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BR - What is this thing you call wisdom...

Club Read 2014

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Dec 5, 2014, 10:57pm Top

Edited: Dec 5, 2014, 10:58pm Top

Dec 5, 2014, 11:09pm Top

Not knowing much about the proverbs, including what even to expect, makes any introduction very hard. Where do I start? Is this book really about wisdom and folly, as my HarperCollins Study Bible tells? Or is it more just a praising of the idea of wisdom - without any careful explanation of what wisdom entails - as is my impression after reading the first six chapters. (v4:7 "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom")

There have been a number of intriguing surprises over those first six chapters, so I've been enjoying this book...so far. It's a nice change after the Psalms. But reading the different intros, it seems a long dry part is coming - namely chapters 10 to 30...

One other note in this post - I have abandoned Robert Alter. I read his first chapter, it's worse than NRSV, and his notes added nothing useful. So, I'm sticking with my study bible, and referencing only the KJV. And I like doing this so much, that I wish I had done Psalms that way too.

Edited: Dec 5, 2014, 11:20pm Top

Basic structure of the Proverbs:

1 - 9 Wisdom poems from "Wisdom Woman", including ten instructions
10 - 22:16 no one defines this. It is apparently just a bunch of sayings
22:27 - 24:22 - This section, introduced as "Words to the Wise", is basically a copy of a more ancient Egyptian text from Amenemope, from the 2nd millennium BCE.
24:23-34 - "These, too, are from the wise"
25 - 29 - from "Hezekiah"
30 - 31 - Appendices

30:1-14 - Words of Agur
30:15-38 - riddles
31:1-9 - From the Queen mother of Lemuel, King of Mssa
31:10-31 - Alphabetic acrostic on an ideal wife

I'm thoroughly intrigued by the idea of Wisdom Woman...

Dec 6, 2014, 3:58pm Top

Not sure whether I'll join you on this. I sort of faded away on the Psalms. I'll take a look however and keep an open mind.

Dec 7, 2014, 5:53am Top

I'm afraid we're done reading the really interesting parts of the Bible. I'm hesitating whether to abandon psalms to follow this thread, or just keep falling behind...

Dec 7, 2014, 1:05pm Top

For the record, Proverbs is good stuff so far.

No pressure to continue. This is supposed to be fun. The Psalms were like a bug stick to the head...

Dec 7, 2014, 3:30pm Top

Er - big, not bug...

Dec 8, 2014, 1:18am Top

It kind of works either way.

Dec 8, 2014, 10:36pm Top

taking notes...wondering if anyone would read them if I typed them up...

Dec 8, 2014, 10:50pm Top

Not on Proverbs yet, but of course!

Dec 9, 2014, 9:18am Top

Yes, what Martin said.

Dec 10, 2014, 11:32pm Top

>11 MeditationesMartini:, >12 FlorenceArt: well, it's good to know.

I'm almost half way through. Chapters 1-9 were actually enjoyable in that weird bible way. 10-15 were readable, but they are more entertaining in original KJV form, with funny spellings.

Edited: Dec 24, 2014, 7:07pm Top

OK, time to get some of this down.

From HarperCollins Study Bible intro to Proverbs:

They see Proverbs as a compilation of the intellectual elite, who combined ancient received wisdom with new insight from their own era.

interruption 1: I never found a convincing case for the timing of the composition and collection of the Proverbs. My own intuitive sense thinks late in OT composition times.

interruption 2: HarperCollins, Alter and wikipedia all make passing comments on how the Proverbs were almost rejected from the biblical canon, but none site how they know this. It's an interesting idea, but unconfined from imagination in my own head. I would like to know what that means

interruption 3: On reading this one suspicion is confirmed, there is very little knowledge within Proverbs, and most of the advice can be summed up as do things that are wise in a wise way, without any context what those wise things are and only a limited sense of what those wise ways (mainly prudence) are. That is to say, this book is really about love of wisdom, with some preaching to be prudent and responsible.

This interruption (#3) has a purpose. It essentially undercuts much of these different introductions. They regurgitate the words used in Proverbs, but they confuse stating with actuality. For example, Proverbs says be wise, don't be a fool. Therefore HarperCollins says the leading ideas are wisdom vs folly. But I don't feel the ideas of wisdom or folly are really even touched on, only the ideas of being wise or being foolish.

Back to HarperCollins when I get back...

Edited: Dec 24, 2014, 7:08pm Top

Some more for HC:

Wisdom = knowledge, morality, prudence, understanding, and "fear of the Lord"
Folly = the opposite of all that, especially willful ignorance

Proverbs is notable for it's minimal reference to god. Instead, HC say it's the "wisdom of the market place" by which they mean practical wisdom.

interruption 4: but there is a lot of god embedded within and really, not all that much practical stuff for anyone at any time.

interruption 5: HC isn't crazy or stupid, this is a standard safe introduction. For better or for worse, I just have a lot of problems with it.

HC loves the idea of Wisdom Woman...and so do I. She appears in chapters 1-9 & 31, all generally considered late additions to the core.
- She is a remnant of the lost goddess
- This wisdom woman has parallels with God and even had a roll in creation
- she re-occurs in Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon and in the NT as Logos. All outside the OT

To be continued...

Edited: Dec 24, 2014, 6:40pm Top

In Robert Alter's introduction he notes there are contradictions (notable 26:4 ad 26:5). My summary from him is that essentially the Proverbs are dull, complacent, designed for memory, tried and true.

interruption 6: having read them, I have to admit I did not find them dull. Psalms were dull, Proverbs are curious.

Wikipedia see the main theme as fear of God, which is interesting as it contradicts both the HarperCollins and Robert Alter intros. It notes that the Proverbs are simplistic and contradicted both by Job and Ecclesiastes. And the proverbs share with Greek philosophy the valuing and reflections on the human condition. (An interruption 7 would have me asking wikipedia to make a case for that).

Wikipedia also notes the fundamental roll wisdom is given. In Proverbs we learn that wisdom existed before creation. In the NT God is the first born of creation, so would post-date wisdom! Which gives new meaning to "In the beginning was the Word". Arians, and early Christian sect, saw Jesus created like wisdom was. Catholicism killed pursuit of this idea by canonizing that Jesus was "begotten, not made", whatever that may mean (Jonanthan?)

Edited: Dec 24, 2014, 7:13pm Top

In The Literary Guide to the Bible, James G. Williams see Proverbs as mainly about distributive justice - the thing Job railed against. He goes on to discuss wisdom as a way of looking at the world. To him Proverbs marks a change in the idea of wisdom from that expressed in the historical books and in the prophets. In Proverbs, wisdom is about order, or as he puts it, "Wisdom is dedicated to articulating a sense of order."

Williams also notes the randomness and emphasizes the anthological character of the Proverbs. He sees each collection within the Proverbs as serving a different purpose (My interruption 8 would nod to the randomness, but express doubts on any purpose per section outside the first nine chapters and chapter 31.)

Both Alter and Williams state that the Proverbs are poetry. But Williams goes further and shows it, and how difficult it is to express that poetry in translation. He uses the KJV as his examples, but he notes that the KJV does a good job in those examples, English just doesn't compress like Hebrew.

Literal translation, per Williams, of Proverbs 16:18

Before breaking {is} pride
and before falling {is} haughtiness of mind


Pride goeth before destruction,
and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Dec 25, 2014, 8:36pm Top

Wisdom Woman's cry deserves be here in full
20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
     in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
     at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
     How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
     and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
     I will pour out my thoughts to you;
     I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
     have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
     and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
     I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
     and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
     when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
     they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
     and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
     and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
     and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
     and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
     and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.’

Edited: Dec 25, 2014, 8:46pm Top

Yes, she will laugh at us fools. But then that's a lot better than the punishments the Lord has to offer.

After this, the first nine chapters include ten lessons, or instructions, and curious obsession with untranslatable "stranger" woman, or "foreign" or "loose" woman, or just some-other-woman-from-outside-of-the-family. She is not equated with a prostitute, which get off easy here. But she is often equated with married woman who cuckold. In any case, she is dangerous and a bad thing. Lots of sexual references in these chapters too, and they are not all negative, at least not when it marital sex.

Dec 25, 2014, 9:00pm Top

Some highlights from chapters 1-9

- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge & wisdom...in case you were wondering
- connect on this sexual fidelity with faith. Strange woman can also be seen as a competing religion or culture.
- And the third instruction (Pv 3:1-12) is about keeping the faith

Actually Chapter 3 has lots of good stuff
3:5 "do not rely on your own insight"
3:7 "do not be wise in your own eyes"

And I'm very intrigued by 3:19-20
19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
     by understanding he established the heavens;
20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
     and the clouds drop down the dew.
Chapter 4 is meh, but note the ear, eyes, heart, flesh, mouth, lips & feet.

Chapter 5 foregrounds sex with lesson on the appeal and costs of adultery. You are asked, "Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?" and then you are advised to enjoy your wife (apparently "you" are a man), "May her breasts satisfy you at all times"

May they indeed.

Dec 27, 2014, 3:18am Top

Thanks for this. I'm interested in particular in the psalms/proverbs nexus; the message of psalms seemed to be you don't need wisdom if you have belligerent faith, so it will be interesting to see how these stack up against that, especially given the scholarly comments from Williams and Alter and the fact that while probably not aligning with psalms, proverbs seem also not to align with those anti–songs of praise in Job and Ecclesiastes.

I'm looking forward to getting started; the first epub file I downloaded was mangled in some complex way, so hopefully second time's the charm.

Jan 3, 2015, 11:16pm Top

hmm, Martin, Job definitely conflicts with Proverbs, and I'm pretty sure Ecclesiastes will as well, they are both kind of rebellious books in some senses. But, I would not go so far as to say Psalms to align with Proverbs, they just have different perspectives. Psalm seem mostly to be about comfort, Proverbs are supposed to give advice you follow. But I don't think they conflict in any obvious way.

Jan 3, 2015, 11:34pm Top

I'm going to skip ahead to the parts I starred...

Chapter 7
A most interesting twist. There is drama with a narrator watching in secret ("For at the window of my house/ I looked out through my lattice,") and dialogue. The dialogue of a seductress. What does I bible perceive her to be. It's worth quoting in full:
“14 I had to offer sacrifices,
     and today I have paid my vows;
15 so now I have come out to meet you,
     to seek you eagerly, and I have found you!
16 I have decked my couch with coverings,
     colored spreads of Egyptian linen;
17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
     aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
     let us delight ourselves with love.
19 For my husband is not at home;
     he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took a bag of money with him;
     he will not come home until full moon.”
OK, so note she is married. The bible gives tacit approval of prostitutes. It doesn't like them, but seems to accept them as part of reality. But a cheating a wife is a big no no. But, my goodness, she tells him she has made her sacrifices and been a good Jew, if you like. How interesting! Did she use the correct ritual? Is she trying to sound more attractive to him this way? But, more than any of those odd questions, it's just cool to me that the Bible has a chapter like this.

Note this has lots of feminine touches. The narrator seems to be a woman (she is at home, looking through a lattice).

HCSB is more interested in the inclusio nature of the structure. There are aspects of symmetry around the central dialogue.

Edited: Jan 4, 2015, 12:28am Top

Chapter 8
The personification of wisdom as part of creation is great stuff. (v22-31) Note also wisdom's self praise. ("I love those who love me")

Verse 22 and 23 are worth discussing.

V22 in NRSV:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
But HCSB tells me the meaning is not unique. It could mean, as translated, the wisdom was created before creation. But it can also be interpreted to mean that wisdom was pre-existent and not created by god. Or, instead of "created", it could be "conceived".

V23 in NRSV:
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
HCSB tells me "I was set up" can also be interpreted as "I was woven in the womb" as in wisdom is born of God.

Jan 4, 2015, 12:17am Top

Chapters 10-15
HCSB calls this an antithetic collection, as in the second part of each verse is generally an opposite of the first part. In my notes for Chapter 13 I wrote, "I'm noticing how not interesting these are and how repetitive." I only starred verse 11:22, "Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout/ is a beautiful woman without good sense." I'm tempted to let that define the collection. But I'll add a thoughtful one, v14:13: "Even in laughter the heart is sad,/ and the end of joy is grief." And one more, v15:1 "A soft answer turns away wrath,/ but grievous words stir up anger."

Chapters 16-22:16
HCSB calls this the royal collection. Instead of antithetic, this section has synonymous parallelism. And there is something of a theme on court life. Again, not much to say. I starred only v20:24, "All our steps are ordered by the Lord; how then can we understand our own ways?"

Edited: Jan 4, 2015, 12:31am Top

Chapters 22:17-24:22
Titled "Sayings of the Wise", this is the section derived from the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope. I have a few stars. First of all, I like the introduction...it's worth quoting:
17 The words of the wise:

     Incline your ear and hear my words,
     and apply your mind to my teaching;
18 for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
     if all of them are ready on your lips.
19 So that your trust may be in the Lord,
     I have made them known to you today—yes, to you.
20 Have I not written for you thirty sayings
     of admonition and knowledge,
21 to show you what is right and true,
     so that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?
Second, I found vs 23:1-8, on eating with a ruler, very entertaining. ("'Eat and drink!' they say to you; but they do not mean it.") And then there is this, on wine and being drunk:
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
     Who has strife? Who has complaining?
     Who has wounds without cause?
     Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who linger late over wine,
     those who keep trying mixed wines.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
     when it sparkles in the cup
     and goes down smoothly.
32 At the last it bites like a serpent,
     and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
     and your mind utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
     like one who lies on the top of a mast
35 “They struck me,” you will say “but I was not hurt;
     they beat me, but I did not feel it.
     When shall I awake?
     I will seek another drink.”

Jan 4, 2015, 6:43pm Top

Chapter 24:23-34

11 verses titles Further Sayings of the Wise on legal integrity and industrious prudence. Generally nothing new in this very short section.

Chapters 25-27

This is a second section of synonymous parallelism (like Chapters 16-22:16), although the similes are maybe more creative or interesting here. This section it titles curiously: These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.

Chapter 25 is a double inclusio, but I'll let you figure that out. There are some interesting bit here. Vs 2&3 tell us God conceals, and King's search, but kings are unsearchable. So, clear hierarchy is in place. Vs 21 & 22 preach mercy on enemies ("If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat.."). I starred two sections - Vs 11-15 & V20.
11 A word fitly spoken
     is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
     is a wise rebuke to a listening ear.
13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
     are faithful messengers to those who send them;
     they refresh the spirit of their masters.
14 Like clouds and wind without rain
     is one who boasts of a gift never given.
15 With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
     and a soft tongue can break bones.


20 Like vinegar on a wound
     is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
     Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood,
     sorrow gnaws at the human heart.

Jan 4, 2015, 6:56pm Top

I don't have anything starred in Chapter 26, but I wanted to mention a few of my notes. I gave the whole chapter the summary note "heavy similes" and for verses 1-12 to wrote "fools, sparrows, swallows, dog vomit". HCSB had a note about verses 17-28, which are reflect language in some way (like on gossip, quarreling, deceit, guile, etc). HCSB called this a section about social tensions and wounding speech.

In How to Read the Bible, James L. Kugel has an interesting discussion on verse 26:9, which he translates differently from the NRSV.

Kugels translation of 26:9
"A thorn got stuck in a drunkard's hand, and a proverb in a the mouth of a fool."

To quote him: "It seems obvious that some sort of unfavorable comparison is being made here--but what exactly is the point?" (Which is a fair assessment of most proverbs.) Then he goes on the think it through more. A drunkard falls down a lot, and then gropes around the ground trying to get himself back up. And this is one way how he might get a thorn stuck in his hand. Now it makes more sense, the fool (and fool is not stupid, just someone who made bad choices, so to speak) has stumbled up a proverb, but really has no idea where is comes from or what it means.

Jan 4, 2015, 7:10pm Top

I starred all of chapter 27 with the note: "random but generally good advice." Which is a fair summary. Unlike most sections, I read this one and think I have some kind of worldview link of consistency with this author. This stuff isn't silly. It's clever, but it actually makes sense and seems useful. And not just random selected proverbs, but one after the other. These aren't necessary things I would say, but things I would think. I'll toss in a few samples:

V5: Better is open rebuke
     than hidden love.

V6 Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
     but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

V16 to restrain her {a contentious wife} is to restrain the wind
     or to grasp oil in the right hand.

Well, v16 isn't very PC, but it's so colorful...

Vs 23-27 on advice to shepherd can be rethought metaphorically, with the shepherd a metaphor for a king.

Link to chapter 27: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%2027&version=NRSV

Jan 4, 2015, 10:38pm Top

Chapters 28 & 29

Another set an antithetical proverbs.

I'm sure it's been pointed out somewhere, but I haven't come across the symmetry this gives the book, albeit a messy kind of thing. First we have to assume the Egyptian derived proverbs (22:17-24:22) are the center of the book and that maybe early on authors realized this was the older stuff and maybe the core of the entire book. The collections to either side are both characterized by synonymous parallelism (16-22:16 & 25-27), and the next collections out are both antithetical proverbs (10-15 & 28-29). And that leaves the beginning and end which have some similarities in that both feature, somewhere, the wisdom woman (1-9 & 30-31). So, a symmetry, but a messy one.

But if that is correct, then the Egyptian proverbs really are the core to the whole. IMHO they are a highlight, followed by chapter 27. Then there are chapters 1-9 which are actually proverbs (but probably the best stuff here). Anyway, just food for thought.

I don't have much else to say about these chapters. My notes on Chapter 29 are, in total, "Too random for comment".

I did like 28:26:

     Those who trust in their own wits are fools;
     but those who walk in wisdom come through safely.

Jan 6, 2015, 11:45pm Top

Time to wrap this up...

Chapter 30

Sayings of Agur. I was intrigued by the skeptics question in v1-4 ("Who has ascended to heaven and come down?"). But have no memory of the response, v5-6.

Chapter 31
v1-9 are The Teaching of King Lemuel’s Mother - in sum - don't drink, don't womanize and help the poor.
v10-31 Ode to a Capable Wife - Looking for the woman who can do it all. I thought Wisdom Woman has a roll here, but I can't find it just now.

Jan 7, 2015, 11:21pm Top

I have posted my review of Proverbs on my 2015 CR thread, here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/185746#4995976

Jan 24, 2015, 4:34am Top

Thanks for your review and your thoughts here, Dan. I can't say I responded to the quirkiness like you did, though I can see it's there--so much repetition, and I felt like I was being browbeaten (though not threatened, so it's a step up on Psalms).

So what's next?

Jan 27, 2015, 10:33pm Top

Ecclesiates. I need to start a thread. I will be in CR 2015, but I'll post a link here. It's only 12 chapters

Then Song of Songs which is only 8 chapters.

Then ... um...had to look it up...then Isaiah, which at 66 chapters will take some time.

I have already read Ecclesiates, but haven't typed up notes. I'll read Song of Songs in February and try to read all of Isaiah in March.

Jan 28, 2015, 12:50pm Top

Ecclesiates is kicked off - https://www.librarything.com/topic/187190

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