; the glory of him that obeys, the shame of him that transgress.

I also question: “It behooves us, if we are to take ancient literature on its own terms, to understand why laws, hymns, prayers, and instructional literature were so often attributed to famous figures who were noted for those very things, even if those famous figures were not responsible for the specific compositions attributed to them.” My question pertains to “so often.” Again, a very broad brush.

And, by the way, does it not suggest that the community of faith distinguished between authentic authorship and pseudepigrapha when it rejected "the Wisdom of Solomon."

Though you seem to want to caricature me to your audience as a typical conservative, this is not the case, as you might discern by reading An Old Testament Theology. In that work I accept evolution as the process of creation, reject Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, accept that Deuteronomy - II Kings is a unified history tat achieved its form in the exile; am open to a Second Isaiah, and so forth. This is so because I find the data compelling, not because of a consensus. If any one takes exception to my notions on these flash points, please read the theology to clarify these issues and the arguments for them and answer the arguments.

The trouble with carrying on conversation in the genre of blogs is that they do not demand scholarly documentation and the audience is too unspecified.


Dear Prof. Waltke,

No disrespect intended. We do, however, have a severe difference of opinion about "onus of proof" arguments, which I regard as singularly weak. Clearly you do not. You continue to make such the Archimedean point of your argument.

I am well aware that you are a scholar with an independent frame of mind; I say as much in my post. If I did not consider you one of the best evangelical scholars out there, I would not have bothered to engage you as I have.

30 years ago, when I studied the relevant ANE texts with the likes of Grayson, Sweet, Williams, and Redford at the University of Toronto, it was already considered naive to assume that Hammurapi was the material author of LH, and Ptahhotep of the instruction named after him.

Of course, it cannot be ruled out that H and P were the material authors of the works ascribed to them. But it cannot be assumed that they were. If that is the case, your onus of proof argument falls to the ground.

For a cautious approach at odds with yours, I would point to Alan Millard's essay on "Authors, Books, and Readers" in the Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies. It is impossible to build the kind of argument you do on the rock of Millard's caution.

It is now a commonplace that the ascription of an instructional text to Ptahhotep is a Middle Kingdom retrojection consonant with a larger classicizing trend - note Antonio Loprieno's comment to that effect in his article on the Old Kingdom in the Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt (Bard and Shubert), p. 43.

It is also a commonplace that the ascription of Mesopotamian law codes to kings is to be understood in terms of sponsorship, not material authorship. Note Martha T. Roth's comment to that effect in Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (2d ed., SBL Writings of the Ancient World series), p. 4.

Rightly or wrongly, material authorship is rarely even raised as a *possibility* in scholarly discourse these days with respect to the above named examples. To be honest, I have only scratched the surface here. The best person I know of offhand to addressed these questions would be Angela Roskop Erisman, a newly minted HUC-JIR PhD.

The comment of Sparks' in his excellent volume, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible, registers the default assumption among Egyptologists today: "it is suspected that the instructions [of Ptahhotep] were composed pseudonymously and attributed to Ptahhotep" (p. 67; I differ with Sparks insofar as he implies that such attributions amount to falsifications).

Sparks does not discuss questions of authorship with respect to the law codes of Lipit-Ishtar and Hammurapi.

The tendency for a long time has been to move away from a taxonomy with two options only when it comes to attribution in ancient texts: authentic or pseudepigraphic.

A sense of this paradigm shift among current scholars is discernible in the chapter entitled "Authorship in Antiquity" in Karel Van der Toorn's recent Scribal Culture - a book I nevertheless believe is deeply flawed, as regular readers of this blog will know.

I thank you again for the discussion. Blogging is a free-form genre. All I did is reach for nearby volumes in my church office library. I can find much more documentation if you wish.

Documentation makes the discussion all the more instructive. The audience includes M. Div. and doctoral students, pastors with deep intellectual interests, and professors young and old. Statistics suggest that there are more people who will read this comment thread than will an article published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Doug Mangum

John, thanks for your review of the review. I appreciate your insight and the informative discussion in the comments. For my part, I find Waltke's conclusion about authorship to be puzzling. You rightly pointed out how much ancient literature is anonymous and pseudepigraphic. It appears to be to be an a priori faith commitment, but no doubt I am among the "younger scholars [ ] too ready to parrot the academically politically correct position".


Glad you found it helpful, Doug. I think through the question of pseudepigraphy in more depth here:

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