Paul Overland "What literary tools did the sage / craftsman use?"

Proverbs and "How did the sage view previous Biblical canon?"

Fall, 1997 Lecture 3

  1. What literary tools did the sage / craftsman use?
    1. Size Distinction: Short and Long
    2. See Murphy, Tree of Life, pp. 7ff.

      1. Short
        1. Form
          1. Traits (J.G. Williams, by Murphy, Tree of Life, 20)
            1. Assertive
            2. Provides insights
            3. Often registers a reversal of one’s expectation: "a soft tongue breaks the bone" (25.15b)
            4. Brevity, conciseness: "The point is a maximum of meaning in a minimum of words"
          2. Parallelism
            1. Synonymous
            2. "Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making," 16.11

              "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," 16.18.

            3. Antithetic
            4. "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but he tongue of the wise brings healing," 12.13.

              "To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue," 16.1.

            5. Synthetic
            6. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good," 15.3.

              "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones," 16.24.

              "Like the coolness of snow at harvest time / is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; / he refreshes the spirit of his masters," 25.13.

            7. Comparative

            "Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him," 10.26.

          3. Cola Structure
            1. Bicola
            2. A six-word bicola saying: "The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the reputation (name) of the wicked will rot," 10.7. [zeycher tsaddiq liv’rakhah, vsheym r’sha"im ir’qav.]

            3. Tricola
            4. A ten-word tricola: "Like the coolness of snow at harvest time / is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters," 25.13.

              A twelve-word tricola within a wisdom-speech: "Blessed is the man who listens to me / watching daily at my doors, / waiting at my doorway," 8.34.

            5. Quatrain

            A thirteen-word tricola (tricola in BHS, better as quatrain in NIV): "A poor man is shunned by all his relatives--/ how much more do his friends avoid him! Though he pursues them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found," 19.7

            Fourteen words, re: alcoholic. Quatrain in BHS, six-member in NIV: "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? / Why has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?" 23.29

          4. Blessed or Happy Sayings (Ash’re, not Barakh)
          5. "Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding," 3.13.

            "Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways….Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway," 8.32, 34.

            "Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble," 28.14.

            "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:" 31.28.

          6. Better Sayings
          7. "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city," 16.32

            "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife," 17.1

            "Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly," 17.12.

          8. Question (usually rhetorical)
          9. "Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin’?" 20.9.

            Also 20.24, 22.27.

          10. Assonance (not a "form", but a poetic device)

          "A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil," 13.19. The concept of fulfillment and turning from evil seem only remotely connected (even antithetically). But when we hear it in Hebrew, the sound of "longing fulfilled" and "detest" are remarkably similar: hw:a} T' and tb'[ } to

        2. Content
          1. Admonitions / Prohibitions and Sayings
            1. Admonitions recommend a course of action (imperative)
            2. "Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you," 20.22.

              There is a concentrated section of admonitions within 1-9, in 3.27-32. They are followed by sayings in 3.33-35.

            3. Sayings state a principle without recommending a course of action

            "The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him," 20.23.

          2. Character Summary
          3. To rhetorically tie off a teaching in extended poems, often the sage will summarize the a certain character’s behavior and the resulting consequences.

            "Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it," 1.19.

            "For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm," 1.32-33.

            "For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it," 2.21-22.

          4. "Royal Proverbs"

        These are determined more by content than by form.

        "It is not for kings, O Lemuel—not for kings to drink wine, not fore rulers to crave beer…" 31.4-9.

        "Remove rthe dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith; remove the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness," 25.4-5

        "Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence…," 25.6-7.

      2. Long
        1. Long wisdom poems, with intro, conclusion
        2. Purdue, Wisdom & Creation, 67, deals with this, calling it "instruction" or "discipline": intro, teaching, conclusion.

          Wisdom’s Appeal, 1.20-33, and most of chs. 1-9.

          Note on dating by length: for a long time the evolutionary view of sapiential composition dominated discussion of dating. It was thought that short, single sayings were early, and longer compositions were late. Then they discovered the Egyptian work, Wisdom of Ptah-hotep (vizier under King Izezi of 5th Dynasty, 2450 BC, with extant copy 1900, early Middle Kingdom). The longer introduction of Ptah-hotep indicated that writing skill had advanced sufficiently at that time to enable extended wisdom writings, not merely short sayings.

        3. Long thematic teachings
        4. Wine (23.29-35)

          Field of sluggard (24.30-34)

          Condition of Flocks (27.23-27)

        5. Form
          1. Palistrophic
          2. The inverted structure of 1.10-19 and 1.22-33 each present a palistrophic pattern.

          3. Numerical Sayings
          4. "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers" 6.16-19.

            "The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give! they cry," 30.15a.

            "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says ‘Enough!’ 30.15b-16.

            "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden," 30.18-19.

            Cf. 30.21ff (Backwards things), 30.24ff (Small but Strong), 30.29ff (Stately).

          5. Acrostic Hymn of Praise
          6. The Noble Woman poem of 31.10-31 is an alphabetic acrostic, a to t.

          7. Inclusio

          "Fear of the Lord" seems to operate as an inclusio at the book-level: First instruction in 1.7, last instruction in 9.10, and last poem of entire collection in 31.30

        6. Content
          1. Autobiographical, Anecdotal, Eyewitness
          2. "When I was a boy in my father’s house…," 4.3

            "At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice…" 7.6ff.

            "I went past the field of the sluggard…I applied my heart to what I observed…," 24.30, 32.

            "I am the most ignorant of men…," 30.2ff

          3. Prayer

    In 30.7-9 we find a rare component in Prov.: the sage records a prayer. Notice that its theme is consistent with wisdom tradition: moderation.

  2. How did the sage view previous Biblical canon?
    1. Similar Themes
      1. Boundary Stones
        1. Pv. 22.28
        2. Dt. 19.14
      2. Segue to Lect. on 3.1-12