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The Worldly and Heavenly Wisdom of 4qinstruction

By Werrett, Ian | Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Worldly and Heavenly Wisdom of 4qinstruction


Werrett, Ian, Journal of Biblical Literature


The Worldly and Heavenly Wisdom of 4QInstruction, by Matthew Goff. STDJ 50. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xii + 276. $113.00 (hardcover). ISBN 900413591X.

Matthew Goff's book represents a watershed of sorts for both the study of 4QInstniction and the wisdom material from Qinnran. While Goff does not necessarily revolutionize our understanding of 4QInstruction, his cautious approach to both the text's fragmentary manuscripts and its frequently enigmatic vocabulary, combined with a comprehensive overview and critique of the scholarship on the text to date, results in the first study on 4QInstruction to discuss both the past and present state of scholarship on this material while simultaneously highlighting several areas in need of further study.

A revised version of Goffs Ph.D. dissertation written under the supervision of John J. Collins at the University of Chicago, this well-written study is primarily concerned with "how 4QInstruction should be understood in relation to wisdom and apocalypticism" (p. 27). According to Goff, 4QInstruction's content and place within the literature of the second Temple period cannot be truly appreciated without taking into consideration both its practical advice, written in a style that is reminiscent of Proverbs and Ben Sira, and its divinely revealed knowledge, relating to the order of creation, the authority of God, and eschatological judgment.

Divided into six chapters, the book begins with a brief description of the copies of 4QInstruction discovered at Qumran (1Q26, 4Q415-418, 423). This is followed by a survey of the efforts to reconstruct the overall shape of 4QInstruction, which, Goff rightly suggests, is nearly impossible due to the fragmentary nature of the manuscripts and the absence of any discernible order to the material. The remainder of the first chapter is devoted to a comprehensive and even-handed assessment of the scholarship on 4QInstruction, starting with its official publication by John Strugnell and Daniel Harrington (DJD 34), and includes discussions on the major contributions of Armin Lange, Torleif Elgvin, and Eibert Tigchelaar. Also considered in this chapter are the publications of a handful of scholars who have taken up specific topics in 4QInstruction, such as George Brooke's study on the use of Scripture in the wisdom literature from Qumran, Catherine Murphy's work on poverty and financial issues in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Collins's examination of eschatology in 4QInstruction.

Chapter 2 examines the concept of revealed wisdom in 4QInstruction by focusing on raz nihtjeh, a phrase that occurs twenty times in the text and is translated by Goff as "the mystery that is to be." Goff convincingly argues that raz nihyeh, a major theme in 4QInstruction, represents a type of hidden wisdom that can be accessed only through divine revelation. Individuals who have been given access to this knowledge are able to understand the divine order of the universe from its creation and deterministic structure to its final eschatological judgment. Furthermore, comprehension of raz nihyeh was meant to inspire its recipients to live righteous and moral lives on earth, which, according to Goff, is emphasized in 4QInstruction by combining practical wisdom on various topics, such as marriage and filial piety, with the concept of raz nihyeh in order to suggest that one who has access to "the mystery that is to be" will act correctly in each case and will be blessed both on earth and in the afterlife.

Chapter 3 is devoted to the so-called vision of Hagu pericope (4Q417 1 i 13-18), which divides humanity into two distinct groups of individuals: the "spiritual people" who have access to the vision of Hagu and those of the "fleshy spirit" who do not. Although the exact nature of the vision of Hagu is unclear, Goff theorizes that it is a "heavenly book in which is inscribed the judgement against the wicked" (p. 122). Goff argues that the vision of Hagu, connected with Genesis 1-3 by the authors of 4QInstruction, was used to suggest that those of the "fleshy spirit" were unable to discern between good and evil.

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