The Categories of Rich and Poor in the Qumran Sapiential Literature
Benjamin G. Wright III
In his article, “Ten Reasons Why the Qumran Wisdom Texts are Important,” Daniel Harrington has argued a case for the value of the corpus of wisdom books found near the Dead Sea. Undoubtedly many more than ten reasons could be mustered in support of their importance to scholars of Judaism in the Second Temple Period, and several studies have set out the general scope and problems of these texts. The recent publication of 4QInstruction, the most extensive wisdom book found at Qumran, by John Strugnell and Daniel Harrington in DJD XXXIV, puts scholars in the advantageous position of having practically all of the Qumran wisdom texts available in that series. The foundation is now laid for further and more detailed studies of this literature.
One observation that scholars have made about the Qumran texts is that they cover a number of subjects familiar from other Jewish wisdom literature. Indeed, the third of Harrington’s ten reasons is that “[t]hey provide further treatments of standard wisdom topics.” Along with women and speech, riches and poverty and attitudes toward those who are rich or poor constitute one of the most pervasive topics in Jewish wisdom. The frequency with which the ancient sages addressed issues connected with wealth, poverty and financial dealings demonstrates just how important they thought it was for someone receiving instruction to have a proper understanding of matters concerning money.
The ways that the sage-producers of Jewish wisdom talk about these topics inform modern scholars as well, since oftentimes these discussions seem to reflect the complex social and cultural realities of those who promulgated this instruction. Even though investigation into the social origins of wisdom literature is notoriously difficult, scholarly analysis of this pervasive wisdom topic could provide some entrée into these social and cultural worlds. Examination of the language of rich and poor and the sages’ advice about riches and poverty has helped elucidate a variety of issues in the study of two Jewish wisdom texts, including their social locations. In separate studies, J. David Pleins and H. C. Washington have looked at the use of the language of riches and poverty in Proverbs. In a previous study, I have argued that Ben Sira’s instruction about wealth and poverty reveals that he occupied a precarious social position. On the one hand, he reinforces for his students the Jewish covenantal obligation to assist the poor, even to the extent of rendering judgments in their favor. On the other hand, he must continually exercise caution when dealing with the rich who are clearly his social superiors. Finding himself in this position, he is faced with conflicting social loyalties and obligations.††
In this paper I want to ask similar questions of the Qumran sapiential texts to those I asked about Ben Sira in order to see if any answers might be ventured. Does the language of riches, poverty and financial dealings provide access to the social contexts of the Qumran wisdom texts? Do the sage-producers of these texts intend the terms to denote actual circumstances of rich and poor? Does the language get used metaphorically? Do the sages represented in the Qumran texts think that God favors one group or the other?
Rich and Poor in the Qumran Wisdom Texts
Although the Qumran scrolls contain a number of wisdom texts, many are fragmentary and difficult to understand. Those manuscripts usually included in the category are: 4Q184 (the so-called “Wiles of the Wicked Woman”); 4Q185; 4Q298; 4Q413; 4Q415—418, 423 (formerly Sapiential A, but now known as 4QInstruction of which 1Q26 is also a copy); 4Q420—421 (4QWays of Righteousness); 4Q424; 4Q525 (4QBeatitudes); 11Q5 xxvi 9—15 (Hymn to the Creator). Harrington notes that scholars have identified, on the basis of their style and vocabulary, a number of other manuscripts as sapiential (4Q307—308; 4Q408; 4Q410—412; 4Q425—426; 4Q472—476; 4Q486—487; 4Q498), but “in all cases there is not enough running text preserved to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of Qumran wsdom.”
As in other Jewish wisdom texts, Qumran wisdom employs a number of different terms for rich and poor. The major words indicating poverty are the usual ones found elsewhere–Nwyb)¨†ld®†rwsxm†and†#r (with its variant #yr©Æ††yn(Øwn( meaning “humble” often refers to those of poor economic circumstance in Jewish wisdom, but other than in a very few instances, it does not generally have the meaning “poor” in our group of texts. In non-Qumran wisdom literature the terms r#(¨†Nwh®†lyx®†Cwrx®†hbw+†and†ryxm can indicate wealth, money or riches. In the Qumran scrolls Nwh is far and away the most frequent.
In what follows, I provide notes on all the places I could identify where the language of wealth, poverty and financial matters appear in the scrolls listed above. I will give the shorter, more fragmentary texts first and then treat the more substantial ones where I will make more extensive comments.
4Q184: This text, which warns against the scandalous behavior of Lady Folly who pursues the righteous to lead them astray, contains no unambiguous references to wealth or poverty. Fragment 1 16 speaks about Folly’s attempt to make the “humble (Mywn() rebel against God.” In this instance, the meaning of “poor” found elsewhere in Jewish wisdom literature for wn((cf. many instances in Ben Sira and also 4Q424 below) does not apply.
4Q185: This fragmentary work primarily concerns the search for Lady Wisdom. Two mentions of riches appear here. Fragment 1—2 ii 4—5 pose the question, “Is not one day in his house better than riches ([…]r#(m©ø” In this question, one of the most desirable things in life, riches, fails in comparison with being “in his house” [= the Temple?]. Later in line 12 the sage says that the one who eventually finds wisdom and holds fast to her will have “long days and greasy bones and a happy heart and rich[es and honor] ([dwbkw r¸£®©Æ” Unlike 4QInstruction where r#( does not appear at all in the extant fragments, it is the only word used for wealth in 4Q185. The more general sentiment of this passage, that contentment and prosperity are the result of the successful pursuit of wisdom, is shared with other Jewish wisdom literature (cf., for instance, Prov 8.18, 22.4 where riches are the reward of humility and fear of the Lord; Sir 51.28).
4Q412: Published by A. Steudel in DJD XX, 4Q412 is a fragmentary, wisdom-type text. Fragment 4 contains the phrase […]lyxny y#r([…], which could be translated “my wealth he will give as an inheritance.” The phrase has no context that would assist in understanding it further. It is, like 4Q185, another one of the few places in the wisdom texts at Qumran where r#( is the Hebrew term designating wealth.
4Q525: Most notable for its series of macarisms or beatitudes (Fragment 2 ii) that can be compared to those in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, 4Q525 refers to gold and poverty separately in two fragmentary passages. Although wisdom is not specifically mentioned, Fragment 2 iii 2, “she cannot be obtained with gold”†®bhzb xqlt )wl), seems to indicate that Wisdom cannot be bought. This claim contrasts with the remarks made earlier in the work (Fragment 2 ii) that one acquires wisdom by doing things like adhering to the Law, always thinking about her, searching for her with “pure hands.”†
The one mention of poverty comes in Fragment 15. This part of 4Q525 mentions a burning serpent and vipers and eternal curses. Perhaps it concerns eschatological judgment. The first line of the fragment says, “You will gather poverty (#yr rg)˛t…¸©Æ” Exactly what this statement means or to what it refers remains unclear.
4Q424: Although four fragments of this work survive, only three provide text that is usable, since fragment four contains a scant seven letters. The extant portion of the work preserves two types of practical wisdom–sayings about people with whom one should not associate or who should not be given responsibility and sayings describing people who have valuable and imitable qualities.†
References to riches and poverty appear several times in these fragments, and if they provide any indication, these topics were an important concern of the work. Fragment 1 7—8 provides the trenchant advice, “A man who is always complaining about his luck, do not expect money (Nwh) from him when you are in need (Krwsxml©Æ” The words meaning wealth and poverty, Nwh and rwsxm, constitute two of the most frequent words used in the Qumran texts, especially in 4QInstruction.
Line 10 admonishes the recipient of this wisdom not to put a greedy person “in a position of authority over your mo[ney]/we[alth] (Kn¸whb©Æ” Line 11 is more fragmentary, but it continues the thought. Sarah Tanzer suggests that a possible reconstruction of these lines might be, “A man who is greedy do not put in a position of authority over your we[alth, for never] will he mete out your surplus to your satisfaction, but [he will keep (it all)] for those who have more than enough[…].”As she observes, if this reconstruction approximates what was in the full text, the passage would present a contrast between how the greedy money manager would treat the poor and how he would regard the rich. That is, he would not give what the owner desires to the poor, but redirect it to the rich¨ perhaps in order to ingratiate himself with them.
Fragment 2 3 contains a familiar sapiential admonition: “One who is a hypo]crite, do not give surety for him among the poo[r] (y¸wn(©Æ” In this saying the meaning of the more allusive wn( as “poor” corresponds to its use in other wisdom books like Ben Sira, where the term often connotes people of low economic status. The topic of giving surety is a standard wisdom subject that recurs many times in Jewish wisdom texts (cf., for example, Prov. 6.1; Sir 8.13; and a number of times in 4QInstruction, see below). Whereas the primary concern of 4Q424 1 was protecting the addressee’s wealth from potentially unscrupulous people, the saying in this fragment focuses on guarding the poor against abuse.
Further down this fragment at the beginning of line 5 Tanzer reconstructs the word Mynwy˛b), but the broken context does not allow one to say much about it. She does, however, suggest a possibility like, “A man who despises the poor do not set him in authority.” If this saying, or something close to it, were the actual text, then both sayings in this fragment would focus on protecting the poor.
Assistance for the poor is also the subject of Fragment 3 9—10 and perhaps line 11, which conclude the fragment’s extant text. These lines come in the second section of the work, which characterizes people of integrity and values. Lines 9—10 read, “A man of generosit[y perfo]rms charity for the poor (]•nwyb)l) […]/[…]he takes care of all who lack property/money (Nwh©Æ” Thus, the generous person is the opposite of those described earlier who are greedy or hypocrites; he will take care of the poor when they will not. This same topic perhaps continues in the fragmentary line 11, which contains the phrase “in all wealth (Nwh lwkb©¨” but it is difficult to know since the line contains this phrase alone.
The passages concerning riches and poverty that I have discussed so far do not allow us to make much headway regarding (1) the ever-vexing question of whether any of these texts is “sectarian,” that is, a product of the Qumran community and (2) the social location of the texts. Although some scholars have tried to advance arguments that would place the origins of particular wisdom texts within the sphere of Qumran or the sectarian community out of which the yahad emerged, none has as yet won the day. Jacqueline C. de Roo, for instance, has argued that 4Q525 is a sectarian document, while Èmile Puech thinks it more likely that 4Q525 predated and influenced some of the authors at Qumran.†
Two major difficulties attend any attempt to rely on the remarks about wealth and poverty as a basis for thinking about the social context of these works. First, in many cases there simply is very little or even no context to provide any clear indication of how these terms and ideas are functioning. A text like that in 4Q412, “my riches he will give as an inheritance,” tells us very little beyond which term for wealth appears in the text. Second, many passages that do have some context turn out to contain pretty conventional sentiments about wealth and poverty. To say that wisdom cannot be purchased with money as does 4Q525 or that one should not put a greedy person in charge of one’s money as in 4Q424 is neither revelatory nor even surprising in this literature. In fact a good number of the statements about wealth and poverty find ready parallels in other Jewish wisdom texts. Thus their very conventionality becomes an obstacle to determining if they represent the particular social context of these documents.
Even though much of the advice about wealth and poverty does not come unexpectedly, one might still be able to venture some remarks about the texts. The different ways in which the sages represented in them invoke wealth and poverty might say something about their social locations. For instance, the instruction given in 4Q424 comes from a sage to a singular “you” as is the case with Ben Sira and Proverbs. The sage advises his charge about use of his money and care for the poor. Even though the advice he gives conforms to what we see elsewhere, the practical nature of that advice suggests that the recipient of the instruction needs to be taught about money matters. One could conclude then that the character of the discussion of wealth and poverty, at the least, indicates that the recipient most likely lives in a world where he has to make monetary decisions. This life situation, of course, contrasts with the usual picture of life at Qumran where wealth and goods are communal. 4Q424, however, also contains language, like the phrase t(d ypdwr, that has sectarian use, a fact that complicates matters. This same problem accompanies analysis of 4QInstruction.
Texts like 4Q185, on the other hand, do not address a wisdom recipient, nor do they contain instruction about the practical use of wealth or care for the poor. They employ the language of wealth and poverty in the service of some other end. To claim that wisdom cannot be bought, but that she must be sought, or that holding fast to wisdom brings riches differs in kind from the practical advice given in texts like 4Q424. In cases like these, the author employs the language in different rhetorical strategies, and though not really metaphorical, it is not intended as advice about how to use one’s money properly or how to avoid becoming impoverished or how to provide for the poor. In such instances, the use of the categories of rich and poor does not as readily allow conclusions about the life situation as in a work like 4Q424. In general, texts of this sort lack extended reflections on material circumstance, and as a result much less can be said about them on the basis of their use of the categories of rich and poor.
4QInstruction (4Q415-418, 418a, 423, 1Q26): The seven extant, although fragmentary, copies of this work demonstrate that it was held in high regard among the members of the Qumran community. It is the most extensive wisdom text that survives among the Qumran scrolls, and one could claim that it is the most interesting as well.
What distinguishes 4QInstruction from most other wisdom texts is that it frames the often standard wisdom advice given by the sage to the recipient, who is called Nybm (translated “maven” by Strugnell and Harrington), with cosmological and eschatological matters. Such interest forms a stark contrast with a work like Ben Sira, whose disinterest in eschatology is often noted. In fact, the work apparently began with a third person section featuring the judgment pronounced by God on all the wicked (4Q416 1).† This fragment contains no wisdom teaching, and it may well be intended to provide the motivation for following the instruction given to the maven later in the work. The interest in and concern for eschatology continues throughout the book, especially in the elusive hyhn zr, or “mystery that is to come,” whose content, although never made explicit, almost certainly is at least partially eschatological.
The text switches from the third person of the beginning to second person singular address when the sage gives wisdom instruction to the maven. 4QInstruction does not contain many of the short pithy proverbs about behavior à la the biblical Proverbs, but rather longer wisdom instructions characterize it. Among the usual wisdom topics covered in the work, wealth, poverty†and financial matters stand out as exceptionally prominent. Several of the larger fragments have money as a central concern, and they contain sometimes lengthy instructions about it. Words having to do with riches and poverty are scattered throughout even†the very small fragments.
Several general features of 4QInstruction's teaching about riches and poverty stand out. First, the work concentrates much more on poverty and the conditions that result in impoverishment than on wealth or the wealthy. Even the vocabulary used reflects this emphasis. The only word used by 4QInstruction for wealth or money is NwhÆ†r#(, which occurs frequently in other wisdom texts like Ben Sira and which might be expected in a text that focuses on money matters, does not appear at all in 4QInstruction. One possible explanation for this absence might be that 4QInstruction reveals no concern at all for the rich as a social class. Whereas Ben Sira advises his proteges about how to deal with the rich, 4QInstruction contains no such advice.
The terms meaning “poor” or “poverty,” however, are quite diverse. 4QInstruction uses Nwyb)® #yr® rwsxm and ld. The only occurrence of yn( in the extant fragments comes in 4Q417 2 i 14 (overlapped by 4Q418a 22). Strugnell and Harrington translate the line, “Be like a humble [emphasis mine] man when you contend for a judgment in favor of him.” There is no indication that the term as it is used here connotes poor economic status as it does in other wisdom texts. 4QInstruction’s favorite words for poverty are Nwyb) and #yr (and its variant spellings #r¨†#)r¨†#wr), which are practically synonyms. rwsxm¨†“deficiency,”†“lack” or “want,” is frequent and most often indicates conditions of poverty, but, in at least one instance, the phrase M)bc rwsxm ypl†“according to the poverty/deficiency of their host” (4Q616 1 6), economic status does not seem to be the issue. ld occurs one time (4Q418 126 ii 7) in what looks to be an eschatological context where God will “raise up the head of the poor.”
One of the consistent emphases of 4QInstruction is on the poverty of the maven. The sage in the text reminds the maven repeatedly, “You are poor” (cf. ht) Nwyb) 4Q415 6 2, 4Q416 2 iii 12; ht) #)r 4Q416 2 iii 2; #r ht) 4Q418 177 5). Such designations might be thought to denote the humility of the maven rather than his low economic status. Perhaps the author of the text wanted to play on any possible ambiguity in the terms, but all the evidence points to the maven’s actual poverty.
In a number of places in 4QInstruction, the sage refers to the maven’s poverty, sometimes in contexts immediately surrounding the “you are poor” phrases. In the fragmentary 4Q415 6, line 2 begins with the familiar Nwyb)†ht) and then line 3 starts with hk#yr¨†“your poverty.” 4Q416 2 iii 15—16 gives the admonition, “Honor your father in your poverty (hk#yrb) and your mother in your low estate.” And later in line 20, “you have taken a wife in your poverty (hk#yrb©Æ” Sometimes, however, the advice is given in a conditional form, “If you are poor,” and seems to refer to the maven’s potential impoverishment (cf. 4Q416 2 iii 19, 4Q417 2 i 19). One gets the general impression that the maven, if he is not already in poverty, continually teeters on the edge of falling into difficult economic circumstance, and the sage means his†advice to rescue the maven from the oppressive results of poverty, such as falling into the hands of creditors and lenders.
Indeed, the theme of how to deal with creditors and debt seems something of a preoccupation of 4QInstruction, a preoccupation that might reflect the social world of the work. Three significant sections, 4Q416 2 ii and iii and 4Q417 2 i (and their overlaps in other numbers), have this theme as their primary focus. 4Q416 2 ii 4—6 read:†
(4) As much as a man’s creditor has lent him money (Nwh), hastily pay it back, and you will be on equal footing with him (sc. the creditor). If the purse (5) containing your treasures (hknwpc syk) you have entrusted to your creditor, On account of your friends you have given away all your life with it. Hasten and give what (6) is his, And take back your purse, and in your speech do not act feeble-spirited.
Two different matters are at stake here. First, the sage enjoins the maven to pay back quickly any loans he has taken. The reason is simple–that way the creditor will have no power over the maven, and he and the creditor will be on equal footing. The second issue apparently concerns some kind of loan or deposit made on behalf of friends that the maven is now responsible to repay. The maven should, as in the first case, make repayment quickly, because in giving up his purse, he has given away his life. In this latter case the maven should also not shrink from defending himself or his friends. The second part of the passage also bears on the problem of giving surety, a practice against which the sage warns the maven in other places (cf. 4Q415 8; 4Q416 2 ii 18=4Q417 2 ii+23 23). Another passage in this fragment warns the maven against selling himself into indentured servitude (line 17).
One finds similar emphases in a lengthy passage featuring poverty in 4Q416 2 iii. In lines 3—8 the sage admonishes the maven about several matters relating to borrowing and creditors. If he has had a loan deposited with him he is to be sure to be honest and return it as he has received it. The sage says, “Do not lay your hand upon it, lest you/your hand(?) be scorched, and your body burnt in its fire” (line 4). Subsequently the maven is told not to take money from any person because†the lender will “increase your poverty” (line 6). Line 8 provides perhaps the ultimate advice to keep the maven out of the hands of creditors. “You are needy; do not desire something beyond your share/inheritance…” (cf. 4Q417 2 i 20).
What follows in 4Q416 2 iii 9—15 is connected to line 8 through the “share” and brings in the “mystery that is to come.” The sage says,
(9) But if (men/God) restore(s) you to splendor (?), walk in it (the share/inheritance of line 8) And by the mystery that is to come study the origins thereof (i. e. of the mytery). And then you shall know (10) what is allotted to it, And in righteousness you shall walk, For God will cause his c[ountenanc]e to shine upon all your ways. To him who glorifies you give honour, (11) And praise his name continually, For out of poverty (#)rm) he has lifted your head, And with the nobles has He made you to be seated, and over a glorious heritage (12) has he given you authority; Seek out his good will continually. You are needy (Nwyb) ht)); do not say, “I am needy (yn) #r), and I will n[ot] (13) study(?) knowledge. Bring your shoulder under all instruction and with all[ ]…refine(?) your heart, and with abundance of understanding (14) (sc. refine) your thoughts. Study the mystery that is to come, And understand all the ways of Truth, And all the roots of iniquity (15) you shall contemplate.
The initial section of this passage actually begins in line 8 with “You are needy.” The conditional of line 9 contains a textual problem. 4Q416 2†iii 9 has the verb in the singularhkby#y or perhaps hkby#wy. This line has an overlap in 4Q418 9 7 where the verb is in the plural, hkwby#wy. Strugnell and Harrington read with 4Q418 and translate “If (men) restore you to splendor.” If we read the singular verb with 4Q416, however, the subject of the clause would not be the indefinite plural “men,” but some singular entity, either “one” or “God.” If men do the restoring, then the remainder of lines 9—11 could be describing, as Strugnell and Harrington suggest, “the proper reactions of the poor man when he has been promoted in rank” most likely by a human benefactor. That is, he should study the origins of the mystery, he should walk in righteousness and he should praise God’s name continually because as line 11 says, “he (i. e. God) has lifted thy head out of poverty, And with nobles he has made you to be seated.” The entire section, then, might represent a possibility for real social advancement for which the maven should be prepared and for which he should thank GodÆ††
The problem with this interpretation is that nowhere else in the work do we have any indication that the maven might be in a position to receive such social elevation. Line 11, in fact, runs directly counter to what we know of the maven’s social status from elsewhere and its apparent possibilities. Might we read the passage, especially if God is the subject of the verb in line 9, as the sage’s version of the familiar assertion that ultimately God is in control of all things? He has the ability to bring down the rich and elevate the poor, and he can stand the poor and humble who have wisdom on a par with princes and nobles. Strugnell and Harrington note the difficulty of interpreting this entire section. Although they translate line 9 using the plural “men,” they appeal to 1 Sam 2.8, “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor,” as a close parallel that argues in favor of God rather than “men”†as the benefactor of the maven. Ben Sira 11.1 also expresses a similar thought in very much the same words as 4QInstruction, “The wisdom of the poor raises up his head and seats him among nobles.” In this reading lines 9—11 would not function as a claim about any real possibility that the maven might advance socially, but as an expression of confidence about what is possible with God.
The second section of the passage begins with “You are needy” in line 12. Here the sage reminds the maven that poverty is no excuse for neglecting the study of knowledge and instruction. Of course, as elsewhere in 4QInstruction, the object of that study is the “mystery that is to come.” Strugnell and Harrington comment about this passage, “It is even more unclear in general how the fact of being#r would excuse one from a quest for knowledge–unless that activity is reserved for those whose wealth allows them such a luxury.” Perhaps we see here the sage’s reaction to what might be perceived as a more elitist vision of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. Ben Sira 38.24—34 maintains that only the one with little business and lots of leisure can get wisdom. Although tradespersons “maintain the fabric of the world” (38.34), they cannot sit in judgment; they cannot be counselors to the powerful, etc. Given the constant reminders of the maven’s poverty, I imagine that any notion of the acquisition of wisdom like Ben Sira’s would leave a bad taste in the mouth of the sage of 4QInstruction. Lack of material wealth and leisure time does not provide exemption from understanding the “mystery that is to come.”
The text of 4Q417 2 i (and the overlapping fragments that fill it out) has poverty as its main idea. The sage makes a number of important observations and claims about poverty in this section. In keeping with the theme of borrowing and lending, the sage perhaps surprisingly tells the maven to borrow in line 19, “And if you are in poverty (rsxt M)w), for what you lack (hkrwsxm), borrow without having any money (Nwh), For your/His treasure house [God] will not make (to be empty lacking anything).” The meaning of this admonition is not completely clear to me, but it seems that the maven, if he borrows money, is being advised to borrow it without giving up what meager resources he has as collateral. Perhaps this passage relates to the advice in 4Q416 2 ii about the danger of entrusting one’s purse to creditors. The sage further advises the maven to eat only what God gives him for food and not any more, “lest by gluttony you shorten your life.” Finally he returns in lines 21—24 to familiar ideas about borrowing:
(21) If you borrow men’s money (Nwh) for your poverty (hkrwsxml), Let there be no sleep for you (22) day or night, and no rest for your soul, Until you have restored to your creditor his loan. Do not lie (23) to him, lest you should bear guilt (for it). Moreover, because of reproach to/from your creditor[…]And you will not any more entrust it to his neighbor. (24) Then against/to your poverty (hkrwsxmbw) he (the lender or neighbor) will close his hand.
Most of the remarks about poverty in 4QInstruction are directed toward the maven and his circumstances. There are almost no passages that focus on poor people generally or care for the poor, especially the maven’s individual responsibility in that regard. This situation contrasts with Ben Sira’s continued insistence to his students on the importance of care of the poor. Strugnell and Harrington fill out a lacuna in 4Q416 2 ii 3 to read “[And in his poverty you shall not make the poor stumble because of it]. Nor because of his shame shall you hide your face.” This statement, if it were part of 4QInstruction, would at least suggest concern for the position of the poor, and Strugnell and Harrington may have reconstructed it this way since poverty is a theme of this section of the work. If that were the case, however, the next clause would†then imply that poverty is somehow shameful, a position taken nowhere else in the work that I can find.
Elsewhere two difficult passages in 4Q417 2 i also seem to have the poor as their subject. In line 9 through the beginning of line 11, written in the second person singular, the sage tells the maven, “And not for yourself alone shall you increase [your appetite when you are in poverty,] For what is more insignificant than a poor man? (#rm ry(c hm )yk) And do not rejoice in mourning, Lest you have trouble in your life. (11) [Gaze on the mystery] that is to come….” Further down in lines 15—16 in a section in which the maven is advised to be cognizant of his own sins, the sage says, “[Fo]r before [His anger] none will stand, And who will be declared righteous when He gives judgment? And without forgiveness [h]ow [can any poor man stand before Him?] (wynpl Mwqy†hky˛©†¸hxyls ylbw Nwyb) ˛lwk¸©Æ”†
In the first instance, the insignificance of the poor is most likely in the eyes of other people rather than God. The poor person who desires more than is possible to have will have trouble in life. The second passage could be read as a declaration that the poor have no special considerations from God when judgment comes. No one will be able to stand before God’s anger without forgiveness, not even the poor. In order to avoid judgment, the maven is encouraged not to overlook his own sins (l. 14) but to “gaze on the mystery that is to come” and to “comprehend the birth-times of salvation (l. 11). In 4Q418 126 ii 7, a passage about judgment, the sage asserts that God will act “to shut (the door) upon the wicked, But to raise up the head of the poor (Myld©Æ” The contrast between shutting out the wicked and raising up the poor intimates that God will vindicate those poor who have been wronged by the wicked, not that their poverty excuses them. Poverty, then, for the sage of 4QInstruction does not seem to be valued intrinsically for its own sake or as a way of avoiding sin and judgment.
What can we make of these various references to poverty and wealth in 4QInstruction? When we consider questions of the social location of the text, these passages provide some clues, but they also raise a number of other questions. I agree with Torleif Elgvin, who notes that the frequency of terms for poverty and the address to the maven, “You are poor,” give an indication of the social status of the maven and his community. I think, however, that the material on poverty and wealth in 4QInstruction allows us to go a bit further than Elgvin does.†
Certainly the way that the maven is understood to be intimately involved in the world of financial affairs, with all its attendant dangers, fits with other instruction in the work to evoke a picture of the addressee as one who walks in the larger society, not in some sectarian community. Several factors indicate that 4QInstruction originated in some sort of school context. First, as Elgvin shows, the work utilizes a number of literary traditions, particularly material from the Jewish scriptures, such as Genesis, Deuteronomy and Isaiah, among others. Second, its emphasis on studying the “mystery that is to come” probably originates in some kind of school, although the sage of the text admonishes his charge to honor his father and mother because they “have uncovered your ears to the mystery that is to come” (4Q416 iii 18). Third, Strugnell and Harrington argue that the “rhetorical situation of instruction” points to a school setting “though what sort of ‘school’ is to be imagined is not at all clear (since generally only one person is being instructed).”
In this regard, 4QInstruction is often compared to Ben Sira, which explicitly originates in a school context. Ben Sira’s teaching about wealth and poverty, however, reveals that he was probably instructing young men who would make their way into public service and who would occupy a social position below that of the rich and above that of the poor, whom they were obligated to help. In my study of this language in Ben Sira, I concluded,
Because the scribe/sage occupies a sometimes insecure social position and is faced with conflicting loyalties and obligations, the watchword for Ben Sira and his students in relating to the rich and powerful is caution. If the scribe/sage remains wary and observes proper etiquette and appropriate behavior he will succeed with the powerful. When it comes to the poor, Ben Sira's attitude seems primarily conditioned by his understanding of the covenantal responsibilities to care for the poor, widows, and orphans. Ben Sira exhorts the rich, as well as his students, to fulfill their obligation to the poor through almsgiving. For his budding scribes, he makes clear that if they find themselves in positions of rendering judgments, they must be fair and not prefer the case of the rich because of their influence and power.
The same cannot be said for 4QInstruction. The sage of this work clearly counts the maven as among the poor–but not among the destitute, however. Although “poor,” the maven still participates in financial dealings, sometimes even having a loan or collateral deposited with him (4Q416 2 iii 3). Being counted among the poor, though, may be the reason that 4QInstruction contains almost a complete absence of instruction about caring for the economically disadvantaged. The maven simply may not be in a position to do this.
Ben Sira’s students, in their careers in public service, would of necessity have to deal with the rich on an almost daily basis, and his book offers them much advice about how to behave around them. Such teaching is completely absent from 4QInstruction. In fact, the rich as a social class are conspicuous by their absence from this work. The maven will have to deal with creditors if he borrows money for his needs, but there is no evidence that he should prepare to be invited to be master of a banquet (Sir 31.12—18) or be placed in a position of counsel to the powerful. It does not appear that the school context of the maven is intended to produce the same sort of people as Ben Sira envisions coming out of his school.†
One very suggestive passage hints that some kind of community or public activity is possible for the maven, however. 4Q417 2 i indicates the availability of a judicial role for him.
Be an advocate for your own interests, And let not [your soul be contaminated] by every perversity of yours. Pronoun[ce] your judgments (hky+p#m) like a righteous ruler. Do not ta[ke…] And do not overlook your own sins. Be like a humble man when you contend for a judgment in favor of him” (ll. 12—14©Æ†
Unfortunately, the text is not clear about how, where and for or against whom the maven would render his judgments. Might the maven, who has received instruction and has studied the mystery that is to come (which is mentioned in lines 10—11), act as a judge in his own community? If it does†mean this, would this reflect some kind of sectarian interest? Ben Sira, by contrast, recognizes that his students might reasonably expect to become judges who would adjudicate all manner of cases, and he warns them against preferential treatment of the rich (Sir 4.28). He even cautions them about becoming judges at all–“do not seek to become a judge, or you may be unable to root out injustice; you may be partial to the powerful, and so mar your integrity” (Sir 7.6).
Of course, 4Q416 2 iii 9—15¨†which I discussed above, is another text that one might want to adduce as evidence supporting the idea that the maven of 4QInstruction may not be in quite the disadvantaged position that the work makes out for him. But as we saw, rather than a statement about real upward mobility, the passage might just as easily be a claim about what God could do if he wished, a remote possibility not a social probability.
All these factors suggest to me that the maven of 4QInstruction cannot be found in the same kinds of social groups as Ben Sira’s clientele. Ben Sira’s students cannot be reckoned among the poor; the maven clearly is. Ben Sira’s students are trained to serve in public capacities as judges, counselors and scholars; the maven does not seem to be destined for such public roles. Ben Sira constantly advises his students about the rich; the sage of 4QInstruction does not even mention a class of rich people. Ben Sira links the wisdom that he teaches to the Torah; the sage of 4QInstruction focuses attention on the†“mystery that is to come.”
Can we move from these observations to a description of the maven’s social world? I do think we need to take the claims to poverty seriously. The text pictures the maven constantly poised to fall into more abject poverty or even indentured servitude. I see no other way to read these assertions than as reflections of social realities. Can we understand the lack of reference to rich people as an indication that the maven’s social world is isolated from these classes of society? Are the creditors or the “oppressors” mentioned in 4Q416 2 ii 17 the rich of other wisdom texts? These are more difficult questions to answer with much certainty. Both Elgvin and Strugnell and Harrington make the suggestion that 4QInstruction perhaps stems from an Essene community like those well known from Josephus’s descriptions, living in towns and cities, marrying and engaging in everyday social life. Such may indeed be the case, but the instruction about wealth and poverty taken on its own does not seem to give much additional insight into that problem.
One final question to be asked is if poverty constitutes an ideal value for 4QInstruction. 4QInstruction teaches that indeed the poor are considered insignificant in the eyes of others, and they are not justified before God by the fact of their poverty. As we saw above, the poor who sin require God’s forgiveness (4Q417 2 i). God will, however, raise up the poor who have been wronged (4Q418 126–interestingly enough, not specifically by the rich). One fragmentary line could indicate that the sage of 4QInstruction prefers a way of life characterized by poverty. 4Q416 2 ii 20—21 reads, “Do not esteem yourself highly for your poverty (hkrwsxmb) when you are (anyway?) a pauper (#wr), Lest vacat you bring into contempt your (own way) of life.” Is the sage concerned that if the maven were to boast about his poverty, he would bring such a life into disrepute? Unfortunately one can do no more here than suggest the possibility.
The frequency with which wealth and especially poverty appear in 4QInstruction demonstrate in a prima facie way their importance for the work, and the document includes a wide range of uses of the ideas. On its own the use of this language in 4QInstruction enables us to draw some conclusions about its social context and also to raise some important questions, but as one component of a relatively long and complex literary work, many more questions remain to be asked. We are really only at the beginning of understanding the social and cultural contexts of this unique wisdom text.