What are the greatest Hebrew sayings


The title of the Old Testament book is formed in Hebrew from the opening words Proverbs 1: 1: mišlê (šəlomoh) “Proverbs (Solomon's)” (in tract Baba Batra 14b.15a of the Babylonian Talmud only mišlê "Claims"; Text Talmud), in the → Septuagintparoimiai (Salōmōntos) "Proverbs / Pictorial Words (Solomos)". The book is called in the → Vulgate liber proverbiorum Salomonis "Book of Proverbs of Solomon", in short, also simple proverbia called, and begins in Prov 1,1 with parabolae Solomonis "Pictorial Words of Solomon". In German one speaks of the “Book of Sprüche” and “Book of Proverbs” or “Proverbs” or “Sprüche” or “Proverbs” for short.

The Hebrew word māšāl (Pl. Constr .: mišlê) has a broad meaning in its biblical usage. The rendering as “proverbs” does this better justice than the more specific speech of “proverbs”. Maschal is about a possible meaning of the verbal root mšl I with "equal, to be the same" in connection and describes a whole range of forms, starting with short proverbs (1Sam 10,12; 1Sam 19,24) up to longer poetically designed texts (Num 23,7,18; Isa 14, 4; Ez 17,2; Ps 78,2 et al).

Prov. 1,1 (“Proverbs of Solomon, the son of David”) initially acts like a heading for the whole book. However, there are further headings in the book with partly different attributions (e.g. in Prov. 30,1 "Words of Agurs"). The connection of the greater part of the book with → Solomon (cf. Prov 1,1; Prov 10,1; Prov 25,1) ties in with his traditional appreciation as a paradigmatic wise king (cf. 1 Kings 3-5 and 1 Kings 10) and cannot be evaluated as historical information.

2.1. The headline system

Table 1: The collections of the Book of Proverbs of Solomon.

Seven headings structure the book in the Hebrew text. One of these headings is embedded in the text of the line (Prov 22:17). The resulting parts are of different lengths. According to their headings, the longer parts contain “Proverbs of Solomon” (Prov 1,1; Prov 10,1; Prov 25,1); the shorter ones include "words" (of various origins) - in the case of Prov. 24:23 it can be concluded from Prov. 22:17 that "words" are meant.

The book is presented as a collection of collections.

Since the 19th century (F. Hitzig) "Massa" in Spr 30,1 and Spr 31,1 has mostly been understood as a designation of origin in the above sense. This is not possible in Prov. 30: 1 without easy text manipulation (see the BHS apparatus). Massa is one of Assyrian documents from the 8th century BC. Known name for a tribe in Northern Arabia (cf. Gen 25:14; 1Chr 1.30). Then in Prov 30-31. explicitly include non-Israelite wisdom. This is already implicitly the case in the section Prov 22: 17-24, 22, which is based on the teaching of Amenemope (→ wisdom literature in Egypt).

The alternative understanding of the word “Massa” in the sense of a generic name (as in Isa 13,1; Nah 1,1; Hab 1,1 - for example as a “last word”), which the Masoretic accentuation suggests in both cases, remains especially for Prov 30.1 worth considering (cf. the Bible translations by M. Luther [1545], M. Buber / F. Rosenzweig and recently the commentary by BK Waltke).

The seven number of the headings could correspond to the unusual number of the seven pillars of the house built by wisdom itself in Prov 9: 1. The invitation to the feast that wisdom itself has prepared in her house (Prov. 9: 1-6) would then be an invitation to her house = the book, to 'incorporate', to transform the book's content. Certainty can hardly be gained here. B. Lang (1983) offers an overview of archaeological attempts to locate the seven pillars. F. Delitzsch (151-153) lists the symbolic interpretations of the Jewish and Christian tradition well (seven heavens according to the Midrash Mishle, seven planets according to the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 38a, text Talmud; seven sacraments in a patristic interpretation).

2.2. The Proömium: Prov 1,1-7

In the text of this book, Proverbs 1: 1-7 acts as an artful Proömium for the whole book. It formulates the goal and purpose and names the target group. Wisdom is presented as a way of life orientation and the art of understanding, which is inextricably linked with the biblical basic category “justice”. The target audience includes both inexperienced and already wise people. Proverbs 1: 7 programmatically relates YHWH fear to wisdom.

2.3. Acceptance of further parts of the book

The assumption of further sub-parts beyond those indicated by the headings suggests itself for various reasons.

Spr 1-9. Of the three parts ascribed to Solomon, the first stands out. While Prov 10: 1-22, 16 and Prov 25-29 are individual collections of sayings, Prov 1-9 contains longer coherent texts: The core of these are ten doctrines and three speeches of the personified wisdom. The appearance of the personified wisdom, the development of its diverse relationships to the world, people and God as well as the presentation of a decision-making situation for the reader at the end of Pr 9 (invitation of wisdom and folly) leave Pr 1-9 as theologically reflective and pedagogically motivating Introduction to the book will appear.

Prov 10-29. Sections and parts can also be distinguished within the two large collections of individual sayings ascribed to Solomon, but the formal differences are smaller. Here a division of the first collection into Prov 10-15 (possibly Prov 15,32) and Prov 16-22,16 (possibly from Prov 15,33 on) has found wide acceptance, as well as a division of Prov 25-29 in Pr 25-27 and Pr 28-29. The sections are further structured in themselves (see e.g. R. Scoralick on Spr 10-15; R. van Leeuwen on Spr 25-27).

Prov 30-31. Within Spr 31 a poem can be recognized in v10-31, the beginnings of which follow the alphabet (alphabetical → acrostic) and which in this respect stands out clearly from the warning words in Spr 31.1-9. The Septuagint reports these two parts of chapter 31 separately and thus confirms the impression of independence. The situation in Prov. 30 is a little more difficult because the structure of the chapter is less clear here. However, there is some evidence for the delimitation of a series of numerical proverbs in Pr 30.15-33, which is also supported by the separate transmission of the two parts of Pr 30 in the Septuagint. In both cases, the sub-sections of the chapters supported by the Septuagint can be recognized.

The structure of the book and the counting of the parts are quite different in the literature. The three largest parts, Spr 1-9, are undisputed; Prov 10: 1-22, 16 and Prov 25-29. The counting and weighting of the smaller sections of the book varies greatly: sometimes all, sometimes only Spr 30-31, are counted as "attachments".

For example, O. Plöger reckons with three large collections (Spr 1-9; Spr 10,1-22,16; Spr 25-29) with two appendices to the second and third collections (Spr 22,17-24,22; Prov 24: 23-34 and Prov 30; Prov 31) - that adds up to seven parts. By subdividing Pr 30 and Pr 31 there are nine parts (Pr 30: 1-14; Pr 30: 15-33 and Pr 31: 1-9; Pr 31: 10-31) - for example in A. Meinhold. As a variant, R. E. Murphy and R.J. Clifford from Spr 1-9 as an introduction to the remaining eight parts. M. Fox sees six large parts of the book, he pulls together Prov. L.G. Perdue sees only one part in Prov 30, so for him there are eight parts of the whole.

Table 2: Biblical overview of the Book of Proverbs of Solomon.

In the Hebrew version of the book, there are indications of a framework in which correspondences between the (numerous) female figures in Pr 1-9 and Pr 31 are particularly noticeable. For example, statements about the "capable woman" in Prov. 31.10-31 fall back on those about the personified wisdom (comparison with corals in Prov. 3.15; Prov. 8.11 and Prov. 31.10; speech about "her house" in Prov 9: 1 and Prov 31:15, 21:27). If Proverbs 31,10 should also be understood as the introduction of a riddle (“who can find it out”, Th. McCreesh said), then the energetic, wise and godly woman described in Proverbs 31,10-31 should be one To be “everyday” embodiment of wisdom itself (→ women in the literature of OT 8.6).

The compilation of the individual sayings in the large collections Pr 10,1-22,16 and Pr 25-29 was considered completely unsystematic for a long time. Only a few smaller groups and pairs of sayings, apparently connected by keywords, always caught the eye (sayings about the fool in Prov. 26: 1-3-12; about the lazy in Prov. 26: 13-16). The pair of proverbs Spr 26,4 and Spr 26,5 occupied the rabbis because of the apparent contradiction of the requests (Talmud tract Shabbat 30b; text Talmud).

Even Franz Delitzsch (1876) did not consider the arrangement of the other sections to be completely arbitrary, he postulated a structuring function of sayings on the subject of education (so now again B.K. Waltke, but with a different selection of sayings). In the last few decades there have been an increasing number of studies on overarching principles of the arrangement of awards (R. van Leeuwen, A. Meinhold, R. Scoralick, A. Scherer, K.M. Heim et al.). With different emphasis, connections between sayings on the phonetic, syntactic and semantic level are examined and phenomena of repetition, correspondence and opposition are analyzed, sometimes combined with editorial-critical considerations. On the one hand, the results differ from collection to collection and, on the other hand, they diverge quite strongly even with the same research object. Research in this field is still in flux.

The Book of Proverbs distinguishes itself among the biblical books of wisdom as well as in the horizon of the ancient Orient by its variety of forms (→ wisdom genera). In addition to individual sayings of various types, which make up the largest part of the book, there are longer discourses by a father, a mother or also the personified wisdom for a son / sons (e.g. Prov 1,8-19; Prov 8,32-36). In addition to numerical sayings (e.g. Prov 30: 18-20) there are didactic poems (Prov 27: 23-27), admonitions (Prov 31: 1-9), an alphabetical acrostic (Prov 31: 10-31) and a prayer (Prov 30 , 7-9). In Prov 1-9 there are speeches of the personified wisdom itself (Prov 1,22-33; Prov 8,4-36; Prov 9,4-6) as well as the woman's folly (Prov 9,16-19). The individual sayings can be divided into statements / sentences and warning words (with direct salutation). In addition, numerous subgroups can be identified in the sentences ("better-than" sayings [such as Prov 15: 16-17]; comparative sayings [such as Prov 10.26]; "there is" sayings with mostly paradoxical content [such as Prov 11:24]; Beatitudes [as Prov 16:20] and others). The statements go hand in hand in parallelism membrorum and are often extremely artistically designed. Translations can only depict this with difficulty.

The terse, compressed formulations of the Hebrew text caused problems early on - for the ancient translators as well as for the text transmission (see above the Masoretes' view of "Massa" in Prov. 30.1; Prov. 31.1). Prov. 30: 1b and Prov. 31: 2, for example, are still difficult to understand today. There are only two Qumran fragments for the Hebrew text (4QProv (a) for Prov 1,27-2,1 and 4QProv (b) for parts of Prov 13-15).

The Septuagint version of the proverb is likely from Alexandria of the 2nd century BC. Come from BC. It differs in scope and arrangement from the Hebrew text. Despite a few omissions compared to the MT, it contains 130 engravings more text (for details, see the information from D.-M. d’Hamonville). The text rearrangement begins from Prov. 24:22. Formulated with the names of the Hebrew text, the Septuagint order from Prov. 24:22 to: Prov. 30: 1-14; Prov 24: 23-34; Prov 30: 15-33; Prov 31: 1-9; Prov 25-29 and Prov 31: 10-31. Reformulations and omissions in the heading system of the text make Solomon appear as the sole author of the text according to Prov. 1.1.

Free and paraphrasing translations, additions of independent text parts (the praise of the bee in Pr 6,8a-cLXX etc.) and quotations from scriptures (Ps 110,10LXX in Pr 1,7LXX) show the Septuagint of the Proverbs as a text of Hellenistic Judaism with its own profile and value. Whether it is based on a text that does not belong to the proto-Masoretic tradition (according to E. Tov, R.J. Clifford) or not (J. Cook, D.-M. d’Hamonville) is controversial.

The history of the creation of the book or its parts, according to popular belief, covers a long period of time. It is likely to extend from the time of the kings (see Prov. 25: 1, the "men of Hezekiah") to at least the late Persian period, and probably beyond. Some authors reckon with early Hellenistic elements, especially in the drawing of the personified wisdom in Pr 1-9 (according to M.V. Fox). This would be a period with the key dates of the approx. 9th-4th, possibly also the 3rd century BC. Named BC. The transmission of the Septuagint in the 2nd century BC Chr. Forms (despite their contentious text basis) one terminus ante quem.

Dating wisdom sayings is difficult to impossible. Formal historical arguments used earlier (emergence of discourses from the shorter warning words) are no longer tenable due to ancient oriental, especially Egyptian, comparative material.

In current research, opinions differ widely about the dating of the individual collections and parts.

Spr 1-9. Relative agreement still prevails in Spr 1-9, the core of which is mostly dated to the Persian period (Ch. Maier). A number of authors tried to differentiate the finding (R. Schäfer; A. Müller, M.V. Fox). R. Schäfer reckons with a pre-exilic material compiled in exile, which was reinterpreted theologically in the late Persian period. A. Müller situates the oldest parts of Spr 1-9 (Spr 4,10-27; Spr 5,21-22) in the 5th century BC. Chr., The formative editing begins in the late Persian period and counts on some subsequent extensions (Prov 1.29-30, Prov 3.1-12; Prov 9.10, etc.). M.V. Fox seems to set the starting point for a rather complex genesis of the chapters in the early Hellenistic period, but has so far been cautious with his judgment (the second volume of his commentary is still pending). For a much higher age of the collection - approx. 9/8. Century BC - A. Scherer and B. Lang plead (in: NBL 3, 660f.).

Prov 10-29. The two large collections of individual voices are usually set in the pre-exilic period, but the clues (except Prov 25.1) are not compulsory. Parts could well be added later or editorially revised.

Prov 30-31. The parts recognizable in Spr 30 and Spr 31 are then usually considered to be younger - but doubts are repeatedly raised here, since the time of origin and the inclusion in the book (as an "appendix") do not have to coincide.

There are surprisingly few considerations about the horizon and purpose of the final editing of the book that go beyond the idea of ​​a collection of diverging material. Claudia Camp sees a decisive goal of the final editing of the book on the one hand in the focus of the divergent texts in the literary figure of wisdom and on the other hand in the presentation of the figure of wisdom as a symbol for the connection between everyday experience and religious symbols. E. Gerstenberger sees in his lexicon article (in: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 27, 585) the religious education in the early Jewish community of the 2nd century BC. BC as the purpose horizon of the final editing. The approaches can certainly be deepened in the future.

On the one hand, the origin of the wisdom handed down in the proverbs could very well be found in something like folk wisdom, which is expressed in proverbs. Perhaps, at least - if not exclusively - one can expect a family seat in life for lectures (E. Gerstenberger). However, lectures also refer to other teaching and training situations.

The selection, compilation as well as probably the addition and revision of popular wisdom was the work of scholars either at court or in schools. A second place of origin for wisdom texts can also be assumed in these circles. The dispute about the proportions of folk wisdom versus original 'scholarly wisdom' has not been decided and perhaps cannot be decided. For example, C. Westermann and F. Golka advocate a high proportion of proverbial wisdom; Authors such as A. Meinhold reckon with profound redesign and extensive redesign by court officials.

The situation is likely to vary depending on the text.It is one of the peculiarities of the short individual sayings that they can be related to very different situations without any problems - their original situation can then no longer be identified with certainty.

At least one can refer to the results of careful compositional analyzes. R. van Leeuwen, following G. Bryce, described Spr 25: 2-27 as a separate, artfully composed wisdom poem or wisdom book with a presumably courtly origin, but without a broad echo in the following comments (apart from RE Murphy and a cautious presentation at RJ Clifford).

The Book of Proverbs is intended to provide guidance and orientation in the everyday life of the individual with his closer relationships. The aim is not to have as extensive a technical knowledge as possible, but to practice a lifestyle based on justice and wisdom, which is represented in the pictures of the love of wisdom and participation in their feast.

The largely "international" character of this wisdom is on the one hand clear in the book through the attribution of some parts to non-Israelite authors (Prov. 30.1; Prov. 31.1, see above) and on the other hand is also evident in the inclusion of motifs and formulations from the area of ​​ancient oriental wisdom - the prime example is the close parallelism of Prov 22.17-24.22 with the Egyptian teaching of Amenemope (approx. 1100 BC, see B. Schipper).

At the same time, however, the book speaks decidedly of God with the proper name of the God of Israel, YHWH, and postulates the bond with YHWH (in the YHWH fear) as the source of wisdom. The → wisdom personified in Prov 1-9 shimmers over in places in an image of God (C. Camp, S. Schroer). The horizon of wisdom and theological speech also includes the emphasis on the talk of creation - both in terms of the creation of the world (see Prov 8) and with a view to human beings (Prov 14.31; Prov 17.5; Prov 22.2) .

The previously quite common hypothesis that the older, pre-exilic wisdom (also present in the proverbs) was originally purely "profane" and only later editors and additions brought about a YHWH-ization (W. McKane, R. Whybray), is in this simple one Comparison hardly represented today. Not all of the YHWH proverbs are later additions. On the other hand, an increasing interest in the explication of the theological integration of wisdom in the course of the history of its development is often assumed. The programmatic prefix of Spr 1-9 is often - at least also - a theological stamping of the following. Theologizing editorial levels are raised on various occasions in the individual speech collections, but a consensus on these questions is not in sight.

Literature research Index Theologicus

Literature research Biblical Bibliography Lausanne

1. Lexicon article

  • Religion in the past and present, 3rd edition, Tübingen 1957-1965.
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1971-1996.
  • Theological Real Encyclopedia, Berlin / New York 1977-2004.
  • New Bible Lexicon, Zurich a.o. 1991-2001.
  • The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York 1992.
  • Lexicon for Theology and Church, 3rd edition, Freiburg i.Br. 1993-2001.
  • Religion in the past and present, 4th edition, Tübingen 1998ff.


  • Alonso Schökel, L. / Vilchez, J., 1984, Proverbios (Nueva Biblia Espanola. Sapienciales I), Madrid.
  • Clifford, R.J., 1999, Proverbs. A Commentary (OTL), Louisville / KY.
  • Delitzsch, F., 1873 (reprint 1985), Salomonisches Spruchbuch, Leipzig (Gießen).
  • Fox, M.V., 2000, Proverbs 1-9. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AncB 18A), New York et al.
  • Fuhs, H. F., 2001, The Book of Proverbs. A comment (fzb 95), Würzburg.
  • McKane, W., 1970, Proverbs. A New Approach (OTL), London.
  • Meinhold, A., 1991, The Proverbs. Part 1: Proverbs Chapters 1-15; Part 2: Proverbs chapters 16-31 (ZBK.AT 16,1.2), Zurich.
  • Murphy, R. E., 1998, Proverbs (WBC 22), Nashville.
  • Plöger, O., 1984, Proverbs of Solomon (Proverbia), (BK 17), Neukirchen-Vluyn.
  • Waltke, B. K., 2004, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15 (NICOT), Grand Rapids.
  • Waltke, B.K., 2005, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 16-31 (NICOT), Grand Rapids.

3. Further literature

  • Brockmöller, K., 2004, “A woman of strength - who will find her?” Exegetical analyzes and intertextual readings on Spr 31.10-31 (BBB 147), Berlin.
  • Camp, C.V., 1985, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs (Bible and Literature Series 11), Sheffield.
  • Cook, J., 1997, The Septuagint of Proverbs. Jewish and / or Hellenistic Proverbs? Concerning the Hellenistic Coloring of LXX Proverbs (VT.S 69), Leiden.
  • Crenshaw, J.L., 1995, Urgent Advice and Probing Questions. Collected Writings on Old Testament Wisdom, Macon / GA.
  • D’Hamonville, D.-M., 2000, La Bible d’Alexandrie 17: Les Proverbes. Traduction du texte grec de la Septante, Introduction et notes, Paris.
  • Fox, M.V., 2004, The Rhetoric of Disjointed Proverbs, JSOT 29, 165-177.
  • Freuling, G., 2004, “Whoever digs a pit…” The relationship between doing and experiencing and its change in Old Testament wisdom literature (WMANT 102), Neukirchen-Vluyn.
  • Gammie, J.G. / Perdue, L.G. (Eds.), 1990, The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, Winona Lake / IN.
  • Golka, F. W., 1994, The Leopard's Spots. Biblical and African wisdom in the proverb (AzTh 78), Stuttgart.
  • Hausmann, J., 1995, Studies on the concept of man in older wisdom (FAT 7), 1995.
  • Heim, K.M., 2000, Like Grapes of Gold Set in Silver. An Interpretation of Proverbial Clusters in the Book of Proverbs (BZAW 273), Berlin.
  • Lang, B., 1983, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Proverbs IX 1) in the Light of Israelite Architecture, VT 33, 488-491.
  • Leeuwen, R. C., 1988, Van, Context and Meaning in Proverbs 25-27 (SBL Diss Series 96), Atlanta / GA.
  • Maier, Ch., 1995, The “strange woman” in Proverbs 1-9. An exegetical and socio-historical study (OBO 144), Freiburg (Switzerland) / Göttingen 144)
  • McCreesh, Th. P., 1985, Wisdom as a Wife: Proverbs 31: 10-31, RB 92, 25-46.
  • Müller, A., 2000, Proverbs 1-9. New clothes for wisdom (BZAW 291), Berlin.
  • Rad, G. von, 1970 (3rd edition 1985), Wisdom in Israel, Neukirchen-Vluyn.
  • Sandoval, T.J., 2006, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs (Biblical Interpretation Series 77), Leiden.
  • Schäfer, R., 1999, The Poetry of the Wise. Dichotomy as the basic structure of the teaching and wisdom poems in Proverbs 1-9 (WMANT 77), Neukirchen-Vluyn.
  • Scherer, A., 1999, The wise word and its effect. An investigation into the composition and editing of Proverbia 10.1-22.16 (WMANT 83), Neukirchen-Vluyn.
  • Schipper, B.U., 2005, The teaching of Amenemope and Prov 22.17-24.22 - a redefinition of the literary relationship (Part 1 and Part 2), ZAW 117, 53-72.232-248.
  • Scoralick, R., 1995, single line and collection. Composition in the Book of Proverbs Chapter 10-15 (BZAW 232), Berlin.
  • Tov, E., 1990, Recensional Differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint of Proverbs, in: H.W. Attridge (ed.), Of Scribes and Scrolls. Studies on the Hebrew Bible, Intertestamental Judaism, and Christian Origins (FS J. Strugnell; College Theology Society Resources in Religion 5), Lanham / MD, 43-56.
  • Westermann, C., 1990, Roots of Wisdom. The oldest sayings of Israel and other peoples, Göttingen.

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