Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Proverbs enjoy an important status in oral or semi-literate cultures—which includes most societies before the invention of printing.54 They are the immediate repository of collective wisdom—a reference library of the memory—and for an elder to know the tribal proverbs is to hold high status in the community. According to legend, King Solomon ‘spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five’ (1 Kgs. 4: 32), so the collections of proverbs here, including also those collected by the men of King Hezekiah (25–9), are all attributed to Solomon (1–24)—with the exception of the words of Agur (30) and the words of King Lemuel (31). Two kinds of proverbial material are incorporated: a series of didactic discourses or instructional wisdom, with a few individual proverbs (1–9), and several hundred individual proverbs (10–31). They include warnings against folly and strange women, as well as advice to enjoy Lady Wisdom's bounty. The individual proverbs tend to focus on the opposition of wisdom and folly, as well as advocating behaviour appropriate to the social context. As with the Psalms of David, the ‘Proverbs of Solomon’ should not necessarily be attributed to his authorship. For courtiers to assign proverbs to their royal patron was a formal literary device not even requiring an actual royal court. The individual proverbs contain a considerable amount of conventional wisdom: ‘The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot’ (10: 7), ‘Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins’ (10: 12), ‘The rich man's wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty’ (10: 15); and the occasional moment of insight: ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith’ (15: 17), ‘It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman’ (21: 19). Of the discourses in the Book of Proverbs perhaps the outstanding ones are the hymn to wisdom (8: 22–36), where Wisdom is represented as being YHWH's companion at the beginning of creation; Lady Wisdom's summons to feast at her table in her seven pillared house (9: 1–12); and the praise of a virtuous woman (31: 10–31). The focus on women, strange or otherwise, in Proverbs may be the trace of a conflict between goddesses now troped as competition between Lady Wisdom and ‘the strange woman’ (5 and 7), a rival source of wisdom in the community.

Chapter.  657 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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