Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/524

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509
Proverbs, Book of

is composed seems to be x. 1~xxii. 16, xxv.-xxix. which consists of simple aphorisms relating to everyday affairs. This group, however, is itself composite; we may distinguish a collection of antithetic couplets (x.-xv. and most of xxviii., xxix), and one made up of comparisons and single sentences (xvi.' 1xxii. 16, xxv.-xxvii., and some verses in xxviii., xxix). Of these two the first, on account of its simpler form, appears to be the earlier, though they cannot stand far apart in time; and by combining them an editor formed the section as we now have it. These may have been severally made from current collections, a. number of which were probably in existence. A general preface exhorting the pupil to give heed to the instruction of the sages (xxii. I7-21), introduces a group of quatrains in two sub-groups (xxii. 22-xxiv. 22 and Xxiv. 23-34) characterized by a wide range of thought and by ethical depth. Probably later than these are the elaborate discourses of i.-ix. (excluding vi. f-5, 6~11, 12-19 and ix. 7-12, misplaced paragraphs) containing praise of ideal wisdom and warnings against unchastity. Chs. xxx., xxxi., made up of various pieces, form a sort of appendix to the book; some of the pieces are artificial in form (xxx. 11-31), one is a full picture of a good housewife's home life (xxxi. 1o-31), two are ascribed to the unknown persons Agur (xxx. 2-4) and King Lemuel's mother (xxxi. 2~9). Agur's dictum is one of pious agnosticism directed, apparently, against certain theologians who talked as if they were well acquainted with the ways of God. Agur's word, breathing the spirit of scepticism, falls into the category represented by Ecclesiastes, and we may probably set the year 200 (or possibly ISO) B.C. as the lower limit of the Book of Proverbs; allowing a century for the collection and combination of the various parts, we shall have the year 300 B.C. as the date of its earliest section. Some of the material may have existed in aphoristic lform before, but the composition of the present book may be put approximately in the century 300-zoo B.C. Even its simplest maxims have a certain academic form.

In its general ethical code Proverbs represents the best standard of the times; the sages are at one with the more enlightened moralists of the Western world. All the ordinary social virtues such as truthfulness, honesty, kindness, chastity are emphasized and a great stress is laid on care for the poor (a social necessity at a tine when there were no well organized public charities). But Proverbs seems not to go the length of identifying righteousness with alms giving, as is done in Dan. iv. 27 (24), Matt. v. 1, and substantially in Ecclus. iii. 30, xxix. 12 and Tobit iv. 10, xii. 9; in x. 2, “ righteousness delivers from death, ” the word “ righteousness ” is probably to be taken in its ordinary ethical sense. The above-named virtues are 'all recognized in the earlier Hebrew writings, the prophets and the law, but in certain points Proverbs goes beyond these, notably in its prohibition of exultation over a fallen enemy (xxiv. 17) and of retaliation for injury received (Xxiv. 29), and in its inculcation of kindness to enemies (xxv. 21). The injunction in Lev. xix. 18, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ” refers only to Israelite fellow-citizens, not to enemies (cf. the interpretation given in Matt. v. 43), and the command in Exod. xxiii. 4 seq., to care for one's enemy's ox or ass likewise refers to Israelites; Proverbs conceives the principle in a higher Way and extends it beyond the limits of the nation. Slavery is recognized as a lawful institution, but little is said of it. There is no suggestion of moral training of the slave; he is to be taught' not by words (XXIX. 19) but by the rod, like the child (v. 15), and it is intimated (rx. 21) that it is a mistake to bring up a servant delicately. This was doubtless the general View of the time; Ben-Sira frankly regards the servant as a chattel (Ecclus, xxxiii. 24-31). Proverbs greatly disapproves of the elevation of slaves to the position of rulers (xix. xo)-an occurrence not uncommon in those days. The estimate of woman as wife and mother, and especially as housewife, is high (xviii. 22, xix. 14, xxxi. IO-31). In vi. 20 the mother is spoken of, along with the father, as teacher of the children, and it is assumed, therefore, that she is competent; but nothing is said of the education of wo1nenin xxxi. 26 the “wisdom ” of the good wife (not “virtuous woman ”) is good sense, practical sagacity in housekeeping. The equality of all men as creatures of God, silently assumed in the earlier literature, is definitely expressed in Proverbs (xxii. 2, cf. ]ob xxxiv. 19, Ecclus. xi. 14). Humility, as the opposite of insolent pride, is recognized as a virtue (xviii. 12, cf. xvi. 18)-it is a modest estimate of one's worth, refusal to claim too great honour for one's self. In general it is the simple homely virtues that are enjoined on men in Proverbs—there is no mention of courage, fortitude, intellectual truthfulness, and no recognition of beauty as an element of life; the ethical type is Semitic, not Hellenic, and the sages emphasize only those qualities that seemed to them to be most effective in the struggle of life; their insistence on the practical, not the heroic, side of character is perhaps in part the consequence of the position of the Jewish people at that time, as also the silence respecting international ethics belongs to the thought of the times. The ground of moral judgments in the book is both external (the law of God) and internal (the conscience of man); these two are fused into one, and both go back ultimately to current customs and ideas. The motive assigned for right doing is individualistic utilitarian-the advantage accruing to the man either through the laws of society or through the rewards dispensed by God. This motive, which is the one assumed throughout the Old Testament, is effective for the mass of men, and becomes ethically high when the advantage had in view is of an elevated moral character. Proverbs does not offer the good of society as an aim of action, though it takes for granted that good conduct will promote the happiness of all. Assuming human freedom it at the same time assumes that the ills of life may be overcome by a wise employment of man's resources, and it silently regards universal happiness on earth as the goal of human development. Its religious scheme is the simplest form of theism; religion is reverence for God and obedience to His laws; Though the sages doubtless recognized the temple-cult as of divine appointment and obligatory, they lay no stress upon it; for them the essence of religion is something else; right living, they say (xxi. 3), is more acceptable to God than sacrifice, and sacrifice without ethical feeling is abominable to Him (xv. 8). Subordinate supernatural beings (angels and demons), though of course accepted as real, are ignored as having no importance for life. There is no reference or allusion to national Messianic hopes (certainly none in xvi. Io-1 5); neither the political situation in the 3rd century B.C., nor the sages' point of view was friendly to such hopes. The view of the future life is the old Hebrew one: death is practically the end-all, Sheol is the negation of happy activity, and from it no one returns; in v. 23, vii. 27, ix. 13, x. 2, the reference is to premature death on earth. The aim of the sages is to make earthly life strong and happy. They lay no claim to divine inspiration-they speak simply as ordinary human thinkers, though they are convinced that they have eternal truth.

The reception of Proverbs into the Hebrew Canon was for a time opposed on the ground of a supposed contradiction between two aphorisms (xxvi. 4, 5,) and (vii. 7, 20) of too highly coloured descriptions (Shabbath, 3ob, Abolh N athan, cap. i.); these difficulties were got over, and the book was finally declared canonical. It is quoted over twenty times in the New Testament, and has always been highly valued as a manual of conduct. Of the ancient versions the Septuagint is the only one that isof great service for the criticism of the Hebrew text of Proverbs. The Latin, the Peshitta Syriac and the Targum occasionally offer suggestions; the Hexaplar Syriac and the Coptic are of value for the determination of the text of the Septuagint.

B1BL1001§ APHv.-The Hebrew text is discussed in all recent commentaries; see also Dyserinck, in Theol. Ttjdschrig (1883); Oort, ibid. (1885). and Text. helm emendation es (1900); ickell, in Wiener Zeitschr. f. d. Kunde d. Morgeulandes (1891); Chajes, Proverb.-Sludzen (1889); Muller and Kautzsch, in Haupt's Sacred Books af the Old Test. (1 o1). The'Greek versions are treated by de Lagarde, Anmerkunglin 8863); Baumgartner, Etude critique (1890). For the Syriac see inkuss in Zeitschr. f. Alttest. Wissenschaft (1894). Compare also Nestle's article “ Bibeltibersetzungen " in the third edition