Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Three Things ... Four Things ... Seven Things the Coherence of Proverbs 30:11-33 and the Unity of Proverbs 30

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Three Things ... Four Things ... Seven Things the Coherence of Proverbs 30:11-33 and the Unity of Proverbs 30

Article excerpt

Little agreement exists on the structure, unity or authorship of Proverbs 30. While nearly everyone agrees that at least some of the material in this chapter comes from the Agur named as author in 30:1, there is no consensus on how much of this chapter should be attributed to him. This study examines the use of numerical devices, both explicit and implied, in the text of 30:11-33. Combined with structural analysis, the use of these numerical devices demonstrates that these verses are a coherent unit within this chapter and contain literary devices linking them to 30:1-10. Thus, it is likely that the final editor of the book intended this entire chapter to be read as the work of Agur, even if it cannot be proven that all of the material in this chapter was originally composed by one author.


The thirtieth chapter of Proverbs begins with a heading attributing at least some of the sayings that follow to a certain Agur. How many of the sayings that follow should actually be attributed to Agur is a matter of debate. Toy declared himself an agnostic on this matter. (1) However, he did divide the chapter into seven sections: 30:1a; 30:1 b-4; 30:5-6; 30:7-9; 30:10; 30:11-31; 30:32-33. A minority opinion holds that Agur's words extend throughout the entire chapter. (2) Among these interpreters there is a tendency to divide the chapter into two sections, but little agreement as to where the division takes place. Sauer's analysis led him to see two sections in 30:1-14 and 30:15-33. (3) Garrett, on the other hand, sees two sections in 30:1-6 and 30:7-33. (4)

Whybray, Murphy and Fox assign only 30:1-14 to Agur. (5) They tend to see 30:15-33 as a collection of (mostly) numerical sayings. This decision is made partly upon the division of these verses in LXX. (6) It places 30:1-14 between 24:22 and 24:23, whereas it places 30:15-31:8 between 24:34 and 25:1.

Clifford views 30:1-10 as the words of Agur with 30:11-14 as an independent saying that was attracted to 30:10 by the root [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that is used in 30:11. (7) He treats 30:15-33 as a group of numerical sayings.

Others view only a few verses, perhaps as little as 30:1-4, as attributable to Agur, with 30:5-9 as another unit, perhaps as a reaction to or correction of the theology of 30:1-4. (8) In general, these interpreters would view 30:10-33 as a separate collection of warnings and numerical proverbs. (9)

Clearly, most of these proposals concerning Proverbs 30 attempt to see a major division in the chapter based to some extent on the use of numerical sayings. Whether the second part of the chapter begins at 30:7, which mentions two things that the author prays for, or at 30:11-14, which is clearly a list of four types of evil people (though no number is mentioned), or at 30:15, which begins with the two daughters of a leech, the use of numbers provides the underlying assumption for dividing the chapter in two.

I would propose that the obvious use of numbers throughout the latter part of Proverbs 30 has blinded interpreters to another difference between the first part and the last part of this chapter: the mode of address. The first sayings in the chapter are all direct address, either to God (30:lb, 7) or to the reader (30:4, 6, 10). (10) However, there is no direct address in 30:11-33 until the very end, 30:32-33. Therefore, I would propose that the sudden dropping of direct address as demarcating a new section.

Is there other evidence that would support this theory? I believe there is. It involves the intricate use of numbers, both those explicitly used in the text and those implied. To this we now turn our attention.


The sayings that follow 30:1-10 are mainly a collection of list sayings. That is, the overriding feature is that they list a number of items that the sage sees as somehow connected. …

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