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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Proverbs - Introduction

The book of Proverbs presents itself as a textbook designed to educate humans in general and the young in particular in wise living ( 1:2–7 ). It divides into two main parts: a series of didactic discourses comprising parental instructions and speeches by personified Wisdom in chs. 1–9 , and collections of chiefly short proverbial sayings in chs. 10–31 . The discourses in 1–9 serve as an extended introduction to the collections that follow. The major theme of these chapters is the surpassing value of wisdom and it is in them that the theological character of wisdom is most pronounced. Wisdom is founded on the ‘fear of the LORD’ ( 1:7; 9:10 ), and is the gift of God ( 2:6 ). Through its personification, wisdom is also presented as mediating God's revelation in creation to humankind ( 8:22–31 ). The question of how far the theological aspects of wisdom in the book represent a later religious or ‘Yahwistic’ reinterpretation of an earlier ‘secular’ wisdom has been the subject of much debate (see Wilson 1987: 313–33).

The similarity between the instructions in Proverbs and Egyptian texts used in the education of royal princes and state officials (see PROV 1:8–16; 22:17–24:22 ) has often been observed. It has been argued that court schools also existed in Israel and that Proverbs has its roots in these schools as an adaptation of Egyptian wisdom and its educational context (McKane 1970 ). But while the book contains observations on kings and royal officials, the majority of its sayings deal with everyday matters of family, community life, and personal relationships. Others have therefore stressed the importance of the family and community as settings for the instruction of the young and the transmission of proverbial sayings, maintaining that the book has its origins in a more popular oral tradition predating the monarchy (Westermann 1995 ). None the less, the court was evidently an important setting in the course of the literary development of the book (cf. 25:1 ). Given the variety in the contents of the book and the nature of the wisdom it inculcates, it seems reasonable to think that wisdom flourished in various settings in Israel and had a corresponding variety of exponents—all of which have left their imprint on the book.

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