Ancient Israelite Epistemology


Wisdom at the Interface between God and Humans

20th - 23th March 2023 University of Hamburg

An International Conference on Divine-Human Dimensions of Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient World

Wisdom or knowledge have a striking role in the narratives about the Garden of Eden in Gen 2–3 and Ezek 28:11–19 – both in the synopsis of the two texts and in the context of the Hebrew Bible. Whereas in Gen 2–3 the primal humans first acquire knowledge by grasping the fruit from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and are there-upon banished from the garden, in Ezek 28 the king of Tyre is endowed from the beginning with wisdom and beauty, both of which he loses because of his hubris. In both narratives, wisdom or knowledge is more than just a life-serving ability that can be acquired and learned by humans. Rather, by linking it to the mythical space of the Garden of Eden, it appears as a divine quality. Wisdom thus has superhuman dimensions and is located at the interface between God and humans. In Gen 2–3, humans become “like God” by attaining knowledge; in Ezek 28, the king endowed with wisdom is the exclusive human inhabitant of a mythical sphere. In both texts, wisdom or knowledge is an ambivalent quality insofar as it is related to the fall of the respective protagonists and their banishment from the garden.

The conference takes Gen 2–3 and Ezek 28:11–19 as a starting point for conceptions of wisdom and knowledge that crucially concern the divine-human relationship. However, it does not limit itself to these two texts, but places them in larger horizons of the Hebrew Bible, the ancient Near East and early Jewish literature. The aim is, on the one hand, to better understand the subject of wisdom or knowledge in Gen 2–3 and Ezek 28 and, on the other hand, to shed light on the superhuman and divine dimensions of wisdom and knowledge in the different textual areas and cultures.

The guiding questions of the conference can be summarized as follows:

  • What makes wisdom and knowledge a divine or superhuman quality according to the view of the sources?
  • How can humans attain and participate in divine wisdom?
  • What effects and consequences do wisdom and knowledge have for humans?
  • How and to what extent do wisdom and knowledge affect the relationship between God and humans?

Conference venue

University of Hamburg
Department of Protestant Theology
Gorch-Fock-Wall 7
20354 Hamburg
Room C1053

Participation and Registration

The participation is possible both in person and via Zoom.

For participation in person we charge a conference fee of 50 euros in order to cover the costs of catering. For registration, please write an informal e-mail to Marcel Krusche (marcel.‌krusche‌(at) in which you declare whether you will participate in person or via Zoom. For participation in person, please register until January 31st, 2023.

Planning Team

Dr. Marcel Krusche, Research Assistant, University of Hamburg
PD Dr. Thomas Wagner, Academic Senior Councilor, University of Wuppertal


March 20, 2023 (Monday)


3.00pm                    Words of Welcome

3.15–4.15pm            Konrad Schmid (Zürich) – The Way to Wisdom: From Human Intuition to Divine Knowledge

4.15–4.30pm          Coffee Break

Section 1:

Marking the Boundaries between Divine and Human Wisdom

4.30–5.15pm           Suzanna Millar (Edinburgh) – Wisdom at the Interfaces of Divinity, Humanity, and Animality in Genesis 2–3

5.15–6.00pm           Josephine Fechner (Göttingen) – At the Threshold between the Divine und Human World: The Ambivalent Character of the Primeval Mythical Sages of Ancient Mesopotamia

6.30–8.00pm          Reception/Dinner

March 21, 2023 (Tuesday)

9.00–9.45am          Alexandra von Lieven (Münster) – Accessible and Inaccessible Wisdom and Knowledge in Ancient Egypt and Its Dangers

9.45–10.30am         Seth Bledsoe (Nijmegen) – Ahiqar, Eden and the Limits of Human Knowledge in the Divine Garden

10.30–11.00am        Coffee Break

11.00–11.45am         Fiodar Litvinau (München) – The Distinction between Good and Evil in Its Application to the Wisdom Concept in the Dead Sea Scrolls

11.45–12.30am         Hindy Najman (Oxford) – Understanding, Wisdom and Creation in 4QInstruction and Philo of Alexandria

12.30am–2.00pm    Lunch Break

2.00–3.00pm           Final Discussion Section 1

3.00–3.30pm           Coffee Break

3.30–5.30pm           Social program

Public Keynote

6.00–7.00pm          Bernd Schipper (Berlin) – From Empirical Knowledge to Critical Wisdom: Concepts of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs

7.15–9.00pm           Conference Dinner

March 22, 2023 (Wednesday)

Section 2:

Overcoming Boundaries: Human Acquisition of Divine Wisdom

9.00–9.45am           Alan Lenzi (Stockton) – Hearing and Seeing Secrets in Ancient Mesopotamia

9.45–10.30am         Kianoosh Rezania (Bochum) – Gaining Divine Knowledge in Its Ancient Iranian Way

10.30–11.00am         Coffee Break

11.00–11.45am         Thomas Wagner (Wuppertal) – Gaining Knowledge – Attaining Emotions: On the Relation of Knowledge and Shame in Gen 2–3

11.45–12.30am        Mirjam Bokhorst (Halle) – Abominable Mysteries and Saving Knowledge – Perspectives of Wisdom in 1 Enoch

12.30am–2.00pm    Lunch

2.00–2.45pm           Jaco Gericke (Vanderbijlpark) – Folk-metaphysical Assumptions in the Religious Language of Divine Knowledge/Wisdom in Gen 2–3 and Ezekiel 28 – An Analytic-Philosophical Perspective

2.45–3.45pm           Final Discussion Section 2

4.00–6.00pm           Social program

6.00–7.30pm           Dinner

March 23, 2023 (Thursday)

Section 3:

Transgressing Boundaries: Wisdom and Hubris

9.00–9.45am           Will Kynes (Samford) – Pride Comes before the “Fall”: Wisdom, Human Hubris, Defiance of Divine Limits, and Death in Genesis 2–3, Ezekiel 28, and the Epic of Gilgamesh

9.45–10.30am         Marcel Krusche (Hamburg) – Super-Human Wisdom and Mythical Traditions in Ezek 28

10.30–11.00am         Coffee Break

11.00–11.45am         Isaac Kalimi (Mainz) – The Violence, Hubris, and Punishment of the Assyrian King (Isaiah 10 and 14)

11.45–12.30am        Mark Sneed (Lubbock) – The Confluence of Torah, Wisdom, and Prophecy: Gen 2–3, Ezekiel 28, and Prov 30 as Hubristic Wisdom

12.30am–1.30pm     Final Discussion Section 3 and Farewell

Download Programme (update 21th November 2022)

Epistemology of the Ancient Fertile Crescent

22th-24th June 2022 University of Wuppertal


Annette Schellenberg, Universität Wien
Jan Dietrich, Universität Bonn
Thomas Wagner, Universität Wuppertal

Reflection on knowledge is often assumed to origin in the formation of Greek philosophy since pre-Socratic times. Based on this insight, earlier cultural stages in the ancient Near East, including ancient Israel, are described as archaic. In these “archaic cultures”, reflections on the principles of knowledge and its doc-umentation in written sources are said to have hardly existed. Against this view, new approaches to the study of epistemologies in these cultures have emerged in the recent years. The aim of the conference “Epistemology of the Ancient Fertile Crescent” is to bring these new approaches into dialogue to create a concise picture of epistemological processes in the cultures of this region.

June 22, 2022 (Wednesday)

1.00pm Pre-conference Lunch

2.00pm Words of Welcome

2.15-3.15pm Jan Dietrich (Aarhus) – Epistemologies of the Ancient Mediterranean: Characteristics and Comparisons

3.15-4.15pm Katharine J. Dell (Cambridge) – “Even Though Those Who are Wise Claim to Know, They Cannot Find it Out.” (Eccl 8:17): A Pendulum of Epistemological Perspectives in Ecclesiastes, as Contextualized in Greek Culture

4.15–4.45pm Coffee Break

4.45-5.45pm Mark Sneed (Lubbock) – The Relationship Between Qohelet’s Anthropology and His Epistemology

5.45-6.45pm Thomas Wagner (Wuppertal) – Cognitive Domains and Cultic Rituals: Shared Understanding and Individual Perception

7.00pm Dinner

June 23, 2022 (Thursday)

9.00-10.00am Francesca Rochberg (Berkeley) – Cuneiform Knowledge and Natural Knowledge

10.00-11.00am Hindy Najman (Oxford) – Concepts of Nature in Second Temple Judaism: A Philological and Philosophical Exploration

11.00–11.30am Coffee Break

11.30–12.30am Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum (Berlin) – Ancient Epistemologies in First Philologies

12.30–1.30pm Lunch Break

1.30–2.30pm Jaco Gericke (Vanderbijlpark) – “Come Let us Reason Together” (Isa 1:18): The Comparative-Philosophical Question of Epistemological Commensurability and the Search for Justification Criteria in the Old Testament’s Second-Order Religious Language

2.30–3.30pm Dru Johnson (New York) – Ritual Epistemology in the Hebrew Bible

3.30–4.00pm Coffee Break

4.00–5.00pm Annette Schellenberg (Wien) – “For the Lord Gives Wisdom” (Prov 2:6): Old Testament Notions about the Involvement of God in the Cognition Processes of Humans

5.00–6.00pm Karen Gloy (Luzern) – Hypotaxis versus parataxis: A Discussion of Plato with the Ancient Near Eastern Way of Thinking

6.00–7.00pm Dinner

7.00-8.00pm Marc Van De Mieroop (New York City) – What is Knowledge? A Babylonian Answer (Public Lecture)

8.00pm Reception

June 24, 2022 (Friday)

8.30–9.30am Christoph Horn (Bonn) – The Epistemology of Wisdom in Ancient Neoplatonism

9.30–10.30am Ludwig Morenz (Bonn) – Reading a readers perspective: Ambiguity and the art of reading in MK-Egypt. A case stuy of Ankhu (stela Liege I/630) – a free floating individual?

10.30–11.00am Coffee Break

11.00–12.00am Douglas Yoder (Los Angeles) – The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: A Case Study in Comparative Epistemology

12.00–13.00am Esther Heinrich-Ramharter (Wien) – Formal Aspects of the Tun-Ergehen-Connection in the Book of Job

13.00–13.30am Final Discussion and Farewell

Programme Download (update 22 June 2022)

zuletzt bearbeitet am: 22.11.2022

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