Instruction and Imagery in Proverbs 1-9

Instruction and Imagery in Proverbs 1-9

Instruction and Imagery in Proverbs 1-9

Instruction and Imagery in Proverbs 1-9

Synopsis

A detailed examination of Proverbs 1-9, an early Jewish poetic work. Stuart Weeks incorporates studies of literature from ancient Egypt and from the Dead Sea scrolls, but his focus is on the background and use of certain key images in the text. Proverbs 1-9 belongs to an important class of biblical literature (wisdom literature), and is less well known as a whole than the related books of Job and Ecclesiastes, partly because it has been viewed until recently as a dull and muddled school-book. However, parts of it have been profoundly influential on the development of both Judaism and Christianity, and occupy a key role in modern feminist theology. Weeks demonstrates that those parts belong to a much broader and more intricate set of ideas than older scholarship allowed.

Excerpt

It is generally accepted that the Book of Proverbs is not a single composition, but a collection or anthology of different works. Some of these have themselves, perhaps, been formed from the amalgamation of still earlier works, so that the compositional history of the book may be very complicated. At some stage, however, a system of subheadings was introduced, indicating the major divisions (most of which are marked, in any case, by abrupt changes of style). According to this system, the first part of the book lies in chapters 1–9, and those chapters do indeed seem to constitute a discrete unit, which may once have stood as an independent book.

There are important points of contact between chapters 1–9 and other parts of Proverbs, and some of its themes and images have certainly been picked up and elaborated in later literature. There is an essential distinctiveness to the work, however, which lends most of the material a certain continuity, and it is the contention of this short monograph that Proverbs 1–9 is basically, as this continuity would suggest, neither a collection, nor the result of extensive secondary accretion around some core, but a single composition, with a more-or-less coherent viewpoint. It is first and foremost, however, a series of poems, rather than a treatise. Using highly figurative language, and exploiting the familiarity to the original readership of its key motifs, it explores and commends the need to gain wisdom through instruction, and so to achieve the knowledge of God’s will that is necessary for personal survival and prosperity. Moreover, although the content of the requisite instruction is not identified explicitly, the language used of it suggests that the readers were supposed to see a connection between that instruction and the . . .

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