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The Book of Proverbs (in Hebrew: מִשְלֵי Mishlay) is a book of the Hebrew Bible. The original Hebrew title of the book of Proverbs is "Míshlê Shlomoh" ("Proverbs of Solomon"). When translated into Greek and Latin, the title took on different forms. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) the title became "paroimai paroimiae" ("Proverbs"). In the Latin Vulgate the title was "proverbia", from which the English title of Proverbs is derived.



The authorship of Proverbs has long been a matter of dispute. Solomon’s name appears in Proverbs 1:1, "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, King of Israel." There are also references within Proverbs to Agur (30:1) and Lemuel (31:1) as authors distinct from Solomon. These names are missing in the Greek translation of the Septuagint. Medieval scholars used in the Vulgate the Hebrew rendering of these two verses, and in their eyes the words "Agur" and "Lemuel" were but symbolical names of Solomon.[1] Solomon is often mentioned as someone who has extensive wisdom in the Bible as well as in extra-biblical literature. However, at the time of composition it was often the custom to place the name of the King or someone of prominence in writings in order to honor them, or to give those writings more prestige[citation needed]. In 1 Kings 4:29-34, 3000 proverbs and over 1000 songs are said to have come from Solomon and it is also said that people came from all over to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The general assumption is that Solomon was a part of the authorship to some extent, but that the book was not solely his work.[citation needed] Not only are the names "Agur" and "Lemuel" linked to other sections of the book, there are elements of disunity within the book that suggest more than one author. Some of the authorship is attributed to "Men of Hezekiah" (25:1), though it is stated that they simply transcribed the proverbs rather than writing them of their own accord.

In terms of the text itself there are at least eight specific instances where authorship is mentioned:

Proverbs Authors/Collectors
1:1 Solomon
10:1 Solomon
25:1 Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah’s men)
30:1 Agur son of Jakeh
31:1 Lemuel (or his mother)

As for the eighth section there are scholars who consider the poem at the end of the book vs. 10-31 as written by an unknown author.[citation needed] The attributions of authorship are as follows in accordance with the scriptures above; Solomon, Solomon, Wise Men, Wise Men, Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah’s men), Agur son of Jakeh, Lemuel (or his mother), and the unknown author. With this possibility it is speculated that the sections written by the Wise Men were studied by Solomon and added in and that they influenced his writing. With this possibility it is likely that there would be similarities in the section written by Solomon as well as the sections by the Wise Men. Studies of word usage have indicated that the highest percentage of commonalities are between the three Solomon sections. The next most common are the Wise Men sections, showing that they could have influenced Solomon’s writing, and the least commonalities were with the Agur, Lemuel, and the unknown author. A majority of critical scholars, including James L. Crenshaw, Roland E. Murphy and L.G. Perdue, hold to the belief that much of Proverbs was brought together from a time well after Solomon. However, many well respected theologians continue to attribute most of the book to Solomon, including J. I. Packer, John Piper, John F. MacArthur, and Albert Mohler.


Proverb scroll.PNG
  • The Proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 1-24)
    • Title and Prologue (Proverbs 1:1-7)
    • Main Text Divided Into Discourses (Proverbs 1:7-9:18)
    • Proverbial Sayings (Proverbs 10:1-22:16)
    • Thirty "Sayings of the Wise" (Proverbs 22:27-24:22)
    • Additional "Sayings of the Wise" (Proverbs 24:23-34)
  • Proverbs of Solomon copied by the men of Hezekiah (Proverbs 24-29)
  • Sayings of Agur (Proverbs 30)
  • Sayings of King Lemuel (Proverbs 31)
    • Duties of a King (Proverbs 31:1-9)
    • Praise of the Virtuous Woman (Proverbs 31:10-31)[2]


There has been a consensus among scholars that there is a crossover of some Egyptian and Assyrian nature in the proverbs from The Instructions of Amenemopet [3] and Ahiqar.[4]

Proverbs as wisdom literature

The book of Proverbs is referred to as wisdom literature along with several others: the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and certain Psalms, known as wisdom psalms. Among the deuterocanonical books, Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon are wisdom literature.

Throughout Proverbs, wisdom (or the wise person) is compared and contrasted with foolishness (or the fool). 'Fool' in Proverbs indicates one who is lacking in morality and uninterested in correction, not one who is merely silly or playful. Wisdom is held up as something worth effort to attain and the reader is told that it starts with the person of Yahweh: "The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom." [5]


It is difficult to pin the provenance of Proverbs down. Several suggestions have been made.

  • Family

In the society of ancient Israel, the family played an important role in the upbringing and education of children. Some internal evidence hints to the use of Proverbs in a family setting; the phrase "my son" appears some 20 times throughout the book. The role of the mother is also listed some 10 times.

  • Court

The name of Solomon stands in the title of the book, thus suggesting a royal setting. Throughout the Old Testament, wisdom is connected with the court.

  • School

It is possible practical and reflective wisdom was transmitted in a house of learning or instruction.[6]

Messianic interpretations in Christianity

There are found in Proverbs, and other wisdom literature, references to Wisdom as a personification. These have long been taken by Christian exegetes as references to Christ, who is called the wisdom of God by Paul the Apostle(1 Cor 1:24). The first time Wisdom is personified is at Prov 1.20. In all these passages Wisdom is spoken of as a woman because the Hebrew(chokhmah) and Greek word(sophia) for “wisdom” is itself feminine.[7]

The King James Bible reads, in reference to wisdom in Prov. 8:22, that "The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old." The Revised Standard Version reads “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.[8] Proverbs 8 has long been taken to refer to Christ, so whether or not the Hebrew קנה(qanah) should be taken as "created" or as "possessed" was used in the debate over the eternity of Christ. Both these meanings are used in the Old Testament but many contemporary scholars render it as "created".[9] Proponents of "possessed" such as Kidner argue that it is absurd to think that God would need to create Wisdom, implying there was a time when he lacked Wisdom. Also, “Prov 8 starts from the indisputable commonplace that God existed before the start of time and ascribes the same precedence to wisdom.”[10] The remainder of Prov 8 they argue, shows Wisdom taking a role in creation, and contrasts Wisdom with created things. However, understanding קנה as possessed leaves open the possibility that Wisdom should be understood here as a personification of an attribute of God rather an entity in its own right.[11] The Hebrew אמון('amown) in Prov. 8:30 is still a subject of debate among Bible scholars. 'Amown has been undestood as either: "artisan or master craftsman" which suggests that Wisdom is an active participant in creation, or as "nursling" which excludes any notion of Wisdom's active participation in creation.[12][13][14]

It has been noted by some Christian exegetes that Col 1:15-16 is dependent on this chapter of Proverbs.[15] The parallels in the roles of Christ and Wisdom, they argue lend credence to understanding qanah as possessed rather than created. They argue that "Wisdom was, before the Lord made even a particle of matter (verse 26) or gave order to creation (verse 29); Wisdom participated in the creation story. This strongly parallels the role of Christ in Colossians, where he is the “first-born of all creation” and in him were all things created. To add to the identification of Wisdom with Christ, we find that Wisdom was identified with the Greek concept of logos, which was in turn identified with Christ."[16]

Prov 8:22 was a crucial verse in the Arian controversies of the fourth century CE. This verse was used both to support and refute the Arians' claims. Assuming first that Christ could be equated with the "Wisdom of God"(1 Cor. 1:24), the Arians argued that the son, like Wisdom was created, and to be a creature, whether the first or the most prominent of creatures, is to be subordinate to the creator. Those who formulated the Nicean declaration that the Son was "begotten, not made" were inclined to translate קנה in Prov. 8:22 as "begot me" in order to argue that God and Christ were cosubstantial.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Dean, Matt (1913). "Book of Proverbs". Catholic Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ adapted from Holman Bible Handbook on Proverbs
  3. ^ ”Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II: The New Kingdom”, p146-163, Miriam Lichtheim, University of California Press, 1976, ISBN 0-520-03615-8
  4. ^ The personification of Wisdom, Alice M. Sinnott, Society for Old Testament Study
  5. ^ Proverbs 1:7, 9:10
  6. ^ W. Dennis Tucker, "Literary Forms in the Wisdom Literature" In: An introduction to Wisdom Literature and the Psalms, FS Marvin E. Tate, ed. H. Wayne Ballard, 163-166
  7. ^ Wade Johnston, Proverbs 8, 2004, 4.
  8. ^ Revised Standard Version, Proverbs
  9. ^ The personification of Wisdom, Alice M. Sinnott, Society for Old Testament Study, p 25
  10. ^ Michael Fox, Proverbs 1-9: The Anchor Bible, (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 284.
  11. ^ a b Who knows what is good? : a commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Kathleen Anne Farmer, pp.53-54
  12. ^ Parallel translation of Proverbs 8:30
  13. ^ The personification of Wisdom, Alice M. Sinnott, Society for Old Testament Study, p. 29
  14. ^ Who knows what is good? : a commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Kathleen Anne Farmer, 55
  15. ^ Ibid., 279.
  16. ^ Ibid., 293.

Works cited

  • Benson, Clarence H., Old Testament Survey: Poetry and Prophecy, 1972
  • Blank, S. H. "Book of Proverbs," in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [1962]
  • Chapman, Milo L., Purkiser, W.T., Wolf, Earl C. & Harper, A. F. Beacon Bible Commentary: Job through Song of Solomon, 1967
  • Crenshaw, James L. "Book of Proverbs," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992
  • Dean, Matt (1913). "Book of Proverbs". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  • Holman Bible Handbook, David S. Dockery (General Editor), Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, 1992
  • Jewish Encyclopedia, with dates of compilation and manuscript traditions
  • Lasor, William Sanford, Hubbard, David Allan, & Bush, Frederic Wm., Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 1996
  • Murphy, Roland E., Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Grand Rapids, 1981
  • Perdue, Leo G. Proverbs: interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 2000
  • Steinmann, Andrew E. "Proverbs 1-9 as a Solomonic Composition," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43, no. 4
  • Waltke, Bruce (2004). Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802825452. 
  • Waltke, Bruce (2005). The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31. Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802827760. 

Further reading

  • Bridges, Charles, A Commentary On Proverbs, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh (UK), 1968 (First Published 1846), ISBN 0851510884
  • The MacArthur Bible Commentary:Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse At A Time, by John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville TN USA, 2005, ISBN 0-7852-5066-2
  • Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, by Matthew Poole, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh UK, First Edition Published in 1685, this edition published in 1963, ISBN 0 85151 211 9

External links

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From Wikiquote

This article covers the Book of Proverbs from the Bible. For articles on other types of proverbs, see Category:Proverbs.


Proverbs 1,New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, King James Version

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures: 1 The proverbs of Sol´o·mon the son of David, the king of Israel, 2 for one to know wisdom and discipline, to discern the sayings of understanding, 3 to receive the discipline that gives insight, righteousness and judgment and uprightness, 4 to give to the inexperienced ones shrewdness, to a young man knowledge and thinking ability.

King James Version: 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

10 My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

Proverbs 2, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures: 20 The purpose is that you may walk in the way of good people and that the paths of the righteous ones you may keep. 21 For the upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. 22 As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.

Proverbs 5, New International Version

19 A loving doe, a graceful deer- may her breasts satisfy you always may you be ever captivated by her Love

Proverbs 8

  • O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Proverbs 11:5
  • For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. Proverbs 11:8

Proverbs 10

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. Proverbs 10:19

Proverbs 12

  • Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight. Proverbs 12:22

Proverbs 14, King James Version

  • 11 Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
  • 15 The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.

Proverbs 15:16, New American Bible

Better a little with fear of the LORD than a great fortune with anxiety.

Proverbs 18

  • He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster. Proverbs 18:9

Proverbs 21, King James Version

19 It is better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and an angry woman.

Proverbs 24, American Standard Version

5 A wise man is strong, And a man of knowledge increases power.

כי בתחבלות, תעשה-לך מלחמה; ותשועה, ברב יועץ.

6 For by wise guidance you wage your war; and victory is in many advisors.

Proverbs 25, American Standard Version

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;

22 For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.

Proverbs 26, King James Version

27 He that diggeth a pit, shall fall

Proverbs 28:9

God has no use for the prayers of the people who won't listen to Him.

Proverbs 31, King James Version

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BOOK OF PROVERBS (Heb. Mis. t ile Shelomoh,, " Proverbs of Solomon," abridged by the later Jews to Mishle; Septuagint, irapoi aicu or H. 'aX.; Lat. Vulg. Parabolae sal. and Liber proverbiorum), one of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament (see Wisdom Literature) and the principal representative in the Old Testament of gnomic thought. This sort of thought, which appears very early in Egypt (2000 B.C. or earlier), and relatively early among the Greeks (in the sayings of Thales and Solon as reported by Diogenes Laertius), was of late growth among the Hebrews. Doubtless they, like other peoples, had their simple proverbs, embodying their general observations of life; a couple of these have been preserved in the Old Testament: " Is Saul also among the Prophets?" (I Sam. x. 12); " The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge " (Jer. xxxi. 29; Ezek. xviii. 2). It is possible that Solomon uttered or collected a number of such sayings, based in part on observation of the habits of beasts and plants (I Kings iv. 32 seq. [Heb.v. 12 seq.]; cf. Jotham's apologue, Judg. ix. 8 sqq., and Samson's riddle, Judg. xiv. 14). The Hebrew word mashal, commonly rendered " proverb," is a general term for didactic and elegiac poetry (as distinguished from the descriptive and the liturgical),. its form being that of the couplet with parallelism of clauses; in the Old Testament it signifies a folk-saying (Ezek. xii. 22, xviii. 2), an allegory (Ezek. xvii. 2), an enigmatical saying (Ezek. xxi. 5), a byword (Jer. xxiv. 9; Deut. xxviii. 37), a taunting speech (Isa. xiv. 4; Hab. ii. 6), a lament (Mic. ii. 4), a visional or apocalyptic discourse (Num. xxiii. 7; xxiv. 15), a didactia discourse (Ps. xlix., lxxviii.), an argument or plea (Job xxix. I). In the book of Proverbs it is either an aphorism (x.-xxii.) or a discourse (i.-ix., xxiii. 29-35, xxvii. 32-27).

The uses of the term being so various, its special signification in any case must be determined by the character of the passage in which it occurs; and an examination of the contents of Proverbs shows that the thought of the book differs widely from that of the literature prior to the 5th century B.C. The book appears on its face to be a compilation, various authors being mentioned in the titles: Solomon in x. 1 and xxv. 1; the " sages in xxii. 17 and xxiv. 23; Agur in xxx. 2; the mother of King Lemuel in xxxi. 2; xxxi. Io-31 and, probably, xxx. 5-33 are: anonymous; the ascription in i. i to Solomon may refer to i.-ix or to the whole book. Apart from the titles (which are not authoritative) the difference of style in the various sections indicates difference of authorship. There is, indeed, a certain unity of thought in the book; throughout it inculcates cardinal social virtues, such as industry, thrift, discretion, truthfulness, honesty, chastity, and in general it assumes wisdom to be the guiding principle of life. But the sections differ in form and tone. While chs. x.-xxix. and part of xxx. consist of aphorisms chs. i.-ix., xxxi. are composed of more or less elaborate discourses. In the aphoristic sections also there is variety; there are couplets (x. i.-xxii. 16; xxv.-xxix.), quatrains (xxii.-xxiv.) and tetrads and other numerical arrangements (xxx. 7-33). Compilatory character is indicated by repetitions; there are identical lines (x. 1 and xxix. 3; xi. 14 and xxiv. 6; xiii. 9 and xxiv. 20; xiv. 1 and xxiv. 3; xv. 18 and xxix. 22; xvii. 3 and xxvii. 2 I; xix. 1 3 and xxvii. 1 5; xx. 22 and xxiv. 29; xxiv. 23 and xxviii. 21) and identical couplets (xviii. 8 and xxvi. 22; xix. I and xxvii. 6; xix. 24 and xxvi. 15; xx. 16 and xxvii. 13; xxi. g and xxv. 34; xxii. 3 and xxvii. 12).

The dates of the various parts of the book must be determined by the character of the contents, there being no decisive external data. The fact that it stands in the third division of the Hebrew Canon, the Writings or Hagiographa, along with such late works as Job, Psalms, Chronicles, Daniel, Ecclesiastes and Esther, must be allowed weight; the presumption is that the arrangers of the Canonical books regarded it as being in general later than the Prophetical books. No help can be got from the titles. Examination of titles in the Prophets and the Psalms (to say nothing of Ecclesiastes and Wisdom of Solomon) makes it evident that these have been added by late editors who were governed by vague traditions or fanciful associations or caprice, and there is no reason to suppose the titles in Proverbs to be .exceptions to the general rule. The ascription of parts of Proverbs to Solomon (i. I, x. i, xxv. r) means nothing for us except that there was a disposition among the later Jews to refer their books to great names of the past, Enoch, Daniel, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, Ezra; as also, outside of Jewry, works were ascribed to Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus and others that were not composed by these authors. The supposition of a Solomonic authorship for Proverbs is excluded by the whole colouring of the book, in which monotheism and monogamy are assumed, without discussion, to be generally accepted, while in Solomon's time and by Solomon's self the worship of many gods and the taking of more than one wife were freely practised, without rebuke from priest or prophet. The high ethical conception of the kingly office in Proverbs is out of keeping with the despotic character of Solomon's government. It is supposed, indeed, by some modern writers that the notice in xxv. i (" These are proverbs of Solomon, that the men of Hezekiah king of Judah transcribed ") is too circumstantial to be merely a late tradition or scribal guess. But similarly definite titles are prefixed elsewhere, for example, to Ps. li. - lx., where they cannot possibly be correct. Hezekiah's time may have been selected by the author of the title (or by the tradition which he represents) as being the next great literary period in Judah after Solomon, the time of Micah and Isaiah, or the selection may have been suggested by the military glory of the period (the repulse of the Assyrian army) and by the fame of Hezekiah as a pious monarch and a vigorous reformer of the national religion. But to regard Hezekiah as a Jewish Pisistratus is to ascribe to the time a literary spirit of which the extant documents give no hint; the literature of the age was wholly occupied with the past history, the religious conditions and the political fortunes of the nation, subjects alien to the book of Proverbs.

The objections to the Solomonic age as the time of origination of the book apply also to the period extending from Solomon through the 6th century. But there are considerations that lead us to put its origin still later. One of these is the nonnational character of the thought. The historical and prophetical books and the Pentateuch are wholly concerned with the nation. For them Israel is the centre of the world, the point around which all other things revolve - every other people derives its claim to consideration from its relation to Israel - the only subject deserving attention is the extent of the Jewish nation's obedience or disobedience to its divinely given law, on which depends its prosperity or its adversity. In Proverbs there is a notable absence of this point of view. The name Israel and the terms temple, prophet, priest, covenant, do not occur in the book. The " vision " (that is, prophetic vision) in the Hebrew text of xxix. 18 (" Where there is no vision, people throw off restraint ") is an error of text. No writer who was acquainted with Hebrew history could suppose that there was any relation between the national morality and the abundance of prophetic visions; the period in which such visions were most numerous is precisely that in which the corruption of morals is painted by the prophets in the darkest colours and, on the other hand, the people are said (in Pss. xliv. and lxxiv.) to have been obedient at a time when there was no prophet. Moreover, this reading supplies no antithesis in the couplet, the second line of which is: " But he who obeys instruction (or law), happy is he "; we should expect the first line to read: " Where there is no guidance people throw off restraint," as in xi. 14: " Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Prophets play so great a part in the early history that the ignoring of them here is significant. The decadence of prophecy is indicated in two passages that belong probably to the Greek period: in Zech. xiii. 2 sqq. prophecy is identified with the " unclean spirit," the pretender to visions is threatened with death by his parents, and, so great is the general contempt for the class, protests that he is no prophet but a tiller of the ground, accounting for the wounds on his person (such as these charlatans used to inflict on themselves) by declaring that they were received in the house of his friends (that is, apparently, in a drunken quarrel); from a very different point of view Joel ii. 28 seq. (Heb. iii. i seq.) predicts that in the latter times (in the ideal restoration of the people) all persons, free and bond, male and female, shall have the spirit of prophecy - that is, the old order shall be set aside and a new religious constitution established. Proverbs belongs to the time when prophecy, as a helpful institution, had disappeared, and wisdom had taken its place. So also the term law had here taken on a new meaning. It is no longer the law of Moses or that of the prophetic revelation - it is the standard of rightdoing resident in every man's mind, the creation of wise reflection; such a conception lies outside the point of view that forms the very substance of Hebrew thought in the period prior to the 5th century. It is true that the nationalistic tinge is found in late writings (Chronicles, Psalms), and that its absence, therefore, is not merely a matter of date; but it is hardly conceivable that an author of any time before the 5th century could have ignored the nationalistic point of view so completely as Proverbs does.

Another noteworthy feature of the book is the picture it gives of social life. The organization of the family is treated much more fully than in the Law and the Prophets, and has a more modern aspect. In Deut. xxi. 18 sqq. (of the 7th century) a disobedient son, complained of by his parents, is to be stoned to death by the men of the city; in Proverbs (xiii. 24, xxii. 15, xxiii. 13 seq., xxix. 15, 17) a bad child is to be chastised, and much is said of the training of children by instruction. The impression made by a number of passages (i. 8, xxiii. 22 al.) is that a regular system of family education existed, more definitely ethical than that indicated in Deut. vi. 7, which merely enjoins teaching children the details of the national law. In addition to this parental instruction we find hints of a sort of academic training, particularly in chs. i. - ix., in which the sage appears to address a circle of youths. If we may credit the Talmudic tract Pirke Aboth (ch. i.), Jewish academies under the charge of great teachers existed early in the 2nd century B.e., and the beginnings of such institutions may go back a century; they would probably be suggested by the Greek schools of philosophy, which early sprang up in Western Asia and Egypt under Alexander's successors.

Monogamy, as is remarked above, is assumed in Proverbs to be the recognized custom. Polygamy was legal and usual in the 7th century (Deut. xxi. 15) and the 6th (Lev. xviii. 17, 18), and doubtless continued to be practised some time after by the Jews, though on this point we have no definite information; Herod, who was a despot, and was not a Jew, cannot be taken as an illustration of Jewish custom; the obscure passage, Mal. ii. ro sqq. (450-400 B.C.) may have monogamy in mind, but its position on this point is not clear. What is certain is that the definite assumption of monogamy is found only in such late books as Ben-Sira (Ecclesiasticus), Tobit and Judith. In regard to punishment for the violation of a husband's rights Proverbs shows a marked advance on the old usage. The Pentateuchal law (Lev. xx. 10) prescribes death as the punishment for adultery; Proverbs (v., vi. 27 sqq., vii.) treats the offence as a sin against the offender himself, an act of suicidal folly, the punishment coming sometimes from the jealous husband, but chiefly in the way of the physical depravation and social ignominy that befall the adulterer. This change of punishment imports not a falling off in the moral standard but rather the conviction that a crime of this sort is best dealt with by public opinion; in airy case it means a change in the constitution of society.

The experiences described in Proverbs belong especially to city life. Something is said here and there bearing on agricultural pursuits, and there is a paragraph (xxvii. 23 sqq.) - a little treatise it may be called - enjoining on the landowner the necessity of paying special attention to his cattle, large and small; these, says the writer, are the real sources of wealth to the rural landowner. Possibly he means to insist on the advantages of country life over life in the city; if this be so, the paragraph bears witness to the prominence of the latter. Whether or not this is his design, advice to cattle-owners is natural in a manual of conduct. The Jews were mainly country-folk from the time of their settlement in Canaan to their final expulsion from the land by Titus and Hadrian, and the soil of Israelitish Palestine was better adapted to the raising of sheep and oxen than to the production of grain. Doubtless much attention was paid to this industry, but the composition of a little book on the subject, indicating a scientific interest in boviculture, points to a comparatively late period; the Greek and Roman works of this sort, by Aristotle, Theophrastus, Virgil and others, were late. This little treatise stands almost alone in Proverbs; the great mass of its aphorisms relate to vices and faults which, though possible in any tolerably well-organized community, were specially prominent in the cities in which the Jews dwelt after the conquests of Alexander. They are malicious gossip, greed of money, giving security, nocturnal robbery, murder, unchastity. Much space is given to the last-named vice throughout the book, and especially in chs. i. and ix. - obviously it is regarded as a notorious social evil. Comparatively little is said of it in the Pentateuch and the prophetical and historical books. That there were harlots and adulteresses in Israel from an early time is shown by such passages as Judg. xi.i (Jephthah's mother), Kings iii. 16 (the judgment of Solomon), Hos. iii. i. (Hosea's wife), by the denunciations of the crime and the laws against it, and by the employment of the terms harlotry and adultery as designations of religious unfaithfulness. Yet, apart from the references to cultic prostitution (which was adopted by the Israelites from the Canaanites), the mention of the vice in question is not frequent; in a polygamous society and in a country without great cities it was not likely to grow to great proportions. The case was different when the Jews were dispersed through the new Greek kingdoms, and lived in cities like Jerusalem and Alexandria, centres of wealth and luxury, inhabited by mixed populations; this form of debauchery then became commoner and better organized. Hetairae flocked to the cities. Naukratis in the Egyptian Delta was famous under the Ptolemies for its brilliant venal women. The temptations of Alexandria and the loose morals of the time (latter part of the 3rd century) are illustrated by the story told by Josephus (Ant. xii. 4, 6) of Joseph the son of Tobias. The picture of society given in Ben-Sira (ix. 3-9, xix. 2, xxiii. 16-26, xxv. 16-26, xxvi. 8-12, xlii. 9-14), based on life in Jerusalem and Alexandria in the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. agrees in substance with the descriptions of the Book of Proverbs. The tone of these descriptions throughout the book, but particularly in chs. i. - ix., is modern. A point of interest is that the exhortations to chastity are addressed to men only; the man is regarded as the victim, the woman as the temptress - women are never warned against men or against the general seductions of society. This silence may be due in part to a current opinion that women were more hedged in and guarded by social arrangements and less exposed to temptation than men; but it is chiefly the result of the fact that the Old Testament (like most ancient and modern works on practical ethics) addresses itself almost exclusively to men (certain classes of women are denounced in Amos iv. 1-3; Isa. iii. 16 - iv. i; Ezek. xiii. 17-23); the moral independence of women is not distinctly recognized. In this regard Ecclesiasticus agrees with Proverbs - it has no word of advice for women. The temptress in Proverbs appears to be a married woman; she is certainly such in chs. vi. and vii., and probably also throughout the book. The term " strange woman " (ii. 16 al.) means not a foreigner, but one who is alien to the man's family circle, the wife of another man. Such women may sometimes have been foreigners, but the sage's concern is with the man's violation of the marriage obligation, be the woman Jew or Gentile. In the earlier time marriages between Jewish men and Canaanite women seem to have been not uncommon; whether (outside of Herod's family) there were marriages with foreigners in the Greek period we have no means of determining.

Proverbs is remarkable for the attention it gives to kings. The prophets have nothing to say of them as a class. One passage in the Pentateuch (Deut. xvii. 15-20) prescribes that the Israelite king shall be the opposite of Solomon - he shall not accumulate horses, wives, silver and gold, and shall study the law. In the Psalter he is considered merely as a servant of Yahweh. Proverbs treats the king, in a quite modern way, as a member of society. He is described ideally as ruling by the might of wisdom (viii. 15, 16), and as controlled in his administration by truth, kindness and justice (xx. 8, 26, 28) - the wicked ruler who oppresses the poor is condemned as not reaching the ideal standard (xxviii. 3, 5, 16). Three manuals of conduct are devoted to him (xvi. 10-15, xxv. 2-7, xxxi. 2-9). His power is recognized - he is the source of life and death (xvi. 14, 15) - but he is treated as a human being who must be governed by the ordinary laws of right. It is especially illustrative of the times that instruction in table manners is offered to the guests of kings - they must be modest in their bearing, not putting themselves forward (xxv. 6, 7; cf. Luke xiv. 8, II), and they must control their appetites (xxiii. 1, 2). The reference here must be to the numerous non-Jewish kings of the Greek period, and perhaps also to the Maccabean princes; the manners of the time are set forth in Josephus's account of Ptolemy's dinner, at which the Jew Hyrcanus was a guest (Ant. xii. 4, 9). The mingling of despotism and good-natured familiarity there described (and the spirit is doubtless correctly given by Josephus, whether or not his details are historical) agrees with the picture in Proverbs.

Finally, a late date for Proverbs is indicated by what may be called its philosophical element - a feature that it has in common with the other Wisdom books (see Wisdom Literature). This element is recognizable throughout the book, but is most distinct in chs. i. - ix., in which wisdom is personified as the power regulating the affairs of human life (iii. 13-18, viii.

The portraiture approaches hypostatization in the cosmogonic ode (viii. 22-31), especially if the first line of v. 30 be rendered: " I was at his side as a master-workman "; but the Hebrew word (amon) rendered " master-workman " is of doubtful meaning, and the connexion rather calls for some such sense as " nursling, ward "; Yahweh himself is represented as the architect, and wisdom, the first of his works, is his companion, sporting in his presence like a beloved child. The whole passage (vv. 22-31) was early employed by Christian theologians (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine and others) in the controversies respecting the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, particularly in connexion with the idea of eternal generation; the argument turned in part on the question whether the verb in v. 22 was to be translated by " created " or by " possessed." Ecclesiasticus xxiv. and Wisdom of Solomon vii. should be compared with the Proverbs ode. In the remainder of the book (chs. x. - xxxi.) " wisdom " is sometimes common sense or sagacity, sometimes the reflective habit of mind and largeness of outlook, sometimes the recognition of the ideal standard of living. Contrasted with the wise are fools, and on these the sages vent their scorn abundantly (xii. 15, 16, xvii. 12, xviii. 6, 7, xxiii. 9 al.); xxvi. 1, 3-12 is a " book of fools." The conception of the good life is that of philosophically ordered rectitude. The religious element is prominent in x. i - xxii. 16, but it is blended with the reflective. The philosophy of the book is practical, not speculative.

Comparison of Proverbs with Ecclesiasticus, Ecclesiastes and Wisdom of Solomon shows that it belongs, in its main features, in the same category as these. Its thought, differing so widely from that of the prophets and the Pentateuch, is most naturally referred to the period when the Jews came into intimate intellectual contact with the non-Semitic world, and particularly with the Greeks (philosophical influence is not to be looked for from Persia).

While the general period in which the book belongs may thus be determined with fair probability, it is less easy to fix the dates of its several parts. The earliest of the groups of which the book is composed seems to be x. r - xxii. 16, xxv. - xxix. which consists of simple aphorisms relating to everyday affairs. This group, however, is itself composite; we may distinguish a collection of antithetic couplets (x. - xv. and most of xxviii., xxix), and one made up of comparisons and single sentences (xvi. Ixxii. 16, xxv. - xxvii., and some verses in xxviii., xxix). Of these two the first, on account of its simpler form, appears to be the earlier, though they cannot stand far apart in time; and by combining them an editor formed the section as we now have it. These may have been severally made from current collections, a number of which were probably in existence. A general preface exhorting the pupil to give heed to the instruction of the sages (xxii. 17-21), introduces a group of quatrains in two sub-groups (xxii. 22 - xxiv. 22 and xxiv. 23-34) characterized by a wide range of thought and by ethical depth. Probably later than these are the elaborate discourses of i. - ix. (excluding vi. 1-5,6-11,12-19 and ix. 7-12, misplaced paragraphs) containing praise of ideal wisdom and warnings against unchastity. Chs. xxx., xxxi., made up of various pieces, form a sort of appendix to the book; some of the pieces are artificial in form (xxx. 11-31), one is a full picture of a good housewife's home life (xxxi. 10-31), two are ascribed to the unknown persons Agur (xxx. 2-4) and King Lemuel's mother (xxxi. 2-9). Agur's dictum is one of pious agnosticism directed, apparently, against certain theologians who talked as if they were well acquainted with the ways of God. Agur's word, breathing the spirit of scepticism, falls into the category represented by Ecclesiastes, and we may probably set the year 200 (or possibly 150) B.C. as the lower limit of the Book of Proverbs; allowing a century for the collection and combination of the various parts, we shall have the year 300 B.C. as the date of its earliest section. Some of the material may have existed in aphoristic form before, but the composition of the present book may be put approximately in the century 300-200 B.C. Even its simplest maxims have a certain academic form.

In its general ethical code Proverbs represents the best standard of the times; the sages are at one with the more enlightened moralists of the Western world. All the ordinary social virtues such as truthfulness, honesty, kindness, chastity are emphasized and a great stress is laid on care for the poor (a social necessity at a tine when there were no well organized public charities). But Proverbs seems not to go the length of identifying righteousness with almsgiving, as is done in Dan. iv. 27 (24), Matt. v. 1, and substantially in Ecclus. iii. 30, xxix. 12 and Tobit iv. io, xii. 9; in x. 2, " righteousness delivers from death," the word " righteousness " is probably to be taken in its ordinary ethical sense. The above-named virtues are all recognized in the earlier Hebrew writings, the prophets and the law, but in certain points Proverbs goes beyond these, notably in its prohibition of exultation over a fallen enemy (xxiv. 17) and of retaliation for injury received (xxiv. 29), and in its inculcation of kindness to enemies (xxv. 21). The injunction in Lev. xix. 18, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," refers only to Israelite fellow-citizens, not to enemies (cf. the interpretation given in Matt. v. 43), and the command in Exod. xxiii. 4 seq., to care for one's enemy's ox or ass likewise refers to Israelites; Proverbs conceives the principle in a higher way and extends it beyond the limits of the nation. Slavery is recognized as a lawful institution, but little is said of it. There is no suggestion of moral training of the slave; he is to be taught not by words (xxix. 19) but by the rod, like the child (v. 15), and it is intimated (v. 21) that it is a mistake to bring up a servant delicately. This was doubtless the general view of the time; Ben-Sira frankly regards the servant as a chattel (Ecclus, xxxiii. 24-31). Proverbs greatly disapproves of the elevation of slaves to the position of rulers (xix. Io) - an occurrence not uncommon in those days. The estimate of woman as wife and mother, and especially as housewife, is high (xviii. 22, xix. 14, xxxi. 10-31). In vi. 20 the mother is spoken of, along with the father, as teacher of the children, and it is assumed, therefore, that she is competent; but nothing is said of the education of women - in xxxi. 26 the " wisdom " of the good wife (not " virtuous woman ") is good sense, practical sagacity in housekeeping. The equality of all men as creatures of God, silently assumed in the earlier literature, is definitely expressed in Proverbs (xxii. 2, cf. Job xxxiv. 19, Ecclus. xi. 14). Humility, as the opposite of insolent pride, is recognized as a virtue (xviii. 12, cf. xvi. 18) - it is a modest estimate of one's worth, refusal to claim too great honour for one's self. In general it is the simple homely virtues that are enjoined on men in Proverbs - there is no mention of courage, fortitude, intellectual truthfulness, and no recognition of beauty as an element of life; the ethical type is Semitic, not Hellenic, and the sages emphasize only those qualities that seemed to them to be most effective in the struggle of life; their insistence on the practical, not the heroic, side of character is perhaps in part the consequence of the position of the Jewish people at that time, as also the silence respecting international ethics belongs to the thought of the times. The ground of moral judgments in the book is both external (the law of God) and internal (the conscience of man); these two are fused into one, and both go back ultimately to current customs and ideas. The motive assigned for right doing is individualistic utilitarian - the advantage accruing to the man either through the laws of society or through the rewards dispensed by God. This motive, which is the one assumed throughout the Old Testament, is effective for the mass of men, and becomes ethically high when the advantage had in view is of an elevated moral character. Proverbs does not offer the good of society as an aim of action, though it takes for granted that good conduct will promote the happiness of all. Assuming human freedom it at the same time assumes that the ills of life may be overcome by a wise employment of man's resources, and it silently regards universal happiness on earth as the goal of human development.

Its religious scheme is the simplest form of theism; religion is reverence for God and obedience to His laws. Though the sages doubtless recognized the temple-cult as of divine appointment and obligatory, they lay no stress upon it; for them the essence of religion is something else; right living, they say (xxi. 3), is more acceptable to God than sacrifice, and sacrifice without ethical feeling is abominable to Him (xv. 8). Subordinate supernatural beings (angels and demons), though of course accepted as real, are ignored as having no importance for life. There is no reference or allusion to national Messianic hopes (certainly none in xvi. ro-15); neither the political situation in the 3rd century B.C., nor the sages' point of view was friendly to such hopes. The view of the future life is the old Hebrew one: death is practically the end-all, Sheol is the negation of happy activity, and from it no one returns; in v. 23, vii. 27, ix. 18, x. 2, the reference is to premature death on earth. The aim of the sages is to make earthly life strong and happy. They lay no claim to divine inspiration - they speak simply as ordinary human thinkers, though they are convinced that they have eternal truth.

The reception of Proverbs into the Hebrew Canon was for a time opposed on the ground of a supposed contradiction between two aphorisms (xxvi. 4, 5,) and (vii. 7, 20) of too highly coloured descriptions (Shabbath, Sob, Aboth Nathan, cap. i.); these difficulties were got over, and the book was finally declared canonical. It is quoted over twenty times in the New Testament, and has always been highly valued as a manual of conduct.

Of the ancient versions the Septuagint is the only one that is of great service for the criticism of the Hebrew text of Proverbs. The Latin, the Peshitta Syriac and the Targum occasionally offer suggestions; the Hexaplar Syriac and the Coptic are of value for the determination of the text of the Septuagint.


The Hebrew text is discussed in all recent commentaries; see also Dyserinck, in Theol. Tijdschrift (1883); Oort, ibid. (1885), and Text. hebr. emendationes (1900); Bickell, in Wiener Zeitschr. f. d. Kunde d. Morgenlandes (1891); Chajes, Proverb .- Studien (1889); Muller and Kautzsch, in Haupt's Sacred Books of the Old Test. (1901). The Greek versions are treated by de Lagarde, Anmerkungen (1863); Baumgartner, Etude critique (1890). For the Syriac see Pinkuss in Zeitschr. f. Alttest. Wissenschaft (1894). Compare also Nestle's article " Bibelubersetzungen " in the third edition of Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopadie. Among commentators and translators may be mentioned: Ewald (1837, 1867); Noyes (1836); Stuart (1852); Hitzig (1858); Zockler, in Lange's Bibelwerk (1866, Eng. trans., 1870); Delitzsch (1873, Eng. trans., 1875); Reuss, in La Bible (1878, Germ. ed., 1894); Nowack (revision of Bertheau) in Kurzgefasst exeg. Handbuch z. A. T. (1883); Strack in Strack u. Z Oehler' s kurzgef. Comm. z. A. T. (1888, 2nd ed., 1899); Horton, in Expositor's Bible (1891); Wildeboer, in Marti's Kurz. HandComm. z. A. T. (1897); Frankenberg, in Nowack's Handkomm. z. A. T. (1898); Toy, in Internat. crit. Comm. (1898); Kautzsch, Die heil. Schrift. d. A.T. (2nd ed., 1896); Oort, Het Oude Test. (1898-1900). See also Bois, La Poesie gnomique chez z. Heb. &c. (1886); Cheyne, Job and Soloman (1887); id., in Sem. Studies (ed. Kohut, 1897); id., Jew. Relig. Life (1898); Montefiore in Jew. Quart. Review (1889-1890). On Proverbs of Other Ancient Peoples: Egyptian - Griffith, art. " Egypt Lit." in Libr. of World's Best Lit. (1897), vol. xiii.; Assyrian: Halevy, Melanges (1883); Jager, in Beitr. z. Assyriologie (1892); Hindu: Monier-Williams, Indian Wisdom (1875); Arabic: Jacob, Altarab. Parallelen z. A. T. (1897); Fleischer's ed. of Ali (1837); Freytag, Arabum proverbia (1838). A general collection has been made by Malan, Orig. Notes on the Book of Proverbs (1889; 1 893). (C. H. T.*)

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Old Testament (Tanakh)

Old Testament Books of the Old Agreement common to all Christians and Jews)

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Greek & Slavonic Orthodox

Georgian Orthodox

The Book of Proverbs is a book in both the Tanakh (Judaism), and the Old Testament (Christianity). The book contains some of the most important teaching and instructions in each of their respective Religions.

Most scholars believe that Solomon was the writer of at least part of the book. Other authors are mentioned as well, but these references are missing in the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint sees King Solomon as the author of the whole Book of Proverbs. In the Middle Ages, scholars thought the Vulgate was a more faithful rendering of 30:1 and 31:1. In their eyes the words "Agur" and "Lamuel" were only other names for Solomon.[1]

1:1 Solomon
10:1 Solomon
25:1 Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah's men)
30:1 Agur son of Jakeh
31:1 Lemuel (or his mother)
31:10-31 Unknown author

Dates for the writing of the book are unclear. Because of suggested authorship of Solomon, and the workings of Hezekiah's men, there are some dates that can be worked with. However there are not enough to give specific timing to the completion of the book, though it could have been as late as third century BC


  1. Dean, Matt (1913). "Book of Proverbs". Catholic Encyclopedia.

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