Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

The Isha Zara in Proverbs 1-9: Allegory and Allegorization

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

The Isha Zara in Proverbs 1-9: Allegory and Allegorization

Article excerpt

Qumran tradents (4Q184), The classical Rabbis, and medieval commentators related to the figure of the Isha Zara in Proverbs (2:16-22; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27) as representing abstract dangers, such as foreign wisdom or Gentile culture, using allegory, or rather allegorization, as a legitimate hermeneutic tool. Modern scholars as well have interpreted the Isha Zara speeches in a variety of ways, being reluctant to admit that the texts mean nothing more than warnings against dangerous liaisons. This paper aims to retrieve the original meaning of the Isha Zara speeches and to prove that it is only the strong figurative and stylistic affinities between the portryals of the "strange woman" and Lady folly (Prov 9:13-18) which have evoked the hermeneutical tendency to interpret the former in light of the later, thus leading to the aforementioned proposed allegories. This conclusion requires setting aside methods such as intertextuality, that too often function as a modern version of midrash. In my view, the Isha Zara speeches do not differ from other issues of everyday life dominating the book of Proverbs such as family ethos, parental teaching, domestic harmony, and social stability--themes that are also attested to in another manual of conduct, that is, Ben Sira.


At the outset, I shall state my primary contention, namely that the Strange Woman of Proverbs 1-9 (2:16-22; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27) ought to be identified as a mundane, seductive, adulterous, married woman who threatens the safeguarding of the family nucleus and stability of the social order. (1) This interpretive position rests upon and flows from the prominence given within the didactic framework of the book of Proverbs to parental teaching, family ethos, and domestic harmony.

This paper does not presume to offer a revolutionary or new identification of the Isha Zara, but rather cautions against an increasing tendency to interpret the Isha Zara passages in Proverbs as a metaphor, a symbol or an allegory for foreign cults, (2) Greek philosophy, and "the Other" in manifold directions. Michael Fox, in his commentary on Proverbs 1-9 (2000) describes this hermeneutic direction as "presuppositions of a rather academic character: that 'mere' fornication or even adultery is too incidental or narrow or banal a danger to warrant such solemn and extended admonitions." (3) And indeed, methodological approaches of inter-textuality, structuralism, and ideological readings, are becoming more and more common as a legitimate tool of interpreting the text, thus disinheriting the Isha Zara pericopes of a literal reading of their own, that is, their being warnings against socializing with adulterous women.

As a point of departure, we need to consider the factors which have given rise to the widespread allegorical understanding of the Isha Zara.


1.1 An Inner-biblical Paradigm of Adulterous Woman as Metaphor

One dominant interpretive consideration which inspires the allegorical approach is the inner-biblical representation of the adulterous woman as a metaphor for religious infidelity. This metaphor is often employed to express the breach of trust between the people of Israel and the Lord. Prophets regularly use the concept of marriage as a metaphor for Israel's commitment to the Lord, and conversely, fornication images as an expression of covenant violation. The city of Jerusalem is personified as an unfaithful bride in Jeremiah's prophecy: "Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown." (NRS; Jer 2:2, cf. Ezekiel 23). Moreover, one can easily trace within the admonition against the Isha Zara in Prov 2:17, stylistic glimpses of prophetic idiom, such as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'the mate of my youth' used by Jeremiah (3:4), and the verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'ignores', used by the prophet Hosea (2:15) in reference to Israel's breach of God's trust. …

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