Sep 3, 2009

The Social Setting of the Book of Proverbs

While there are many aspects that I appreciate about Michael V. Fox’s commentary on Proverbs 1–9, I found myself disagreeing with the following quotation from the introductory section on social setting.

“The social setting of the book of Proverbs is open to dispute, but it is clearly a secular work. It makes no pretense to an origin in divine revelation or inspiration. God is never quoted or addressed. It never had a role in the ritual life of Israel, in neither temple nor synagogue. In fact, it never was, and still is not, a subject of deliberate study in the rabbinic academies. With the exception of a few passages, it treats everyday life, not the grand affairs of state, history, cult, or law. It gives guidance in challenges we all face: how to get along with people, how to be a good decent person, how to make the right choices in personal and business affairs, how to win God’s favor and avoid disaster–all issues of great importance, but still modest and prosaic ones” (Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible, ed. William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman [New York: Doubleday, 2000], 7).

My disagreement with Fox is at least fourfold. First, I do not think that this conclusion really squares with the numerous occurrences of the “Fear of YHWH” passages in the book (1:7; 2:5; 3:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; cf. also 1:29; 8:13; 14:26; 24:21; 28:14; 29:25; 31:30). Second, Fox’s statement does not appear to acknowledge the close connection between Proverbs and Torah both in terminology used and content (see Tremper Longman, III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, ed. Tremper Longman III [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 80–1). Third, the association of Proverbs with Solomon would seem to undermine a purely secular document. While Scripture presents Solomon as a mixed character spiritually, the reason that he is a mixed character is that he should have been a king obedient to Torah. Fourthly, I think it unlikely that a book as secular as Fox suggests would have made it into the Hebrew Canon.

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