The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature -- By: Bruce K. Waltke

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:543 (Jul 1979)
Article: The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature
Author: Bruce K. Waltke

The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature

Bruce K. Waltke

[Bruce K. Waltke, Professor of Old Testament, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.]

The comparison made in 1 Kings 4:29–34 between Solomon’s wisdom and that of the ancient Near Eastern sages strongly implies that his proverbs were a part of an international, pan-oriental, Wisdom literature. During the past century archaeologists have been uncovering texts from Solomon’s pagan peers, and scholars have been using them to further the understanding of the Book of Proverbs. The purposes of this article are to examine the ways in which this ancient literature has advanced the understanding of “the proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (Prov 1:1, NIV), and to demonstrate how these texts help answer introductory questions (date; authorship; literary forms, structure, and arrangement; textual transmission; and history of the wisdom tradition) and how these texts help interpret the content of the book (the meaning of wisdom, its theological relevance, and the resolution of some exegetical problems)

Date and Authorship

Before the discovery and decipherment of these extrabiblical texts, scholars who applied to the Old Testament a historico-critical method (which presupposed the evolutionary development of religion) concluded that the biblical witnesses to Solomon’s contribution to wisdom could not be taken at face value.1 Instead, they argued,

the postexilic Jewish community under Grecian influences must be credited for these literary achievements. Even as late as 1922, Hoelscher still placed the so-called older proverbial literature in the Persian period.2 But the many pagan sapiential texts, found around the broad horizon of the Fertile Crescent, and confidently dated to the time of Solomon and centuries before him, have called their presupposition into question and have refuted their skepticism toward the biblical witness.

Giovanni Pettinato, in his preliminary report on the thousands of tablets unearthed in the royal archives at Tell-Mardikh (Ebla), alerted biblical scholars that some of those tablets contain collections of proverbs.3 The precise dating of the royal palace at Ebla poses some difficulties, for the artifactual evidence points to a date between 2400 and 2250 B.C. while the paleography of the literary texts points to a period around 2450 B.C.4

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