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WISDOM BOOKS: Proverbs

The way of the fool seems right in his own eyes,
but he who listens to advice is wise.
Proverbs 12:15

How many times have you visited Grandma and come away with cookies, extra pairs of socks, and a wealth of advice? The giving of advice is how for most of history wisdom was passed on from one generation to the next. The collection of advice in the book of Proverbs is Jewish wisdom passed down through centuries. Proverbs is counted as one of the wisdom books.

The writings of Proverbs are varied and were composed at different times in Israel’s history. Many are ascribed to Solomon, who was noted for his command of wisdom. The mainstay of the book is, of course, the proverb, or mashal in Hebrew. While the proverb is the most prevalent form in the book, there are other styles to be found. There are numerical sayings. There are commands and instructions, meant for teaching. These usually address the reader as “my son.” There are also acrostic poems, similar to the poems in Lamentations. The last part of the Book of Proverbs is an acrostic poem on strong women.

A key style of writing to be found in the book is wisdom poetry. In the poems of Proverbs, Wisdom is imagined as a woman and a counterpoint to other female images of Folly and the Stranger. It is odd at first to see such a strong female image in the normally male-dominated texts of the Old Testament, and some people suspect roots in Israel’s neighbors’ cults of the goddess. But the figures of Wisdom and the ideal woman in Proverbs really serve as a counter-balance to more negative female images in the Old Testament, such as the frequent character of the adulteress.

In Proverbs, Wisdom is a strong and beautiful woman whose worth is more than jewels. And the qualities of Wisdom are also given to the archetypal strong woman at the end of the book. As to the opposite icon of Folly, the problem here is not that of a woman, but any fool, and folly can certainly be committed by both men and women. In this case the fool is not merely someone ignorant or silly, but one who turns away from the fear of God and from God’s gift of wisdom. The fool is one who abuses the poor, learns little from life’s lessons, and mistreats his mother.

Anyway, don’t forget to listen to your grandmother’s advice on your next trip to her house!

 
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