Proverbs - Introduction
The Book of Proverbs is a distillate of centuries of Israelite instruction in the home, court, and school. Called by some a foreign body in the Bible, Proverbs ignores major religious themes (covenant, ancestors, Exodus, Sinai, David) and makes creative use of non-Israelite wisdom traditions, particularly Egyptian. In substance, it represents the results of a search for a divinely sustained cosmic order in the lessons derived from human experience. Prudence plus knowledge are thought to have been conferred by God, and these are regarded as an authoritative repository, entrusted to the care of parents, teachers, and royal counselors. All insight being deemed a gift of God, Proverbs was thought of as revealed wisdom and hence was incorporated into Scripture.
Four long collections and five short appendixes are represented. Several headings indicate royal patronage ( 1.1; 10.1; 25.1 ); these and others ( 22.17; 24.23; 30.1; 31.1 ) testify to many centuries in which material accumulated. Chapters 1–9 , by far the most religious collection, are the latest; these chapters have occasional stylistic affinities with Deuteronomy and prophecy. The oldest collections, surely preexilic, are 10.1–22.16 and 25.1–29.27 ; these are basically “secular.” The teachings generally reflect an agricultural economy and are “this worldly” and optimistic despite a rigid principle of retribution. There is a characteristic tendency toward sharp contrast, such as rich/poor, wise/fool, good/evil.