Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Proverbs. An OT book bearing a traditional title, ‘Proverbs of Solomon,’ which disguises the fact that this work is made up of several collections of sayings and poems, as indicated by the presence of other subtitles.


The Proverbs

The book is best outlined as a series of collections:

Chaps. 1-9, subtitled ‘The Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel,’ are basically wisdom poems on various topics: the value of wisdom, evils the wise person should avoid, the discourses of personified wisdom, etc. These chapters open with a statement of purpose (1:1-6) and contain fully developed poems (e.g., 2:1-22, on the benefits of wisdom), in contrast to the disparate and separate sayings that dominate the rest of the book. The subtitle ‘The Proverbs of Solomon’ in 10:1 introduces a collection of sayings in antithetic parallelism (chaps. 10-15) and synonymous parallelism (chaps. 16-22). These are pithy sayings drawn from experience and traditional teachings that usually inculcate a moral value (honesty, diligence, self-control, etc.). The subtitle ‘Words of the Wise’ may have originally stood at 22:17 (as in the Septuagint) to introduce a series of admonitions, usually with motive clauses, that extends down to 24:22. This section betrays an awareness of the ‘teaching’ of the famous Egyptian sage Amenemopet. Another subtitle, ‘These Also Are the Sayings of the Wise,’ introduces a short collection, 24:23-34. Chaps. 25-29 are introduced by the subtitle ‘The Proverbs of Solomon Which the Men of Hezekiah King of Judah Copied’; these sayings resemble those in chaps. 10-22. A subtitle in 30:1, ‘The Words of Agur Son of Jakeh of Massa,’ attributes the following words to Agur, presumably a non-Israelite; several numerical sayings (x, x + 1; cf. 30:18-19) complete this chapter. A subtitle in 31:1 describes the following sayings (vv. 2-9) as ‘the words of Lemuel, king of Massa,’ another non-Israelite. The compilation concludes with an acrostic poem in praise of the virtuous wife (31:10-31).

In its present form the book is probably to be dated in the postexilic period (late sixth century b.c. on), but many of the sayings in chaps. 10-29 doubtless originated in the period of the monarchy (ca. 1004-926 b.c.), or perhaps even before. The origins of this wisdom are to be sought both in the Israelite clan and the wise men at the Jerusalem court. The ascription of the work (along with Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon) to Solomon derives from the Israelite view of that monarch as the wise man par excellence (cf. 1 Kings 4:29-34).

The book intends to teach the youth how to cope with life through observation, docility, self-control, and fear of the Lord (1:6). The perspective is optimistic: wisdom (equated with righteousness) brings life; folly (equated with wickedness) leads to destruction.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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