To enter the commentator's world before reading the book, please read the
This work is a commentary on what in Hebrew is called mišlê "proverbs of"
in conformity with the ancient Near Eastern practice of naming a book by its
first word. The English title Proverbs was mediated through Liber
Proverbiorum, "The Book of Proverbs," the Latin title Jerome gave the book
in the Vulgate. Proverbs is found among the "Writings," the third and final
section of the Hebrew Bible, and provided with distinctive accents also accorded
to Job and Psalms. English Bibles place it among the poetic books
(Job - Song of Solomon)
II. TEXT AND VERSIONS
The following discussion on texts and ancient versions of Proverbs aims only
to elucidate the textual basis of this commentary.
A. HEBREW TEXTS
This commentary is based primarily on the Leningrad Codex (L) of Samuel
son of Jacob (ca. a.d. 1000), who "copied, vowel-pointed and Masoretically
annotated this codex of the sacred Scripture from the correct manuscript that
the teacher, Aaron son of Moses Ben-Asher, [prepared] . and that constitutes
an exceedingly accurate exemplar." In spite of occasional errors either
in L or within the Masoretic tradition (MT), its text is a reliable witness to the
original text. However, in 8:16 (n. 29) I followed the Bomberg edition, not L
of the BHS.
Unfortunately, little use can be made of the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts
of Proverbs from Cave 4 at Qumran. Proverbs (4Q102, mid-first century
B.C.) and Proverbs (4Q103, mid-first century to the turn of the era) are its
only two representatives of Proverbs, containing 39 words or portions of words
from Prov. 1:27-2:1 and 125 words or portions of words from Prov. 9:16 (possibly
9:4); 13:6-9; 14:6-13; 14:27-28(?); 14:31-15:8, and 15:19-31 respectively.
Together the two manuscripts yield six variants from the MT: two are
merely orthographic (15:27), one concerns the absence of a copula (1:31), and
one appears to have come from transposing two letters of an orthographic variant
(15:19). A more significant variant is the omission of yehgeh ("meditate,"
15:28), and the most significant variant is mwškt-mošekot for mešûbat ("cord"
for "apostasy," 1:32). This may have come from a combination of transposing
two letters and then mistakenly copying a kaph for the similar-looking beth, or
it may have come from the influence of the second verset of Job 38:31.
B. GREEK VERSIONS (LXX)
Despite these variants, both Qumran manuscripts are more closely related to
the Masoretic recension (a distinct text type) than to that of the Septuagint
(LXX, ca. 200 B.C.). This relationship corroborates the antiquity of MT's
recensional base. The additions and omissions in the LXX and its recensionalVorlage (the Hebrew text lying before the translator) range from individual
words to whole verses. Sometimes the translator himself changed the text,
for example, by reading the consonants differently from their traditional pronunciations
preserved by the Masoretes, and other times he found different
readings in his sources, which sometimes omitted versets (half-verses) or
whole verses and more frequently added them. These latter kinds of variations
are more radical than what one normally expects from a translator. Tov
thinks that many of them represent a different recension of the book, without
denying that some are the work of the translator, but Cook believes that the
translator is responsible for many more of them. The issue cannot be decided
beyond reasonable doubt, for the Hebrew Vorlagen are missing. We refer
to the LXX text without trying to decide the issue. Suffice it to note here
that even in cases of recensional differences this commentary assumes with
Tov and Childs the priority of the MT as the "original text." If they are due
to the work of the translator, they are obviously secondary.
Baumgartner, Gerleman, Tov, and Cook all agree that the translation
contains much evidence of contextual exegesis, in both minor and major
details. Tov speaks of scores of translation doublets and argues for the
presence of "translational exegesis" even in the addition of versets or whole
verses, and Cook nuances this by noting, "It is by no means clear whether a
double translation comes from the translator or from a later hand." The
LXX is often said to be free, but in truth it is both free and creative. By a
"free translation" one means that the translator represented the general meaning
of the Hebrew lines without searching for detailed relations between the
individual words and/or syntax of the original and the elements of the translation.
But the LXX went beyond this. After translating some elements of the
text in a rather "literal" way, it then breaks loose and, says Barr, "completes
the sentence with a composition so loosely related to the original that it
might equally be considered as an original composition rather than a rendering."
Barr draws the conclusion: "Thus the mind of the translator . was
quick to notice phenomena in the Hebrew text which might provide clues for
a rendering; but it was also a mind creative in itself, ready to formulate ideas
which would seem right within Hellenistic Jewry." Cook concurs: "The
translator utilized Jewish exegetical religious traditions in order to render this
text as clearly as possible unto his Jewish readers." According to Cook, the
translator's historical milieu occasioned its "conspicuous interpretations."
The LXX's startling rearrangement of materials from 24:23 to 31:31
illustrates its creativity. H. C. Washington convincingly argued that the LXX
created the fiction of Solomonic authorship of all the sayings in Proverbs by
changing the editorial notices to the collections and by rearranging them.
Here is the sequence of presentations in the MT and in the LXX:
I 1:1-9:18 Prologue I 1:1-9:18
II 10:1-22:16 Proverbs of Solomon II 10:1-22:16
III 22:17-24:22 Thirty Sayings of the Wise III 22:17-24:22
IV 24:23-34 Further Sayings of the Wise VIA 30:1-14
V 25:1-29:27 Hezekiah's Collection of Solomon IV 24:23-34
VIA 30:1-14 Agur's Oracle VIB 30:15-33
VIB 30:15-33 Agur's Numerical Sayings VIIA 31:1-9
VIIA 31:1-9 Lemuel's Mother to Her Son V 25:1-29:27
VIIB 31:10-31 Lemuel's Mother on the Noble Wife VIIB 31:10-31
The LXX rearrangement is not arbitrary but part of its Solomonic fiction
as seen in its suppressing the authorships of Agur and Lemuel in 30:1 and
31:1 and its strengthening Solomonic authorship of the "sayings of the wise" in
22:17 and 24:23. It retains the attribution of Solomonic authorship in 1:1 and
25:1 but omits the superscript in 10:1. In 31:1, instead of "the sayings of
Lemuel, a king .," the LXX reads: "My words have been spoken by God,"
and in 24:23, instead of "also these are sayings of the wise," the LXX reads: "I
say these things to you, the wise, that you may understand." The MT places
the oracles of Agur and Lemuel at the end of the book as appendices, but the
LXX interlaces them among the sayings of the wise, which it attributes to Solomon,
to give the impression of a seamless Solomonic authorship from 1:1 to
31:31. The LXX presents the entire book as two Solomonic sections, the first
identified as the "proverbs of Solomon" (paroimiai Salomontos, 1:1), the second
as "the teachings of Solomon" (hai paideiai Salomontos) copied in the
court of Hezekiah, 25:1. Although Washington wrongly thinks that even in
the MT Proverbs belongs to the Jewish pseudepigrapha, he cogently draws the
conclusion: "Consistent with the intensified interest in pseudepigraphical tradition
during the later Hellenistic period, the LXX editor thus makes the
Solomonic attribution of the Proverbs more thorough going than in the Hebrew
tradition." This accounts for the difference between the MT and LXX order and
makes clear the priority of the MT sequence." Cook explains other arrangements
in the LXX. He notes the royal connection between 31:1 and 25:1: the
LXX translator calls Prov. 31:1-9 the oracular answer of a king, and 25:1 and 2
speak of the king's glory and of the inscrutability of the king's heart respectively.
He also notes that by combining 29:27 with 31:10 the translator
achieved a striking contrast between the unrighteous man and the virtuous
wife, unlike the disconnect between 29:27 and 30:1 in the MT. Clearly, the
LXX represents a secondary arrangement. Nevertheless, where the translator,
who "paid more attention to the Semitic source language than to the Greek target
language," renders his Vorlage in a rather "literal" way, he sometimes preserves
an original reading in his Vorlage in contrast to the secondary reading
preserved in L. This commentator finds original readings in the LXX, not in the
MT, in 1:15; 3:3; 8:5 (n. 13), 28 (n. 42); 9:1 (n. 1), 11 (n. 21); 13:15 (n. 29);
18:19 (n. 22); 23:27 (n. 35); 28:23 (n. 24); 31:16 (n. 76); 31:17 (n. 79).
C. OTHER ANCIENT VERSIONS
There is a unique relationship between the LXX and the Syriac Peshitta
(Syr.; questionably ca. A.D. 150) in Proverbs. For example, both the LXX
and the Peshitta add the same four verses to 9:18, and the Syr. largely agrees
with their Greek rendering. Probably they were based on a Hebrew text that
differs from the MT. But Cook argues, especially from their distinctive treatments
of the "foreign wife" in the prologue (chs. 1-9), that the Peshitta goes
its own way except in a few instances where the Hebrew is difficult and the
Peshitta translator, needing help, consulted the LXX.
Though these two versions often agree, they do not agree in detail because
each translator has his own translation techniques and/or theological
interests due to their different historical milieus. For example, the Greek and
Syr. render 9:18a similarly: "but he does not know that mighty men die by
her." But they differ in their renderings of its B verset: "and he falls in with a
snare of Hades" (LXX) and "and in the valley of Hades all are invited to her"
(Syr.). Cook draws the conclusion: "The Peshitta translator in some instances
interpreted uniquely and apparently made use of the Septuagint." When the
Greek and Syr. versions follow a different Hebrew recension, or when the
Syr. depends on the LXX, or when the Syr. interprets the text represented in
the MT, it logically follows that the MT recension more probably contains
"original readings," not the Peshitta. In spite of the secondary character of
the Peshitta text, it, too, occasionally retains an original reading from itsVorlage, as judged to be the case in 6:2 (n. 4).
There is also a unique relationship between the Aramaic Targum of
Proverbs (of uncertain date) and the Syr. A general consensus has emerged
that Targ. Proverbs used Syr in some form due to its similarities to the Syriac
language and to the fact that the Targum and the Peshitta are identical in 300
out of 915 verses. Some scholars think that it depended directly on the
Peshitta, making Targ. Proverbs late, or that it depended on a common Aramaic
and or Syriac source with the Peshitta, allowing the possibility that
Targ. Proverbs is earlier than the Peshitta. However, Targ. Proverbs sometimes
adheres closely to the MT, disagreeing with the Peshitta. In 85 cases,
however, it agrees with the LXX against the MT. It is unclear whether these
reflect a specific knowledge of the LXX, knowledge of variant traditions, or
a common Hebrew Vorlage different from the MT. In contrast to Targums of
other biblical books, Targ. Proverbs shows a remarkable lack of exegetical
explanation. Healey explains its few departure from the MT as due to its aim
to elucidate the meaning of the text, to make it more credible, to moralize, to
avoid objectionable references to God, or to give a "clarificatory" introduction
to the divine name. Because of its strong dependence on the Syr. and its
other secondary characteristics, this Targum is of little text-critical value and
is never cited in this commentary as containing an original reading.
Jerome's Liber Proverbiorum (ca. A.D. 400) depends on the proto-MT,
the standardized Hebrew text after a.d. 100, and for this reason it is of little
text-critical value. In the very few instances when his Vorlage departs from
the preserved MT, however, it reflects an early stage of that recension and
must be given serious consideration.
Moreover, scribal errors occurred early in the transmission of the text
- no scribe can copy a text without error - so that textual emendations are
unavoidable, as suggested in 1:11, 18; 2:18; 6:24 (n. 4); 7:9 (n. 11); 7:22
(n. 33); 8:11 (n. 23); 12:12 (2x, text); 14:14 (n. 30); 19:20 (n. 37); 22:20
(n. 112); 23:29 (n. 84).
The general evidence and the comparative textual and versional evidence for
the reliability of the MT are confirmed by the known conservative transmission
of wisdom literature in the ancient Near East. 1 Kings 4:29-31 (Heb.
5:9-11) suggests that sages and their writings were held in high esteem in
Solomon's world. Their own writings confirm this impression. One hieratic
papyrus put the value of wisdom literature this way: "Books of instructions
became their [the learned scribes'] pyramids. Is there another one like Ptahhotes
and Kaires?" A wall of a New Kingdom tomb at Sakkara has representations
of mummiform statues of important officials. Among the viziers
are Imhotep and Kaires. Their inclusion is certainly partly due to their reputations
as sages. Not surprisingly, the works of these sages enjoyed what appears
to be canonical status. Merikare (35) reads: "Copy thy fathers and thy
ancestors Behold, their words remain in writing. Open, that thou mayest
read and copy (their) wisdom. (Thus) the skilled man becomes learned."
The conservative scribes followed this admonition. The Turin tablet contains
the portion of the Instruction of Amenemope that corresponds to 24:1-25:9 in
the complete British Museum papyrus. The tablet attests the same line arrangement,
and the extract copied on the tablet begins precisely at the beginning
of a page in the complete papyrus.
The colophon to the Counsel of Wisdom reads, "Written according to
the prototype and collated." Lambert commented on the bilingual tablet
from Ashurbanipal's library, of which no duplicate or early copy has yet been
Either this tablet, or an antecedent copy, on which it is based, was copied
from a damaged original, and the scribe very faithfully reproduced