The book of proverbs is a deeply loved, and also deeply complicated book of the Bible.
In popular culture most people seem to think that Solomon composed the book with wisdom that was given to him by God. The reason that he is credited with the book is because there is a note that the proverbs come from him in the first verse of chapter one (and also at the beginning of chapters 10 and 25).
If you actually read the book, however, you will notice that there are other authors who seem to creep in:
- Generic “wise men” show up as authors (22:17; 24:23)
- Agur son of Jakeh is listed as the author of chapter 30
- Lemuel (or his mother) is credited for 31
The multiplicity of authors within the book points to the nature of it’s redaction.
Proverbs is not a single collection written by a single author. It is a collection of collections that was certainly not completed until long after the time of Solomon (this explains fun textual things like the use of the Aramaic word for son “ber” rather then the Hebrew word “ben”)
Not only are there multiple authors to the book, but there are also multiple sources of inspiration.
- It seems to draw from the Egyptian wisdom genre of sebayt as found in “the Instructions of Amenemopet.” This genre seeks to give instruction in a royal context and presents formally written ethical teachings focused on the “way of living truly”.
- Proverbs also seems to demonstrate an interaction with the middle-eastern genre of “sage sayings.” Precursors to this can be seen in the “Words of Ahikar” as well as the deuterocanonical “Wisdom of Sirach.”
The subjects covered in the book also frame the way the work is presented. The book seems to deal with the following subjects in unique ways:
- How to learn
- How to rule
- How to live in a family
In spite of all the diversity included in the book of Proverbs, there is still a beautiful simplicity to it. The writing is poetic, and can be easily memorised. There is a beauty in the simple sayings and a common sense virtue to it all.
If you haven’t read Proverbs recently, pick it up and give it a spin!