Title and Divisions.

One of the Ketubim, or Hagiographa, belonging to the group of "Ḥokmah," or "Wisdom" books. The Masoretic superscription to the first and twenty-fifth chapters is "Proverbs of Solomon" ("Mishle Shelomoh"; and so in the subscription to the book in the Alexandrian and Sinaitic Greek MSS.); but in the Greek and in later Jewish usage (and in the A. V. and R. V.) the book is entitled simply "Proverbs" ("Mishle"). The longer title belonged originally to the central collection of aphorisms, x. 1-xxii. 16, and to xxv.-xxix., and may have been extended early to the whole work, but the shorter form became the predominant one, as, indeed, there are other titles to certain sections (xxii. 17, xxx. 1, xxxi, 1). It is uncertain whether or not the name "Wisdom" (or "All-Virtuous Wisdom"), common in early Christian writings (Clement of Rome, "Corinth," i. 57; Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." iv. 22 et al.), was of Jewish origin; the designation "Book of Wisdom" in the Talmud (Tosef., B. B. 14b) may be a descriptive term and not a title, and the citation of Job xxviii. 12 ("But where shall wisdom be found?") at the beginning of the Midrash merely indicates that the book belongs in the Ḥokmah category.

The following divisions of the book are indicated in the text: (1) A group of discourses on the conduct of life (i.-ix.), comprising the praise of wisdom as the guide of life (i.-iv.); warnings against unchaste women (v.-vii.; with three misplaced paragraphs, vi. 1-19, against certain social faults); the description of wisdom as the controller of life and as Yhwh's companion in the creation of the world (viii.); and a contrast between wisdom and folly (ix.; with a misplaced collection of aphorisms, ix. 7-12). (2) A collection, or book, of aphoristic couplets (x. 1-xxii. 16). (3) Two small groups of aphoristic quatrains (xxii. 17-xxiv. 22 and xxiv. 23-34). (4) A second collection of couplets (xxv.-xxix). (5) A miscellaneous group of discourses and numerical aphorisms (xxx.-xxxi.), mostly in tetrads: reverent agnosticism (xxx. 1-4); certainty of God's word (5-6); a prayer (7-9); against slandering a servant (10); against certain vices and errors (11-33); a code for a king (xxxi. 1-9); a picture of a model housewife (10-31). These divisions, various in form and content, suggest that the book was formed by the combination of a number of booklets.

Not Solomonic.

The ascription of the book to Solomon, in the titles and in tradition, is without valid foundation. In the Prophets and Psalms titles are admittedly not authoritative—they are based on the feeling or guesses of late scribes, not on documentary evidence—and they can not be more trustworthy here. The elaborate heading to the section xxv.-xxix. ("Proverbs of Solomon Edited by Scholars of Hezekiah's Court") is paralleled by the superscriptions to some of the Psalms (li., lix., lx.), which are manifestly untrustworthy. Hezekiah'stime may have been chosen by the author of this heading because he regarded the collection xxv.-xxix. as later than x.-xxii. 16, and therefore to be referred to the Augustan age of Hezekiah, which followed the golden age of David and Solomon. But there is no proof that the age of Hezekiah was Augustan; on the contrary, it was a period of conflict, and the work of editing and combining did not begin till a century or two later. Moreover, as is pointed out below, the thought of the Book of Proverbs is as alien to the Hezekian as to the Solomonic age.

In the first place, there is no trace in the book of the religious problems and conflicts of the pre-exilic period. The Prophets, from Amos to Ezekiel, are in deadly fear of foreign cults, and testify, during this whole period, that Israel is more or less given over to the worship of other gods than Yhwh and to idolatry. The polemic against such infidelity is the dominant note of the prophetic preaching down to the latter half of the sixth century. But in Proverbs there is not a word of all this. Monotheism is quietly taken for granted. There is no mention of priests or prophets (the word "vision" in xxix. 18 is a clerical error); the sacrificial ritual is almost completely ignored. Throughout the literature till the time of Ezra the national interest is predominant; here it is quite lacking—the name Israel does not occur. The religious atmosphere of the book is wholly different from that which characterizes Jewish thought down to the end of the fifth century.


In no point is the change more noticeable than in the attitude toward wisdom. The wisdom of the pre-Ezran Old Testament writings is shrewd common sense and general keen intelligence (II Sam. xiv.; I Kings iii.); and because it was controlled by worldly considerations it was looked on with disfavor by the Prophets as not being in harmony with the word of God as they understood it (Jer. viii. 9, ix. 23; Ezek. vii. 26). In Proverbs it stands for the broadest and highest conception of life, and is identified with the law of God. Yet it is the utterance of sages, whose counsel is represented as the only sufficient guide of conduct (i.-iv., xxii. 17-21). The sages do not employ the prophetic formula "Thus saith the Lord" or appeal to the law of Moses; they speak out of their own minds, not claiming divine inspiration, yet assuming the absolute authoritativeness of what they say—that is, they regard conscience as the final guide of life. While the contents of the book are various, parts of it dealing with simple, every-day matters, the prevailing tone is broadly religious: God is the ruler of the world, and wisdom is the expression (through human conscience) of His will. In one passage (viii.), animated by a fine enthusiasm, wisdom is personified (almost hypostatized) as a cosmic force, the nursling of God, standing by His side at the creation of the world (comp. Job xxviii.; Wisdom of Solomon vii.). This conception, foreign to the pre-Ezran Old Testament thought, suggests the period when the Jews came under Greek influence.

No Immortality or Messiah.

The theology of Proverbs is the simplest form of theism. The individual man stands in direct relation with God, needing no man or angel to act as mediator (comp. Job v. 1. xxxiii. 23). No supernatural being, except God, is mentioned. Salvation lies in conduct, which is determined by man's will. Men are divided into two classes, the righteous and the wicked: the former are rewarded, the latter punished, by God; how one may pass from one class into the other is not said. Reward and punishment belong to the present life; the conception of the underworld is the same as in the body of Old Testament writings; there is no reference to ethical immortality (on xi. 7 and xiv. 32 see the commentaries). Wickedness leads to premature death (v. 5, ix. 18, et al.); wisdom confers long life (iii. 16). Doubtless the authors, pious men, observed the national sacrificial laws (xv. 8), but they lay no stress on them—they regard conduct as the important thing. The book contains no Messianic element. The description in xvi. 10-15 is of the ideal king, who is controlled by the human law of right (in contrast with the delineations in Isa. xi. 1-5, xxxii. 1, 2; Zech. ix. 9). This attitude may point to a time when there was a lull in the general Messianic i nterest (about 250-200 B.C.), but it is satisfactorily accounted for by the supposition that the sages, concerned with the inculcation of a universal code of life, took little interest in the popular hope of a restoration of national independence.

Proverbs bears witness, especially in the first and the third division, to the existence of some sort of organized higher instruction at the time when it was composed. The frequent form of address, "my son," indicates the relation of a teacher to his pupils. There is no information regarding regular academies before the second century B.C. (from Antigonus of Soko onward), but it is probable that those that are known did not spring into existence without forerunners. The instruction in such schools would naturally be of the practical ethical sort that is found in Proverbs (on the "mashal" form here adopted see Proverbs). The book has been always highly valued for the purity and elevation of its moral teaching. Not only are justice and truthfulness everywhere enjoined, but revenge is forbidden (xxiv. 17), and kindness to enemies insisted on (xxv. 21). The conception of family life is a high one: monogamy is taken for granted; children are to honor parents, and parents to be the guides of children; an honorable position is assigned the wife and mother. Infidelity on the part of a married woman is denounced at length (v., vii.), and the youth is repeatedly warned against the "strange woman," that is, the unchaste wife of another man. There are many maxims relating to thrift and economy (vi. 1-11, xxvii. 23-27, et al.). Excess is denounced, and self-control and temperance enjoined. The motive urged for well-doing is well-being, success, and happiness. In so far the ethical system is utilitarian, but the success presented as a goal, while sometimes merely material (xi. 15; xviii. 2, 18, et al.), rises at other times to the height of an ideal conception of a happy life (iii., viii.). In this higher sense the utilitarian view approaches the idea of a life devoted to humanity, though this idea is not definitely expressed in Proverbs.


The characteristics described above point to the post-Ezran period as the time of origination of the book; to this period alone can be referred the tacit recognition of monotheism and monogamy, the absence of a national tone, and the marks of a developed city life. These traits are reproduced in Ben Sira (B.C. 190), the similarity of whose thought to that of Proverbs is obvious. But this latter is made up of different parts that appear to be of different dates. From a comparison of thought and form the following conclusion may be regarded as probable: The earliest collections (about the year 400) were the aphorisms contained in x.-xv., xvi.-xxii. 16, xxv.-xxvii., and xxviii.-xxix., from which later editors formed the two booklets, x.-xxii. 16 and xxv.-xxix. (350-300). A little later came the collection of more elaborate quatrains, xxii. 17-xxiv., and, toward the middle of the third century, the sustained discourses of i.-ix. The latest section, probably, is xxx.-xxxi., and the whole may have been edited not long before the year 200. These dates are approximate, but it seems reasonably certain that the book is later than the year 400 B.C. On the objection made to its canonization see Bible Canon (§ 11); on the text and versions see the commentaries. In the Septuagint the order of subsections in the third, fourth, and fifth divisions is as follows: xxii. 17-xxiv. 22; xxx. 1-14; xxiv. 23-34; xxx. 15-33; xxxi. 1-9; xxv.-xxix.; xxxi. 10-31. Whether this divergence from the Hebrew order is due to accident, or to caprice, or to an original difference of arrangement, it is hardly possible to say.

  • Text: Baumgartner, Etude Critique sur l'Etat du Texte du Livre des Proverbes, 1890;
  • Bickell, in W. Z. K. M. 1891;
  • Pinkuss (Syriac version), in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1894;
  • Grätz, in his Monatsschrift, 1884, and Emendationes, 1892-94;
  • Chajes, Proverbien Studien, 1899;
  • Müller and Kautzsch, in S. B. O. T. 1901.
  • Translations and Commentaries: Midrash Mishle, ed. Buber, 1893;
  • Saadia, ed. Derenbourg, 1894;
  • Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Levi b. Gershom, in Giggeius, In Proverbia Salomonis, 1620.
  • For other Jewish commentaries see L. Dukes, in Cahen, La Bible, 1847, and H. Deutsch, Die Sprüche Salomon's nach Talmud und Midrasch Dargestellt, 1887;
  • Ewald, Poetische Bücher des A. T.'s, 1837, 1867;
  • Delitzsch, Commentary, English transl., 1875;
  • Nowack, in Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch, 1887;
  • Frankenburg, in Nowack's Hand-Kommentar, 1898;
  • Toy, in International Critical Commentary, 1899.
  • See also Bois, La Poésie Gnomique, 1886;
  • Cheyne, Job and Solomon, 1887;
  • Monteflore, Notes upon Proverbs, in J. Q. R. 1889-90.
  • Parallels from other literatures are given by Malan, Original Notes on the Book of Proverbs, 1889-93, and G. Jacobs, Altarabische Parallelen zum A. T. 1897.
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