The wisdom in Proverbs : an integrated reading of the book
This study illuminates the overall structure of the book of Proverbs by identifying an overlooked formal feature of Ancient Near Eastern Instructional literature. I survey Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) Instruction and show, where there is extant material available, that each Instruction displays a three part form: introduction, instruction, and epilogue. I argue that the traditional divisions of the Book of Proverbs correspond to the three part structure of Instruction. By drawing attention to Proverbs' structural similarity with ANE Instruction an "integrated" reading of the Book of Proverbs may be facilitated. The formal similarity of ANE Instruction does not presage similarity of content, and I argue that the content of Proverbs' introduction reflects biblical traditions about wisdom. The recollection of biblical themes by Proverbs' introduction demonstrates Proverbs' integration with biblical literature. Though Proverbs displays the form of Instruction and recalls biblical traditions about divine wisdom, it does not entirely affirm these traditions. By embodying wisdom in the Figure of Wisdom (Woman Wisdom), Proverbs says something new. Proverbs' characterization of Woman Wisdom as a liminal character is suggestive with respect to her audience. In examining the second part of Instruction, the instruction, I accent instruction which harmonizes with Proverbs" characterization of Woman Wisdom found in the introduction. Finally, I explain how the last two chapters of Proverbs, 30 and 31, are formally epilogue, the final part of ANE Instruction's three part form. I show how these epilogues to Proverbs look back to themes of the introduction and respond to the instruction of the second part. I then present an integrated reading of the Book of Proverbs based on the formal and conceptual features I have identified.