THE RHETORIC OF THE FATHER:
A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF THE FATHER/SON
LECTURES IN PROVERBS 1-9
the Faculties of The Iliff School of Theology and
The University of Denver (Colorado Seminary)
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Glenn D. Pemberton
© Glenn David Pemberton 1999
used with permission
Proverbs 1-9 contains 10 instructions/lectures in which a "father" addresses
his "son(s)." These lectures are in many respects similar. They address a "son" or
"sons," urge the son(s) to listen, not forget or guard the father's teaching, and affirm
the value of this teaching. However, a curious diversity (which scholars have yet to
explain adequately) exists within these lectures. Despite their similarities, the appeals
and the argumentation of the lectures reflect differences in the father's rhetorical
objectives and strategies.
This dissertation uses rhetorical criticism to address the diversity within these
ten lectures. Analysis of the artistic proofs (logos, pathos, and ethos) of each lecture
reveals that the ten lectures may be classified into three groups or subsets on the basis
of their rhetoric: 1) calls to apprenticeship (1:8-19, 2:1-22, 4:1-9, 4:10-19), 2) calls
to remember and obey (3:1-12, 3:21-35, 4:20-27), and 3) warnings against illicit
sexual relations (5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27). Further, although the lectures of each
subset possess common features that distinguish them as a group, each lecture also
possesses unique features that distinguish it from other group members. One may
conclude that Proverbs 1-9 contain three distinct subsets of lectures with diverse
members, ten lectures with ten different rhetorical strategies. Put simply, the ten
lectures are a remarkable rhetorical anthology.
Scholars generally have assumed that these speeches were written, collected,
and edited to address important issues in the life of the community. This dissertation
proposes another option, namely, rhetorical education. The ten lectures provide
rhetorical models for different needs or situations. This hypothesis is congruent with
long standing theories regarding the composition of Proverbs 1-9 (the lectures are the
original core of these chapters) and the purpose of this composition (youth
education). The ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9 not only demonstrate the presence of
formal rhetorical interests in ancient Israel, but these lectures formed a book devised,
in part, to serve the purposes of rhetorical education.
THE ILIFF SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY
THE UNIVERSITY OF DENVER (COLORADO SEMINARY)
Upon the recommendation of the Director
of the Joint PH.D. Program this dissertation
is hereby accepted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. David L. Petersen
Dr. Larry Kent Graham
Director, Joint Ph.D. Program
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES viii
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ix
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1
A. Proverbs 1-9 as Rhetoric 1
B. The Interpretive Web: Research on Proverbs 1-9 4
1. Form-Critical Studies 4
2. Traditio-Historical Studies 12
3. Studies of the Women of Proverbs 1-9 16
4. Literary Critical Studies 20
5. Rhetorical Analyses 29
C. Summary 36
CHAPTER TWO: RHETORICAL CRITICISM 38
A. A Brief Survey of the Emergence of Rhetoric in the Ancient West 39
B. Rhetorical Criticism in Biblical Studies 46
1. Early History to the Demise of Rhetoric in Twentieth
Century Biblical Studies 46
2. The Reemergence of Rhetoric in Late Twentieth Century
Biblical Studies 52
3. Rhetorical Methods in Twentieth Century Biblical Studies 55
a. The "Rhetorical Criticism" of James Muilenburg:
The Definition of Rhetoric 56
b. The "New Rhetoric" of the Postmodern Bible:
Rhetoric as Cultural Criticism 60
c. The "Socio-Rhetorical Criticism" of Vernon Robbins:
Rhetoric and Methodological Pluralism 63
d. The "Classical Rhetoric" of George Kennedy:
Western Rhetorical Theory and non-Western Texts 65
4. Summary 74
C. Rhetorical Method for Analysis of the Ten Lectures 75
1. Text and Translation 75
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 76
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 77
a. Logos 78
b. Ethos 80
c. Pathos 81
4. Summary & Conclusions 81
D. Summary: Rhetorical Criticism 82
CHAPTER THREE: RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF GROUP I: THE CALLS TO
A. Proverbs 1:8-19 87
1. Text and Translation 87
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 89
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 91
a. Logos 91
b. Ethos 104
c. Pathos 107
4. Summary & Conclusions 108
B. Proverbs 2:1-22 109
1. Text and Translation 109
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 111
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 112
a. Logos 113
b. Ethos 122
c. Pathos 125
4. Summary & Conclusions 130
C. Proverbs 4:1-9 132
1. Text and Translation 132
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 133
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 134
a. Logos 135
b. Ethos 140
c. Pathos 142
4. Summary & Conclusions 145
D. Proverbs 4:10-19 147
1. Text and Translation 147
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 148
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 148
a. Logos 149
b. Ethos 153
c. Pathos 154
4. Summary & Conclusions 155
E. Conclusions: The Rhetoric of the Calls to Apprenticeship 156
CHAPTER FOUR: RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF GROUP II: THE CALLS
TO REMEMBER AND OBEY 158
A. Proverbs 3:1-12 159
1. Text and Translation 159
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 160
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 161
a. Logos 161
b. Ethos 166
c. Pathos 168
4. Summary & Conclusions 170
B. Proverbs 3:21-35 171
1. Text and Translation 171
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 173
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 176
a. Logos 176
b. Ethos 185
c. Pathos 189
4. Summary & Conclusions 190
C. Proverbs 4:20-27 192
1. Text and Translation 192
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 193
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 194
a. Logos 195
b. Ethos 202
c. Pathos 204
4. Summary & Conclusions 205
D. Conclusions: The Rhetoric of the Calls to Remember and Obey 207
CHAPTER FIVE: RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF GROUP III: WARNINGS
AGAINST ILLICIT SEXUAL RELATIONS 212
A Proverbs 5:1-23 213
1. Text and Translation 213
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 215
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 218
a. Logos 219
b. Ethos 231
c. Pathos 232
4. Summary & Conclusions 233
B. Proverbs 6:20-35 234
1. Text and Translation 234
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 237
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 238
a. Logos 239
b. Ethos 246
c. Pathos 250
4. Summary & Conclusions 252
C. Proverbs 7:1-27 254
1. Text and Translation 254
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit 256
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs 257
a. Logos 258
b. Ethos 270
c. Pathos 272
4. Summary & Conclusions 274
D. Conclusions: The Rhetoric of the Warnings Against Illicit
Sexual Relations 275
CHAPTER SIX: THE RHETORIC OF THE FATHER 278
A. Summary: The Father's Rhetoric in Proverbs 1-9 280
1. Rhetorical Subsets in the Ten Lectures 280
2. Rhetorical Variety with the Subsets of Lectures 285
B. Implications of Rhetorical Variety within Subsets 291
C. Areas for Further Research 295
LIST OF TABLES
1. Concurrence of Verbs in the Propositions of the Ten Lectures 86
2. The Rhetoric of the Father: A Comparison of Subsets 282
3. The Rhetoric of Subset I: The Calls to Apprenticeship 286
4. The Rhetoric of Subset II: The Calls to Remember and Obey 288
5. The Rhetoric of Subset III: The Warnings Against Illicit Sexual
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AB Anchor Bible
ACW Ancient Christian Writers
AJP American Journal of Philology
AJSL American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures
ANET J.B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts
AOAT Alter Orient and Altes Testament
ATAbh Alttestamentliche Abhandlungen
ATD Das Alte Testament Deutsch
AV English Authorized Version (King James)
AzTh Arbeiten zur Theologie
BAGD W. Bauer, W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, and F.W. Danker, Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament.
BDB F. Brown, S.R. Driver, and C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of
the Old Testament
BETL Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium
BHS Biblia hebraica stuttgartensia
BN Biblische Notizen
BTB Biblical Theology Bulletin
BZAW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenshaft
CAD The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
CBQMS Catholic Biblical Monograph -- Monograph Series
ConBOT Coniectanea biblica, Old Testament
DSB Daily Study Bible
ExpTim Expository Times
FAT Forschungen zum Alten Testament
FOTL Forms of the Old Testament Literature
GBS Guides to Biblical Scholarship
GKC Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch, trans. A.E. Cowley
HAR Hebrew Annual Review
HS Hebrew Studies
HUCA Hebrew Union College Annual
ICC International Critical Commentary
ITC International Theological Commentary
JB Jerusalem Bible
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JETS Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JNES Journal of Near Eastern Studies
JNSL Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages
JQR Jewish Quarterly Review
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
JSOTSup Journal for the Study of the Old Testament - Supplement Series
JSS Journal of Semitic Studies
JTS Journal of Theological Studies
KB L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti libros
KBW Zentrales Komitee des Kommunistischen Bundes Westdeutschland
KHC Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Alten Testament
LCL Loeb Classical Library
LD Lectio divina
MT Massoretic Text
NCB New Century Bible
NIB New Interpreter's Bible
NIV New International Version
NJV New Jewish Version (Tanakh, 1985)
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
OBO Orbis biblicus et orientalis
OLP Orientalia lovaniensia periodica
OTE Old Testament Essays
OTG Old Testament Guides
OTL Old Testament Library
PEQ Palestine Exploration Quarterly
RB Revue biblique
REB Revised English Bible
ResQ Restoration Quarterly
RSV Revised Standard Version
SBFLA Studii Biblici Franciscani liber annus
SBLDS Society of Biblical Literature - Dissertation Series
SBLWAW Society of Biblical Literature - Writings from the Ancient World
SBS Stuttgarter Bibelstudien
SBT Studies in Biblical Theology
SJOT Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament
TynOTC Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
VT Vetus Testamentum
VTSup Vetus Testamentum, Supplements
WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten and Neuen Testament
ZAH Zeitschrift fur Althebraistik
ZAW Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
ZTK Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche
Proverbs 1-9 as Rhetoric
Proverbs 1-9 is composed, almost exclusively, of speeches. Following a brief
introduction (1:1-7), these chapters consist of ten lectures by a "father" to his "son(s)."
The delimitation of these lectures is debated, but may tentatively be defined as 1:8-19,
2:1-22, 3:1-12, 3:21-35, 4:1-9, 4:10-19, 4:20-27, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, and 7:1-27.
Interspersed within these lectures are five interludes (1:20-33, 3:13-20, 6:1-19, 8:1-36,
and 9:1-18),1 three of which are speeches by woman wisdom.2 Further, four of the ten
father/son lectures cite speeches made by other persons or groups.3
Proverbs 1-9, however, is not only composed of speeches; these speeches
express vital concern for persuasive speech, i.e., rhetoric. On the one hand, each of
the ten father/son lectures attempts to persuade the reader to accept the father's counsel
and to pursue wisdom (e.g., 1:8, 4:10-11, 7:1-4).4 To this end, the father/rhetor
employs diverse rhetorical devices and strategies. On the other hand, the lectures
1 The terminology of "lectures" and "interludes" is adopted from Michael Fox ("Ideas of
Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," JBL 116 , 613-619).
2 1:20-33, 8:1-36, 9:1-12 (expanded by the speech of woman folly in vv. 13-18).
3 The speech of the sinners (1:10-14), the speech of the father's father (4:3-9), the speech
of the foolish son (5:12-14), and the speech of the adulteress (7:10-21).
4 See also 2:1-11, 3:1-2, 3:21-23, 4:1-2, 4:20-22, 5:1-2, 6:20-22.
caution the reader about the seductive rhetoric of the opposition. This warning occurs
in five of the ten father/son lectures (e.g., 5:3, 6::3-24, 7:13,21).5 So, interest in
rhetoric, both that of the father and the opposition, abounds in the ten lectures.
Several scholars (e.g., Aletti, Yee, Newsom, and Crenshaw; see below) have
noted the rhetorical nature and concern of Proverbs 1-9. There is, however, a lacuna
in present research. Although Proverbs 1-9 contains ten lectures, a sustained analysis
of these lectures as lectures, i.e., as rhetoric, does not exist. This dissertation seeks to
fill this lacuna by offering a fresh investigation of the ten father/son lectures from the
perspective of rhetorical criticism. More specifically, rhetorical analysis of the lectures
offers two types of contributions to present scholarship.
First, rhetorical analysis will contribute a new perspective and, thus, new
insights on old interpretive problems in the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9. Several
interpretive cruxes continue to plague the study of these texts, e.g., the delimitation of
the lectures, the identity of the strange/foreign woman, the presence of textual
allusions, and the relationship denoted by the vocative ynib; ("my son"). Rhetorical
analysis will offer fresh testimony on these and other issues that may break present the
scholarly impasses. In addition, this dissertation will consider the rhetorical
implications of these interpretive problems and their proposed solutions.
Second and more significant, a rhetorical analysis that focuses on how each of
the ten lectures attempts to persuade its audience promises to uncover new data about
the ten lectures and the practice of rhetoric in ancient Israel. For example, rhetorical
5 See also 1:10-19 and 2:16.
analysis will reveal that there are three types of lectures in Proverbs 1-9 (calls to
apprenticeship, calls to remember and obey, and warnings against illicit sexual
relations) and that the individual members of each subset employ different rhetorical
strategies. The implications of this finding may seem minimal, but, in fact, they reach
from revisions in our understanding of the lectures and the purpose of this collection
to the existence of self-conscious rhetorical reflection and, perhaps, rhetorical
education in ancient Israel.
Such rhetorical analysis of the ten lectures requires two preliminary steps.
First, it will be helpful to situate this dissertation within the history of scholarship on
Proverbs 1-9. Biblical criticism is a methodological jungle in which theoretical vines
are intricately interwoven and often intergrown. Any attempt to untangle a singly pure
methodological vine is impossible and detrimental to both the strength of the web and
the individual method. Therefore, in the remainder of this chapter, I will define the
relationship of my rhetorical analysis of the ten lectures to the existing interpretive
web of Proverbs 1-9. Second, the ambiguity of the term "rhetorical criticism"
demands clarification. While pursuit of one method alone is impossible, the lack of
methodological clarity and delimitation threatens confusion and dilution of focus.
Thus, in the second chapter I will define my rhetorical method and distinguish my
practice from other similarly titled methods. These first two chapters will be followed
by a sustained rhetorical analysis of the ten lectures. A summary and synthesis of the
contributions of this study, as well as proposals for further investigation, will comprise
the final chapter.
The Interpretive Web:
Research on Proverbs 1-9
Scholars writing in the twentieth century have attempted to understand four
features of Proverbs 1-9: its forms, the source(s) of its traditions, its striking references
to women, and literary concerns (e.g., unity and style). It is beyond the limits of this
study to present an exhaustive summary of this secondary literature.6 This survey is
limited to studies that provide significant stimuli or contributions to the rhetorical
analysis of the ten lectures. My goal is to situate this study within the existing
interpretive web of Proverbs 1-9. To this end, the four traditional categories of study
plus the recent emergence of rhetorical interest in Proverbs 1-9 provide the framework
for this discussion.7
Several scholars have utilized form-critical methodology to interpret Proverbs
1-9 within its ancient Near Eastern (especially Egyptian) setting.8 The most significant
6 For a more comprehensive history of research, see Bernhard Lang, Die Weisheitliche
Lehrrede. Eine Untersuchung von Spruche 1-7, SBS, vol. 54 (Stuttgart: KBW, 1972), 11.26;
C. Westermann, Forschungsgeschichte zur Weisheitsliteratur 1950-1990, AzTh, vol. 71
(Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1991); and Roger N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs: A Survey of
Modern Study (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995).
7 Admittedly, some studies may be placed in multiple categories, e.g., I will discuss Christi
Maier's monograph (Die 'Fremde Frau' in Proverbien 1-9: Eine Exegetische and
Sozialgeschichtliche Studie, OBO, vol. 144 [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995])
under both Tradition History and The Women of Proverbs 1-9. The use of these five
categories is simply a heuristic device for presenting diverse material.
8 Christa Kayatz, Studien zu Proverbien 1-9: Eine form- und motivgeschichtliche
Untersuchung unter Einbeziehung agyptischen Vergleichsmaterials, WMANT, vol. 22
(Netherlands: Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1966); Franz-Josef Steiert, Die Weisheit Israels: ein
Fremdkorper im Alten Testament? Eine Untersuchung zum Buch der Spruch auf dem
Hintergrund der agyptischen Weisheitslehren (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1990).
of these studies for rhetorical criticism are the works of Roger N. Whybray and
William McKane. Although Whybray's initial work preceded McKane's commentary
on Proverbs by several years, it is advantageous to begin with McKane's research
because his work established the foundation on which Whybray constructs his
McKane's chief contribution to the study of Proverbs 1-9 is his clear distinction
between the instruction genre and the sentence literature.9 Prior to McKane's
commentary, many scholars argued that the longer instructions had evolved from the
sentence literature and, therefore, Proverbs 1-9 belonged to the latest stage of the
development of the book of Proverbs.10 According to McKane, the discovery of
comparative wisdom texts has overturned this form-critical consensus. These ancient
Near Eastern wisdom texts demonstrate that the longer units of Proverbs 1-9 are not
the result of formal evolution from the sentence literature, but an adaptation of an
international genre of instruction.
McKane established his thesis by extensive study of both Egyptian and
Babylonian-Assyrian instructions.11 He documented the existence of an international
genre "with definable formal characteristics which can be described in syntactical "
9 William McKane, Proverbs, OTL (London: SCM Press, 1970).
10 For example, J. Schmidt, Studien zur Stilistik der alttestamentlichen Spruchliteratur,
ATAbh 13/1, Munster: Aschendorfsche Verlag, 1936; Walther Zimmerli, "Concerning the
Structure of Old Testament Wisdom," trans. Brian W. Kovacs, in Studies in Ancient Israelite
Wisdom, ed. J. L. Crenshaw (New York: KTAV, 1976), 175-207.
11 Ibid., 51-182.
terms.”12 For example, the instruction form utilizes the imperative to exhort and gives
reasons why its commands should be obeyed, typically contained in subordinate
clauses (e.g., motive clauses with "for/because" as well as final and consecutive
clauses). McKane then demonstrated a formal correspondence between this
international instruction genre and texts in Proverbs. He concluded
that the formal structure of 1-9, 22.17-24.22 and 31.1-9 is that of an
international Instruction genre, and that it is not the consequence of a process
of form-critical evolution involving the agglomeration of wisdom sentences.
The Instruction is a separate genre from the wisdom sentence and the form-
critical argument for the lateness of these sections of the book of Proverbs,
involving as it does the assumption that their basic formal unit is the wisdom
sentence, falls to the ground.13
McKane's form-critical conclusion that the lectures represent a distinct genre,
rather than accumulated growth rings around a core sentence, provides a fundamental
starting point for this dissertation. He has established that the lectures (instructions)
are discrete compositions with characteristic features, and thus opened the way for
studies of the lectures as a discrete group or genre. My rhetorical analysis will build
on his conclusions in an attempt to understand further these texts as rhetorical
In 1965, five years before McKane's commentary was published, Whybray
offered a monographic study of Proverbs 1-9 titled Wisdom in Proverbs: The Concept
12 Ibid., 6.
13 Ibid., 7. McKane further proposes (8-10) that the Instruction form was appropriated by
Israel during the reign of Solomon to serve the educational needs of government officials.
The Instruction form established itself in Israel during this period and was adapted over time
for a more broadly based educational function. See a critique of this proposal by Scott L.
Harris, Proverbs 1-9: A Study of Inner-Biblical Interpretation, SBLDS, vol. 150 (Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1995), 26-35.
of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9.14 This monograph provided a literary-historical
investigation into the evidence for the development of the idea of wisdom in ancient
Israel. Although Whybray's primary focus was the nature and purpose of the
personification of wisdom in 1:20-33, 8:1-35, and 9:1-6, his investigation included
brief consideration of the ten lectures.
Since his initial study, Whybray has offered numerous essays and monographs
that have strengthened and/or modified his original views.15 These studies offer four
fundamental insights or points of departure for my rhetorical analysis of the lectures.
First, study of formal features reveals the presence of ten "discourses" or lectures in
Proverbs 1-9.16 While the use of form-critical methodology in the interpretation of
Proverbs 1-9 and initial impetus for identifying lectures in these chapters came from
others,17 Whybray was the first to apply the form-critical method consistently and
identify ten instructions/lectures. The key feature that led him to this conclusion was
the characteristic introductory formula. According to Whybray, each of the lectures:
14 Roger N. Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs: The Concept of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9, SBT,
vol. 45 (Chatham, Great Britain: SCM Press, 1965).
15 Roger N. Whybray, "Some Literary Problems in Proverbs 1-9," VT 16 (1966): 482-96;
Wealth and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs, JSOTSup, vol. 99 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990);
The Composition of the Book of Proverbs (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994); "City Life in
Proverbs 1-9," in "Jedes Ding Has Seine Zeit" Studien zur Israelitischen and Altorientalischen
Weisheit, ed. Arija A. Diesel, Reinhard G. Lehmann, Eckart Otto and Andreas Wagner (Berlin:
Walter de Gruyter, 1996), 243-50.
16 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 33-37.
17 Whybray acknowledges his dependence on F. Delitzsch (Das Salomische Spruchbuch
[Leipzig: Dorffling and Franke, 1873]) who distinguished 15 "Spruchrede" and G. Wildeboer
(Die Spruche, K.HC [Leipzig, 1897]) who identified 7 "Abschnitte."
1) appeals to "my son," 2) commands the son to listen, 3) asserts the personal
authority of the teacher, 4) asserts or implies the value of the teacher's words,
5) makes no reference to any authority other than that of the teacher, and 6) denotes
human wisdom when referring to “wisdom.”18 Since its publication, Whybray's form-
critical identification of ten lectures has stood without serious challenge. This
dissertation accepts and builds on this consensus.
Second, according to Whybray, the lectures of Proverbs 1-9 were developed
and first used in educational settings. He, like McKane, identified the educational Sitz
im Leben of the lectures by demonstrating a relationship between the lectures
(instructions) of Proverbs 1-9 and Egyptian wisdom instructions, which he thought
were clearly associated with education. Initially, Whybray suggested that Israel's sages
borrowed and adapted foreign wisdom traditions.19 More recently, he has asserted a
parallel development between Israel and other ancient Near Eastern wisdom traditions,
rather than one of direct influence.20 Nonetheless, this link or parallel development
enabled Whybray to place the ten lectures in their "proper" Sitz im Leben, namely
18 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 34-35.
19 Ibid., 35-37.
20 Whybray, The Composition of the Book of Proverbs, 12-13, note 4.
youth education,21 despite almost complete silence in the rest of the Old Testament
regarding such education.22
Third, Whybray supplements his form-critical conclusions with redaction-
critical arguments claiming that the wisdom poems (1:20-33, 3:13-20, 8:1-36), the
prologue (1:1-7), the epilogue (9:1-12), and the didactic collection of 6:1-19 are
secondary additions to the lectures.23 According to Whybray, the original core of
Proverbs 1-9 was the ten lectures.24 This conclusion about the compositional history
of Proverbs 1-9 led him to consider further the Sitz im Leben of the collection of
21 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 16.
22 The lack of decisive evidence about education in ancient Israel in the Old Testament has
resulted in an on-going debate regarding the specifics of the educational setting of Proverbs 1-
9 identified by Whybray. For example, whereas the use of the instruction form suggests a Sitz
im Leben among a group aware of international traditions, namely the royal scribal school, the
content of the instructions in Proverbs 1-9 does not reflect royal or scribal concerns.
Presently, this debate revolves around three potential contexts for education: 1) the tribe ,or
family, 2) the royal-court, or 3) a "private" school (see Whybray's summary in The Book of
Proverbs, 18-25). This dissertation tentatively adopts the third hypothesis, namely, the Sitz im
Leben of lectures was some type of educational setting outside the immediate family and
G.I. Davies ("Were there schools in ancient Israel?" in Wisdom in ancient Israel.
Essays in honour of J.A. Emerton, ed. John Day, Robert P. Gordon, and H.G.M. Williamson
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995], 199-211) has persuasively presented the
evidence for the existence of schools in ancient Israel. 1) Although explicit evidence from
the Old Testament itself is minimal (e.g., II Kgs 6:1, Prov 4:7, 5:13, 13:14, 15:7, 17:16, 23:23,
Isa 8:5-6,14,16), it does establish the existence of schools in ancient Israel. 2) Persuasive
indirect arguments may be made from the analogy of other ancient Near Eastern scribal
schools and the scholastic character of certain biblical books, chiefly the wisdom books.
Davies also offers valuable reviews of the contributions of A. Lemaire (Les Ecoles et la
formation de la Bible dans 1'ancien Israel, OBO 39 [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1981]) and D.W. Jamieson-Drake (Scribes and Schools in Monarchic Judah: A Socio-
Archaeological Approach, JSOTSup 109 ).
23 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 72-74; and The Composition of the Book of Proverbs,
29-56. See also Fox, "Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," 613-619.
24 Other scholars, e.g., Michael Fox ("Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," 613-619), have
confirmed this aspect of Whybray's redaction history.
lectures. Initially, he claimed that the ten discourses originally formed an independent
“handbook of instruction designed for use in school.”25 More recently, while affirming
the educational nature of the lectures, he has argued against their collective existence
in the form of a teacher's manual or a student's handbook because of the redundancy
of the discourses and the lack of any clear redactional plan.26 I will return to this
point at the conclusion of this dissertation.
Fourth, in another redactional hypothesis based on form critical analysis,
Whybray maintains that the original form of the discourses was short (5-12 couplets).
For example, he edits the ninth lecture from 33 cola (6:20-35, MT) to 13 original cola
(6:20-22, 24-25, 32), and possibly only 8 (6:20-21, 24-25).27 He reduces the rhetorical
variety of the lectures to a common original form. According to Whybray, this
original form was expanded by two levels of additions: 1) additions that enhanced the
authority of the teacher by identifying his teaching with a more than human "wisdom,"
and 2) theological additions that identified "wisdom" as an attribute of Yahweh.
25 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 51.
26 Whybray, The Composition of the Book of Proverbs, 27-28, 34, 57. His denial hinges on
his hypothesis regarding the literary history of the ten lectures. The sporadic and uneven
nature of the additions to the lectures, as identified by Whybray, lead him to conclude that the
additions were made to the individual lectures before their redaction into Proverbs 1-9 (The
Composition of the Book of Proverbs, 59). If his reconstruction of the literary history fails, so
does his denial of a pre-existent collection of lectures.
27 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 48-49.
Whybray's complex proposals about the literary history of the lectures has
suffered critique from a variety of perspectives.28 My rhetorical analysis will also
dispute his claims. I will demonstrate that this hypothetical literary history ignores
rhetorical features that attest to the integrity of the lectures as presented in Proverbs 1-
9 (MT). In this vein, my analysis follows Muilenburg's ' critique of the excesses of
form criticism: "there has been a proclivity among scholars in recent years to lay such
stress upon the typical and representative that the individual, personal, and unique
features of the particular pericope are all but lost to view."29
My rhetorical analysis, then, will challenge some of Whybray's form-
critical/redactional conclusions. Nonetheless, the form-critical conclusions of Whybray
and McKane are the foundation of the rhetorical analysis presented in this study.
Although my rhetorical practice differs from that of Muilenburg (see chp. 2), his
assessment of the relationship between form criticism and rhetorical criticism
accurately describes my work: "In a word, then, we affirm the necessity of form
28 On the matter of Yahwistic reinterpretation (espoused by Whybray and McKane), see
Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), 60.68; Roland E. Murphy,
"Wisdom and Yahwism," in No Famine in the Land: Studies in Honor of John L. McKenzie,
ed. J. Flanagan ,and A. Robinson (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1975), 117-26; Roland E.
Murphy, "Wisdom Theses and Hypothesis," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary
Essays in Honor of Samuel J. Terrien, ed. John G. Gammie, Walter A. Brueggemann, W. Lee
Humphreys and James M. Ward (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978), 40-41; M.L. Barre,
"The 'Fear of God' and the World View of Wisdom," BTB 11 (1981): 41-43; Frederick
Wilson, "Sacred and Profane? The Yahwistic Redaction of Proverbs Reconsidered," in The
Listening Heart, ed. K.A. Hoglund (Sheffield: JSOT, 1987), 319-20.
29 James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969): 53.
criticism, but we also lay claim to the legitimacy of what we have called rhetorical
Apart from, but closely related to, form-critical studies, several scholars have
pursued what they call the "tradition history" of Proverbs 1-9. Put simply, does
Proverbs 1-9 originate from, depend on, or allude to Israelite religious traditions or
foreign traditions?31 The form of the question suggests the two common tradition-
historical proposals. On the one hand, numerous scholars have attributed not only the
form but the basic content of Proverbs 1-9 to foreign, especially Egyptian, tradition.
Israelite influence is acknowledged, but regarded as secondary.32 On the other hand,
some scholars place Proverbs 1-9 more directly within Israelite traditions.33 For
example, from what source did the author of the lectures take his terminology (e.g.,
"hear," "do not forget")? Whybray asserts that this terminology was derived from
foreign wisdom instructions: "while there may be biblical reminiscences in a few
cases, the parallels with Amen-em-opet are in general much closer than the biblical
30 Ibid., 18.
31 For many scholars working with Proverbs 1-9 (e.g., Harris and Maier, see below)
"traditio-historical" study includes the identification of citations or allusions from other texts
and "inter-textual" play. Thus, my survey broadens the definition of "traditio-historical
criticism" to accommodate these scholars.
32 The earlier position of Whybray in Wisdom in Proverbs, 33-37.
33 A. Robert, "Les Attaches Litteraires Bibliques de Prov. I-IX," RB 43 (1934): 42-68,
172-204, 374-84; 44 (1935): 344-65, 502-25; Steiert, Die Weisheit Israels, 211-308; the later
position of Whybray in The Composition of the Book of Proverbs, 159-62; Scott L. Harris,
Proverbs 1-9; Maier, Die fremde Frau' in Proverbien 1-9.
parallels.”34 Against this, Robert argues that this terminology was taken from biblical
sources, especially Deuteronomy.35 The resolution of this complex traditio-historical
debate falls outside the boundaries of this survey. If accepted, however, the theses of
some recent traditio-historical investigations do make limited contributions to our
understanding of the rhetoric of the lectures.
The first lecture (1:8-19) is a good example of the potential significance of
traditio-historical or inter-textual links for rhetorical criticism. Scott Harris argues that
this lecture plays upon portions of the Joseph novella of Genesis.36 He establishes this
connection by: 1) utilizing the argument of Sternberg and Bakhtin that direct discourse
may represent another discourse by means of selected words and phrases, and
2) noting the shared lexical features of Proverbs 1:8-19 and Genesis 37.37 According
to Harris, these shared lexical features include nine words or phrases:
1. xvb: "do not go" (Prov 1:10) // "and he (Joseph) went" (Gen 37:14)
2. jlh: "come with us" (Prov 1:11) // "come now" (Gen 37:20)
3. Md:"blood" (Prov 1:11, 16, 18) // "blood" (Gen 37:22, 26, 31)
4. dry: "as those going down (to the pit)" (Prov 1:12) // "I will go down
(to Sheol)" (Gen 37:35)
5. fr: "for evil" (Prov 1:16) // "evil (beast)" (Gen 37:20)
6. Md jpw: "to shed blood" (Prov 1:16) // "shed no blood" (Gen 37:22)
7. tvHrx: "paths" and "ways" (Prov 1:19) // "caravans" (Gen 37:25)
34 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 37.
35 Robert, "Les Attaches Litteraires Bibliques de Prov. I-IX," 43:43-44.
36 Harris, Proverbs 1-9, 33-65.
37 Ibid., 52-61.
8. fcb+ Md: "ill-gotten gain" and "blood" (Prov 1:19) // "ill-gotten gain"
and "blood" (Gen 37:26)
9. wpn: "life" (Prov 1:19) // "life" (Gets 37:21)38
The theory of Bakhtin and Sternberg, coupled with the shared expressions of Proverbs
1:8-19 and Genesis 37, lead Harris to identify Proverbs 1:8-19 as an "inner-biblical
interpretation" of Genesis 37. He concludes that,
The backward glance at events from the Joseph story serves the dual purpose
of fixing the parent's discourse in the realm of scriptural tradition (i.e., Torah)
while at the same time providing an authoritative platform for the future
oriented nature of his/her discourse (i.e., Proverbs).39
In rhetorical terms, the traditio-historical or inter-textual links to Genesis establish the
ethos (i.e., credibility or authority) of the father/rhetor.
The acceptance or rejection of Harris' conclusion of the "inner-biblical
interpretation" of Genesis 37 in Proverbs 1:8-19 depends on one's acceptance of
Bakhtin's hypothesis about the referential and representational characteristics of
double-voiced discourse and Sternberg's claim that direct speech presupposes an
original utterance that serves as a point of orientation for understanding the speech.40
Here, I accept the possibility that Genesis 37 may serve as an object of orientation for
the direct speech of Proverbs 1:8-19, and thus may be of rhetorical significance to the
ethos of the speaker. However, I question the conclusiveness of shared lexical features
which only include common words that occur throughout the Hebrew Bible.
38 Ibid., 52-54.
39 Ibid., 60.
40 See Harris' discussion of Bakhtin and Sternberg (ibid., 46-52).
Similarly, Christi Maier observes numerous anthological references
(anthologischen Bezugnahmen) in Proverbs 1-9 to other biblical books, especially
deuteronomistic texts. For example, according to Maier, the Grundtext of the second
lecture (2:1-4, 9-20) takes up the deuteronomistic concern for "forgetting the covenant"
(2:17) found in Jeremiah 3:21, 13:25, 50:5, and Deuteronomy 4:23, 31, while the later
additions to this Grundtext (2:5-8, 21-22) reflect the deuteronomistic land theology
(2:21-22). The speech of the adulteress in 7:14 (the tenth lecture), is formulated on
the basis of late priestly traditions. And, according to Maier, the ninth lecture (6:20-
35) is a midrashic interpretation of the decalogue and Deuteronomy 6:6-9.41
For Maier, these anthological references prove that Proverbs 1-9 is a scribal
work that could only have been cultivated by people in well educated upper class
circles who were familiar with the written religious traditions of Israel. This
conclusion leads to a second, namely, that Proverbs 1-9 was composed after the
written fixation of the decalogue and deuteronomistic texts. Consequently, Maier
asserts a late post-exilic date for the composition of Proverbs 1-9.
Although she does not consider the rhetorical function of "anthological
references," Maier's observations, if accepted, are rhetorically significant. First, like
Harris, the literary links to the deuteronomistic literature help establish the ethos of the
rhetor. The father's rhetorical authority is not merely positional (relative to the son) or
based on his status (an acknowledged sage), but rooted in the religious traditions of
the community. Second, Maier discloses a major source of the rhetorical topoi found
41 Maier, Die ‘fremde Frau' in Proverbien 1-9, 92-102, 145-166, 185-194, 262.
in the lectures, namely the written religious traditions of Israel (esp. Deuteronomy and
Again, the ambiguities and complexities of the tradition history of Proverb 1-9
require separate study. My rhetorical analysis, however, will incorporate the traditio-
historical, anthological, or inter-textual links proposed by Harris, Maier, Robert, et al.,
insofar as these links impact the rhetoric of the lectures, e.g., the development of the
speaker's ethos and the utilization of accepted traditions to establish the speaker's
Studies of the Women in Proverbs 1-9
Three women or groups of women are present in Proverbs 1-9: woman wisdom
(in the lectures and interludes), the strange/foreign woman (in the lectures only), and
woman folly (in the final interlude only). These women have been the focus of
extensive scholarly attention, especially in recent years.42
Numerous studies have focused on woman wisdom in Proverbs 1-9.43 Four of
the five interludes present a highly developed personification of wisdom. In the first
interlude (1:20-33), wisdom appears as a female prophet. The second interlude (3:13-
42 Because woman folly is not present in the lectures, studies of this figure are omitted in
43 G. Bostrom, Proverbiastudien: Die Weisheit and das Fremde Weib in Spr 1-9 (Lund:
C.W.K. Gleerup, 1935); Claudia Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs,
Bible and Literature Series, vol. 11 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985); Bernhard Lang, Wisdom
and the Book of Proverbs: An Israelite Goddess Redefined (New York: Pilgrim Press., 1986);
Camilla Burns, "The Heroine with a Thousand Faces: Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9,"
Ph.D. diss. (Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1990); Maier, Die fremde Frau' in
Proverbien 1-9; Gerlinde Baumann, Die Weisheitsgestalt in Proverbien 1-9, FAT 16
(Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1996).
20) contains a hymn that praises woman wisdom for her value to humans (3:13-18).
The most developed personification occurs in the fourth interlude (8:1-36). Here,
woman wisdom asserts her familial relationship to God and her existence prior to
creation. In the last interlude. (9:1-18), woman wisdom makes a final appeal to the
simple (9:4-6) and offers advice to the teacher (9:7-12).
In comparison to the personification of wisdom in the interludes, Fox observes
that the personification of wisdom in the lectures “is found in incidental or inchoate
form.”44 Seven lectures refer to hmAk;HA or MkAHA however, only two of these are
clear instances of personification: 1) in 4:5-9, wisdom is a depicted as a woman the
son should prize, embrace, and never forsake; and 2) in 7:4, the son is advised to
make wisdom his bride.45 Consequently, studies of the personification of wisdom
focus on the interludes rather than the lectures and, thus, are of minimal benefit to my
rhetorical analysis of the lectures.
One investigation of woman wisdom that is helpful for the study of the lectures
is the work of Gerlinde Baumann, Die Weisheitsgestalt in Proverbien 1-9. In addition
to her primary analysis of the personification of wisdom in the I-speeches of the
interludes, Baumann also investigates the other occurrences of hmAk;HA and MkAHA in
Proverbs 1-9. She endeavors to understand the meaning of wisdom in these texts and
44 Fox, "Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," 618.
45 Elsewhere in the lectures, hmAk;HA is associated with other abstract terms (2:1-6, 10) or
simply denotes the content of the fathers teaching (4:11, 5:1). MkAHA is used to refer to "the
wise" who will inherit honor (3:35), and to warn the son of the danger of being "wise" in his
own eyes (3:7). See Whybray's analysis (The Book of Proverbs, 71) and the summary by
Baumann (Die Weisheitsgestalt in Proverbien 1-9, 249-51).
its relationship to wisdom in the I-speeches: “Is a personification of hmAk;HA also
presented here, or is the word to be understood in another way?”46 Further, what is
the relationship of wisdom to Yahweh outside the I-speeches: "Was it [the relationship
to Yahweh] carried out boldly or concretely as in the I-speeches, or is it perhaps
Baumann's research leads her to classify the occurrences of "wisdom" outside
the I-speeches in three categories: 1) clear personification (lectures: 4:6,8ff., 7:4;
interludes: 3:16ff., 9:11), 2) uncertain personification (lectures: 2:1f, 4-10, 4:5, 7;
interludes: 3:13-15), and 3) non-personification (lectures 4:10-13, 5:If; interludes: 1:2-
7, 9:10).48 This schema, and especially the study upon which it is built, provides
valuable insights into the rhetorical function and meaning of wisdom in the lectures.
The strange/foreign woman (hrAzA hwA.xi and hyArik;nA) appears in four
lectures (2:16-19, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27).49 While the identity of this alien woman
has been the subject of numerous studies, her identity has been most recently and fully
explored by Christi Maier.50 While I have already noted Maier's concern for traditio-
46 Ibid., 224. My translation of: "Liegt auch hier eine personifizierende Verwendung von
hmAk;HA vor, oder is das Wort in anderer Weise zu verstehen?"
47 Ibid. My translation of: "Wird es starker ausgefuhrt oder konkretisiert als in den Ich-
Reden, oder ist es vielleicht anders akzentuiert?"
48 Ibid., 249.
49 The alien woman also appears to be the basis from which woman folly has been
developed in the final interlude (9:13-18).
50 See the history of research presented by Maier, Die’ fremde Frau' in Proverbien 1-9, 7-
historical issues (see above), the identity of the alien woman is also of crucial
significance to Maier's broader investigation of the social-historical matrix of Proverbs
Through careful exegesis of the four lectures in which the alien woman
appears, Maier maintains that this woman is a literary figure who represents the
various life situations of real women and their positions in the late post-exilic society
of the Persian period.51 Specifically, she identifies three literary-rhetorical roles played
by the alien woman. First, the alien woman is a type of the adulteress. Thus, the
rhetorical concern of Proverbs 1-9 is not mixed marriage or cultic infidelity but the
adulteress as an "outsider" within the community.52 Second, the alien woman is a
contrasting figure to woman wisdom. In this respect, the alien woman is described in
both immanent terms reflective of the real life situations of women, and in
transcendent or symbolic terms. This use of metaphor combines symbolic and real
life.53 Third, the alien woman is a parallel figure to the wicked men (cf. 1:10b-14 and
7:14-20). She, like the men, is a social outsider who threatens communal norms and
well-being.54 According to Maier, the forcefulness and the repetition of the warnings
against the alien woman demonstrate the relevance of the (real) problem(s) caused by
her. Whereas historical concerns are secondary to my study, Maier's insights provide
51 Ibid., 253, 264-68.
52 Ibid., 254-55.
53 Ibid., 256-58.
54 Ibid., 258-59.
significant data for understanding the rhetorical situations and problems confronted in
Thus, to recapitulate, while recent scholars have made significant contributions
to our understanding of the historical, social, and theological dimensions of the women
in Proverbs 1-9, most of these studies, due to the nature of the text and the specific
foci of the scholars, are of tertiary concern to rhetorical analysis of the lectures. There
are, however, two notable exceptions. First, because Baumann includes the lectures in
her investigation of the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 1-9, she touches on an
important issue for this study, namely, the meaning and significance of wisdom in the
lectures. Second, because the alien woman is a feature of the lectures, Maier's
investigation of this woman's literary-rhetorical roles is of great interest to this study.
Consequently, my analysis will glean important insights from both Baumann and
Maier as I consider the rhetorical function of wisdom and the alien woman in the
Literary Critical Studies
Many scholars consider literary analysis and rhetorical criticism to be
synonymous. Indeed, some rhetorical methods are indistinguishable from literary
criticism and, by any definition, literary and rhetorical analysis are closely allied.
Both offer synchronic analysis of the present text (MT), and both practice "close"
reading. The primary difference between my practice of rhetorical analysis and
literary study is my concentrated focus on suasion and the use of conceptual
terminology from classical Western rhetorical theory as a heuristic device for
understanding the text (see chp. 2). However, because these differences are mitigated
by similar interests, various literary analyses of Proverbs 1-9 are of special interest and
benefit to this study.
Bernhard Lang was the first to contribute a monograph that focused exclusively
on the ten lectures: Die Weisheitliche Lehrrede. Eine Untersuchung von Spruche 1-7.55
In this study, Lang utilized literary-critical methodology in order to establish the date
(pre-exilic) and social setting (family education) of the lectures: He also explored
three exegetische Grundfragen in the lectures: 1) the relationship of action and
consequence (7:1-7, 1:15-19); 2) their teaching about piety (3:21-26, 2:1-11, 3:32-35)
and religion (3:5-12); and 3) their teaching about the foreign woman (2:16-19, 5:1-14,
In this survey, the results of Lang's exegesis are of secondary interest to the
method he espouses. The conclusions of McKane, Whybray, et al., regarding the
influence of Egyptian wisdom on Proverbs 1-9 (see above), are of fundamental
importance to Lang. However, Lang contends, beyond these scholars, that not only is
the individual instruction form in Proverbs 1-9 similar to the Egyptian instruction
form, but the collection of Proverbs 1-9 as a whole is similar to Egyptian instruction
texts or collections.56 Proverbs 1-9, like its Egyptian counterparts, is a loose,
55 Lang has published numerous other works on Proverbs 1-9 and related topics: Frau
Weisheit (Dusseldorf: Patmos, 1975); "Schule un Unterricht im Alten Israel," BETL 51 (1979):
186-201; "Klugheit als Ethos and Weisheit als Beruf: Zur Lebenslehre im Alten Testament," in
Weisheit. Archaologie der Literarischen Kommunikation III, ed. Aleida Assman (Munich,
1991), 177-92; Wisdom and the Book of Proverbs; "Figure Ancienne, Figure Nouvelle de la
Sagesse en Pr 1 A 9," LD 160 (1995): 61-97.
56 Lang, Die Weisheitliche Lehrrede, 100.
unorganized collection of school literature that lacks any plan, unity, or content
development. Based on this observation, Lang vindicates his isolation of the ten
lectures for study outside the literary context of Proverbs 1-9.57 In other words,
because of the kompilatorische Charakter of the collection, any attempt to study the
lectures as integral parts of a unified composition is futile.
Lang's extreme conclusion about the literary fragmentation of Proverbs 1-9 has
been challenged by other critics (e.g., Burns and Overland; see below). Rhetorical
analysis of the lectures may also modify Lang's claim by contributing to our
understanding of the redactional strategy of the editor[s]. Nonetheless, an approach
similar to Lang's is adopted in this study. Here, because of their common features
(form) and their foundational role in the development of Proverbs 1-9,58 the lectures
are isolated from the interludes for independent exegesis. This segregation is more of
a heuristic device than a commentary on the literary unity of Proverbs 1-9. This move
is designed to provide clearer insight into the common and unique rhetorical features
of the lectures, insights which may contribute to our understanding of the unity of
57 Ibid., 28-29, 100.
58 See Fox, “Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9, 613-633.
Against Lang, Camilla Burns' chief concern is the literary unity of Proverbs 1-
9. In order to demonstrate this unity, Burns utilizes stylistic analysis59 and the Hero
Journey as described by Joseph Campbell.60 She argues that,
personified wisdom or the Wisdom Woman is a mythic symbol of the heroine
who makes the archetypal journey and also issues an invitation to others to
follow the journey of wisdom. The elements of the journey which fit into the
pattern of the monomyth give a new means of expressing the unity of Prov 1-
According to Burns, two fundamental facts support her reading: 1) woman wisdom is a
mythic figure, and 2) the journey (way) is a dominant theme in Proverbs 1-9.62
Paul Overland, like Burns, also pursues a literary interest in the unity or
"cohesiveness" of Proverbs 1-9, although he does so by employing the methods of
59 Burns' "stylistic analysis" ("The Heroine with a Thousand Faces," 36-44) is an amalgam
of James Muilenburg's rhetorical method and the poetics of Robert Alter.
60 Burns, "The Heroine with a Thousand Faces," 4-6.
61 Ibid., 6.
62 Ibid., 7. See also, Norman C. Habel, "The Symbolism of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," Int
26 (1972): 131-57.
Burns provides a unique literary perspective on Proverbs 1-9. Her analysis, however,
is of limited benefit for rhetorical study of the ten lectures. Burns' interpretive concern is for
woman wisdom and her literary role in unifying Proverbs 1-9. As stated above, the
personification of wisdom is primarily a feature of the interludes, not the lectures. Burns also
favors a thematic division of the material based on the schematics of Joseph Campbell's Hero
Journey rather than division based on formal or rhetorical criteria. For example, she outlines
1:8-2:22 (94-114) in the following way:
The Call to Adventure (1:8-19, 20-33; 2:1-4)
Supernatural Aid (2:5-11)
The Crossing of the First Threshold (2:12-22)
This division unites the first lecture (1:8-19), the first interlude (1:20-33), and the proposition
of the second lecture (2:1-4), while dividing the second lecture (2:1-22). Thus, her literary
analysis pursues different interests and proceeds in a different direction than this dissertation.
New Criticism and Structuralism.63 Overland is primarily concerned to identify literary
devices responsible for the framing and coherence of the text, and to demonstrate how
selected "units inter-connect to form a unified text.”64 He achieves this goal by
establishing a catalog of macro- and micro-structural devices that occur in Proverbs 1-
9,65 and offering meticulous analysis of five texts (1:1-7, 1:8-19, 1:20-33, 2:1-22, 3:13-
63 Paul B. Overland, "Literary Structure in Proverbs 1-9," Ph.D. diss. (Brandeis University,
64 Ibid., 44-45.
65 Overland (Ibid., 71-97) identifies numerous macro-structural framing and coherence
devices. Macro-structural framing devices include: opening devices (the vocative ynb, dual-
theme verses, repetition, and dense clustering of key terms), closing devices (use of Nk,
character summaries, dense repetition of key terms, chiasm, and climatic text-terminal usage of
lk), and opening & closing devices (inclusio & palistrophe, and transitional devices). Macro-
structural coherence devices include dynamic ("a series of words or ideas which form a logical
progression," 85) and metaphoric devices ("words which are related but which do not indicate
any progression," 85).
He also identifies several micro-structural framing and coherence devices (98-140).
Micro-structural framing devices include: opening devices (introductory dual-theme verses and
line-initial lexical markers [e.g., ytm-df, hnh, Mg, zx, yk tHt, and non-consecutive r-v]),
closing devices (climatic use of lk, dual-theme verse conclusion, hendiadys that produces a
climax, rhetorical questions, line-initial Nk lf, and various combinations of formal features
and content that create a sense of conclusion), and opening & closing devices (palistrophes,
inclusios [based on related terms, line-extremities, synonymous word pairs, assonance, and
repeated terms], and transitions [repetition of key terms, dual-theme verse transitions,
antecedent referents, repetition of content, development of content, and use of allusion]).
Micro-structural coherence devices include: dynamic coherence devices (imperative + motive,
series of terms that denote various progressions [e.g., passivity to activity, intensification,
general to specific, tangible to intangible], the law of increasing members, accusation +
reform, form based transpositions, directional motion, dynamic reversals, chronological
organization, description + implication), and metaphoric coherence devices (antithetical word
pairs, grammatical unity of person, affirmative/negative patterning, repetition of terms or
related terms, grammatical unity of tense, patterning of imperatives, jussives and rhetorical
questions, and assonance).
Overland's work offers two contributions to the rhetorical analysis of the
lectures. First, many of the structural devices that Overland identifies in Proverbs 1-9
also function as rhetorical devices.66 Indeed, Overland acknowledges this connection.
Inquiry concerning rhetoric can be instructive since it may be able to explain
why certain structures were employed. Did elaborate structures serve simply to
adorn the composition, or did they contain an inherent power to nuance
transmission of the message in a predictable manner? In order to discern
whether a structure may have impelled a pupil toward a persuasive goal,
various aspects about the structure may be considered. Does it escalate or
diminish the sense of tension in the text? Does it advance the argument
significantly? Is it instrumental for introducing a key thought into the
discourse? While this last concept (introduction of a major thought) appears
purely stylistic, it may contain rhetorical ramifications when the persuasive
effectiveness of a composition depends on the addition of a new thought.67
Despite this acute insight, Overland's rhetorical observations are minimal and only
offered in support of his avowed purpose, namely, explaining the function of some
structural features in Proverbs 1-9. Nonetheless, his connection of structure and
rhetoric is noteworthy. This study will draw from Overland's observations, but reverse
the dominant concern from structure to rhetoric and expand this focus to all ten
Overland's second contribution to the rhetorical analysis of the lectures is his
selection of two lectures (1:8-19 and 2:1-22) and part of a third (3:21-26) for in-depth
structural analysis. These analyses will be consulted in the rhetorical exegeses of
these texts. Here, his selections warrant two observations. First, from a rhetorical
66 For example, the dense clustering of key terms in the closing verse of a textual unit,
character summaries, and the climatic text-terminal use of lk are rhetorical devices for
67 Overland, "Literary Structure in Proverbs 1-9," 145-46.
point of view, Overland's selection of texts is objectionable. Although his criteria for
selection includes “the need for variety,”68 he fails to discern the rhetorical variety in
the lectures. Consequently his selection of texts includes two rhetorically similar
lectures and no representative from other rhetorical types (see chp. 3). Second,
Overland's delimitation of 3:13-26 as a textual unit is problematic. Although he uses
form-critical arguments to disassociate 1:7 from 1:8-19, he rejects the same form-
critical arguments to unite 3:13-26.69 Here, he combines a hymn to wisdom (3:13-18),
a theological appendix to the hymn (3:19-20), and the proposition of the fourth lecture
(3:21-26, while excising the body of this lecture [3:27-35]), into “an entire text.”70
This irregular use of form criticism denotes a weakness in Overland's method, namely,
the danger of inconsistently applying "certain criteria for recognizing unity and
division.”71 More specifically, microscopic attention to structural detail may fail to see
the independence of larger literary or rhetorical units. Despite these objections, the
detail of Overland's structural analysis of the text and the breadth of his catalog of
structural (rhetorical) devices makes his study an valuable aid for any serious literary
or rhetorical study of Proverbs 1-9.
68 Ibid., 142.
69 Overland (ibid., 105) identifies 1:7 as the final verse of the unit 1:2-6 for three reasons:
1) the line-initial ynb fmw in 1:8 denotes a new unit, 2) the shift from the indicative mood in
verse 7 to the imperative in verse 8, and 3) verses 8-9 fit together as an imperative followed
by a yk explanatory clause. All of these observations are also true of the disjunction between
3:13-20 and 3:21-35.
70 Ibid., 86, 10-13.
71 Although Overland (Ibid., 12) makes this statement in reference to the form-critical work
of Whybray, it is equally true of his own method.
Another literary study that includes consideration of the rhetoric of Proverbs 1-
9 is the recent monograph by Daniel J. Estes. Hear, My Son: Teaching & Learning in
Proverbs 1-9.72 As indicated by the title, this work "endeavors to synthesize the
unorganized data from a portion of the book of Proverbs into a more systematic
statement of the pedagogical theory that underlies its teachings."73 Estes organizes this
data into seven categories: the world view of Proverbs 1-9, values for education, goals,
curriculum, the process of instruction, the role of the teacher, and the role of the
While each of Estes' categories supplies helpful information for rhetorical
analysis of the lectures, his discussion of the process of instruction is especially
noteworthy. Estes acknowledges that "the process of instruction" is "the rhetoric of
pedagogy.”74 Thus, his analysis of the process of instruction is, in fact, an
investigation of the diverse rhetorical forms in Proverbs 1-9. In this analysis, he
identifies nine distinct rhetorical strategies.75 Five of these strategies, however, he
limits to the interludes: address, description, condition with command, incentive, and
invitation. Only four of Estes' categories feature the lectures: command with reasons,
command with reasons and illustrations, command with consequences, and command
with rhetorical questions. His rhetorical analysis of the lectures lacks detailed
72 D. Estes, Hear My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1-9, New Studies in Biblical
Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).
73 Ibid., 13.
74 Ibid., 104.
75 Ibid., 101-24.
attention to the nuances of the rhetoric; nonetheless, it provides a prelude for the type
of analysis carried out in this dissertation.
In addition to his direct concern for the logos of the rhetoric, Estes considers
what he calls the “role of the teacher.”76 In rhetorical terms, analysis of the teacher's
role, as well as discussion of the “curriculum for education,”77 includes the
development of the rhetor's ethos (credibility or right to be heard). For example, Estes
claims that three sources are utilized by the sage of Proverbs 1-9: 1) personal
observation, 2) tradition from Israel and other ancient Near Eastern cultures, and 3)
revelation from God. As I mentioned in regard to traditio-historical study (see above),
the second and third sources are significant factors in the development of the sage's
ethos or authority. Indeed, Estes comments that the sage “does not speak by personal
authority alone, but he is also the voice of the received tradition that transcends
him.”78 Thus, the sage “is qualified to speak because of his expert status as a
knowledgeable and reliable transmitter of tradition.”79 Similarly, the claim of
information via revelation asserts a strong warrant to authority and the right to be
The similar interests and practices of literary and rhetorical analysis make the
literary studies of Lang, Burns, Overland, and Estes natural conversation partners in
76 Ibid., 125-34.
77 Ibid., 87-99.
78 Ibid., 92.
79 Ibid., 126.
the ensuing rhetorical exegesis. Thus, each of these scholars, now introduced, will
return to the stage at a later point. Moreover, the works of Overland and Estes serve
as excellent introductions to the rhetorical issues pursued in this dissertation, namely,
the ethos, pathos, and logos of the ten lectures. These overtures lead us to the final
category of this survey, namely, studies with primary interest in the rhetoric of
Interpretations of Proverbs 1-9 with dominant rhetorical interests, which include
the lectures, are uncommon and limited in scope.80 In addition to the literary studies
of Overland and Estes, numerous articles and essays have made passing reference to
the rhetoric of these chapters.81 However, four essays comprise the totality of focused
rhetorical study of Proverbs 1-9 in the twentieth century.82
80 A few studies, not considered here, utilize the "rhetorical criticism" of James Muilenburg
(see chp. 2) and focus exclusively on the interludes: Phyllis Trible, 'Wisdom Builds a Poem:
The Architecture of Proverbs 1:20-33," JBL 94 (1975): 509-18; Matirice Gilbert, "Le Discours
de la Sagesse en Proverbes 8. Structure et Coherence," BETL 51 (1979): 202-218; and Duck
Woo Nam, "A Rhetorical-Critical Study of the Speeches of Wisdom, in Proverbs 1-9," M.Th.
thesis (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994).
81 E.g., Michael V. Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," JBL 113 (1994): 233-43; and
"Ideas of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," 613-633.
82 Rhetorical study of Proverbs, outside chapters 1-9, has fared somewhat better. See Philip
Johannes Nel, The Structure and Ethos of the Wisdom Admonitions in Proverbs, BZAW, vol.
158 (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1982); Jutta Krispenz, Spruchkompositionen im Buch
Proverbia, Europaische Hochschulschriften, vol. 349 (Frankfurt: P. Lang, 1989); Dave
Lawrence Bland, "A Rhetorical Perspective on the Sentence Sayings of the Book of Proverbs,"
Ph.D. diss. (University of Washington, 1994); Roland Meynet, "'Pour Comprendre Proverbe et
Enigme' Analyse Rhetorique de Proverbs 1:1-7; 10:1-5; 26:1-12," in Ouvrir les Ecritures, ed.
Pietro Bovati (Paris: Cerf, 1995), 97-118.
The first and most significant of these essays is by J.N. Aletti, “Seduction et
Parole en Proverbes I-IX.”83 In this seminal essay, Aletti proposed that what seduces
the young man in Proverbs 1-9 above anything else are the speeches of the strange
woman. For example, in chapter 7, the young man is not seduced by the perfume,
rare fabric, or the absence of the woman's husband. Rather, he is made aware of these
things by the woman's speech and he follows her because of the persuasiveness of her
speech.84 Thus, the objective of Aletti's essay is to understand how the seductive
speeches in Proverbs 1-9 work.
In order to discern the mechanism of the seductive rhetoric, Aletti compares the
first speech of wisdom (1:22-33) to the speeches of the strange woman (7:14-20) and
the wicked men (1:11-14). He draws two conclusions from this comparison. First, the
speeches of the strange woman and wicked men seduce by utilizing and confusing the
vocabulary of the father and woman wisdom. The seduction operates by inverting the
rhetoric of the opposition. Aletti writes,
Does not the greatest seduction consist of inviting to do evil with the same
words (almost) that appeal to good? The malicious speak to the inexperienced:
"we will fill (xlm) our houses with booty" (1:13), and the sage affirms in the
same way: "I endow wealth on those who love me and I fill (xlm) their
treasures" (8:21). "Rejoice in the wife of your youth . . . may you (Mydd) be
intoxicated (hvr) by her at all times," says the teacher (5:19), and as an echo,
the adulteress repeats: "Come let us take our fill of love (Mydd: a clear allusion
to 5:19) until morning" (7:18). The clearest example, because of stylistic
83 J.N. Aletti, "Seduction et Parole en Proverbes I-IX," VT 27 (1977): 129-44.
84 Ibid., 129-130.
marks, is found in Proverbs 9 where dame Wisdom and dame Folly both say:
"You who are inexperienced turn in here!" (9:4,15).85
Aletti observes numerous instances of such brouillage axiologique in the speeches of
the wicked men, the strange woman, and woman folly. These opponents invite the
young man to participate in illicit behavior with the same words used by the sage to
appeal to good character. Thus, their speeches seduce by numbing and confusing the
young man's capacity to discern.
Second, the speeches of the strange woman and the wicked men seduce by
contradicting the sage's assertion of consequences. Seduction is not achieved by
justifying the illicit action or extolling the object of pleasure, but by a counter-
evaluation of the consequences.86 For example, the adulteress persuades the young
man that the consequences of adultery affirmed by the sage (5:25-35) can and will be
avoided: her husband is far away and will not return until the full moon (7:19-20).
Similarly, the wicked men attempt to persuade the young man that happiness and
prosperity may be found without following the way of the sages (1:13-14). Thus, the
mechanism of seduction consists of divorcing socially accepted consequences from
85 Ibid., 133 (my translation).
la [sic] plus grande seduction ne consiste-t-elle pas a inviter au mal avec (preque) les
memes paroles que celui qui appelle au bien? Les mechants disent a l'inexperimente
(1:13): "nous emplirons (ml') nos maisons de butin", et la sagesse affirme de la
meme facon (viii 21): "je procure des ressources a ceux qui m'aiment et je remplis
(ml') leurs coffres". "Jouis de la femme de to jeunesse . . . que ses seins (ddym)
t'enivrent (rwh) tout le temps" dit le maitre (v 19), et, comme en echo, la femme
adultere repete: "viens! enivrons-nous (rwh) de voupte (ddymn; allusion evidente a
v 19) jusqu'au matin" (vii 18). L'exemple le plus net, parce que stylistiquement
marque, se trouve en Prov. ix ou dame Sagesse et dame Insensee disent l’une et
1'autre: "que celui qui est inexperimente se detourne par ici! (versets 4 et 15).
86 Ibid., 134.
their socially condemned behaviors. Aletti observed that this means of seduction
threatens to destroy the values on which the community relies for existence.87
Aletti's insights were taken up by two essays published in 1989. In the first,
Gale Yee built on Aletti's thesis that what seduces the young man are the speeches of
the strange woman.88 While Aletti focused on the mechanics or rhetoric of individual
speeches, Yee explored the arrangement of the speeches in Proverbs 1-9. She
proposed that these speeches were arranged in chiastic patterns in order to highlight
the virtues of woman wisdom and to expose the risks of the foreign woman.89
Yee's study combined literary concern for the unity of Proverbs 1-9 with keen
sensitivity to matters of rhetoric. In addition to uncovering more examples of Aletti's
brouillage axiologique, she detected, even more than Aletti, the incredible importance
that speech (rhetoric) plays in these chapters. For example, Yee pointed out that part
of the heuristic method of the writer of Proverbs 1-9 included the citation of speeches
by various persons. Within the instructional framework of the father's speeches, the
writer cites speeches by sinners, woman wisdom, the father's father, the son, the
strange woman and woman folly.90 Further, the father's warnings against the strange
woman consistently emphasize the irresistible seductiveness of her speech. It is the
87 Ibid., 140-142.
88 Gale A. Yee, "'I Have Perfumed My Bed with Myrrh': The Foreign Woman in Proverbs
1-9," JSOT 43 (1989): 53-68.
89 Ibid., 53.
90 Ibid., 55.
concern of the father.91 In other words, these chapters document a war of words and
this rhetorical battle for the allegiance of the son provides the essence of Proverbs 1-9.
In another essay published in 1989, Carol Newsom reiterated the preoccupation
of Proverbs 1-9 with speech about speech, or, to use her terminology, discourse about
discourse.92 To be sure, Newsom does not adhere to a rhetorical method in her study.
Rather, she combines insights from the linguistic theory of Emile Benveniste, feminist
criticism, and discourse analysis to investigate the symbolic structure of Proverbs 1-9.
The significance of Newsom's study for rhetoric is that her discourse analysis
discloses the rhetorical subtlety of the lectures, a subtlety largely overlooked by Aletti
and Yee. For example, Newsom summarizes the theme of the first lecture as: "how to
resist interpellation by a rival discourse.”93 She notes that the speech of the sinners is
completely controlled by the father and shaped in such a way that their invitation to
the son can scarcely be taken at face value. In other words, the son is not being
warned about adopting a career as a murderous bandit. The rhetoric operates more
subtly. The invitation of the brigands is a metaphor for illicit economic activity,
confirmed by verse 19: "such are the ways of all who cut a big profit.”94 Newsom
further asserts that the real problem addressed in this lecture is a challenge to the
91 Ibid., 61, 65-66.
92 Carol A. Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom: A Study of
Proverbs 1-9," in Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, ed. Peggy, L. Day (Minneapolis:
Fortress, 1989), 142-60.
93 Ibid., 144.
94 Ibid., 145.
vertical structure of authority (espoused by the father) by a horizontal structure based
on common enterprise and immediate access to wealth (espoused by the sinners).
Lurking beneath the surface is a generational chasm.
Four years after Aletti's initial foray into the rhetoric of Proverbs 1-9, James
Crenshaw issued an appeal for further study of the rhetorical techniques found in
Israel's wisdom literature.95 At the time, Crenshaw was responding to George
Kennedy's assertion that rhetorical consciousness was entirely foreign to the nature of
biblical literature. Specifically, Kennedy proposed that the biblical claim to speak
with divine authority excluded the need for rhetoric or the practice of persuasion.96 In
order to challenge Kennedy's claim, Crenshaw offered a brief rhetorical analysis of
texts from Israel's wisdom literature, including Proverbs 1-9.
In his analysis of Proverbs 1-9, Crenshaw challenged what he perceived to be
another misconception among biblical scholars (e.g., Zimmerli), namely, the absolute
authority of the instruction form and the advisory character of the sentence proverb.
He demonstrated that
a peculiar irony persists: precisely where authority is most lacking, i.e., in
instructions, critics assume its pervading presence, and in sentences, which
compel assent without the slightest reinforcement, interpreters emphasize their
95 James Crenshaw, "Wisdom and Authority: Sapiential Rhetoric and Its Warrants,"
Congress Volume, VTSup 32 (1981): 10-29.
96 George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from
Ancient to Modern Times (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 120.
Kennedy has modified his position since 1980 (see chp. 2).
97 Crenshaw, "Wisdom and Authority," 16.
Crenshaw established his position by pointing out the use of sentence proverbs to
establish the authority (or validity) of four “instructions.”98 In these instructions, the
proverbs are the heart of the sage's rhetorical argument. Thus, in a single stroke,
Crenshaw demonstrated the careful rhetorical construction of the instructions (against
Kennedy) and challenged the scholarly consensus that the sentence proverbs were
inherently less authoritative than the instructions.99
To summarize, the studies of Aletti, Yee, and Newsom are of fundamental
significance to this dissertation. These scholars have demonstrated both the
importance of rhetoric within Proverbs 1-9 and the potential of utilizing rhetorical
analysis in the interpretation of these chapters. They have also shown that the lectures
of Proverbs 1-9 are not crass speeches that simply repeat the same appeals ad
infinitum. Rather, the lectures of Proverbs 1-9 exhibit marks of careful, self-conscious,
and subtle rhetorical thought.
Crenshaw's essay, beyond the specifics of his rhetorical exegesis, also has
special significance to this study. First, Crenshaw directly relates his work to the
rhetorical studies of George Kennedy. Although he argues against Kennedy,
98 Crenshaw's four "instructions" include two lectures (1:6[sic]-19, 6:20-35) and two
interludes (6:6-11, 9:1-18).
99 In addition to his comments regarding Proverbs 1-9, Crenshaw ("Wisdom and Authority,"
17-28) utilized the concepts and terminology of classical Western rhetorical theory to explore
Job and I Esdras 3:1-5:3. Regarding Job, he concentrated on the rhetorical development of
ethos (the speaker's claim to authority), pathos (the ways a speaker sways belief or moves an
audience to action), and logos (the logic of the speech itself). In his study of I Esdras,
Crenshaw focused on basic rhetorical devices (choice of material, arrangement, vocabulary,
and style), and the combination of these devices to produce a persuasive speech.
Kennedy's theoretical work in classical Western rhetoric greatly informs Crenshaw's
practice of rhetorical analysis. Similarly, this study builds on studies by Kennedy (see
chp. 2). Second, Crenshaw concludes his essay with the following claim:
Similar forays into other wisdom texts, which I hope to make in the near
future, should reveal extensive mastery of rhetorical technique even where the
hand of authority weighs heavily upon the material. In a word, Israel's teachers
spoke with authority, but they also developed and refined persuasion to an
This dissertation may be viewed as a response to Crenshaw's challenge: to reveal the
mastery of rhetorical technique in the lectures of Proverbs 1-9 and, thus, demonstrate
how Israel's sages developed and refined persuasion to a fine art.
This survey has attempted to situate my rhetorical analysis of the ten lectures
within recent scholarly work on Proverbs 1-9 and to introduce key studies that will
reappear throughout this dissertation. While acknowledging the merits and
contributions of each of the methods and foci discussed, my rhetorical analysis is most
closely allied to form and literary critical methods. Traditio-historical studies and
studies of the women in Proverbs 1-9 are also partners, but most frequently, silent
partners to rhetorical analysis.
As in other biblical studies, one may also perceive in this survey an evolution
from concentrated diachronic, to synchronic analysis, to an emerging concern for the
100 Ibid., 29. To date, Crenshaw has not yet published additional rhetorical studies of
Israel's wisdom literature. See, however, his forthcoming monograph: Education in Ancient
Israel: Across the Deadening Silence (Doubleday, Forthcoming).
rhetorical features of Proverbs 1-9. It is the goal of this dissertation to continue this
line of development by filling a major lacuna observed in this survey, namely, a
systematic rhetorical analysis of the ten lectures.
AND BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
Rhetorical criticism, as a methodological description, is rife with problematic
ambiguity. The definition, theory, and practice of rhetoric has been debated from its
inception in ancient Greece to modern times. Its history is one of constant change,
adaptation, and redefinition. Consequently, rhetorical analysis in biblical exegesis is
not a unified or single method. Rather, late twentieth century biblical interpretation is
the beneficiary of several diverse practices of rhetorical criticism, each with legitimate
roots in the history of rhetoric.
In this chapter I will define the rhetorical method to be used in this
dissertation. To begin, because my method builds on ancient rhetorical foundations, it
will be helpful to preface the definition of my rhetorical method with a brief survey of
the emergence of rhetoric in the ancient West. Next, I will review the use of
rhetorical criticism in biblical studies. This review will include an historical survey of
the use of rhetoric and an examination of four contemporary rhetorical methods in
biblical interpretation. Each of these methods raises important theoretical questions,
e.g., the definition of rhetorical criticism. Thus, in addition to a description of each
method, I will address the theoretical questions they raise and so begin to articulate the
underpinnings of my own method. Finally, I will present a programmatic statement of
the rhetorical method to be used in my analysis of the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9.1
A Brief Survey of the
Emergence of Rhetoric in the Ancient West
Although this dissertation is a rhetorical analysis of an ancient non-Western
text (Prov 1-9), consideration of rhetoric in the ancient West is a necessary starting
point. On the one hand, presently, there is no comprehensive analysis of ancient
Israelite rhetorical theory or practice.2 On the other hand, no other ancient society
conceptualized their rhetorical practices to the degree of the rhetors of ancient Greece
and Rome.3 Thus, while limited by different cultural conditions (see below), ancient
Western rhetorical theory contributes essential conceptual terminology for identifying
and discussing the rhetorical features of non-Western texts and, hence, the ten lectures
in Proverbs 1-9.
The origins of ancient Western rhetorical theory may be traced to the Homeric
traditions of the 10th – 11th centuries BCE. However, most scholars attribute the rise of
1 The method I espouse here would also be useful for the study of the speeches by woman
Wisdom (1:20-33, 8:1-36, 9:1-12). Although rhetorical analysis need not be limited to texts
that present themselves as speeches (e.g., 3:13-20 and 6:1-19), the method developed in this
dissertation especially focuses on rhetorical criticism as it applies to the analysis of speeches.
2 Some partial analyses are beginning to appear. See Ronald C. Katz, The Structure of
Ancient Arguments: Rhetoric and Its Near Eastern Origin (New York: Shapolsky/Steinmatzky,
1977); Isaac Rabinowitz, "Pre-Modern Jewish Study of Rhetoric: An Introductory
Bibliography," Rhetorica 3 (1985): 137-144; and Margaret D. Zulick, "The Active Force of
Hearing: The Ancient Hebrew Language of Persuasion," Rhetorica 10 (1992): 367-380.
3 See George A. Kennedy, Comparative Rhetoric: An Historical and Cross-Cultural
Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 5.
rhetoric, as a discrete discourse, to writers in the 5th - 6th centuries BCE. It is not
possible here, because of the compass of this history, to present even an outline of the
emergence of rhetorical theory in the ancient West.4 Rather, drawing from the
histories of this era written by Thomas Conley5 and George Kennedy,6 I will introduce
the reader to the questions addressed by ancient rhetorical theory and the diverse
answers that the rhetors of the ancient West gave to these questions. Here, in addition
to its contribution of conceptual terminology, ancient Western rhetoric will make a
second donation to this dissertation, namely that, as Conley points out, both the
questions addressed by rhetoric and the diverse answers are the same today as twenty-
five centuries ago.7
Rhetorical theory addresses the nature and function of persuasive discourse. Is
there an absolute Truth or authority to which a rhetor can appeal? If so, what are the
source(s) of this Truth? If not, what is the basis of human action? What is the role of
the rhetor? Is the rhetor to persuade the audience to accept Truth, his/her opinion, or
to present all possible sides of an issue and work with the audience to achieve a
consensus? If the task of the rhetor is to persuade, what are the most effective
4 The bibliography on ancient Western rhetoric is immense. See Richard Leo Enos, "The
Classical Period," in The Present State of Scholarship in Historical and Contemporary
Rhetoric, ed. Winifred Bryan Homer (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983), 10-39.
5 Thomas M. Conley, Rhetoric in The European Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago
6 George A. Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1963); and Classical Rhetoric, 3-85.
7 Conley, Rhetoric, 24.
methods of persuasion? These are some of the questions addressed by rhetorical
theorists in the ancient West and rhetoricians in contemporary biblical studies.
In the ancient West, there were, according to Conley, four distinct models of
rhetoric, each with "its own fundamental commitments and each with its own view of
the nature and ends of rhetoric."8 The first two models, Protagorean and Gorgianic,
may be characterized as "Sophistic" because of their stance against the absolute nature
of truth. The third, Platonic, challenged the Sophistic view of truth and its
corresponding theory of rhetoric. And the fourth model, Aristotelian, questioned
elements of both Sophistic and Platonic rhetoric.
Protagoras (c. 490-400 BCE) may be loosely described as an ancient
postmodern.9 According to Protagoras, absolute Truth was inaccessible to humans and
perhaps even nonexistent. All matters of "truth" are contestable. Thus, disputes must
be resolved by "antilogic," the rhetorical method of examining both sides of the
question or issue, without appeal to absolute standards of Truths traditional standards
of behavior, or universal principles. In this system, "man is the measure and measurer
of all things.”10 Consequently, the role of the rhetor and rhetoric in society is of
paramount importance. The rhetor must present both sides of an argument clearly and
8 Conley, Rhetoric, 23.
9 Kennedy's description of the Sophistry associated with Protagoras and Gorgias in ancient
Greece (Comparative Rhetoric, 225) aptly describes many postmoderns: "[Sophistry] was
characterized by celebration of power and speech, philosophical relativism or skepticism,
questioning traditional beliefs of the society; fascination with an apparent ability to
demonstrate a paradox or prove two sides of an issue; and an interest in the nature of language
and linguistic experimentation."
10 Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece, 13.
persuasively for the audience to reach an intelligent decision (doxa) on a course of
action. For Protagoras, it is this human opinion (doxa), not absolute Truth, that is the
only basis for action.
Gorgias (c. 480-375 BCE), like Protagoras, rejected the authority of tradition
and the idea of absolute Truth. He also asserted that the only basis of action is
opinion (doxa). His philosophical relativism is exhibited in his famous thesis that
"nothing exists, if it did it could not be apprehended, and if it could be apprehended,
that apprehension could not be communicated.”11 However, Gorgias understood the
role of the rhetor differently than Protagoras. While Protagoras viewed rhetoric as a
presentation of both sides of an issue by an active rhetor to an active audience, who
must decide the issue, Gorgias viewed rhetoric as the skillful presentation of an active
rhetor who casts a spell over a passive audience in order to persuade it to adopt the
position (doxa) of the rhetor.
Contemporaries of Protagoras and Gorgias heavily criticized their teaching of
Sophistic rhetorics. Like contemporary critics of postmodernism, many Greeks viewed
the rejection of absolute Truth and the authority of tradition as a direct threat to the
fabric of society. For example, Aristophanes accused Protagoras of teaching his
students "how to make the worse case appear the better,”12 and Plato accused Gorgias
11 Summarized by Kennedy (The Art of Persuasion in Greece, 14) from Gorgias' On the
Nonexistent, or On Nature.
12 Summarized by Conley (Rhetoric, 6) from Aristophanes The Clouds, 112f. (Unless
otherwise noted, all references to Classical Texts utilize the reference system of the Loeb
of "putting a knife in the hands of a madman in the crowd."13 Conley sums up the
the reliance of both on doxa alone deprives them of any objective criterion by
which to distinguish between what is true or false or between what is right or
wrong. Protagorean debate, in other words, could easily, degenerate to a
dialogue between two equally ignorant and misguided parties, and Gorgianic
persuasion could easily become a cynical exercise in manipulation by one who
had mastered the techniques of charming one's listeners.14
It must be mentioned, in defense of Sophistic rhetoric, that Isocrates, another Sophist,
emphasized the importance of the rhetor being a good person who is actively involved
in promoting the welfare of the community. Nonetheless, for many, the Sophistic
rejection of Truth and traditional authority marked them at best as suspicious, and at
worst as heretics who threatened to destroy society.
Plato (427-347 BCE) had no tolerance for the Sophistic concept of opinion
(doxa). According to Plato, absolute Truth (the eternal and immutable essence of
things) did exist and rhetoric, as defined by the Sophists, was not only misguided, but
dangerous. Following Socrates, Plato argued that Truth was absolute, knowable, and
should guide human activity. This philosophy led Plato to scathing attacks on the
Sophists in Gorgias and Phaedrus.15
Platonic rhetoric may be described as either anti-rhetoric rhetoric, philosophical
rhetoric, or True rhetoric. Plato rejected the Protagorean rhetoric of debate, presenting
13 Summarized by Conley (Rhetoric, 6) from Gorgias 469 C 8ff.
14 Conley, Rhetoric, 7.
15 Plato, Gorgias, trans. W.R.M. Lamb, LCL, ed. E.H. Warmington (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1925); and Phaedrus, trans. Harold North Fowler, LCL, ed. G.P. Goold
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914).
both sides of an issue to determine which is better, and the Gorgianic rhetoric of
casting a spell over an audience in order to lead it to the opinion of the rhetor.
Platonic rhetoric begins and ends with Truth. The rhetor's task is to know what is
True and to lead the ignorant listener to the Truth by means of dialectical reasoning.
Thus, the effective rhetor must understand Truth, understand methods or forms of
argumentation (primarily dialectics), and understand the nature of the audience.16
Aristotle (384-322 BCE), one of Plato's students, challenged his teacher on his
limited definition of Truth as the eternal and immutable essence of things. In
Aristotle's view, truth must also include knowledge obtained from practical and
productive spheres of life, not just esoteric universal ideas. As a consequence of this
expansion of truth, Aristotle realized that the nature of truth is not always stable. For
example, "We cannot expect of ethics the same rigor we would expect from
geometry."17 In practical and productive spheres of life, truth is what usually happens
rather than an absolute. To be sure, Aristotle was not a Sophist; he believed in truth.
But against Plato, he believed truth included more than the eternal and immutable
essence of things.
Aristotle's rejection of Plato's understanding of truth led to a challenge of
Plato's disregard for rhetoric. For Aristotle, dialectic and rhetoric differ, but are not
16 Conley, Rhetoric, 12.
17 As cited by Conley (Rhetoric, 14), from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics 1.3.1-4. See
opposed to one another: “Rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic.”18 Dialectic is
primarily a philosophical discourse that derives its arguments from universal opinion.
Rhetoric is a political discourse that derives its arguments from particular opinions.
Both are legitimate "arts," but differ in form and subject. Kennedy summarizes
Aristotle was practical enough to recognize the usefulness of rhetoric as a tool.
Those speaking the truth and doing so justly, have, he thought (Rhetoric
1355a21ff.), an obligation to be persuasive. They need rhetoric since the
subjects under discussion are not known scientifically and thus are not capable
of absolute demonstration.19
Aristotle's understanding of truth and rhetoric as a tool for the advancement of
truth led him to produce one of the earliest handbooks on rhetorical theory, The "Art"
of Rhetoric. In this work, he defines the art of rhetoric as "the faculty of discovering
the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject wlatever.”20 Thus, the
rhetor must understand the difference between Truth and probabilities, and how to
develop a convincing argument based on probability. I will return to Aristotle's
concept of persuasion when I develop my own rhetorical method.
It may be helpful to consider one final issue regarding ancient Western
rhetoric, namely, why four rhetorics instead of one? As I have pointed out,
Protagorean, Gorgianic, Platonic, and Aristotelian rhetoric distinguish themselves on
the basis of their responses to two related questions. First, what is the nature of truth?
18 Aristotle, The "Art" of Rhetoric, trans. John Henry Freese, LCL (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1926), 1.1.
19 Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece, 18.
20 Aristotle, The "Art" of Rhetoric, 15.
Is truth absolute (Plato), inaccessible if existent (Protagoras & Gorgias) or inclusive of
both absolutes and what usually happens (Aristotle)? Second, what is the nature of
rhetoric? Is rhetoric a cooperative exercise between a rhetor and an audience
(Gorgias), or the active persuasion of a rhetor over an audience (Protagoras, Plato,
Aristotle)? But why did these rhetors respond to the same questions in different ways?
According to Conley, each of these rhetorical models may be understood as different
responses to shifting political conditions in Athens.
For the sophists, Athenian reform presented an occasion for systematic thinking
about rhetoric. Thus, Protagorean rhetoric supplies a rationale for the
resolution of problems by means of public discussion in the absence of political
or ethical absolutes. 'Gorgianic' rhetoric likewise rejects claims to absolute
knowledge of what is true and good, but offers a set of instructions that would
make it possible for an orator to prevail in the current system, rather than a
rationale for the system itself. Plato's response, as we have seen, is negative,
denying the legitimacy both of rhetoric as it was taught and practiced and of
the democratic system that made it possible.21
In summary, ancient rhetorical theory was both fostered by cultural conditions and a
response to these conditions. Rhetorical theory has never existed in a vacuum.
Rhetorical Criticism in Biblical Studies
1. Early History to the Demise of Rhetoric
in Twentieth Century Biblical Studies
Rhetorical criticism was a significant method in biblical (especially NT)
interpretation from the earliest exegetes through the 17th and 18th centuries.22 For
21 Conley, Rhetoric, 13.
22 See the histories of rhetoric in biblical interpretation by Kennedy (Classical Rhetoric,
132-241), Wilhelm Wuellner ("Where is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?" CBQ 49 :
450-451), Burton Mack (Rhetoric and the New Testament [Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress,
1989], 10), and Phyllis Trible (Rhetorical Criticism, GBS [Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
example, Augustine (354-430 CE), a student of rhetoric, interpreted biblical texts by
means of rhetorical analysis.23 In the Middle Ages, Christian (e.g., Cassiodorus of
Italy [c. 487-580 CE],24 the Venerable Bede of Britain [673-735 CE])25 and Jewish
scholars (e.g., Saadya Gaon [882-942 CE], Moses ibn Ezra [c. 1055-1140 CE])26 drew
23 In his treatise On Christian Teaching ([De Doctrina Christiana] trans. R.P.H. Green
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997], 4.19-60), Augustine raises the question of how a
person can best conduct a "careful investigation" and thus gain a "real understanding" of the
scriptures. He responds with exemplary exegeses of Romans 5:3-5, II Corinthians 11:16-30,
and Amos 6:1-6 in which he identifies the "rules of eloquence" followed in these texts (i.e.,
rhetorical devices such as climax, invective, and elaboration). He concludes: "As certain
eloquent and discerning authorities were able to see and say, the things that are learnt in the
so called art of public speaking would not have been observed, noted; and systematized into a
discipline if they had not first been found in the minds of orators; so why be surprised if they
are also found in the words of men sent by God, the creator of all minds. We should
therefore acknowledge that our canonical authors and teachers are eloquent, and not just wise,
with a kind of eloquence appropriate to the kind of persons they were" (4.60).
24 P.G. Walsh (Cassiodorus: Explanation of the Psalms, trans. P.G. Walsh, ACW, vol. 51
[New York: Paulist Press, 1990], 1:16) summarizes Cassiodorus' use of rhetoric in his
exposition of the Psalms: "Following the traditional division of speeches documented in detail
by Quintilian, he distinguishes between the demonstrative type (the speech of praise or blame
appropriate for formal occasions), the deliberative type (which was delivered in political
assemblies and offered persuasion or dissuasion on particular courses of action), and the
judicial variety (uttered in pleading in a court of law). Examples of all three are offered in the
course of the commentary; naturally enough, he equates the greatest number of psalms with
the demonstrative category, since they are predominantly expressions of praise to the Creator.
Then, in outlining the structure of individual psalms he frequently employs the terminology of
the rhetoricians, who prescribe appropriate patterns for the different types of speech; for
example, the judicial speech is divided into exordium, narratio, partitio, confirmatio,
25 Bede, following Cassiodorus, was especially sensitive to figures tropes and the poetic
structure of biblical books (see De schematis et tropes). He applied his method in studies of
the tabernacle (De tabernaculo [On the Tabernacle]) and temple (De templo [On the Temple]).
Bede also claimed that Greek rhetorical devices originated from the Hebrew. (See Trible,
Rhetorical Criticism, 15; and Dom Jean Leclerq, "The Exposition and Exegesis of Scripture
from Gregory the Great to St Bernard," in The Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. G.W.H.
Lampe, vol. 2 [Cambridge: University Press, 1969], 186)
26 See Trible, Rhetorical Criticism, 16.
attention to the importance of recognizing rhetorical devices in the interpretation of
biblical texts. This rhetorical consciousness continued in the Renaissance, most
notably with the Jewish scholar Judah Messer Leon (c. 1420-1498 CE), who wrote a
treatise entitled Sepher Nopheth Suphim (The Book of the Honeycomb's Flow) that
utilized classical terms and the system of ancient Western rhetoric for the
interpretation of scripture.27 In addition to Leon, other Renaissance scholars (e.g.,
Erasmus [c. 1466-1536 CE])28 also asserted the importance of rhetoric for the proper
understanding of scripture.
The modern era of biblical studies continued to see exegetes who stressed the
importance of rhetoric (e.g., Baruch Spinoza [1632-1677 CE];29 see also Blass,
Debrunner, and Funk's Greek Grammar of the New Testament, and Liddell and Scott's
27 Trible (ibid., 17) describes this work: "Versed in Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian, he not
only cataloged biblical literary devices by classical terms but appropriated the entire system of
ancient rhetoric for the scriptures. Yet he maintained, as had the Christian exegetes
Cassiodorus and Bede, that the Bible, not the classics, constituted the source of rhetoric. '[I]t is
the Torah which was the giver.' Scripture became then the primary textbook for the art of
discourse and persuasion."
28 Erasmus advised (On the Method of Study, trans. Brain McGregor, Collected Works of
Erasmus, vol. 23, ed. Craig R. Thompson [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978], 670)
that it would be advantageous for the interpreter to "have at your fingertips the chief points of
rhetoric, namely propositions, the grounds of proof, figures of speech, amplifications, and the
rules governing transitions. For these are conducive not only to criticism but also to
imitation." In his own practice, he used rhetorical terms to describe textual features. For
example, in his Paraphrase on the Acts of the Apostles (trans., Robert D. Sider, Collected
Works of Erasmus, vol. 50, ed. Robert D. Sider [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995]),
Erasmus employs rhetorical terminology (e.g., exordium , proofs ) to illuminate the
text. See also, Trible, Rhetorical Criticism, 18; Fr Louis Bouyer, "Erasmus in Relation to the
Medieval Biblical Tradition," in The Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. G.W.H. Lampe, vol.
2 (Cambridge: University Press, 1969), 501.
29 Trible, Rhetorical Criticism, 19.
Greek-English Lexicon).30 However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rhetorical
study of the Bible experienced a sharp decline. To be sure, "rhetorical studies"
continued to be published, but these studies increasingly defined rhetoric as literary
stylistics, not as the art of persuasion.31 By the middle of the 20th century, rhetorical
study of the Bible was comatose.
The authors of The Postmodern Bible, The Bible and Culture Collective (hence,
the Collective), attribute the demise of rhetoric in modern biblical studies to three
factors. First, the modern idea of the unicity of Truth in Western philosophy rendered
rhetoric impotent. Here, the Collective calls special attention to the educational reform
of Peter Ramus (1515-1572 CE), "whose effect was the institutionalization of a
separation of the study of thought or content from the study of form or feeling.”32
Ultimately, this separation of content from form led to the use of poetry for expressing
feeling and the use of scientific discourse for the demonstration of truth. Rhetoric was
discarded by both and "viewed suspiciously as mere ornamentation."33
The Collective's point may be augmented by what I have already observed
from the history of ancient Western rhetoric. The modern assettion of absolute Truth
is akin to Plato's claims about Truth: Truth is absolute, knowable, and must be the
30 Mack (Rhetoric and the New Testament, 10-11) points out the prevalent use of terms
from classical rhetoric in both of these volumes, e.g., anacoluthon, antithesis, ellipsis,
31 Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, 5.
32 "The Bible and Culture Collective, The Postmodern Bible (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1995), 156.
33 Ibid., 157.
basis of human action. In such philosophy, ancient or modern, rhetoric tends to lose
its importance.34 Thus, both Plato and moderns viewed rhetoric with suspicion, if not
rejecting it outright, because it seemed to threaten Truth.
A second reason the Collective cites for the demise of rhetoric is the
redefinition of rhetoric as mere poetics, stylistics, hermeneutics, or literary study.
They are not clear, however, about why this redefinition led to the rejection of
rhetoric. Kennedy has pointed out that this shift from "primary" rhetoric to
"secondary" rhetoric is a persistent feature in the history of rhetoric. Such
letteraturizzazion occurred in the Hellenistic era, the Roman Empire, medieval France,
and in the 16th and 18th centuries throughout Europe. Kennedy suggests that the cause
for this shift in these societies was the tendency to teach rhetoric by rote (rather than
as an intellectually demanding discipline), and the lack of opportunities for engaging
in "primary" rhetoric.35 While these factors may be adequate explanations for the
letteraturizzazion of rhetoric in previous eras, they do not explain the demise of
rhetoric in the 20th century.
In my opinion, the redefinition of rhetoric in the 20th century contributed to its
neglect because of the modern idea and pursuit of Truth. In a modern age devoted to
scientific discovery and interpretation, anything defined as or associated with poetics
34 Kennedy (The Art of Persuasion in Greece, 14), regarding this debate in ancient rhetoric,
writes "If, on the other hand, one were to argue that absolute truth both exists and is
knowable, then certain principles, deducible from this truth, ought to guide activity. In this
case rhetoric not only loses much of its importance, but becomes a potential danger because of
its ability to present some other and erroneous course of action in an attractive way."
35 Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, 4-5.
hardly could be relevant. Truth was a matter of demonstrable scientific fact, not
poetics. Thus, rhetoric, defined as stylistics, was dismissed as unimportant to the
exegetical task of recovering Truth.
Third, the Collective credits the downfall of rhetoric to ''the emerging
awareness of alternative theories and practices of rhetoric.36 They attribute this
awareness to the study of indigenous European rhetorics in the late Middle ages (c.
1500) and the Western recognition of alternative practices of rhetoric in Jewish and
Muslim cultures. According to the Collective, these experiences exposed the classical
tradition as "enshrining an undifferentiated, universalized notion of rhetoric that
ignored cultural difference,”37 and thus led to the demise of rhetoric.
This third argument presents a better case for the New Rhetoric advocated by
the Collective than an explanation for the demise of rhetoric in modernity. There is
no evidence that the study of indigenous European rhetorics in the late Middle ages
had a significant impact on rhetorical study 200-400 years later. Further, the
acknowledgment of diverse Jewish and Muslim rhetorical traditions is a development
of the late twentieth century, not a factor in the demise of rhetoric in the late
36 The Bible and Culture Collective, Postmodern Bible, 157.
37 Ibid., 156-58.
38 The writers that the Collective (Ibid., 173) credits for demonstrating these rhetorical
traditions are writers from the twentieth century, e.g., Isaac Rabinowitz, Philip Alexander,
Erich Auerbach, Ronald Katz, and Wilhelm Wuellner.
Despite this objection, the Collective's basic thesis is accurate: The dawn of
modernity hearkened the downfall of rhetoric. Whereas the rhetorical analysis of
scripture flourished from the time of the earliest Christian and Jewish exegetes, the
cultural (philosophical) shifts associated with the modern age challenged the necessity
and even legitimacy of rhetoric. The ancient debate between the Sophists and Plato
recurred, with Platonic rhetoric emerging as the victor. Consequently, rhetoric was
redefined and displaced by the scientific recovery and presentation of Truth. To be
sure, rhetoric, as the art of persuasion, was not entirely removed from the scholarly
consciousness,39 but it did lay dormant, awaiting more favorable cultural conditions.
2. The Reemergence of Rhetoric
in Late Twentieth Century Biblical Studies
Just as rhetoric faded with the rise of modernism, so it began to blossom again
with the emergence of postmodernism. The deterioration of modernity, evident as
early as the late 19th century, accelerated with the cultural shifts and crises of the
1960's and 70's. During this time, the presuppositions that led to the demise of
rhetoric found themselves under siege. Postmodern philosophers, like their ancient
Sophistic counterparts, challenged the idea of an absolute universal Truth. Some
acknowledged that Truth may exist, but asserted that it was not recoverable by
humans. Others rejected any idea of absolute Truth, i.e., truth is nothing more than a
claim in the hands of those exercising power within a culture. In this context, a
39 See Thomas H. Olbricht, "The Flowering of Rhetorical Criticism in America," in The
Rhetorical Analysis of Scripture, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht (Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 79-91.
recognition of the cultural specificity and instability of truth reemerged, and with it, a
renewed respect for the role of rhetoric.
Within this general cultural turbulence, Burton Mack has identified three key
moments in the revival of rhetoric for biblical studies.40 According to Mack, the initial
stimulus came from the 1955 SBL presidential address of Amos Wilder: “Scholars,
Theologians, and Ancient Rhetoric.”41 This address drew attention to the interpretation
of imaginative-symbolic language, especially in New Testament eschatological texts.
Wilder described this discourse as "an extraordinary rhetoric of faith" and encouraged
the use literary methods sensitive to anthropology and psychology for interpretation,
rather than methods espoused by the ritual-myth school and the biblical theology
school.42 His efforts led to a greater emphasis of the literary study of the Gospels,
including a seminar at the annual SBL meeting on the parables and a greater dialogue
between scholars who work from differing methodological vantage points. In recent
years, Wilder's work has had a decisive influence on Vernon Robbins' development of
"Socio-Rhetorical Criticism" (see below).43
The second stimuli for the revival of rhetoric in biblical studies came from the
1968 SBL presidential address of James Muilenburg: "Form Criticism and Beyond."44
40 Mack, Rhetoric, 12-17.
41 Amos Wilder, "Scholars, Theologians, and Ancient Rhetoric," JBL 75 (1956): 1-11.
42 Ibid., 2,9.
43 Vernon K. Robbins, The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and
Ideology (New York: Routledge, 1996), 2-3.
44 "Form Criticism," 1-18.
In this speech, Muilenburg acknowledged the benefits of form critical study, but also
delineated its inadequacies (e.g., the dismissal of the unique features of a text because
of inordinate stress upon typical and representative features). Thus, he appealed for a
step beyond form criticism, a step he called "rhetorical criticism," i.e., a careful
literary study of the compositional features of the text. I will return to Muilenburg's
appeal and his rhetorical method in greater detail below.
Although the addresses of Wilder and Muilenburg were important for the re-
emergence of rhetoric in biblical studies, Mack claims that the third and most
important stimulus came from the 1969 English translation of Perelman and Tyteca's
1958 French work, Traite de 1' Argumentation (English Title: The New Rhetoric).45
In general, The New Rhetoric was a revivification of Aristotelian rhetoric. More
specifically, according to Mack, The New Rhetoric made three direct contributions to
the renewal of rhetoric.46 1) Perelman and Tyteca defined rhetoric as argumentation.
By this definition, they challenged the prevailing understanding of rhetoric as stylistic
ornamentation and reasserted the ancient definition of rhetoric as the art of persuasion.
2) They emphasized the importance of the rhetorical situation for understanding the
persuasive force of argumentation. This recognition provided an opportunity to bridge
the gap between literary and social-historical criticism, an opportunity seized by many
New Testament exegetes. 3) Perelman and Tyteca linked the persuasive power of
45 Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on
Argumentation, trans. J. Wilkinson and P. Weaver (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
46 Mack, Rhetoric, 14-17.
speech not only to its logic or argumentation, but to the manner in which it addresses
the social and cultural history of its audience and speaker. Thus, they disassociated
rhetoric from its poetic and stylistic limitations and argued for rhetoric as a social
theory of language. Mack summarizes,
On this model, rhetorical performance belongs to human discourse just as
surely as stance and style belong to any presentation of ourselves at moments
of personal encounter. Rhetoric is to a society and its discourse what grammar
is to a culture and its language. Rhetoric refers to the rules cf the language
games agreed upon as acceptable within a given society. The rules of rhetoric
can be identified and studied, just as the rules of a grammar . . . Rhetorical
theory defines the stakes as nothing less than the negotiation of our lives
Perelman and Tyteca's The New Rhetoric has played a significant role in the
revival of rhetorical analysis in biblical studies, especially among scholars associated
with the "New Rhetoric" (see below).48 Additionally, in 1982 Perelman published an
abbreviated and updated version of The New Rhetoric under the title The Realm of
Rhetoric that has reached a even broader audience.49
3. Rhetorical Methods in Twentieth Century Biblical Studies
Like its counter-part in ancient Greece, contemporary rhetorical theory is not
univocal. Rather, there are four distinct practices of rhetorical criticism in
contemporary biblical scholarship: Muilenburg's "Rhetorical Criticism," George
47 Ibid., 16.
48 According to Mack (Ibid., 16), the impact of this publication may be gauged by the
frequent references to this book by scholars in the 1970's and 80's.
49 Chaim Perelman, The Realm of Rhetoric, Introduction by Carrol C. Arnold, trans.
Williams Kluback (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982).
Kennedy's "Classical Rhetoric," the "New Rhetoric" of The Postmodern Bible, and
Vernon Robbins' "Socio-Rhetorical Criticism." Although each method may be
appropriately described as rhetorical, there are significant philosophical and procedural
differences that distinguish these methods. Here, I will offer a brief description of
these four types of contemporary biblical rhetorics and, in the process, begin to define
my own rhetorical method vis-a-vis these rhetorics.
a. The "Rhetorical Criticism" of James Muilenburg:
The Definition of Rhetoric
At the time of his 1968 SBL presidential address, Muilenburg perceived a basic
problem facing biblical interpreters: Form criticism had reached its limits and had
begun to reach beyond its capacities. The merits of form-critical methodology,
according to Muilenburg, were obvious. His concern, however, was for the excessive
and exclusive use of the method.
To state our criticism in another way, form criticism by its very nature is
bound to generalize because it is concerned with what is common to all the
representatives of a genre, and therefore applies an external measure to the
individual pericopes. It does not focus sufficient attention upon what is unique
and unrepeatable, upon the particularity of the formulation.50
It is against this backdrop that Muilenburg set forth his appeal for "rhetorical
criticism" as a necessary step beyond form analysis.
Muilenburg's definition of rhetorical criticism corresponded to the prevailing
definition of his time, namely, that "rhetorical criticism" was literary analysis. Thus,
50 Muilenburg, "Form Criticism," 5.
his solicitation for rhetoric was an appeal for "persistent and painstaking attention to
the modes of Hebrew literary composition,”51
What I am interested in, above all, is in understanding the nature of Hebrew
literary composition, in exhibiting the structural patterns that are employed for
the fashioning of a literary unit, whether in poetry or in prose, and in
discerning the many and various devices by which the predications are
formulated and ordered into a unified whole. Such an enterprise I should
describe as rhetoric and the methodology as rhetorical ctiticism.52
In harmony with his goals, Muilenburg's rhetorical analysis proceeded in two steps:
1) isolation of the rhetorical unit, and 2) discernment of that unit's compositional
features by careful literary analysis.
Muilenburg's appeal for a careful literary analysis that focuses on a text's
compositional elements has thrived in the years since his address. His method of
rhetorical-literary analysis has been clarified, broadened, and applied to numerous
biblical texts. Consequently, there is an enormous and constantly growing
bibliography of studies that follow Muilenburg's basic method of rhetorical criticism.53
51 Ibid., 18.
52 Ibid., 8.
53 See Duane F. Watson and Alan J. Hauser, Rhetorical Criticism of the Bible: A
Comprehensive Bibliography with Notes on History and Method (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994).
Exemplary collected essays include Rhetorical Criticism: Essays in Donor of
James Muilenburg, ed. J.J. Jackson and M. Kessler (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1974);
and Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature, ed. D.J. Clines, D.M. Gunn and
A.J. Hauser (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982). See also, Dale Patrick and Allen Scult,
Rhetoric and Biblical Interpretation (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1990).
Certainly, scholars who claim heritage to Muilenburg's rhetoric are not
methodologically univocal. For example, Phyllis Trible, who associates herself with
Muilenburg, adopts his catch phrase - "Proper articulation of form yields proper
articulation of meaning" - in her work on Rhetoric (Rhetorical Criticism, 91).
Consequently, her practice involves careful literary study of the form and composition of
the text. However, she differs from her teacher in one significant way: While Muilenburg
was thoroughly modern in his attempt to uncover the intention of the author ("Form
Criticism," 7), Trible has been
Muilenburg's appeal raises the fundamental question of the definition of
rhetoric. Certainly, designating his method as "rhetorical criticism" is legtimate.
Throughout its history, rhetoric has included concern for compositional artistry and, at
times, rhetoric has been defined as literary analysis or poetics (see above, p. 50).
Further, others who claim to be rhetorical critics have asserted similar definitions. For
example, Martin Kessler proposes that "rhetorical criticism may serve as a suitable
rubric for the kind of biblical criticism which deals with the literary analysis of the
Nonetheless, despite its legitimacy, Muilenburg's definition of rhetoric has
come under increasing fire in recent years. Wilhelm Wuellner has called Muilenburg's
method "rhetoric restrained," or more curtly "the Babylonian captivity of rhetoric
reduced to stylistics.”55 Michael Fox summaries the complaint:
Rhetorical criticism of the Bible has focused almost exclusively on revealing
the formal structures of a text: schemata formed by repetitions of roots, words,
phrases and themes. Some of these studies attempt to connect the formal data
with the text's meaning, though many often seem to assume that once the
details of the construction of the text are laid out, its rhetoric has been
discovered. But even the discovery of meaning does not constitute rhetorical
influenced by postmodernity (Rhetorical Criticism, 95-99). Her analysis works between the
extremes of modernism (establishing The Meaning) and postmodernism (acknowledging
unlimited meanings). Thus, while Trible and others have adopted their teacher's method, these
rhetorical studies are not univocal.
54 Martin Kessler, "A Methodological Setting for Rhetorical Criticism," in Art and
Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature, ed. David J.A. Clines, David M. Gunn and Alan J.
Hauser (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982), 10.
55 Wilhelm Wuellner, "Where is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?" 450-454,457.
criticism as that term has been understood by the great (majority of rhetorical
theorists from Aristotle on . . .56
From another perspective, Muilenburg's method corresponds to Kennedy's definition of
"secondary" rhetoric: Against "primary rhetoric" (the art of persuasion), "secondary
rhetoric" is the slippage of rhetoric from persuasion to literary concerns, e.g., figures
of speech and tropes.57
To be fair, Muilenburg's aim was not Kennedy's "primary" rhetoric nor
Wuellner's "rhetorical criticism." Muilenburg was not interested in the use of classical
models for rhetorical analysis, i.e., rhetoric as the art of persuasion. Rather, in his
address, he dates the origins of his method to Jerome "and before," omitting any
reference to classical authors,58 and decries earlier critics who were "too much
dominated by Greek prototypes.”59 Some of his students have drawn from ancient
models,60 but their working definitions remain synonymous or tear synonymous with
In contrast, my definition of rhetoric, while acknowledging the validity of
Muilenburg's terminology, is drawn from the tradition associated with Aristotle:
Rhetoric is persuasive discourse and rhetorical criticism is the systematic analysis of
56 Michael Fox, "The Rhetoric of Ezekiel's Vision of the Valley of' the Bones," HUCA 51
57 Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, 4-5.
58 Muilenburg, "Form Criticism," 8.
59 Ibid., 12.
60 Trible, Rhetorical Criticism, 5-9,14; Kessler, "Methodological Setting," 1-3.
the suasive dimensions of rhetoric. Thus, since I regard rhetoric as the art of
persuasion, I will not limit my analysis to compositional and stylistic features. The
focus of my analysis is the suasion of the ten lectures (Prov 1-9), especially as it is
developed by the artistic proofs of logos, ethos, and pathos (see below). This
approach works harmoniously with Muilenburg's rhetoric insofar as his method attends
to selected elements (e.g., composition and style) within the broader concerns of
rhetoric as suasion.
b. The "New Rhetoric" of the Postmodern Bible:
Rhetoric as Cultural Criticism
The Bible and Culture Collective, in The Postmodern Bible, recognize their
"New Rhetoric" as largely a rediscovery of ancient Western rhetoric. What makes
their rhetoric "new" is the explicit postmodern setting of their practice.61 Their goal is
to recover and build on the foundations of ancient rhetorical theory in the present
postmodern situation. Ultimately, the Collective suggests that rhetorical criticism
should evolve and function as cultural criticism.
According to the Collective, the New Rhetoric retrieves and builds upon five
crucial components of ancient rhetoric: 1) the idea of rhetoric as verbal expression,
2) the view that truth is something to be discovered, 3) the concern with the creation
of meaning and the relationship of this creation to the domain of hermeneutics, 4) the
role of rhetoric in social discourse and societal formation, and 5) the validity and
61 The Bible and Culture Collective, The Postmodern Bible, 149-86.
importance of appeal to the emotions.62 Against this background, the Collective calls
for a "self-reflexive" rhetorical criticism.
Self-reflexive rhetorics makes three demands of the interpreter. First, it
demands a recognition of the role of readers in creating meaning and thus requires
readers to be aware of their own rhetorical situations and interests.63 By extension,
this recognition accepts the concept of indeterminacy, i.e., the reader's role in creating
meaning leads to the decentering of any meaning. Undergirding this philosophy of
indeterminacy is the claim that knowledge (and thereby truth) is socially constructed,
not absolute.64 Second, self-reflexive rhetoric requires the critic to acknowledge the
implications of theory. "A new rhetorical theory needs to emphasize the inescapable
social, political, religious, and ideological constraints that are operative before, during,
and after reading."65 Thus, postmodern rhetorical critics operate with an acute sense of
their own social setting and the practical or political consequences of their work.
Third, the critic must subject the text to critique in order to expose its use in the
service of power, e.g., sexism or racism. Thus, the self-reflexive New Rhetoric should
become a cultural criticism that exposes the perpetuation of "cultural norms in the
name of some allegedly objective and neutral hermeneutical or rhetorical science."66
62 Ibid., 159-61.
63 Ibid., 163-64.
64 Ibid., 10.
65 Ibid., 166.
66 Ibid., 167.
There are two problems with this appeal for a New Rhetoric. First, it is
important to point out that the Collective's recovery of ancient rhetoric is selective.
For example, the "crucial components" upon which the New Rhetoric builds are
representative of Sophistic rhetoric, not Platonic or Aristotelian rhetoric. Thus, the
New Rhetoric might be more accurately designated "The New Sophistic Rhetoric."
Second, not unlike the critique of the ancient Sophists, the Collective's appeal
for a New Rhetoric suffers from their failure to articulate criteria for discerning
"wrong" readings or "misreadings." They pose the crucial question: When the
possibility of multiple readings is accepted, on what basis can one exclude certain
readings? They also suggest that such "ways and means" exist. However, they fail to
supply, even provisionally, any criteria for adjudication.67
Despite these objections, the Collective's claim that rhetoric is the tool of
ideology would hardly be contested by any rhetorical critic, past or present. Rhetoric
is the means by which a speaker/writer attempts to persuade an audience in favor of
her/his own view of reality (ideology), against other competing ideologies. In this
regard, the Collective's appeal for a self-reflexive rhetorical analysis that engages
cultural criticism is understandable. Nonetheless, this is a step beyond the rhetorical
method that I will employ in my analysis of the ten lectures. I am not concerned here
to offer a critique of the ideology espoused by the writer(s) of the lectures. Rather,
my goal is to offer a reading of the text from a rhetorical perspective that identifies the
67 Ibid., 176.
truth claims made by the text (e.g., the father's teaching is the path to genuine life, the
"alien woman" will destroy the son) and identifies how these claims are argued.
c. The "Socio-Rhetorical Criticism" of Vernon Robbins:
Rhetoric and Methodological Pluralism)
The "Socio-Rhetorical Criticism" advanced by Vernon Dobbins is not a method
per se, but an "interpretive analytics" that seeks to integrate various interpretive
strategies, including the various rhetorical perspectives.68 Robbins' primary concern is
the existence of isolationist methodology in biblical studies. Consequently, he
advocates an analytics that incorporates both "Socio" (social / historical) and
"Rhetorical" (literary) methods. More specifically, his Socio-Rhetorical analytics
pursues three objectives: 1) to correlate diverse methodologies, 2) to offer a guide for
systematic reading and rereading of texts, and 3) to provide a resource for rewriting
the ancient history of the church.69
In practice, Robbins identifies five "textures" in any given text. 1) Inner-
Texture. Inner-Texture refers to the words, grammar, figures of speech and other
literary qualities of a text. This texture invites various literary and rhetorical methods
of reading. 2) Intertexture. Intertexture refers to the relationship of the text to
realities outside itself, e.g., scribal intertexture (i.e., its relationship to other texts),
historical intertexture, cultural intertexture, and social intertexture. Critics with various
68 Vernon K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts: A Guide to Socio-Rhetorical
Interpretation (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), 1-2; and The Tapestry, 1-
69 Robbins, The Tapestry, 1-17, 240-43.
interests in intertexuality as well as social and cultural anthropology work in this
dimension of the text. 3) Social and Cultural Texture. Social and Cultural texture,
different from social and cultural Intertexture, refers to the stance advocated in or by
the text towards culture (e.g., withdrawal or participation) 4) Ideological Texture.
Ideological texture includes both the ideology operating in and behind the text as well
as the ideology of the interpreter. Thus, this facet of the text(s) is a source for various
self-conscious ideological readings. 5) Sacred Texture. Sacred Texture refers to the
religious, ethical, and communal aspects of the text. Here, various theological
approaches may work to appropriate the text for the modern reader.
The primary criticism that has been raised against Socio-Rhetorical criticism is
that, while Robbin's books offer a guide for systematic reading and provide another
resource for rewriting the history of the early church, they have not addressed what
Robbins claims is the chief goal of his analytics, namely the correlation of diverse
methods.70 His identification of five textures within a unified text suggests that the
diverse methods applied to these different textures may somehow be fruitfully related
to one another. However, in his own practice, he isolates these textures and methods
without suggesting how they can be brought together into an interpretive whole.
Socio-Rhetorical criticism is not the method or analytic espoused by this
dissertation. Nonetheless, Robbins has raised the key issue of how my critical practice
relates to other rhetorical and non-rhetorical methods. This issue has already been
70 R. Alan Culpepper raised this criticism during a meeting of the Rhetoric and the New
Testament Section devoted to Robbins' books at the 1997 AAR/SBL annual meeting in San
introduced in chapter one. Methods of biblical criticism are inextricably interwoven
and intergrown. Thus, my rhetorical analysis does not attempt to operate in isolation
from other methods. However, unlike Robbins, it is not my objective to correlate the
diverse methodological perspectives that have been brought to bear on the ten lectures,
or to use the data retrieved from my analysis to write a history of the wisdom tradition
in ancient Israel. Like the cultural criticism of the New Rhetoric, these are steps
beyond the objectives of this dissertation. My objective is to present a new
perspective on the lectures, namely that of rhetorical criticism. In order to accomplish
this goal, it is necessary here to focus as narrowly as possible on the rhetoric of the
lectures. Thus, this dissertation will contribute primary data for others who would use
Robbin's Socio-Rhetorical analytics to synthesize the findings of various interpretive
strategies applied to Proverbs 1-9.
d. The "Classical Rhetoric" of George Kennedy:
Western Rhetorical Theory and Non-Western Texts
George Kennedy, a specialist in ancient rhetoric, has become a leader in the
attempt to recover ancient Western rhetoric for the purposes of biblical, especially
New Testament, interpretation. Although this objective is similar to that of The
Postmodern Bible, Kennedy differs from the Collective on the fundamental issues of
truth and the relationship of rhetoric to truth. He writes,
Twentieth-century thought as seen in some of its most original philosophers,
writers, and artists, as well as at the frontiers of theoretial science, points
towards a conclusion that mankind cannot know reality, at least not directly or
not under contemporary conditions. At most, it is argued, we can know
structures, words, and formulae perhaps representative of aspects of reality.
Even if an individual were to perceive reality experientially or intuitively, there
is some pessimism whether this understanding can be communicated through
the media available to us to any general segment of the population. I do not
share this view in its more extreme forms . . . 71
Thus, against the New Rhetoric of The Postmodern Bible, Kennedy's more
conservative (modern) method may be described as Classical or Aristotelian Rhetoric.
In New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism, Kennedy works
out the details of utilizing Classical Rhetorical theory for the interpretation of the New
Testament. In this book, Kennedy associates his rhetorics with Muilenburg. The chief
difference between the two, according to Kennedy, is that whereas Muilenburg and his
students applied their rhetorical method to Old Testament texts, his goal is to present
an outline of rhetorics for the study of the New Testament.72 Despite this claim,
Kennedy's method greatly differs from Muilenburg's in its heavy reliance upon ancient
Western rhetorical theory. The important theoretical concepts underlying Kennedy's
rhetorics are drawn from Aristotle and other ancients.73 As a result, his rhetorical
interpretation is more concerned with rhetoric as suasion than rhetoric as an
elucidation of compositional features.
Kennedy advocates a rhetorical practice that incorporates the knowledge of
ancient rhetorical theory in four circular steps of exegesis. First, it is necessary to
71 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 157. As might be expected, the Collective of the
Postmodern Bible is highly critical of Kennedy's position. According to the Collective (The
Postmodern Bible, 163), Kennedy is a striking example of a critic who overlooks the role of
the reader in the creation of meaning.
72 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 3-4.
73 Ibid., 12.
determine the boundaries of the rhetorical unit and its setting within larger rhetorical
units, including the rhetoric of the entire book. Kennedy claims that this delimitation
corresponds to the isolation of a pericope by form critics. However, apart from typical
form critical methods, Kennedy suggests seeking signs of opening and closure such as
proem and epilogue, analytical categories drawn from rhetorical theory.
Second, the interpreter should attempt to define the rhetorical situation of the
unit. Again, Kennedy claims that this step "roughly corresponds to the Sitz im Leben
of form criticism.”74 This correspondence is indeed "rough." The rhetorical situation
Kennedy seeks to define is much more specific than the Sitz im Leben pursued by the
form critic. Following Bitzer, Kennedy defines the rhetorical situation as a complex of
persons, events, objects, and relations that presents some situation in which an
individual (or group) is called upon to make some response. Further, "the response
made is conditioned by the situation and in turn has some possibility of affecting the
situation or what follows from it.”75 Within this rhetorical situation, the speaker usually
faces one major rhetorical problem, i.e., one major obstacle that must be overcome in
order to persuade the audience.76
74 Ibid., 34.
75 Ibid., 35.
76 For example, Kennedy (ibid., 36) explains that the audience may already be "prejudiced
against him and not disposed to listen to anything he may say; or the audience may not
perceive him as having the authority to advance the claims he wishes to make; or what he
wishes to say is very complicated and thus hard to follow, or so totally different from what the
audience expects that they will not immediately entertain the possibility of its truth." In the
ten lectures, the rhetor will confront rhetorical problems such as the rhetoric of the sinners and
alien woman, the lackadaisical attitude of the son toward his teaching, and the apparent
success of those who reject his teaching.
Both the rhetorical situation and the rhetorical problem addressed by a text may
be uncovered by insights drawn from classical theory. For example, the problem is
often especially visible at the beginning of a discourse, in the proem, proposition
and/or the beginning of the proof. Consequently, it is of paramount importance that
the critic properly identify these rhetorical elements and discern how they work
together to address one or more problems. Further, recognizing the species of rhetoric
(e.g., judicial, epideictic, and deliberative)77 may indicate the type of situation or
problem addressed by the speaker. For example, identifying Paul's letter to the
Galatians as deliberative rhetoric enables Kennedy to recognize that this letter looks to
the immediate future, not to the judgment of the past. The question is not whether
Paul had been right, but what the Galatians were going to believe and do in the
Third, the critic should attempt to discern the arrangement of the text, i.e., its
subdivisions, the persuasive effect of these units, and how they work together. This
discernment may be accomplished by a close reading of the text that analyzes the
argument of the text, including its assumptions, topics, formal features, and stylistic
77 Deliberative rhetoric attempts to persuade an audience to adopt an attitude or make a
decision regarding actions in the future. Judicial rhetoric seeks to persuade the audience to
make a judgment regarding a past event. Epideictic persuades an audience to hold or confirm
some view in the present, e.g., speeches of blame or praise.
78 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 36-37, 144-52. Kennedy advances this
argument against Hans Dieter Betz's identification of Galatians as judicial rhetoric. My point
is not the correctness of Kennedy's position, but the significance of his identification of
rhetorical species in his reading of Galatians.
devices. Such a close reading is not to be confused with stylistics. Rather, this
analysis seeks to define the function of these devices within the argument as a whole.
Fourth, the process of rhetorical analysis should conclude with review and
synthesis. Does the text successfully meet the rhetorical situation and problem? Is the
analysis of details consistent with the argument of the unit as a whole? These
questions can help critics evaluate their own interpretations. Further, at this stage the
critic may perform a "creative act" of looking beyond the target text to the human
condition and to religious or philosophical truth.79
My own rhetorical method is quite similar to Kennedy's approach (see below).
Like Kennedy, I rely heavily upon ancient Western rhetorical theory for analytical
tools. However, Kennedy's Classical Rhetoric raises a fundamental issue for this
dissertation. How appropriate is it to use ancient Western theory in the interpretation
of a non-Western text, namely Proverbs 1-9?
In addition to his consideration of this problem as it relates to the study of the
New Testament,80 Kennedy has addressed the relevance of classical rhetoric for the
study of non-Western texts, including the Old Testament, in his most recent book,
Comparative Rhetoric: An Historical and Cross-Cultural Introduction. Here, he
advances several arguments in defense of comparative rhetoric.
79 Ibid., 38.
80 Kennedy argues (ibid., 8-12) that the process of Hellenization, including rhetorical
education, was widespread by the time of New Testament. Although the writers of the New
Testament may not have had formal rhetorical training, it would have been extremely difficult
for them to escape an awareness of rhetoric as it was practiced in the, culture around them.
Thus, Kennedy justifies the study of the New Testament by means of Classical Rhetoric on
historical - cultural grounds.
First, Kennedy asserts that rhetoric is a universal phenomenon. People in every
culture and society seek to persuade others to act or refrain from acting, or to accept,
maintain, or discard some belief. The essence of this rhetoric, according to Kennedy,
is mental or emotional energy that arises from the basic instinct of self-preservation.81
It is a natural phenomenon which exists in all life-forms that can give signals.82
Rhetoric, in the most general sense, may thus be identified with the energy
inherent in an utterance (or an artistic representation): the mental or emotional
energy that impels the speaker to expression, the energy level coded in the
message, and the energy received by the recipient who then uses mental energy
in decoding and perhaps acting on the message.83
This is a bedrock definition that not only provides a foundation for the study of more
complex manifestations of rhetoric among humans,84 but expands the compass of
rhetorical study to the "rhetoric" of social animals such as elk, monkeys, bees, and
birds.85 The implication is that all communication carries some rhetorical energy; "it
may be slight, some phrase of conventional etiquette, but there is no zero-degree
rhetoric."86 Thus, for this dissertation, the question is not whether rhetoric exists in the
81 Kennedy, Comparative Rhetoric, 216. Consequently, Kennedy claims that "the basic
function of rhetorical communication is defensive and conservative."
82 Ibid., 3-4.
83 Ibid., 4-5.
84 Kennedy (Ibid., 215) explains, "Rhetorical energy in its simplest form is conveyed by
volume, pitch, or repetition; more complex forms of rhetorical energy include logical reasons,
pathetic narratives, metaphor and other tropes, or lively figures of speech such as apostrophe,
rhetorical question, or simile."
85 Ibid., 11-37.
86 Ibid., 215.
ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9, but the nature, development, and expression of this
rhetoric and how the interpreter may best engage this dimension of the text.87
Second, Kennedy observes that comparative or cross-cultural study has often
proved fruitful in other disciplines. Such approaches often “reseal features of some
object of study that may not be immediately evident in its own context.”88 Here, then,
the conceptual terminology of Western rhetoric offers a valuable heuristic tool for
identifying and discussing specific rhetorical/textual features of the ten lectures that
might otherwise be overlooked. For example, I will argue in chapters 3-5 that despite
their similarities, the ten lectures may be classified rhetorically into three distinct
groups on the basis of their slightly differing propositions and their corresponding
rhetorical strategies, insights revealed by the utilization of Western theory.
Third, within human history, metarhetoric, or a theory of rhetoric, has evolved
in conjunction with other aspects of some cultures. It seems clear that the prophets
and sages of ancient Israel were concerned with matters of persuasion. Yet, according
to Kennedy, these intellectual leaders did not conceptualize their rhetoric or develop a
metarhetoric.89 The conceptualization of something analogous do Western rhetoric did
develop in a few non-Western literate cultures, e.g., India, China, and Egypt.
However, these systems are not as fully developed as the rhetoric derived from the
87 Although Kennedy's bed rock definition of rhetoric ("mental or emotional energy") is
applicable to the ten lectures, these lectures are among the more complex manifestations of
such rhetorical energy. Thus, my analysis will not focus on the "energy" of the father's
rhetoric per se, but the artful and complex way in which the father persuades the son.
88 Kennedy, Comparative Rhetoric, 1.
89 Classical Rhetoric, 120-21.
ancient West and their terminology is unfamiliar to most Western readers.90 Thus, if
one is to analyze the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9 from a rhetorical perspective, the
most complete and readily available system for a scholar trained in the West is that
from the ancient West.
There are two potential dangers in the use of Western rhetorical theory for the
interpretation of Proverbs 1-9. On the one hand, a primary danger lies in imposing
Western assumptions about rhetoric on a non-Western culture. Like Kennedy, I am
well aware of this pitfall.91 It is not my intention to impose Western assumptions
upon ancient Israel. Because of the universal nature of rhetoric, many of Israel's
practices may be similar or identical to that of the West.92 Yet, careful use of Western
theory may also reveal distinctive rhetorical practices in ancient Israel.93 My aim is
90 Comparative Rhetoric, 3,5.
91 Ibid., 5-6.
92 Kennedy points out several similarities in ancient Western and non-Western rhetoric.
1) Deliberative rhetoric is a universal practice (ibid., 220). 2) The most common form of
persuasion is inductive argumentation by use of examples (225). 3) There is a universal
recognition and use of rhetorical topoi, both universal (e.g., from greater to lesser, part of the
whole), and specific (225). 4) Sophistry is a universal rhetorical phenomenon (225). This is
not to say that Sophistry has emerged in every ancient society, but that the factors that lead to
the emergence of Sophistry are identical across all cultures (e.g., high levels of literacy,
sophistication, competing philosophical schools).
93 According to Kennedy, there are some clear differences between Western and non-
Western rhetoric. 1) Non-western rhetoric lacks full development of judicial rhetoric because
of its lack of Western judicial processes (ibid., 220). 2) Most non-Western rhetoric views
composition as an organic whole, against the Western teaching of composition as a series of
discrete steps (219-220). 3) "In the Western tradition generally, rhetoric was identified as a
distinct academic discipline that could be taught, studied and practiced separately from
political and moral philosophy" (218). In ancient non-Western cultures there were also
technical writings that discussed the techniques of persuasion, "but always as a part of political
or ethical thought" (219).
not to force Western ideas upon the ten lectures, but to utilize Western theory in a
responsible fashion to achieve a greater understanding of Israel’s rhetorical practices.
On the other hand, because of its own cultural specificity, Western rhetorical
theory may not be sensitive to certain aspects of non-Western rhetoric. For example,
Kennedy observes a significant difference between the goals of Western and non-
Western deliberative rhetoric. In the democracies of Greece and Rome, deliberative
rhetoric typically sought only a majority agreement. Because of this aim, rhetors
could ignore the extreme fringes of the audience, attack the opposition, and be
unconcerned for the reconciliation of those holding opposing opinions. All that
mattered was the acquisition of a majority. In non-Western and non-democratic
cultures, deliberative rhetoric most often seeks consensus. Consequently, non-Western
deliberative rhetoric tends to be gentle and conciliatory toward Opposing opinions.94
Another example of a Western theoretical lacuna due to cultural specifity concerns the
concept of ethos, i.e., the rhetor's credibility or right to speak (See below). Western
rhetorical theory of ethos focuses primarily on how ethos may be developed within a
speech and neglects a significant source of rhetorical ethos in non-Western cultures,
namely, the position or standing of the speaker in the community.95
Regrettably, the potential failure of not seeing the rhetorical distinctiveness of
Israel because of glasses tinted by Western theory cannot be avoided. This is a
constant problem in the application of any Western method to the interpretation of the
94 Ibid., 219-22.
95 E.g., see my analysis of the ethos of Prov 4:20-27.
Old Testament. However, this danger can be mitigated by an awareness of the
problem and giving careful attention not only to what is similar, but to what is
different from or unexplained by Western theory.96 In my opinion, the potential
benefits of utilizing Western rhetoric for the interpretation of the ten lectures in
Proverbs 1-9 outweigh these dangers and inadequacies.
This section has begun to define my practice of rhetorical analysis vis-a-vis
contemporary biblical rhetorics and the issues they raise. Against Muilenburg, I define
rhetoric as persuasive discourse and rhetorical analysis as focused attention on the
suasive dimensions of the text. With the New Rhetoric proposed by The Postmodern
Bible, my method is also largely a rediscovery of ancient Western rhetoric, although
more Aristotelian than Sophistic. I also concur with the Collective that rhetoric is the
tool of ideology. But, counter to their practice, cultural criticism is not the objective
of my dissertation. With Vernon Robbins, my analysis does not exclude insights from
other methodological perspectives. However, again, it is not my concern to coordinate
the diverse methods that have been brought to the interpretation of the lectures. And
finally, like Kennedy, my rhetorical analysis utilizes ancient Western rhetoric as a tool
for understanding the suasive dimensions of the ten lectures. It is to the specific
procedures of my analysis that I now turn.
96 For example, Kennedy (Comparative Rhetoric, 216-17) has drawn attention to the
foundational role of formal language (e.g., poetry, archaism) in rhetoric. The ancient West
conceptualized this device as an element of style. However, because of its importance in the
non-West, Kennedy suggests (228) that a general or universal theory of style must begin with
the concept of formal language.
A Rhetorical Method for
Analysis of the Ten Lectures
This study will utilize tools developed by and from ancient Western rhetoric for
understanding the 10 lectures of Proverbs 1-9 as attempt by an author/speaker (the
"father") to persuade an audience (the "son[s]"). Having dealt With the issue of
definition and the validity of utilizing Western rhetorical theory; for the interpretation
of non-Western texts, I will now articulate the specific procedure of rhetorical analysis
that I will follow in the next three chapters. This analysis will progress in four
overlapping steps: Text and Translation, The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit, Analysis of
the Artistic Proofs, and Summary.
1. Text and Translation
The rhetorical analysis of each of the ten lectures will begin with my own
translation of the text, including notes that attend to the fundamental issues of textual
and grammatical criticism. Although my primary interest is neither text critical nor
grammatical, it is necessary to establish the text and clarify any grammatical
ambiguities in order to lay a foundation for subsequent analysis. The uncertain value
of other textual witnesses to Proverbs 1-9 causes me to give preference to the MT.97
Nonetheless, I will consider variants on an individual basis.
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit
This second exercise roughly corresponds to the first step in Kennedy's
rhetorical method. Here, I will draw on both form critical and rhetorical insights to
determine the boundaries of the rhetorical unit to be studied. However, against
Kennedy, it is not my immediate interest to situate these discrete rhetorical units
within the rhetoric of larger units, i.e., Proverbs 1-9 or the book of Proverbs. This
delimitation follows a long standing hypothesis regarding the compositional history of
Proverbs 1-9, namely, that the original core of these chapters was the collection of ten
lectures to which the interludes were later added (see pp. 1, 9, 292-294). Thus, my
primary objective is the analysis of the individual speeches as individual speeches and
97 The manuscripts from Qumran offer almost no assistance for the study of the ten
lectures. Two fragments of Proverbs have been recovered from cave 4 (4Q102 and 4Q103),
but not yet published. More, these fragments attest to only one verse from the lectures
The LXX is of greater, albeit, limited assistance. According to J. Cook (The
Septuagint of Proverbs: Jewish and/or Hellenistic Proverbs? VTSup 69 [Leiden: Brill: 1997],
1), in addition to smaller differences (e.g., the variation of subject/object, plural instead of
singular) the LXX Proverbs differs from the MT in many respects, e.g., minuses, pluses,
chapters placed in a different order, and verses within chapters in a different order. The
nature or origin of these differences is uncertain. Cook (2) summarizes the problem, "If they
[the differences] are ascribed to the translator, then this version of the book of Proverbs will
be less useful for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. However, the contrary will apply
if the deviations could be retroverted to different Hebrew Vorlagen." After careful study of
Proverbs 1, 2, 6, 8, and 9, Cook concludes that the greatest number of differences are due to
the creativeness of the translator. Thus, "the Septuagint version of Proverbs should be treated
with the utmost caution when utilized for text-critical purposes" (334). See also E. Tov,
"Recensional Differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint of Proverbs," in Of
Scribes and Scrolls, Studies on the Hebrew Bible, Intertestamental Judaism, and Christian
Origins Presented to J. Strugnell, College Theology Society Resources in Religion 5, eds.
H.W. Attridge, et al. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990), 43-56.
the comparison of the rhetoric of these speeches. Within this task, the larger context
of Proverbs 1-9 its not unimportant, but secondary to the task at hand.98 Once the
individual analyses are completed, I will propose a redactional hypothesis for the
relationship of these lectures.
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of discovering the possible means of
persuasion in reference to any subject whatever.”99 For Aristotle, such discovery
primarily involved invention: planning a discourse and the arguments to be used in it
Such invention may be based on external proofs (inartistic), which the speaker utilizes,
but does not invent (e.g., the evidence of witnesses, documents, laws), or artistic
proofs, which are constructed by the "art" of the rhetor. Aristotle claimed that there
are three and only three kinds of artistic proof:
The first depends upon the moral character of the speaker, the second upon
putting the hearer into a certain frame of mind, the third, upon the speech itself,
in so far as it proves or seems to prove.100
According to Kennedy, these three types of proof, typically designated as ethos,
pathos, and logos, are universal features of rhetoric.101 Further, these categories
encompass the basic dimensions of a literary work: the author, the audience, and the
98 The interpretation of the lectures within the context of Proverbs 1-9 is necessary only if
the focus of the interpretation is Proverbs 1-9 as a whole. My dissertation is concerned with
the stage of literary development prior to the addition of the interlude3.
99 Aristotle, The "Art" of Rhetoric, 15.
100 Ibid., 17.
101 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 15.
text.102 Although I will not ignore external proofs, the use of external proofs is rare in
the lectures. Consequently, my analysis concentrates on the artistic proofs in the
Logos refers to the logical or rational development of the argument in the
discourse. According to Aristotle, logical arguments may exist in two forms: inductive
or deductive. Inductive reasoning utilizes a series of examples to draw a general
conclusion. Deductive reasoning utilizes enthymemes. Rhetorical enthymemes most
often take the form of a statement generally accepted to be true or probable by the
audience and a conclusion based on the statement.103 Again, in Classical theory, both
102 Yehoshua Gitay, "Rhetorical Criticism," in To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction
to Biblical Criticisms and Their Application, ed. Steven L. McKenzie and Stephen R. Haynes
(Louisville: Westminster Press, 1993), 136.
103 The difference between an enthymeme and an epicheireme is debated. For example,
Kennedy has distinguished these terms in different and contradictory ways. Most recently he
has claimed (New Testament Interpretation, 16-17) that the epicheireme employs a full
statement of major premise, minor premise, and conclusion, while the enthymeme assumes or
suppresses one of these parts, i.e., the part already accepted by the audience. This is a
reversal of his earlier claim (The Art of Persuasion in Greece, 97-98): "Later writers,
misunderstanding Aristotle, sometimes regarded such suppression as the factor in
distinguishing an enthymeme from a syllogism and adopted the term epicheireme to refer to a
rhetorical syllogism in full form. In the last hundred years there has been a general return to
the Aristotelian definition. If the premises are scientific, demonstrable, known to be
absolutely true, the argument is a syllogism. If they are only true for the most part, or usually
true, the argument is an enthymeme." For the purposes of this dissertation, I adopt Kennedy's
most recent definition of enthymeme (suppression of one of the premises) and epicheireme
(full statement of major premise, minor premise, and conclusion).
inductive and deductive arguments are drawn from topics or places a rhetor may look
for material to develop his/her argument.104
My analysis of the logos of the lectures will also include the element of
arrangement. Typically, in the theory of classical rhetoric, arrangement (i.e., the
composition of a unified structure) follows logos as the second of the five canons of
speech composition and delivery.105 Yet Kennedy observes that, in practice, classical
rhetoricians usually included arrangement in their discussion of invention.106 So, here,
I will consider this element in its role as a contributor to the development of the logos
or logical argument of the lecture.
Each analysis, then, will begin with an identification of the arrangement of the
lecture utilizing concepts from Western rhetorical theory, e.g., Proem, proposition,
proof and epilogue. These categories, I will demonstrate, aptly, describe the parts of
the lectures. For example, each lecture begins with the proem “my son” or "sons"
(e.g., 1:8, 3:1, 4:1) and asserts a proposition (e.g., 1:8-9, 3:1-2,4:1-2) that is
elaborated and defended in a section of proof (e.g., 1:10-18, 3:3-10, 4:3-9). Most
lectures also include an identifiable epilogue (e.g., 1:19, 2:20-22, 3:11-12). The proper
identification of these elements is important for understanding the unique rhetoric of
each lecture. For example, the failure to recognize the epilogue of the first lecture
(1:19) has led many scholars to miss the hyperbolic nature of the rhetoric. In the
104 See Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece, 100-02; and New Testament
105 The other canons are style, memory, and delivery.
106 Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 23.
same way, the failure to identify and recognize the controlling function of the
proposition in each lecture has led to a lack of appreciation for the differing aim(s),
proofs, and coherence of each lecture: Thus, in this section, I will identify the
constituent parts of the rhetoric and seek to understand their role in the logical or
rational development of the rhetor's argument.
The second artistic proof is ethos. Kennedy describes the concept of ethos in
Classical theory as
the credibility that the author or speaker is able to establish in his work. The
audience is induced to trust what he says because they trust him, as a good
man or an expert on the subject. In Aristotelian theory ethos is something
entirely internal to a speech, but in practice the authority which the speaker
brings to the occasion is an important factor . . . 107
Frequently, in the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9, there is special concern for developing
the authority or the moral character of the speaker (the father), against the ethos of the
opposition, e.g., the wicked men (1:8-19, 2:12-15) and the seductive woman (2:16-19).
Here, I will identify the devices that develop the ethos of the speaker and their
function in the rhetoric. In other lectures, there is an apparent lack of concern or need
to develop the speaker's ethos (e.g., 3:1-12, 21-35). Again, I will identify the devices
that are present, but I will also explore the reason(s) for the relative lack of concern
for the speaker's ethos.
107 Ibid., 15.
The third artistic proof is pathos. Pathos regards the emotions of the audience
and how rhetors may stimulate or manipulate their emotions, e.g., anger, fear, or love,
to achieve their rhetorical goals. Typically, pathetic appeals are concentrated in the
epilogue or final stages of a speech. However, rhetorical analysis must not restrict
pathos to the final appeal, but be sensitive to pathetic proofs that are developed or
employed throughout the speech. Here, several helpful questions will guide my
analysis: What persuasive devices engage the emotions or sentiments of the audience?
Does the text primarily threaten (the pathos of fear), promise (the pathos of pleasure),
or both? Is there extensive use of pathetic appeals or does the rhetor rely on the logic
of the argument (logos) or his own authority (ethos) to accomplish his goals?
d. Summary & Conclusions
The completion of the preceding analysis should provide the necessary data for
understanding various aspects of the rhetoric of each lecture. Thus, my analysis of
each lecture will conclude with a synthesis of my findings, including the rhetorical
situation of the lecture, the rhetorical problem addressed by the speaker, and the
strategy (i.e., the convergence of logos, ethos, and pathos) employed by the speaker to
confront and remedy the problem.
Undergirding my conclusions, as well as my analyses, is the a priori
assumption that the speaker/writer was of at least minimal rhetorical competency. In
other words, I assume that each speaker/writer spoke in a self-conscious attempt to
persuade an audience, designed each speech for suasion, and expected that each lecture
had at least a reasonable chance at success. It is my judgment that this initial
assumption is confirmed by the rhetorical analysis of the lectures. Thus, throughout
this dissertation, I will support this thesis with evidence of careful rhetorical
composition and artistry in the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9.
Summary: Rhetorical Criticism
This chapter has established the theoretical foundations and the practical
procedures for my rhetorical analysis of the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9. My
methodology does not exist in a vacuum. Consequently, I have sought to define my
practice of rhetorical interpretation vis-a-vis both ancient and contemporary rhetorics.
Rhetorical criticism has had a long history in the interpretation of biblical texts.
However, as my survey has demonstrated, this history has not been static. Primarily
due to the influence of modernism, rhetoric suffered a sharp decline in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries. Conversely, the surge of postmodernism in more recent
years has reawakened interest in rhetoric.
Like its ancient counter-part, contemporary rhetorics includes a plurality of
both harmonious and competing theories. Each of these contemporary practices raises
or emphasizes important critical issues in the discussion of rhetoric. Thus, in assessing
these methods, I have been able to address the underpinnings of my own method.
Against Muilenburg's rhetoric, I define rhetorical criticism as the systematic analysis of
the suasive features of a discourse. With The Postmodern Bible's New Rhetoric, I
agree that rhetoric is the tool of ideology. However, their practice of rhetorical
criticism as cultural criticism is not the goal of this dissertation. My rhetorical theory
also fits within the interpretive analytics proposed by Vernon Robbins, primarily as an
analysis of one dimension of the Inner Texture of Proverbs 1-9. Yet, against Robbins,
my aim does not include the correlation of diverse methodology or rewriting the
history of the wisdom tradition in ancient Israel.
The contemporary rhetorician to which I an most indebted is George Kennedy.
Although our practices differ slightly, I, like Kennedy, rely heavily on the conceptual
theory and terminology of ancient Western rhetoric. Thus, my rhetorical analysis will
concentrate on the artistic proofs of the ten lectures as a means of understanding the
rhetorical situation, the rhetorical problem, and the rhetor's strategy for resolving this
problem. With this definition in hand and having already situated this dissertation
within the interpretive web of Proverbs 1-9, I now turn my analysis of the ten lectures.
RHETORICAL ANALYSIS OF GROUP I:
THE CALLS TO APPRENTICESHIP
The ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9 appear to assert similar propositions. They
address a "son" or "sons," urge the son(s) to listen, not forget, or guard the father's
teaching, and affirm the value of this teaching.1 However, a curious diversity exists
within this similarity that scholars have yet to explain adequately.2 Nineteen different
Hebrew verbs occur in the initial appeals of the lectures (e.g., listen, pay attention,
guard).3 While many of these terms are synonymous, or near synonymous, others
suggest varied emphases in the father's rhetorical objectives. The father also affirms
the value of his teaching in different ways. At times, he claims that his teaching is the
key to a successful life (e.g., 3:1-2, 3:21-22). At other times, he affirms his teaching
by promising that it will rescue the son from the seductive rhetoric of the alien woman
1 Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 34.
2 Whybray (Proverbs, NCB [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994], 23-24) writes: "It
is remarkable - and no satisfactory explanation has been found for this - that although in
every case the language used is similar, it is never quite identical: a remarkable number of
synonyms is used, and often the same words occur in slightly different combinations." (italics
3 fmw (1:8, 4:1,10), wFn (1:8, 6:20), Hql (2:1), Npc (2:1, 7:1), bwq (2:2, 4:1,20, 5:1), hFn
(2:2, 4:20, 5:1), xrq (2:3, 7:4), Ntn (2:3), wqb (2:4), wpH (2:4), Hkw (3:1, 4:5), rcn (3:1, 21,
5:2, 6:20), zUl (3:21, 4:21), bzf (4:2), rwq (6:21, 7:3), dnf (6:21), btk (7:3), rmx (7:4), rmw
(4:21, 5:2, 7:1, 2)
(e.g., 6:20-24, 7:1-5). Further, there is remarkable variety in the rhetorical strategies
each lecture employs to argue for its proposition (see below).
This dissertation will address the diversity within the ten lectures and thus
breach the present scholarly impasse by the use of rhetorical criticism. It is my thesis
that the ten lectures of Proverbs 1-9 may be classified into three groups or subsets on
the basis of their rhetoric, namely their differing propositions and rhetorical strategies.
Against the conclusion of form critics, I maintain that the various combinations of
verbs in the propositions do not make the same appeal.4 Rather, analysis of these
verbs reveals three distinct groups: 1) verbs which urge the son to listen to the father
and receive his wisdom (fmw, wFn, Hql, hFn), or to actively pursue the
acquisition of the father's wisdom (Npc, xrq, Ntn, wqb, wpH), 2) verbs which
emphasize not forgetting (Hkw), abandoning (bzf), or losing (zUl) the father's
instruction, and 3) verbs which advise the son to guard (rcn) or keep watch over
(rmw) the father's teaching.
The three groups of verbs correspond to three different types of lectures (see
table 1). One group of lectures (1:8-19, 2:1-22, 4:1-9, 4:10-19) utilizes the first group
of verbs to urge the son to listen to the father's instruction and actively pursue
wisdom. Significantly, these lectures do little more than appeal for apprenticeship.
The actual teaching of the father is not explicated. Another group of lectures (3:1-12,
3:22-35, 4:20-27) employs the second group of verbs that emphasize not forgetting
4 For example, Whybray (Proverbs, 23) claims: "The varieties of wording seem endless;
yet the basic meaning is always the same."
Table 1.--Concurrence of Verbs in the Propositions of the Ten Lectures
Do not forget or
Guard, Keep Watch,
Hql, Nqc, bwq, hFn,
xrq, Ntn, wqb, wpH
rcn, rwq, dnf
rcn, rwq, dnf
the father's teaching (with incidental use of the third and first groups).5 These lectures
do explicate the teaching of the father through a series of concise imperatives on a
variety of subjects. Finally, a third subset of lectures (5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27) takes
up the group of verbs that stress the importance of guarding and watching over the
father's instruction. This appeal corresponds to the longest lectures (with the exception
of 2:1-22), which provide sustained teaching on a single topic, namely, the danger of
the strange/foreign woman. Thus, in each lecture, the nuance of the opening appeal
5 There is some overlap in these categories. For example, verbs which denote an appeal to
listen occur in all three types of lectures (e.g., 4:20-21, 5:1-2; see Table 1). Nonetheless, each
lecture places emphasis on one of these three categories.
corresponds to the content of the lecture.6 Form critics have overlooked this
In this and the next two chapters, I will test the validity of this rhetorical
classification of the lectures into three subsets. In this chapter, I will examine the
rhetoric of the first group or type of lecture, namely the four lectures that urge the son
to listen to the father and actively pursue wisdom, but that do not explicate the actual
teaching of the father. Chapters four and five will offer analysis of the second and
third groups, respectively.
1. Text and Translation
1:8 Listen, my son, to the instruction of your father
and do not disregard the teaching of your mother;
1:9 because they are a garland of favor for your head,
and necklaces for your neck.
1:10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
1:11 If they say, "Come with us,
let us lie in ambush7 for blood;
let us lurk for an innocent person without cause;8
6 Paul Overland ("Literary Structure in Proverbs 1-9," 169-170), in his analysis of 1:8-19,
makes a similar claim regarding the summons of verse 8-9: "This link [related term repetition
involving wealth] between an instructional block (B) and a summons block (A) is important
because it shows the potential for initiating a theme even within the brief, often formulaic
confines of a summons . . . The summons is capable of containing a carefully designed germ
of the topic to be developed in ensuing instruction."
7 The imperfect verbs of verses 1lc-13 are juxtaposed asyndetically to the imperative of
verse 11a (UnTAxi hkAl;, "come with us"). Thus, these verbs are best read as a chain of
cohortatives that signify the purpose of the imperative (see Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor,
An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990], 577).
8 Some scholars offer a series of emendations for this verse. For example, W.O.E.
Oesterley (The Book of Proverbs, Westminster Commentaries [London: Methuen, 1929], 8)
1:12 let us swallow them up like Sheol [swallows]9 the living,
[Let us swallow them] whole like those going down to the pit;
1:13 let us find every precious valuable;
let us fill our houses with plunder.
1:14 Cast10 your lot with us;
let there be one bag for all of us."
1:15 My son, do not walk in the road with them,
restrain your foot from their paths.
1:1611 “Their feet run to evil,
and they hurry to shed blood.”12
proposes MtAl; ("for the perfect [man]") instead of MdAl; ("for blood," v. 1 lb, cf v. 16), and
Mr,He ("net") instead of Mn.AHi ("without cause," v. 11c). These revisions exemplify the attempt
to read the speech of the wicked men as a real speech, rather than a hyperbolic rhetorical
device created by the rhetor.
9 Brackets [ ] indicate words elided by the speaker/writer but provided in my translation.
10 Following the LXX and the context (the previous imperative [v. 1 lb] and cohortatives
[vv. 11c-13]), the MT 2nd masculine singular (lyPiTa) is best read as an imperative "cast" or
"you should cast" (so the NIV, NRSV, and NJV). Consequently, the second verb of this verse
(hy,h;yi) is read as a jussive ("let there be").
11 This verse is nearly identical to Isa 59:7 (MT). It differs in only two respects: 1) the
plene spelling of UzUryA (UcruyA in Isaiah), and 2) the omission of yqinA) ("innocent"). This
close verbal similarity suggests that one of these texts is quoting from the other, or both are
citing a common source.
Because this verse is lacking in Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and minuscule
mss. of Proverbs, many scholars view it as a gloss from Isaiah (e.g., Whybray, Wisdom in
Proverbs, 39 note 3; Oesterley, Proverbs, 9). Five arguments may be advanced against this
position. 1) Other reliable manuscripts, e.g., Alexandrinus and MT, do include this verse.
2) If the lectures of Proverbs 1-9 are dated in the late Post-exilic era (Baumann, et al.) and
attributed to a social group familiar with Israel's written traditions (Harris, et al.), it is
plausible that a citation from Isaiah could be an integral part of the speech. 3) Both verses 16
and 17 are citations offered by the writer/speaker in support of the proposition in verse 15.
4) Verse 16 has close verbal links to verse 15: "your foot" (v. 15) // "their feet" (v. 16), "road
. . . paths" (v. 15) // the activities of running and hurrying (v. 16) -- all images of travel or
movement. 5) The conclusion of verse 18, "so they lie in ambush for their own blood,"
depends on verse 16 "they hurry to shed blood" (as well as verse 11). Without verse 16, it is
difficult to follow the argumentation of verses 15-18. On the basis of this evidence, my
analysis recognizes verse 16 as a citation drawn by the rhetor either from Isaiah or a source
also used by Isaiah, not a later editorial gloss.
12 Both citations (verses 16-17) are introduced in Hebrew by the particle yKi. I have
translated this particle by using quotation marks to denote citation.
1:17 "Vainly the net is spread out13
in the plain sight of any bird."
1:18 But they lie in ambush for their own blood;
they lurk for their own lives.
1:19 Thus are the ways14 of all who gain an unjust gain;
it will take away the life of its owner.
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit
Formal and thematic features create clear borders in this rhetorical unit. The
beginning of the unit is demarcated by 1) the conclusion of the prologue with the
motto of 1:7 ("The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise
instruction"), 2) the shift from sentence literature, in verse 7, to the instruction form, in
13 There is some difficulty in reading hrAzom;. In the MT, this word is pointed as a D
passive participle of hrz ("to spread"). Driver ("Problems in the Hebrew Text of Proverbs,"
Bib 32 : 173) proposes repointinghrzm as a G passive participle (hrAzum;) from the
root rzm ("to close, tighten"), or as a Hophal participle (hrAzAmu ) from rvz ("to draw tight").
Both emendations suggest the translation "vainly the net is closed." D.W. Thomas ("Textual
and Philological Notes on Some Passages in the Book of Proverbs," VTSup 3 : 281-82),
on the basis of the Arabic root dr' ("winnow, throw, scatter"), claims that hrAzom; refers to
the practice of sprinkling grain on a net as bait. Thus, even though the birds see the net, their
compulsive desire for the grain causes them to ignore the obvious danger, light on the net, and
be captured (see also McKane, Proverbs, OTL [London: SCM Press, 1970], 271). Both
Driver's repointing, which lacks textual support, and Thomas' use of Arabic are unnecessary.
My translation maintains the MT and the standard Hebrew meaning of hrzm. On the
rhetorical function of this citation in the lecture, see my analysis below.
14 Following the MT tOHr;xA, plural of hrx (stretch [of path], ground, behavior, way).
Toy (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, ICC [New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899], 20) suggests the reading tyriHExa (end, outcome), based on
the context, especially verse 18 in the LXX. Many scholars accept this emendation (e.g.,.
Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 39; R.B.Y. Scott, Proverbs/Ecclesiastes, AB, vol. 18 [New
York: Doubleday, 1965], 34). However, against this emendation: 1) verse 19 of the LXX
follows the MT, 2) hrx picks up on the warning of verse 15 about the "road" (j`r,d,) and the
"path" (bytin;) of the sinners, and 3) the emendation fails to recognize the function of Hrx, as
key word throughout the lectures (2:8, 13, 15, 19, 20, 3:6, 4:14, 18, 5:6).
verses 8ff.,15 3) the address "hear, my son" (yniB; fmaw;; 1:8), and 4) the utilization of
this address to introduce a sustained warning about the "sinners" (1:10-19). The end
of the unit is distinguished by 1) the summary conclusion of verse 19 (introduced by
NKe), and 2) the beginning of the speech by personified wisdom in verse 20.16
One problematic aspect of the lecture's integrity is the occurrence of the
vocative ynb ("my son") in the body of the lecture (v. 10, j~UTpay;-Mxi ynib;, and
v. 15, j`leTe-lxa ynib;). In Proverbs 1-9, typically, the vocative ynb is a proem or initial
address and thereby a primary indicator of the beginning of a new rhetorical unit.17
Thus, it is possible to confuse "my son" in verses 10 and 15 as demarcating the
beginning of new or distinct rhetorical units.18
Although the vocative ynb often marks a new rhetorical unit in Proverbs 1-9, it
also occurs within the body of four lectures, where it does not denote the beginning of
a new speech.19 The primary distinction between these two usages is that in the
proems, the vocative ynb is used in connection with appeals to listen, pay attention, not
forget, etc., but in the bodies of these lectures, the vocative ynb is used in combination
with more specific appeals (e.g., "My son, if sinners entice you" [1:10], "My son, do
15 Stuart Weeks, Early Israelite Wisdom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 9.
16 For an extensive defense of the literary unity of 1:8-19 see Overland, "Literary Structure
in Proverbs," 164-187.
17 1:8, 2:1, 3:1, 3:21, 4:1, 4:10, 4:20, 5:1(and 7), 6:20, 7:1
18 For example, Newsom ("Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 144)
includes verses 8-9 with the prologue of the book of Proverbs and delimits the first speech as
19 Lecture #1: 1:10, 15; lecture #3: 3:11; lecture #8: 5:20; lecture #10: 7:24.
not walk in the way with them" [1:15], "Why should you, my son, be intoxicated by a
strange woman?" [5:20]).20 In this lecture, the supplementary ynb vocatives introduce
the speech of the sinners (v. 10) and make a direct appeal to the son to reject their
rhetoric (v. 15, see below).21
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs
This lecture implores the son to accept parental teaching. However, the rhetor
does not explicate this teaching. Rather, the entire lecture is devoted to persuading the
son to reject an alternative rhetoric, namely the rhetoric of ferocious "sinners" who
offer immediate gratification of the son's desire for adventure, wealth, and
companionship. To combat the appeal of this rhetoric and convince the son to listen
instead to parental instruction, the father employs a subtle rhetorical strategy that is
often misread by his contemporary interpreters.
Deliberative speech, as conceptualized by Aristotle, seeks to persuade an
audience to adopt an attitude or make a decision regarding the future and has
20 This distinction is only semantic. There is no difference between the syntactical usage of
ynb in the proems and in the body of the lectures. On 4 occasions, the construction imperative
+ ynb introduces a new rhetorical unit (e.g., ynib; fmaw;) [1:8]; see also, 4:1, 4:10, 6:20).
However, in the other 6 lectures, the construction ynb + imperative or conditional clause
introduces a new rhetorical unit (2:1, 3:1, 3:21, 4:20, 5:1, 7:1). In the bodies of the lectures
the syntax is both ynb + imperative (1:10,15, 3:11, 7:24) and imperfect + ynb (5:20).
In addition to the semantic difference between ynb in the proems and in the body of
the lectures, the context in which ynb appears also helps define its function. For example, in
1:10 and 15, ynb does not introduce a new topic as it does in 1:8. Thus, while 1:8 marks the
beginning of a new lecture, 1:10 and 15 denote new sections within the lecture.
21 See also Whybray, Proverbs, 39.
"expediency" as its primary aim, i.e., what is best in the given situation.22 This
definition aptly describes the rhetoric of 1:8- .9. In this lecture, the rhetor attempts to
persuade his audience that the expedient course of action is to accept parental
instruction and reject the rhetoric of the "sinners." Further, the structure or outline of
this lecture is similar to the common Western form of deliberative speech
Proem - 1:8a
Proposition -1: 8a-9
Proof - 1:10-18
Epilogue - 1:1923
The proem and proposition are intermingled in verse 8. A proem in
deliberative rhetoric establishes the relationship of the speaker to the audience and thus
gains initial favor with the audience. In this speech, the proem consists of the single
Hebrew word, ynb - "my son." While this word certainly asserts a speaker/audience
relationship, there is considerable disagreement about the nature of this liaison.
22 Aristotle, The "Art" of Rhetoric, I.ii.5. "The end of the deliberative speaker is the
expedient or harmful; for he who exhorts recommends a course of action as better, and he
who dissuades advises against it as worse; all other considerations, such as justice and
injustice, honor and disgrace, are included as accessory in reference to this."
23 The use of categories from deliberative rhetoric to outline the lectures is not new (e.g.,
Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 235), although my application of these categories to all
ten lectures is unique. The primary significance of my identification of this lecture as
deliberative rhetoric and my outline based on this identification is that I identify vv. 8-9 as the
proposition that the rhetor defends in the proof of vv. 10-18. Other scholars (e.g., Toy,
Proverbs, 13-14; McKane, Proverbs, 268) typically regard vv. 8-9 as merely an introduction
(i.e., a proem), rather than the lecture's proposal.
On the one hand, numerous scholars assert that ynb denotes a kinship relation,
i.e., a real father speaking to his biological son.24 This hypothesis depends entirely on
three texts within the lectures that mention the son's mother.
Listen, my son, to the instruction of your father
and do not disregard the teaching of your mother. (1:8)
Guard, my son, the commandment of your father
and do not neglect the teaching of your mother. (6:20)
According to the proponents of this position, the admonitions of 1:8 and 6:20 are
roundabout ways of referring to the speaker's own instruction. In other words, it is the
son's physical father who addresses him and urges him to accept "the instruction of
Additional support for a familial relationship is arguably found in the
instructional setting envisioned by the speaker in 4:3-4.
For I was a son of my father,
delicate and alone before my mother,
and he taught me and said to me, (4:3-4a)
In the following verses (vv. 4b-9), the speaker recounts what his father taught him. It
is difficult to deny that the "grandfather's" speech was originally delivered in a familial
setting; the "grandfather" spoke when the "son" was "delicate and alone before my
mother." However, that the rhetorical setting of the lecture of 4:1-9 is identical to the
24 Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," NIB, ed. L. Keck, et al., vol. 5
Wisdom Literature (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 31,37; Roger N. Whybray, The Intellectual
Tradition in the Old Testament, BZAW, vol. 135 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1974), 42-43; Weeks,
Early Israelite Wisdom, 15; Michael V. Fox, "The Social Location of the Book of Proverbs,"
in Texts, Temples, and Traditions, ed. Michael Fox, et al. (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996),
rhetorical setting of the grandfather's speech is a dubious assumption.25 The rhetorical
situations are not the same. For example, while the "grandfather's" speech addressed
an individual son, in 4:1 the rhetor addresses "sons" (MynibA Ufm;wi; I will discuss this
shift and its significance in my analysis of 4:1-9; see below, pp. 132f.
It is also questionable whether 1:8 and 6:20 adequately support the hypothesis
of a familial rhetorical situation. Read closely, these texts appear to be appeals to
accept traditional sources of authority, exemplified by the roles of the father and
mother. In other words, it is possible that 1:8 is not circumlocutionary language, but a
direct indicator that someone other than the son's physical "father" or "mother" is
speaking and urging the "son" to accept his parent's teaching.26 This possible reading
becomes probable in light of further evidence.
First, ancient Near Eastern literature attests to the custom of utilizing the term
"son" as a "form of address to a subordinate or by a subordinate when referring to
himself.”27 This use of "son" is found in the Wisdom literature of Ugarit,28
25 Athalya Brenner ("Proverbs 1-9: An F Voice?" in On Gendering Text: Female and Male
Voices in the Hebrew Bible, ed. Athalya Brenner and Fokkelien Van Dijk-Hemmes [New
York: E.J. Brill, 1993], 118) raises a similar concern: "But who is the narrator-in-the-text, the
privileged I persona? Should we take a logical leap and decide that like father, like son, like
initial speaker? Does the identity of the fictive target audience, the textual 'sons',
automatically imply the same gender for the 'teacher' who addresses them."
26 Kathleen A. Farmer, Who Knows What is Good? Proverbs & Ecclesiastes, ITC (Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 26-27.
27 CAD 10, s.v., "maru," 308.
28 For example, "my son, your time is at hand" (Duane E. Smith, "Wisdom Genres in RS
22.439," in Ras Shamra Parallels: The Texts from Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible, Duane E.
Smith and Stan Rummel, eds.[Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1975], RS 22.439 I:9
[p. 222]; see also, I 17,19 and 11:6).
Mesopotamia29 and Egypt.30 Second, and more importantly, biblical texts attest to the
use of "son" as a designation for a student or pupil (e.g., I Sam 3:6, 16, Qoh 12:12)
and "father" as a designation for a teacher (e.g., II Kgs 2:3-5, 12).31 Third, in the
eighth lecture (5:1-23), also addressed to "my son" (ynb, 5:1), the speaker warns the
"son" that, if he rejects his advice and falls prey to the rhetoric of the foreign woman,
he will lament,
How I hated discipline,
and my heart disdained reproof.
I did not obey the voice of my teachers,
and I did not incline my ear to my instructors. (5:13-14)
29 For example, "[My s]on, ch[at]ter not overmuch so that thou speak out [every w]ord
[that] comes to thy mind" ("The Words of Ahiqar," vii 96; see also ix 123-41 and x 1.42-158
[ANET 428-229]); "My son, if it be the wish of the prince that you are his" ("Counsels of
Wisdom," 81 [ANET 595]); "The son of a school-master like carnelian-stone . . . (?); he is a
scribe!" (Edmund I. Gordon, Sumerian Proverbs: Glimpses of Everyday Life in Ancient
Mesopotamia [Philadelphia: The University Museum, 1959], 2.45). Gordon (205) observes
that "son of a school-master" should perhaps be translated as "a member of the school-master's
profession." Other familial language was also used in Sumerian education, e.g., the teacher's
assistant was called the "big brother" (ses-gal; Gordon, 20).
30 Most Egyptian Instructions take the form of an address of a father to his son (e.g., "Ptah-
Hotep," 25-50 [ANET 412], "Amen-em-opet," ii 10-15 [ANET 421], "Ani" [ANET 420],
"Hor-Dedef' [ANET 419], "Amen-em-het" [ANET 418], and "Meri-ka-re" [ANET 414-415]).
The interpretation of these texts is debated. Fox ("The Social Location of the Book of
Proverbs," 230-231) claims that these texts depict men speaking to their actual sons. McKane
(Proverbs, 51-52, 65, 92) argues that in most cases the parental form of address is a literary
convention and that the Instructions are more general in character and thus, most Instructions
were educational manuals for apprentice officials or scribes. See also Philip Nel, "The
Concept of 'Father' in the Wisdom Literature of the Ancient Near East," JNSL 5 (1977): 60-61.
31 Elsewhere, "father"/"son" language denotes other types of hierarchical relationships:
I Sam 10:12, 24:12 (MT; 24:11, Eng.), 24:17 (MT; 24:16, Eng.), 25:8, 26:17, II Sam 18:22,
II Kgs 2:12.
It is significant that here, the "son" identifies those who addressed him as "my son"
(5:1) as "my teachers" (yrAOm) and "my instructors" (ydam.;lami), not "my father" or
The weaknesses in the arguments in favor of a familial relationship combined
with the evidence supporting some type of teacher-pupil relationship leads me to the
conclusion that the rhetorical situation of 1:8-19 is the address of a teacher/sage to his
student(s). This assertion is not a denial of the existence of family education in
ancient Israel nor an assertion of a formal school setting for the lectures. Rather, by
adopting the language of the family (ynb) and admonishing the son to accept parental
authority, the speaker envisions his role as an extension or continuation of familial
education. As Philip Nel writes,
The authoritative character of his [the sage's] teaching is rooted in the
authoritative family-education - par excellence, education in tradition. Thus the
professional instructions of the wisdom-teacher are only a continuation of
tradition, and not a substitution. The teacher acts in loco parentis.32
Thus, with the single word ynb, the proem accomplishes the task of establishing the
speaker's relationship to the audience and his right to speak and be heard: He is their
instructor and they are his pupils.33
The proposition consists of two verses (1:8-9). In the first, the speaker states
his objective in both positive and negative terms. The son/student should listen to the
instruction of his father and should not neglect the teaching of his mother (1:8). The
32 Nel, "The Concept of "Father," 59.
33 In order to avoid confusion, despite the speaker's use of "my son," I will denote the
speaker/writer of 1:8-19 as the rhetor or speaker rather than father.
best thing for the pupil to do is to accept the authority and counsel of his parents.34 In
support of this proposal, the speaker supplies an initial argument: Listening to
traditional authority will bring the son social standing ("a garland of favor for your
head and necklaces for your neck," 1:9).35
This promised benefit is not unrelated to the subsequent rhetoric. Rather, this
reward preempts the promises that will be made in the speech of the sinners, namely
adventure, wealth, and companionship (see below). Recognizing the allure of these
promises, the speaker claims that parental values and teaching will provide the social
status sought by the son.36 The proposition, then, asserts that the son can best achieve
his goals by accepting the rhetoric of the sage, not the rhetoric of the sinners. Or, as
Newsom states it, "The first speech that is addressed to the son is precisely about how
to resist interpellation by a rival discourse.”37
34 Overland ("Literary Structure in Proverbs 1-9," 184) argues on the basis of literary links
to 1:3-5 that we should not read the imperative fmw (hear) as a commonplace component of
the summons: "if one were reading or hearing Proverbs for the first time, beginning with ch.
1, fmw would not yet have developed a commonplace summons value. If we confine
ourselves to these two texts [1:3-5 and 1:8-19], fmw in v. 5 describes the primary activity of a
wise man. Then in v. 8 fmw exhorts the pupil to behave as the wise man who was previously
described. To begin the second text with fmw seems coincidental, but may actually reflect a
strategic repetition which has significance when viewed against the backdrop of the preceding
35 Whybray, Proverbs, 38; Scott, Proverbs, 38.
36 The promise of illicit adventure is addressed by the father, but not in the initial statement
of the proposition. Later, he will argue that such adventure will end in misadventure, the
entrapment of the sinners' in traps of their own making (vv. 16-18).
37 Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 144.
The proof (1:10-18) consists of two inter-related parts. First, the rhetor cites
the speech of the "sinners" (1:10-14). This speech begins with the imperative "Come
with us" (UnTAxi hkAl;; 1:11), followed by five cohortatives that signify the purpose
of "coming with us." The first three cohortatives identify the purpose of coming as an
illicit adventure. The sinners propose that the son join them in setting ambushes to
destroy the innocent, i.e., to kill for the fun of it (MnA.Hi; 1:11). Then, drawing on
images from Canaanite mythology, they propose swallowing people whole like Sheol
swallows the living (1:12).38
Many scholars read these verses as if they were an external proof or a reliable
citation from the sinners.39 If so, it is hard to imagine why the speaker is concerned
about such rhetoric. Although possible, what son in the sage's audience would be
persuaded to join a gang of thugs in order to go about killing the innocent for no
reason or benefit? Further, the sinner's speech, as cited by the rhetor, is crass and
appears to be of little suasive strength. I do not deny that such gangs existed in
ancient Israel. But I do doubt that such outrageous rhetoric would have been a cause
for the serious concern exhibited by this rhetor. The conclusion of this lecture (1:19)
will reveal a different purpose for the sinner's speech (see below).
This speech is not an external proof, i.e., it is not a real speech from the
sinners. Rather, as Newsom has pointed out, this alleged speech is completely
38 McKane, Proverbs, 269; Whybray, Proverbs, 40.
39 Toy, Proverbs, 14-16; Oesterley, Proverbs, 8-9; Whybray, Proverbs, 39-40; Van
Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 37-38; Estes, Hear My Son, 116.
controlled by the rhetor. The speaker has created this hyperbolic speech, so
exaggerated that even the most simple minded son can "deconstruct" (i.e., see through)
it and return safely to the counsel of his parents.40 To be sure, hyperbole is most
effective when it is based on some element(s) of truth. Here, in these three
cohortatives, this element of truth appears to be some offer of an adventuresome life
unrestricted by the stagnant rules of tradition.
The fourth and fifth cohortatives exaggerate a second element in the rhetoric of
the opposition, namely the acquisition of wealth ("let us find every precious valuable;
let us fill our houses with plunder," 1:13). The traditional ethics for accumulating
wealth are articulated throughout the book of Proverbs. Wealth is a blessing bestowed
by the Lord (10:22) on those who work diligently (12:27, 13:4, 12:11). The rhetoric
of the sinners offers a quicker and easier way to wealth: Find an item of value and
take it. Yet again, the rhetor exaggerates their appeal: "let us fill our houses with
The speech of the "sinners" concludes with another imperative/cohortative
construction (1:14). The sinners urge the son to cast his lot with them and become a
share-holder in the common purse. Once again, the speaker picks up on what was
most likely a real element in the rhetoric of the opposition, namely membership in an
egalitarian community. Van Leeuwen explains, "In contrast to the segmented society
of Proverbs, with its degrees of honor, the company of sinners presents itself as a
40 Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 144-45. See also,
Crenshaw, "Wisdom and Authority," 14. The use of fictive speeches in rhetoric is not
unusual. See, for example, the use of fictive speeches in the diatribes of Malachi (David L.
Petersen, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi, OTL [Louisville: Westminster Press, 1995], 31-32).
successful community with egalitarian and utopian claims: share and share alike."41
This appeal does not appear to be hyperbolic. It is, however, sardonic. In view of the
"self-confessed" ruthless behavior of the gang, wantonly killing and robbing for profit,
only a fool would be foolish enough to entrust his goods and his person to such thugs
(cf. Prov 14:16). By placing this invitation at the end of the hyperbolic speech, the
rhetor subtly ridicules anyone who would listen to or join such a group.
What is the rhetorical function of the speech of the sinners? How does this
speech relate to the proposition to accept parental authority?42 On the one hand, the
rhetor has created such a hyperbolic invitation that the invitation itself has lost its
persuasive appeal. No one would be so foolish as to join such a ruthless gang of
thugs. Or, at least this conclusion is the rhetorical goal of the fictitious speech. On
the other hand, in the process of debunking the sinners, it is likely that the rhetor's
creation engages three real promises made by the opposition that intersect with the
desires of the son, namely the son's desire for adventure, for wealth, and for
companionship. The presence of these ideas in the proof suggests that the rhetorical
problem is the son's longing to fulfill these desires, and the potential of fulfilling them
41 Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 33.
42 Newsom ("Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 145) also acknowledges
the exaggeration and asks "what else is going on here? Who and what is the son really being
warned against? It seems scarcely credible that the advice should be taken at face value as
career counseling. It is much more likely that this depiction of brigands is a metaphor for
in ways contrary to the traditional mores advocated by his parents and teacher.43 Thus,
the rhetor's strategy to dissuade the son from joining the sinners consists of revealing
the "true" nature of their appeals through hyperbole, i.e., their invitation to adventure
is really an invitation "to lie in wait for blood" (1:11).
The second part of the proof, like the first, begins with the vocative "my
son" (1:15). Then, two imperatives reiterate the proposition of the lecture in negative
terms, "do not walk in the road with them," and "restrain your foot from their paths"
(1:15). Although the preceding speech of the wicked has already contributed strong
proof not to join the sinners, the proposition is now supported by additional evidence,
namely two citations and a conclusion drawn from the citations.44
The first citation is nearly identical to Isaiah 59:7: "Their feet run to evil, and
they hurry to shed blood" (1:16). It is impossible to know the relationship of this
verse to Isaiah (see below on Ethos). Nonetheless, its function in the lecture is
straightforward. This citation describes the road and the path from which the son
should restrain his foot (1:15) as a path in which the feet of the sinners run to do evil
and shed blood.
The second citation comes from an unknown source: "Vainly the net is spread
out in the plain sight of any bird" (1:17). The interpretation of this citation depends
43 Aletti comments ("Seduction et Parole en Proverbes I-IX," 137), "On comprend pourquoi
le livre des Proverbes commence par ce discours; ce qu'il propose est tout simplement la
tentatioin dont le maitre veut de'tourner 1'eleve: croire qu'on peut trouver bonheur et
prosperite autrement que par 1'apprentissage de la sagesse."
44 On the rhetor's use of sentence proverbs to reinforce the argument, see Crenshaw,
"Wisdom and Authority," 13-16.
on two key issues: the meaning of the word hrzm, and whether the birds are a cipher
for the sinners or the son.45 The context of the speech (especially v. 18) suggests that
"the birds" refer to both the sinners and the son, if the son decides to join them. Birds
have the sense to see and avoid a net spread out46 in plain sight. Thus, spreading a net
in plain sight is futile.
These citations function as external proofs to support the speaker's imperative
to reject the sinner's invitation. The first describes the lifestyle of the sinners: They
walk in a road in which they run to do evil and hurry to shed blood. The second
citation provides a point of comparison for the folly of the sinners. The conclusion
brings both ideas together, "So they lie in ambush for their own blood; they lurk for
their own lives" (v. 18). According to the rhetor, anyone should be able to see where
the lifestyle of the rebels is leading: they are running to bloodshed (v. 16). Their
lifestyle is a net laid out in plain sight (v. 17). Yet, they are more foolish than a bird
because the "plain sight" of catastrophe does not deter them. They run ahead to
bloodshed, even though they can plainly see that the blood shed ultimately will be
their own (v. 18).
The hyperbolic nature of the second half of the proof (e.g , the sinners run to
do evil and hurry to shed blood, they have less sense than a senseless bird) again
raises the question of the real concern of the rhetor. I have already suggested that we
45 Farmer, Who Knows, 28; Oesterley, Proverbs, 9; Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of
Patriarchal Wisdom," 144-45.
46 Following the MT hrAzom; ("spread out"). See footnote #13.
should not read the speech of the sinners literally. Here, in the second half of the
proof, it also seems probable that the rhetor's warning against the sinners is
metaphorical. This suspicion is confirmed by the epilogue of the lecture: "Thus (NKe)
are the ways of all those who gain an unjust gain, it [unjust gain] will take the life of
its owner" (1:19). Now the logos of the lecture becomes clear. The speaker is not
worried about the son rejecting his parent's teaching and joining a murderous band of
thieves. Rather, he is concerned about the son's rejection of his parent's teaching due
to his desire for wealth. The rhetor has lured the son into agreeing with him that the
speech (1:11-14) and the lifestyle (1:15-18) of the sinners are foolish. Joining such a
gang to find adventure, obtain wealth, and companionship is "obviously" suicidal. But
in a deft move, after gaining the son's agreement, the father cinches the rhetorical
knot: The way of the murderous bandits is the way of all those who reject communal
norms and pursue unjust gain! This is an effective rhetorical strategy for persuading
the son that what he may consider to be a minor violation of traditional values is in
fact a lethal rejection of parental guidance. The logical argument thus doubles back to
reaffirm the proposition. The son should accept the teaching of his parents because
only they present the path to genuine social honor and life (1:8-9).47
47 Newsom ("Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 145) offers a similar
assessment of the rhetorical problem: "The rival discourse against which the father argues can
be made visible in its general outlines: it is one with a horizontal rather than vertical structure
of authority, based not on patriarchal family affiliation but on common enterprise, and one that
offers young men immediate access to wealth rather than the deferred wealth of inheritance.
What lurks under the surface is the generational chasm, the division of power between older
and younger men in patriarchal society. The genuine appeal to younger men of the set of
values just described is cleverly defused by associating them with what is clearly outside the
The rhetor exhibits considerable concern for his ethos in this lecture: Why
should the son listen to him? Here, this issue is especially important because of the
presence of an alternative ethos, i.e., why not eject father/rhetor and trust the rhetoric
of the sinners? Consequently, the speaker attempts to establish his credibility by
means of four different rhetorical devices.
The first two devices are common to all the lectures. First, the speaker
addresses his audience as "my son" (ynb). As argued above, ynb asserts the speaker's
position of authority (a teacher) over the audience (his pupils). This relationship is
external to the speech, i.e., it is not created by the speech but based on a pre-existent
relationship. Nonetheless, it is a fundamental source of the speaker's ethos, especially
here where it is repeated three times (1:8, 10, 15). The son should listen to the rhetor
because of his own inferior social position vis-a-vis the rhetor.48
Second, the rhetor's address is stylistically rich. The lecture contains simile
(1:12), metaphor (the path/way, 1:15; the bird, 1:17), and terse parallelism
(1:8, 14, 15, 16). The density of these stylistic devices elevates the rhetor's language
from vulgar prose to a more formal address, namely, poetry.49 The rhetorical effect of
this move is multifaceted. On the one hand, scholars widely acknowledge that poetic
language is more memorable than prose. In other words, the rhetor may have cast the
48 This observation holds regardless of the specific identities assigned to the father and the
son, i.e., whether "my son" denotes a familial or educational relationship. In either case, the
ethos of the speaker is based on a socially fixed hierarchical position of authority over the son.
49 On the definition and identification of Hebrew poetry, see David L. Petersen and Kent
Harold Richards, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry, GBS (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).
lecture into poetic form to facilitate the son's later recall of his appeal. On the other
hand, the metaphor and similes of the lecture challenge the son to reflection and
contemplate the rhetor's words on a deeper level than that elicited by direct prose
In addition to these rhetorical effects, the poetic style of this and other lectures
may also be significant for establishing the rhetor's ethos. Kennedy has pointed out
that poetic style is typical of "formal language."50 Further, according to Kennedy,
such formal language expresses and exercises social power and control. He writes,
The human inclination to develop formal languages is one of many indications
of the basically conservative function of rhetoric in human history. Formal
languages are often archaic or revivals of what is regarded as the pure form of
the language used in the past. They thus contribute to the preservation of other
past values. The requirement to use them for serious discourse helps ensure
preservation of the status quo on the behalf of those in power and limits the
ability of marginal groups, untutored in elitist language, from effecting
While the existence or degree of archaism in the lecture is difficult to determine,52 the
poetic style of the lecture is clear (see above). Kennedy's observation suggests that
the poetic style of the lecture may serve to enhance the rhetor's ethos. Poetry is a
type of formal address. Although poetic language is not the exclusive property of the
wealthy and those with high social standing, the ability to compose and speak poetry
50 Kennedy, Comparative Rhetoric, 217.
51 Ibid., 228.
52 In order to determine the degree of archaism in this lecture, one would have to date the
text — a notorious problem in the study of Proverbs 1-9.
does typically bespeak a high level of education, training, and social status.53 Thus,
the rhetor of Proverbs 1:8-19 may be employing poetry to assert his power, credibility,
and social standing, i.e., his ethos.
Third, the rhetor increases his ethos by destroying the ethos of the opposition.
He names them "sinners" (1:10) and calls their speech an attempt to "seduce" or
"entice" (htp, 1:10) the son. Further, he describes their activities with hyperbolic and
brutal terminology: lying in ambush "for blood" (1:11a), lurking for the innocent
"without cause" (1:11c), swallowing people alive like Sheol (1:12), running to do evil
(1:16a), and hurrying to shed blood (1:16b). The truthfulness of these claims is
questionable. Nonetheless, like a savvy politician, the rhetor establishes himself as the
rhetor of preference by destroying the credibility of his opponent. While the sinners
only want the son to join their journey to self-destruction, the rhetor cares about the
son's enduring welfare. This destruction of the opponent's ethos is an effective
rhetorical ploy for building the rhetor's ethos in this lecture.
It is difficult to gauge the impact of the fourth rhetorical device used to
develop the speaker's ethos, namely his citations. One reason for this difficulty is that
it cannot be ascertained whether the rhetor draws his first citation (1:16) from the book
of Isaiah, or whether both texts utilize a common tradition. If this citation depends on
Isaiah, and if the audience recognized this dependency, the ethos of the speaker would
have been increased by demonstrating his fluency in the community's religious
53 Kennedy (Comparative Rhetoric, 217) asserts that "use of formal language has to be
learned and is not available to everyone; it thus exercises social power of a conservative sort."
tradition. Regardless of their source, the presence of citations in the speech suggests
that the audience would have recognized the rhetor's appeal to tradition. Further, since
neither citation is explained or defended, it is likely that the audience acknowledged
the validity of both statements. Thus, by using citations, the rhetor has elicited
external proof to support his rational argument and increased his credibility by
demonstrating familiarity with the audience's traditions.54
The primary pathetic tool utilized by the speaker in this lecture is fear. The
rhetor vividly portrays the fate of a person who accepts the rhetoric of the sinners and
joins them. Their adventure in wanton violence, robbery, and companionship will end
in the violent seizure of their blood and their lives (1:18). Anyone who regards his
life should be afraid of the seduction of these sinners, and gratefully take refuge in the
secure paths offered by his parents.
Other than this element of fear, the rhetor makes little use of emotions to
persuade the son. The rhetor does appeal to the son's interests, namely his desire for
54 The traditio-historical thesis of Harris (Proverbs 1-9: A Study of Inner-Biblical
Interpretation, 52-61) leads to a similar conclusion. Harris argues that Prov 1:8-19
"represents" the discourse of Gen 37 (see above, pp. 13-14). He writes, "the hermeneutic
move of planting the traditio-historical identity within Genesis, on the one hand, and in the
book of Proverbs, on the other hand, facilitates a hearing of the traditions which fluctuated
within the history of Israel's memory. Such a strategy is played out to the attentive reader or
hearer who recognizes the rephrased words of the older sections of Proverbs in the mouth of
the implied speakers from Genesis 37, i.e. from Torah" (58). Harris further recognizes the
importance of this hermeneutical move for the ethos or authority of the speaker: "the authority
of the parent's words, as framed by the narrator, in Prov 1:8-19 is not derived solely form their
own experience, but is now fixed within the "biblical" traditions which they imply" (59).
social honor (1:9). However, this desire lies at the heart of the rhetorical problem,
namely the expedient means for acquiring social status and wealth. Thus, the rhetor
does not use this passion to further his argument but attempts to guide the son's
pursuit of social status.
4. Summary & Conclusions
The rhetorical situation of 1:8-19 is an educational setting in which a teacher
addresses his pupil(s). This teacher closely associates himself with the traditional
locus of instruction, namely the parents, and sees his role as an extension of their
parental teaching. Within this setting, the rhetor faces one major problem. The son is
faced with the opportunity to reject the authority of both the rhetor and his parents and
their guidance for the proper acquisition of wealth and social standing.55 In its place,
the son sees the possibility of circumventing cultural norms, perhaps in what he
regards as small or innocent ways. In this reading, the rhetorical problem is not
necessarily a one time event, but an ongoing temptation.
The rhetor responds to this rhetorical problem with a vigorous exercise in
persuasion. For his proposition, the rhetor appeals to the son to accept rather than
disregard his parents' authority. He defends this proposition by a subtle rhetorical ploy
in which he gains the consent of the son against a group that is obviously set against
55 "Traditional authority" refers to the cultural norms supported by those who possess
power over the son, namely the rhetor/teacher and his parents. Thus, any advice that
challenges these norms constitutes "non-traditional authority" and thereby must be rejected.
cultural norms (1:10-18), and then asserts that this group is representative of all those
who reject traditional authority for unjust gain (1:19).
The rhetor develops his strategy first, by placing a hyperbolic speech in the
mouths of the sinners (1:10-14). This speech portrays the sinners, i.e., the non-
traditionalists, and their invitation as ludicrous, thus destroying both their ethos and
logos while building the ethos of the father and furthering his rational argument. The
rhetor/father also employs citations in order to draw a decisive conclusion about the
fate of the sinners: they will be caught in their own trap (1:15-18). Finally, after
gaining the support of the audience against the despicable sinners, the rhetor springs
his rhetorical trap. The invitation, life-style, and fate of the sinners is only a metaphor
for all those who seek to make a profit by unjust means (1:19). Those who abandon
cultural norms in favor of aberrant or unorthodox behavior, regardless of the
magnitude of such behavior, are like the sinners. The problem is not the seductive
invitation of murderous bandits, but the son's failure to recognize the severe
consequences of rejecting parental authority in what he might consider to be trivial
1.Text and Translation
2:1 My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you -
2:2 making your ears pay attention to wisdom,
inclining your heart to understanding;
2:3 indeed, if you cry out for insight,
[if] you shout for understanding;
2:4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it like treasure;
2:5 then you will understand the fear of Yahweh,
and you will find the knowledge of God;
2:6 for Yahweh gives wisdom
from his mouth [comes] knowledge and understanding;
2:7 he treasures up sound judgment56 for the upright;
[he is] a shield for those who walk with integrity,
2:8 guarding the ways of justice
and watching over the path of his faithful ones;57
2:9 then you will understand righteousness, justice,
and uprightness - every good track;
2:10 for wisdom will enter into your heart
and knowledge will be pleasant58 to your life;
2:11 prudence will watch over you
understanding will guard you;
2:12 to rescue you from the path of evil
from the man who speaks perversion:
2:13 those who abandon the right way
to walk in the paths of darkness;
2:14 those who enjoy doing evil -
they rejoice in perversions of evil;
2:15 those whose ways are perverted
and deceit is in their tracks;
2:16 to rescue you from the alien woman
from the stranger, who makes her words smooth;
2:17 who abandons the companion of her youth,
and forgets the covenant of her God;
56 hyA.wiUT, see below on Pathos (p. 126); cf. 3:21.
57 Reading the plural vydAysiHE with the Qere, LXX, and Syriac against the singular
OdAysiHE (Ketib) because of the previous plural references to the "upright" (MyriwAy;; 1:7a),
"those who walk" (ykl;heo; 1:7b), and the "ways of justice" (FPAw;mi tOHr;xA; 1:8a). Given
this context of plural forms, it is most likely that the Ketib is a corruption of the Qere.
58 This is an abnormal use of a masculine predicate (MfAn;yi) with a feminine subject
(tfadav;). See GKC 145u.
2:18 indeed, her house is a pit [leading down]59 to death
and her tracks [lead] to the ghosts [of the dead],
2:19 none of those who go into her will return,
they will not catch up to the ways of the living;
2:20 therefore, you should walk in the path of goodness
and you should observe the ways of righteousness;
2:21 for the upright will inhabit the land
and the blameless will remain in it,
2:22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the faithless will be torn away60 from it.
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit
Scholars generally agree upon the limits of this rhetorical unit.61 The first
speech of personified wisdom addresses the simple ones (MyitAP;) and scoffers (Myzile;
59 The MT is grammatically and philogically problematic due to the feminine verb hHAwA
and the masculine h.tAyBe. As it stands, the MT requires the translation, "she sinks down to
death her home" (so Toy, Proverbs, 48; and Derek Kidner, The Proverbs, TynOTC, vol. 15
[Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964], 62). However, as Toy points out, the parallelism
suggests that "house" is the subject, not the object, of the verb. Further, the meaning of the
verb Hvw is uncertain (e.g., incline [AV], sink [and by a questionable extension, lead down;
Toy, Proverbs, 48]).
Scholars have proposed various solutions to this problem (see the excellent survey by
J.A. Emerton, "A Note on Proverbs 2:18," JTS 30 : 153-58). My translation follows
Emerton's emendation of the MT vowel points from hHAwA to hHAwu. ("pit"), resulting in the
reading, "her house is a pit (leading) to death." This emendation avoids changing the
consonantal text and is supported by the context and other similar verses in Proverbs (e.g.,
60 The MT UHs;.yi (a G Imperfect of Hsn [to tear away, pull away]) is problematic in this
context. W. Holladay (A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1971], 239) and Waltke/O'Connor (Biblical Hebrew Syntax,
23.6.d) adopt the reading UHs;yu (a G Passive [Waltke/O'Connor] or Hophal [Holladay]) from
a Cairo Geniza text. GKC (144g) resolves this grammatical problem by observing that the
third person plural is sometimes used to express an indefinite subject where the context does
not admit a human agent. In such cases the plural comes to be equivalent to a passive. This
later solution is preferable and adopted here because it avoids textual emendation.
61 For example, Toy, Proverbs, 31-32; Oesterley, Proverbs, 13-14; Farmer, Who Knows, 31;
Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 42-43. See especially, Overland, "Literary Structure
in Proverbs 1-9," 255-285.
1:20-27), offers a reflection about their fate to an unidentified audience (1:28-33), and
concludes with a summary appeal (1:32-33). In contrast to this speech, 2:1-22
addresses a different audience ("my son," 2:1) on a different topic (the teaching of the
rhetor). Thus, scholars appropriately designate 2:1 as the beginning of a new unit.
There is also conclusive evidence for this lecture extending through and ending in
2:22. 1) 2:1-22 is a single complex sentence in Hebrew. 2) 2:1-19 develops a
cohesive argument. 3) 2:20-22 presents a summary conclusion. 4) 3:1 begins a new
lecture (see chp. 4).62
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs
Michael Fox introduces his study of the pedagogy in Proverbs 2 by identifying
the problems faced by the interpreter, especially the form critic.63 According to Fox,
Proverbs 2 is peculiar in two ways: 1) the exordium or call to attention takes up half
of the lecture (vv. 1-11), and 2) the lecture lacks imperatives or specific advice. 2:1-
22, because of these peculiarities, does not adhere to the typical instruction form.64
62 Further, there is no supporting textual evidence for rearranging the text or expelling parts
of the text as unoriginal (e.g., Whybray [Wisdom in Proverbs, 40-41] claims that the original
nucleus of this lecture consists of verses 1, 9, and 16-19; Toy [Proverbs, 38-39] inserts verse
20 between verse 9 and 10).
63 Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 234.
64 For example, McKane (Proverbs, 278-79) hesitates to describe this text as an instruction
and prefers to view it as an example of a "process of formal development based on the
Instruction. The tendency of this development is to diminish the element of authoritative
instruction communicated briefly and precisely by imperatives, and so to substitute the more
diffuse, rambling style of preaching for the more exact didactic procedures of the wisdom
Similarly, Whybray (Proverbs, 50) has little regard for this chapter as a whole: "As an
example of teaching method this cumbersome discourse lacks both precision and compactness;
it gives the impression that successive layers have been added to an originally much shorter
Nonetheless, the lecture itself is not a problematic composition. Rather, it is powerful
rhetoric in the service of its own proposition. As Fox writes,
These peculiarities [the lengthy exordium and lack of imperatives] have led
some commentators to dismiss the chapter as it stands as rambling and
unstructured. These peculiarities would indeed be flaws if this lecture were
attempting to do the same thing as the other units of Collection I [Proverbs 1-
9]. But that is not the case. Proverbs 2 has a different purpose, namely, to
encourage the pupil in the search of wisdom.65
Indeed, the purpose of this lecture is different from six other lectures: 3:1-12, 3:21-35,
4:20-27, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, and 7:1-27. However, it is quite similar to the propositions
of 1:8-19, 4:1-9 (as Fox also observes),66 and 4:10-19, i.e., the lectures of my group I.
Proverbs 2:1-22 is deliberative rhetoric that attempts to persuade the audience
("my son") to accept and attend diligently to the instruction of the teacher. However,
like the first lecture (1:8-19), this teaching is not explicated. Rather, the entire speech
is devoted to persuading the son to listen to the rhetor, who will rescue him from two
opposing groups, namely the evil men (2:12-15) and the alien woman (2:16-19). The
lecture may be outlined as follows:67
and crisper Instruction of which 5:1-6 might be taken as a model."
65 Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 234.
66 Ibid., 234 n. 5.
67 Patrick Skehan ("The Seven Columns of Wisdom's House in Proverbs 1-9," CBQ 9
: 190-98; "A Single Editor for the Whole Book of Proverbs," CBQ 10 : 115-17;
"Wisdom's House," CBQ 29 : 468-486) has proposed an elaborate explanation for the
literary unity of 2:1-22, its function within Proverbs 1-9, and the structure of the book of
Proverbs. According to Skehan, the structure of the poem is governed alphabetically. The
poem has 22 lines (corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet). Further,
The proem consists of the single vocative "my son" (yniB;, 2:la). As in the
first lecture, this term establishes the relationship of the rhetor/teacher to his
audience/pupil and thus provides an immediate reason for the audience to listen to this
speaker (see my discussion of ynb above, pp. 92-96). The proposition consists of an
elaborate conditional sentence (2:1-11). In the protasis (2:1-4), the rhetor uses eight
different verbs of increasing intensity to describe the desired response of the pupil:
these lines form two sets of three stanzas, each set containing stanzas of 4 + 4 + 3 verses.
The first three stanzas each begin with the letter aleph (2:1,5, 9) and the second three stanzas
each begin with the letter lamed (2:12,16,20). The letter lamed is significant because it is the
twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and thus represents the second half of the alphabet.
According to Skehan, this external structure corresponds to the thought progression of
the poem and the following chapters. The contents of the six stanzas of chp. 2 correspond to
the six literary units of 22 lines each in chps. 2-7. Each of these units composes one of the
seven columns of wisdom's house (9:1). The first stanza provides an introduction (2:1-4) and
corresponds to 2:1-22, and the sixth stanza offers a conclusion (2:20-22) and corresponds to
6:20-7:6. The middle four stanzas of chp. 2 introduce the four topics found in chapters 3-7:
the positive benefits of study that will accrue to the pupil through friendship with Yahweh
(2:5-8, corresponding to 3:1-12, 25-34) and through the possession of wisdom (2:9-11,
corresponding to 3:13-24, 4:1-9), and the dangers of evil men (2:12-15, corresponding to 4:10-
27 and 5:21-23) and evil women (2:16-19, corresponding to 5:1-20 and 6:22). The seventh
and final column is 7:2-27. In Skehan's opinion, these seven columns correspond to the front
porch of Solomon's temple and are followed by 15 columns of 25 lines each which correspond
to the nave of the temple (10:1-22:16) and 15 more columns which correspond to cella (22:17-
Aspects of Skehan's hypothesis have been revised and adopted by many scholars. For
example, some scholars (Scott, Proverbs, 42-43; Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An
Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, 2nd edition [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,
1996], 16-17; Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 42-43) adopt milder versions of
Skehan's literary analysis of chapter 2, and some (Scott, Proverbs, 42-43; Murphy, The Tree of
Life, 17) accept chapter 2 as being somehow programmatic for Proverbs 1-9. However,
scholars have rejected Skehan's elaborate schema of seven columns of 22 lines in chps. 1-9
and the column structure of the book as a whole because of its dependency on deletions and
rearrangements unsupported by textual or contextual evidence.
receive (Hql, v. 1), treasure (Npz, v. 1), pay attention (bwq, v. 2), incline (hFn) your
ears (v. 2), cry out (xrq, v. 3), short (j`l,Oq Ntn, v. 3), seek (wqb) like silver (v. 4),
and search (WpH) like treasure (v. 4). Similarly, he uses five different nouns to denote
the object of this vigorous pursuit: my words (yrmx), my commandments ( ytvcm),
wisdom (hmkH), understanding (hnvbt, 2x), and insight (hnyb). Fox suggests that these
terms combine to mark off a progression in the learner's task: "he must absorb the
father's words (v. 1), and take the initiative to call wisdom (v. 3), and boldly go forth
to seek her (v. 4).”68 Consequently, although the imperative form is lacking, this
protasis asserts a clear proposition for the lecture: The son must accept and
energetically pursue the instruction of the rhetor.69
The apodosis supplies two initial benefits supporting the proposition in two
formally parallel units or stanzas (2:5-8/19-11). Both are introduced by NybiTA zxa
68 Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 237. See also, Overland, "Literary Structure in
Proverbs 1-9," 270-272, 282.
69 McKane (Proverbs, 282) adds, "It is not originality nor argumentativeness nor critical
independence in the face of instruction that is demanded of the pupil. He must indeed be
attentive and keen (v. 2), like one who cries out for insight and shouts for discernment, but the
authority of the teacher must not be called in question."
Newsom ("Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 147) also picks up on
this facet of the proposal: "Verses 1-11 make the astute observation that allegiance precedes
understanding, not the other way around. We should not be surprised that these wisdom
discourses do not closely define the pragmatic content of wisdom and contrast it with the
competing discourses, seeking to convince the hearer of its superiority. Rather it repeatedly
asks first for allegiance ("accept my words," "treasure up my strictures," "incline your ear,"
"extend your heart," vv. 1-2). Nor is the allegiance passive. It must involve active
participation ("call out," "seek," vv. 3-4). Only then does understanding follow ("then you
will understand the fear of Yahweh," v. 5; "then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path," v. 9), for at that point habituation to the assumptions, values,
and cultural practices of the group will make them seem one's own ("for wisdom will come
into your heart and your soul will delight in knowledge," v. 10). As Althusser pungently
paraphrases Pascal, 'Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you will believe.'
("then you will understand"), both assert reasons for this new-found understanding by
means of clauses introduced by yKi, and both promise protection for those who accept
the teacher's wisdom. In the first apodosis (2:5-3), the rhetor promises the son that, as
a result of accepting and acting upon the proposition, he will understand the "fear of
Yahweh" and find the "knowledge of God" (2:5). These phrases suggest the two
dimensions of a proper human/divine relationship: 1) awe and reverence, and
2) intimacy.70 The value of such a relationship is elaborated in the next three verses
(2:6-8, introduced by yKi, "for"). Yahweh is the source of wisdom, knowledge and
understanding (v. 6). He grants sound judgment to the upright and protects them
(v. 7) by maintaining justice and keeping close watch over their lives (v. 8).
Consequently, the first benefit of accepting and pursing the rhetor's teaching is the
promise that this teaching is valuable for bringing the pupil nearer to Yahweh and the
gifts that Yahweh bestows.
The second initial reason for accepting the proposition depends on the first. As
a result of his relationship with Yahweh, produced by accepting and pursuing the
rhetor's teaching, the son will be able to discern every good track: righteousness,
justice, and uprightness (2:9). The next two verses explain how the son will acquire
this discernment (2:10-11, introduced by yKi, "for"). Wisdom will enter the pupil's
heart, knowledge will become pleasant to his life, prudence will watch over him, and
70 See Kidner, Proverbs, 61; Toy, Proverbs, 35.
understanding will protect him (2:10-11). These quasi-personifications71 are closely
related to the previously stated benefits of a proper relationship with Yahweh (2:5-8).
Wisdom will enter the pupil's heart (2:10) because it is Yahweh who gives wisdom
(2:6). Knowledge will become pleasant (2:10) because it comes from Yahweh (2:6).
Prudence will watch over (rmw) him (2:11) just as Yahweh watches over (rmw) the
path of his faithful ones (2:8). Finally, the understanding given by God (2:6) will
protect (rcn) the son (2:11), just as God protects (rcn) the ways of justice (2:8).
This extended apodosis presents compelling reasons for accepting the
proposition of the protasis. If the son will accept and strenuously pursue the rhetor's
teaching, then he will enjoy a close relationship with Yahweh in which he will become
the beneficiary of Yahweh's gifts (e.g., wisdom, understanding). These gifts will
further bless the son by entering his heart, watching over and protecting him, and thus
enabling him to discern the good path.
The proof, like the apodosis (2:5-11), is composed of two parallel stanzas that
explicate two specific benefits of accepting the rhetor's proposition (2:12-15/16-19).
Each stanza begins with the word j~l;yci.hal; ("to rescue you"),72 identifies a potential
71 Scholars (and translators) are divided on whether verses 10-11 (and 3-4) personify
wisdom (e.g., "her" - Toy [Proverbs, 32], Oesterley [Proverbs, 14], and Baumann, [Die
Weisheitsgestalt in Proverbien 1-9, 227-231]; "it" - Scott [Proverbs, 41]). It does appear that
these verses stimulated the personifications of wisdom added in the interludes (so Fox, "Ideas
of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9," 618). However, in this lecture, the personification is ambiguous
at best. For example, in addition to promising protection by prudence and understanding, the
rhetor promises that wisdom will enter the son's heart (v. l0a). It is difficult to imagine how
personified wisdom would enter a person's heart.
72 The syntactical referent of these infinitives is not entirely clear, i.e., what subject or
action do the infinitives ("to rescue you") explicate: the ability to understand every good track
(v. 9, so McKane [Proverbs, 284]), wisdom entering the son's heart (v. 10 so Farmer [Who
danger, and provides an elaborate, perhaps even hyperbolic, description of the threat.
These stanzas do not warn the son to avoid these dangers, but promise him that
accepting the rhetoric of the father will deliver him from these dangers.73 Thus, these
stanzas function as proofs of the proposition, not additional propositions.
The first stanza promises that accepting and pursuing the rhetoric of the father
will rescue the son from the path of evil, which is defined by the following parallel
line as the person who speaks perversion (2:12). The character of this perverse
speaker is elaborated by three descriptive phrases: 1) this person abandons what is
right in order to do what is wrong (2:13); 2) this person enjoys doing what is evil
(2:14); and 3) the lifestyle of this person is perverted and deceitful (2:15).
The second stanza promises that the rhetor's teaching will rescue the son from
the seduction of the alien woman (2:16). The identity of the alien woman
(hrAzA hw.Axi) or stranger (hyA.rik;nA) in Proverbs 1-9 is a notorious interpretive
crux.74 In this lecture, two key phrases provide crucial evidence for her identity:
Knows, 32]), or prudence and understanding protecting the son (v. 11, so Fox ["The Pedagogy
of Proverbs 2," 240])? In my view, each of these proposals fails to recognize the larger
rhetorical function of these infinitival phrases. Because of their location after the proposition
(vv. 1-11), these infmitival phrases function not only as explications of the further benefits of
both halves of the apodosis (vv. 5-8 and 9-11), but ultimately as proofs of the proposition. If
the son accepts the rhetor's instruction (vv. 1-4, the proposition), he will establish or deepen a
relationship with Yahweh (apodosis #1, vv. 5-8) and gain the ability to discern what is good
(apodosis #2, vv. 9-11). Both of these benefits will operate together to "rescue" the son from
the evil men and strange woman. Thus, ultimately, the infinitival phrases refer to and serve as
proof for the proposition of accepting the rhetor's words and commandments (vv. 1-4).
73 Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 240.
74 See my discussion on pp. 18-19.
1) she "abandons the companion of her youth" (v. 17a), and 2) she "forgets the
covenant of her God" (v. 17b).
Almost all scholars concur that "the companion of her youth" is the alien
woman's husband.75 Elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures, the term "companion" (JUl.xa)
is translated as "tribal chief" or "clan" (e.g., Gen 36:15-43), "cattle" (plural in Ps
144:14), or "close friend" (Ps 55:14, Mic 7:5, Prov 16:28, 17:9). However, the closest
parallels to the phrase "companion of her youth" suggest the idea of "mate." For
example, Malachi 2:14-16 reads:
You ask, "Why does he not?" Because the Lord was a witness between you
and the wife of your youth (j~yr,Ufn; tw,xe), to whom you have been faithless,
though she is your companion (j~T;r;b,HE) and your wife by covenant. Did
not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one
God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be
faithless to the wife of his youth (j~yr,Ufn; tw,xeb;). (2:14-15, NRSV)76
Consequently, the meaning of the phrase "companion of her youth" that is most
suitable to the context of Proverbs 2 is "husband."
How does the alien woman's abandonment of her husband relate to the second
line of verse 17: "and forgets the covenant of her God"? There are several
possibilities. The rhetor may be referring to God as a witness to the woman's
marriage covenant (cf. Mal 2:14), God's covenantal command against adultery (cf.
Exod 20:14),77 or the general sacredness of marriage.78 These are all equally valid
75 So Toy, Proverbs, 46; Scott, Proverbs, 43; Whybray, Proverbs, 55-56; Kidner, Proverbs,
62; and Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 44. Cf. McKane, Proverbs, 286.
76 Cf. Petersen's identification (Zechariah and Malachi, 202-203) of the husband in Malachi
2 as Yahweh. See also, Jeremiah 3:4, 19-20.
77 Oesterley, Proverbs, 17.
possibilities. However, what is most significant for identifying this woman is the
appellation "her God." This phrase denotes that the alien woman is part of the rhetor's
religious community because the rhetor considers it a bad thing for her to forget the
covenant of her God! Exogamy is not the issue. If it were, forgetting the covenant of
her God, presumably, would be a good thing.
The rhetor promises that his teaching will save the son from this alien woman,
a member of the Israelite community who has left her husband ("the companion of her
youth") and in the process has rejected religious norms ("the covenant of her God").
This rather straightforward identification is followed by metaphorical language that
describes this woman and those who follow her. She, and especially her seductive
rhetoric ("smooth words," v. 16), poses a lethal threat to the son. Her house is a point
of no return (2:19); it entraps and pulls her guests into the grave (2:18). No one who
is seduced by this woman will return to life among the living (2:19b). What, then, is
this danger? The imagery suggests that the concern of the rhetor is an illicit sexual
relationship with this woman. For example, Newsom submits that "house" is a
common symbolic representation of woman or womb.79 If so, the phrase "her house is
a pit [leading down] to death" (v. 18, emphasis mine) graphically refers to the act of
sexual intercourse grabbing and pulling the man into the realm of the dead. The
phrase "none of those who go into her will return" (v. 19, emphasis mine; cf. Gen
38:16-18, Jud 15:1) also suggests the idea of intercourse. Again, all who penetrate
78 Toy, Proverbs, 47.
79 Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom," 149.
this woman will be captured and die. Such death, however, appears to be social, not
physical. Those who enter this woman "will not catch up to the ways of the living"
(v. 19). This statement is a truism if the threat is physical death. Thus, the rhetor
warns the pupil who thinks he can taste this woman's pleasures, but escape the social
death or ostracism that she has incurred by the designation "alien woman."
The proof, then, identifies two threats to the well being of the pupil, namely,
the evil men who abandon the right way to walk on perverted and dark paths and who
speak perversion, and the alien woman who abandons her husband and walks on paths
that descend to death and who speaks flattery.80 Again, these stanzas do not warn the
son to avoid these pitfalls. Rather, the rhetor promises that adherence to his
instruction will rescue the son from these dangers.
The lecture concludes with a concise81 enthymematic summary appeal
introduced by Nfamal;, ("therefore" or "in order that," 2:20).82 The conclusion of the
enthymeme is stated first: the listener ("you") should devote his life to goodness and
righteousness (2:20). The major premise of this conclusion is elided: It is good to
live in the land. The minor premise is supplied (introduced by yKi, "for" or "because,"
80 Overland ("Literary Structure in Proverbs 1-9," 275-276) suggests that the two ways are
a merism for all danger.
81 Overland (Ibid., 284-285) comments, "the brevity of the summary accounts for its
primary rhetorical asset. While the pupil may not recall intricacies of the preceding discourse,
he certainly will grasp the summary. Its brevity assures comprehension and retention. With
the compressed summary the sage puts the question to the pupil one last time, leaving him to
decide whether he will opt to pursue wisdom."
82 Again, like the infinitival clauses of 2:12-15 and 16-19, the syntactical connection of
Nfamal; "hangs in the air" (Whybray, Proverbs, 57). In its concluding position, the reference
seems to be to the entire lecture and especially the proposition of 2:1-4.
2:21): The upright and blameless will dwell in the land, but the wicked and faithless
will be expelled from it (2:21-22). This premise is not defended, but apparently based
on some tradition accepted by the pupil (see below, on Ethos).
How does this conclusion relate to the proposition of 2:1-4 to accept and
energetically pursue the father's teaching? On the one hand, verse 20 may be a
synopsis of the father's teaching that the son should accept and pursue, namely, to do
good and live righteously. On the other hand, the conclusion may offer a restatement
of the proposition utilizing the key terms used to describe the evil men and alien
woman, namely "paths" and "ways." In this reading, the path of goodness and the
ways of righteousness are those paths and ways in which the teaching of the rhetor
will lead the student.
The ethos of the rhetor is of at least moderate concern in this lecture. To wit,
the rhetor utilizes four different devices to establish his credibility. The first device,
namely the vocative "my son" (2:1), asserts the rhetor's position of authority over the
son/pupil. The second device, namely the use of formal (poetic) language, further
establishes this hierarchical social standing by demonstrating the rhetor's proficiency in
elitist language and associating his teaching with past values (see above).
In addition to these devices the rhetor builds his ethos by closely associating
his words with God's words. For example, he appeals to the son to receive "my
words" and treasure "my commandments" (2:1), which he immediately identifies as
wisdom, understanding, and insight (2:2-3). Then, in the first apodosis (2:5-8), the
rhetor associates these concepts with Yahweh. Whereas in the protasis, the rhetor had
urged the son to pay attention to his wisdom (2:2), now, in the apodosis, he asserts
that such wisdom comes from Yahweh (2:6). In the protasis, the rhetor implored the
son to incline his heart to the understanding that he teaches (2:2). Now he claims that
Yahweh is the source of understanding (2:6). By these associations, the rhetor
identifies his teaching, wisdom, understanding, and insight as not only originating from
God, but as synonymous with God's wisdom, understanding and insight. Thus, the
lecture appropriates the audience's respect for Yahweh (i.e., Yahweh's ethos) for the
ethos of the father.83
The presence of a fourth device in this lecture for building the rhetor's ethos is
widely debated. Put simply, does this lecture utilize texts and/or traditions from
Israel's religious heritage in an effort to bolster the rhetor's ethos? Typically, this
question falls within the realm of traditio-historical study. On one side of this debate,
some scholars assert that Proverbs 2 has been significantly influenced by
deuteronomistic texts. For example, Maier claims that the pedagogy of Proverbs 2, as
well as the other lectures, carries on "the historical paranesis of Deuteronomy.''84
Further, Proverbs 2 makes "anthological references" (anthologischen Bezugnahem) to
deuteronomistic texts. To take one specific example, according to Maier, two unusual
expressions in Proverbs 2:17 refer to earlier texts: 1) Jeremiah 3:4 and 13:21 stand
83 See also, McKane, Proverbs, 281.
84 Maier, Die 'Fremde Frau' in Proverbien 1-9, 262.
behind hyrfn Jvlx, and 2) hyhlx-tyrb takes up the deuteronomistic concern for
forgetting the covenant (Deut 4:23, 31).85
In a similar thesis, Robert identifies numerous similarities between the style
and vocabulary of Proverbs 1-9 and deuteronomistic literature. For example, 1) he
claims that the expression "habiter la terre" (Cr,xA-UnK;Wyi, 2:21) is uniquely
deuteronomistic and that obedience to Yahweh as a condition of remaining in the land
is a feature of Deuteronomy (4:10, 5:16,33, 6:18, 11:9, 15:4, 5, 16:20, 17:20, 22:7,
25:7, 25:15, 32:47).86 2) Robert observes that the terms "righteousness, justice, and
uprightness" (MyriwAymeU FPAw;miU qd,c,, 2:9; especially righteousness and justice)
are frequently found in the prophets (Isa 9:7, 32:16, 33:5, 59:9, Jer 4:2, 9:24, 22:3, 15,
23:5, 33:15, etc.).87 On the basis of these and other "connections" (attaches), he
concludes that the author of Proverbs 1-9 used the books of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah
On the other side of this debate, scholars such as McKane not only question
the literary dependence of Proverbs 1-9 on Deuteronomy, but propose a reversed
(Proverbs 1-9 influenced Deuteronomy) or reciprocal relationship.89 As I mentioned in
chapter 2, the adjudication of this traditio-historical debate is well beyond the limits of
85 Maier (ibid., 98-99) describes these as "punktuelle Bezugnahmen auf fruhere Texte."
86 Robert, "Les Attaches Litteraires Bibliques de Prov. I-IX," 62-63
87 Ibid., 61
88 Ibid., 44: 345
89 McKane, Proverbs, 279-280.
this dissertation. Here, in view of the present uncertainty, two tentative observations
are in order: 1) The statements about living in the land (2:21-22) are introduced into
the rhetoric as part of common knowledge or belief. The rhetor does not defend these
statements, but assumes that the audience already accepts these truths. Thus, the
rhetor appears to rely on some well-known tradition (or text) about the land in 2:21-
22.90 2) This apparent use of traditions (or texts) has implications for the ethos of the
speaker. To the degree that the rhetor employs traditions that are known and accepted
by the audience, and this is the case at least in 2:21-22, he bolsters both his argument
and his ethos. His claims are not his own, but those of the community's heritage.
Scholars, because of their lack of interest in rhetoric, have given scant attention
to the use of pathetic appeals in this lecture.91 Here, the speaker does not hesitate to
stimulate the audience's emotions in order to persuade them to accept his proposition.
To this end, he uses two basic pathetic devices, namely the promise of blessing and
the threat of disaster.
In his promises of blessing, the rhetor appeals to four desires or passions in his
audience. First, he recognizes and stimulates their desire to "understand" Yahweh and
discover "the knowledge of God" (2:5). This understanding or knowledge does not
simply refer to intellectual or theological astuteness, but a relationship with God.
90 Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 45. See Deut 8:1,19-20, 30:11-20, Ps 69:3:5-36,
Zech 13:8, Ps 37.
91 This lack of attention to the role of pathos in persuasion is not only true of exegeses of
this lecture, but of all the lectures.
Thus, the rhetor solicits interest in his teaching by asserting its value for fulfilling the
audience's desire for a proper relationship to Yahweh.
Second, the rhetor draws on the son's desire to think clearly and successfully in
practical operations (2:7a). The Hebrew term translated "sound judgment" (hyA.wiUT)
generally refers to the results of efficient wisdom, namely good results or abiding
success.92 Here, this ability is attributed to Yahweh's blessing. Thus, the son's passion
for efficient accomplishment becomes a suasive device: The rhetor's instruction will
lead the pupil to Yahweh (2:5), the source of clear and powerful thinking (2:7).
Third, the speaker claims that his teaching will fulfill the son's need for
security. This pathetic appeal is stressed twice in the lecture. The rhetor describes
Yahweh as a shield who guards justice and the paths of his faithful ones (2:7b-8).
And similarly, the speaker asserts that the prudence and understanding gained from
listening to him will watch over and guard the son (2:11). This stress on security as a
benefit of the teacher's instruction suggests that security was a major concern of the
pupil and thus became a primary source for the pathetic appeal of the rhetor.93
92 hyA.wiUT occurs 11 times in the Old Testament: four times in Proverbs (2:7, 3:21, 8:14,
18:1), five times in Job (5:12, 6:13, 11:6, 12:16, 26:3), once in Isa (28:29), and once in Micah
(6:9). In these texts hyA.wiUT is closely associated (usually in parallel constructions) with three
basic ideas: 1) counsel, wisdom, and discretion (e.g., "he is wonderful in counsel, and
excellent in hyA.wiUT," Isa 28:29; see also, Prov 3:21, Job 11:6, 26:3), 2) a type of action or
lifestyle (e.g., "The one who lives alone is self-indulgent, showing contempt for all who have
hyA.wiUT," Prov 18:1 [NRSV]; see also, Job 5:12), and 3) strength (e.g., "with him are strength
and HyA.wiUT," Job 12:16; see also, Prov 8:14). Thus the divine gift of hyA.wiUT consists of
God's counsel for wise and strong or successful activity. See BDB 444:, KB 1024-25; John F.
Genung, "Meaning and Usage of the Term hywvt," JBL 30 (1911): 114-122; and Michael
Fox,"Words for Wisdom," ZAH 6 (1993): 161-65.
93 The cause of this insecurity is uncertain. It may be due to the son's position in the
process of maturation or social instability due to external threats.
The fourth passion to which the rhetor appeals is the son's desire for an ability
to discern what is morally good or expedient. He claims that accepting and pursuing
his teaching will provide the student with an ability to discern every good track,
namely what is righteous, just, and upright (2:9). This claim may suggest that the
moral values of the son were under fire from rival groups (e.g., the evil men and the
alien woman), and that this attack was causing the son some discomfort.94 If so, the
rhetor taps this distress to strengthen the suasive claim of his proposition: Listen to me
and you will be able to discern confidently what is morally good.
In addition to these promises that invoke the desires of his audience, the rhetor
also makes use of threats that tap their fears. However, as Fox points out, the object
of fear is not the father, the parent's wrath, or corporal punishment.95 Rather, the
rhetor draws upon the pupil's fear of evil men and seeks to instill a greater fear of the
First, he appeals to his son's fear of the evil path and the person who speaks
perversely. The rhetor does not articulate the consequences of such a lifestyle, rather
he assumes the son's fear of such people and the son's recognition of a need to be
rescued from them (2:12-15). Thus, the speaker strengthens his proposal by drawing
on this fear; the teacher's instruction provides a way of escape from evil men.
94 Although suggestive, the evidence is not conclusive on this point. It is possible that this
concern is more reflective of the rhetor's passion and the moral threat he perceives in the
rhetoric of the evil men and alien woman.
95 Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 243.
Second, the rhetor seeks to instill in the son a fear of the alien woman (2:16-
19). Unlike his reference to the evil men, here the speaker not only describes the alien
woman, but warns the son about the lethal consequences of falling prey to her (2:18-
19). The son may already have been afraid of this woman, but the rhetor attempts to
intensify this fear by denouncing her "house" as the entrance to death, the path to
irreversible social death.96 Again, this pathetic device supports the rhetor's proposition
to listen to his instruction because only it will rescue the pupil from this deadly fate
Finally, the summary conclusion of the lecture draws upon the son's desire to
continue living in the land (2:21-22). This pathetic appeal begins in a positive manner
("the upright will inhabit the land and the blameless will remain in it," 2:21), but
quickly turns negative ("but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the faithless
will be torn away from it," 2:22). Whether the rhetor is referring to historical events
from the life of the community (i.e., the exile), present social instability, or both, is
difficult to determine from this promise/threat.97 Nonetheless, he does appear to be
addressing a vital concern of the son, namely a secure propertied life in the land.
Further, because of the traditional association of Yahweh with the land, this
promise/threat also invokes the fear of losing divine favor.98 Again, the rhetor draws
96 See also, Whybray, Proverbs, 56.
97 If this pathetic appeal is based on the deuteronomistic tradition (see above on Ethos), it
is significant that here the promise/threat is not directed to the nation as a whole, but to the
98 Toy, Proverbs, 52.
on this passion to support his proposition: His instruction is insurance against losing
possession of the land and losing divine favor.
An honor and shame social system may lie beneath and empower both the
promises and threats made by the rhetor in this lecture, as well as those in other
lectures. According to cultural anthropologists such as Peristiany, Mediterranean
societies were ordered on the basis of honor and shame. In this social system, "honor"
and "shame" defined the status of a household and, thus, provided a touchstone for
motivating acceptable behavior among members of the community.99 This foundation
for Proverbs, however, has been recently challenged by Domeris. After assessing the
presence of "honor" and "shame" terminology in Proverbs, Domeris concludes that the
absence of the typical Mediterranean honor and shame categories is "striking."100
Instead, "the astute reader soon realises [sic] that the dominant value is wisdom and
99 Matthews and Benjamin provide helpful definitions of honor and shame and their
significance for an honor and shame social system.
Honor entitled a household to life. Honorable households ate moderately, did not get
drunk, worked hard, made good friends, sought advice before acting, held their
temper, paid their taxes, and imposed fair legal judgements. They were careful in
dealing with one another during menstruation, sexual intercourse, childbirth, and death
. . . Honorable households could care for their own members and were prepared to
help their neighbors. They were households in good standing, licensed to make a
living in the village and entitled to its support . . . Shame sentenced a household to
death by placing its land and children in jeopardy. Shamed households ate too much,
drank too much, were lazy, quarrelsome, selfish, and thought nothing about lying to
the village assembly. They were thoughtless in their sexual relationships, and
disrespectful of the new born and the dead . . . Shamed households did not fulfill
their responsibilities to their own members or their neighbors. Shamed households
were on probation. They were out-of-place and not functioning properly. ("Social
Sciences and Biblical Studies," Semeia 68 (1996): 11-12)
These definitions, in many respects, mirror the concerns of the ten lectures, e.g., responsible
sexual relationships (5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27) and proper conduct toward neighbors (3:27.-31).
100 W. R. Domeris, "Shame and honour in Proverbs: Wise women and foolish men," OTE 8
the contrasting object is folly. As such, wisdom and folly define all other values,
including shame and honour.”101 Domeris also points out another difference between
the honor and shame Mediterranean social system and Proverbs 1-9, namely, the
economic, sexual, and leadership roles of women. According to Domeris, the women
in Proverbs 1-9 exhibit a freedom in these roles which the women in a Mediterranean
value system would have found intimidating.102 Consequently, although some type of
honor and shame value system may empower the rhetoric of this and other lectures,
this conclusion is presently under debate by specialists in cultural anthropology and,
thus, held in abeyance in this dissertation.103
4. Summary & Conclusions
This lecture, like 1:8-19, arises from an educational relationship of a teacher
and his pupil(s). Within this setting, again like 1:8-19, the rhetorical problem faced by
the teacher is the acquisition of his pupil's full attention. Thus, the proposition or aim
of this lecture is to persuade the pupil to accept and vigorously pursue his instructor's
teaching (cf. 1:8-9). Here, it is possible that at issue is the pupil's desire to give up on
the rhetor's wisdom because of the lack of immediate benefits. The pupil must be
patient, as the medieval Jewish commentator Sa'adia Gaon summarizes, "for its
101 Ibid., 97.
102 lbid., 99.
103 I will denote possible references to honor and shame in the remaining lectures with the
hope that this data will be of some help to those the studying honor and shame in Proverbs 1-
[wisdom] beginnings are wearisome, but if you work through them, you will later
arrive at lasting satisfaction and joy and happiness.”104
The rhetor fully utilizes all three means of artistic proof in the service of his
proposition. Logically, the rhetor casts the proposition in the form of a conditional
sentence in which he asserts that if the son will accept his instruction he will enjoy a
close relationship with Yahweh and become the beneficiary of Yahweh's blessings
(2:1-11). Therefore, in the proof, the speaker contends that his teaching will rescue
the pupil from evil men (2:12-15) and the alien woman (2:16-19). The rhetor supports
this logical argument with language that appeals to the student's emotions, both
aspirations and fears. He asserts that his teaching will fulfill the pupil's desire for a
relationship with Yahweh, success, security, and discernment. He also claims that his
instruction will deliver his student from his fears (i.e., the evil men and loss of the
land) or what he should fear (i.e., the alien woman). Finally, the lecture develops and
uses the ethos of the rhetor to bolster both the logical and emotional devices. Much of
the rhetor's ethos is external to the speech, i.e., his preexistent relationship to the pupil.
Nonetheless, the rhetor enhances his credibility and authority in this lecture by means
of formal language, the close association of his teaching with Yahweh, and use of the
community's religious traditions.
Although the method of argumentation in the proof of 2:1-22 differs from that
of 1:8-19, these speeches share a common rhetorical feature that sets them apart from
most of the other lectures. Their primary objective is the acquisition of the student's
104 As cited and translated by Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 242.
complete and devoted attention. Unlike other lectures (e.g., 4:20-27), the speaker does
not call for the son's attention as a prelude to specific teaching, nor do these two
lectures advance any specific instruction. Instead, in 1:8-19 and 2:1-22, the call for
apprenticeship comprises the entire lecture. The contrast of this rhetorical form to the
other lectures will become clearer in chapters 4 and 5. However, before turning to
other subsets, the rhetoric of two other lectures (4:1-9, 4:10-19) requires their inclusion
in this class of calls to apprenticeship.105
1. Text and Translation
4:1 Listen, Oh sons, to a father's discipline
and pay attention to the knowledge of insight.
4:2 Since I give good instruction to you,
do not abandon my teaching.
4:3 For I was a son of my father,
delicate and alone before my mother,
4:4 and he taught me and said to me,
"Let your heart grasp my speech;
Keep my commandments and live.
4:5 Acquire wisdom, acquire insight
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words of my mouth.
4:6 Do not abandon her and she will guard you
love her and she will protect you.
4:7 Wisdom is supreme: Acquire wisdom,106
105 The term "apprenticeship" is from Aletti ("Seduction et Parole en Proverbes I-IX," 137-
138, 144). He describes the problem confronting the sage of Proverbs 1-9, and the book of
Proverbs as a whole, as the temptation that "one may find happiness and prosperity other than
by becoming an apprentice of the sage" (137). Thus, it seems appropriate to designate this
first subset of lectures as "Calls to Apprenticeship."
106 The MT hmkH tywxr and its relationship to the following imperative (hmAk;HA hneq;,
"get wisdom") is ambiguous The problem is that, if left unemended, the MT requires the
reader to fill a syntactical gap. Scholars have proposed four basic translations: 1) "Wisdom is
supreme; therefore get wisdom" (NIV, supplying "therefore") or "Wisdom comes first,
and among all your property, acquire insight.
4:8 Cherish her and she will exalt you
she will honor you because you embrace her.
4:9 She will put on your head a wreath of honor
a beautiful crown she will bestow on you."
2. The Limits of the Rhetorical Unit
The initial verse of this text (4:1) distinguishes itself as the beginning of a new
rhetorical unit in three ways. 1) It utilizes the customary introductory formula,
namely, ynb + "hear" (fmw) and "pay attention" (bwq).107 2) It addresses a plurality of
listeners rather than the singular audience of 3:21-35. 3) It introduces a different
theme and rhetorical strategy from that of 3:21-35. In addition, the conclusion of the
previous lecture in 3:33-35 also denotes the beginning of a new rhetorical unit in 4:1
(see chp. 4).
This lecture lacks a concluding summary appeal (e.g., 1:19, 2:20-22). Instead,
its ending is primarily denoted by the beginning of a new lecture in 4:10 (4:10-19).
That 4:10 is a beginning, not a resumption of 4:1-9, is demonstrated by: 1) the
(therefore) get Wisdom" (McKane, Proverbs, 216; cf. AV, also supplying "therefore"), 2) "The
beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom" (NRSV, cf. NJV, supplying "is this"), 3) "The
beginning of wisdom? The acquisition of wisdom" (JB, supplying the interrogative and
changing the imperative to a nominal clause), and 4) emending the MT to read j~lyH tywxrB
("at the first of your wealth acquire wisdom," Scott, Proverbs, 49).
The third and fourth proposals lack any textual support for their revisions and may
thus be dismissed. The first two proposals are equally plausible. The syntactical connection
defined by these proposals is essentially the same: because wisdom is supreme, the pupil
should acquire wisdom, or because the beginning of wisdom is to acquire wisdom, the pupil
should decide to get wisdom (so Kidner, Proverbs, 67). I prefer the first translation ('"Wisdom
is supreme") because it is more forceful and avoids the tautology of the second translation
("The beginning of wisdom").
107 In the lectures, these terms (fmw and bwq) always introduce a new speech (1:8, 2:2,
4:1, 4:10, 4:20, 5:1). They are never part of resumptive clauses.
presence of the customary introductory term "hear" (fmw), 2) the address to a singular
audience, rather than the plural audience of 4:1-2, and 3) the introduction of a new
theme and yet another rhetorical strategy (see below).
3. Analysis of the Artistic Proofs
Although the limits of the rhetorical unit are clear, two features of 4:1-9 raise
the question of whether this text is a complete rhetorical unit or an extended proem
now devoid of the speech that it once introduced.108 First, while the rhetor appeals at
length for the reception and retention of his words, this text lacks any explication of
his instruction. Second, this lecture ends abruptly in 4:9.
It is possible that 4:1-9 is a speech fragment or extended proem.109 However,
three factors recommend the analysis of this text as a complete rhetorical unit. First,
this text is not unique in its lack of explicit instruction. Three other lectures make
similar appeals to listen to the teaching of the rhetor without explicating his teaching,
namely the calls to apprenticeship (i.e., my group I: 1:8-19, 2:1-22, 4:10-19). Of these
lectures, I have already demonstrated the rhetorical completeness of 1:8-19 and 2:1-22
(on 4:10-19 see below). Thus, the lack of explicit teaching is not in itself sufficient
grounds for reading 4:1-9 as a rhetorical fragment. Second, even if 4:1-9 were a
speech fragment, the editor has included it in this collection as a complete rhetorical
108 Others have identified this matter of literary history, but offered no resolution (e.g.,
Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, 45). It is possible to raise the same question about 1:8-19 and
2:1-22 since they also lack any explicit instruction. However, unlike the abrupt ending of 4:1-
9, these two lectures conclude with clear summary appeals (1:19, 2:20-22).
109 Fox, "The Pedagogy of Proverbs 2," 234 n. 5.
unit (see the delimitation above). Third, rhetorical analysis will reveal a coherent and
complete argument in 4:1-9.
Thus, the problem posed by the lack of teaching and the abrupt ending of this
lecture is more the result of inflexible form criticism than the lecture itself.110
Rhetorical analysis will show that 4:1-9 is another deliberative speech seeking the
devoted attention of its audience. The rhetorical strategy developed by the rhetor to
achieve this objective in 4:1-9 is different from other lectures seeking this same goal.
Nonetheless, like 1:8-19 and 2:1-22, the principle aim of this lecture is to persuade the
son to accept the call to apprenticeship.
The rhetorical force of this lecture does not lie in its rational argument. Rather,
the deliberative arrangement of the lecture provides a cohesive framework for
developing strong pathetic (pathos) and ethical (ethos) arguments.
The proem consists of the vocative "sons" (MynibA) and the rhetor's reference to
himself as "a father" (bxA, 4:1). This proem differs from the previous lectures in two
ways: 1) the typical suffixes are absent in 4:1, i.e., "my" (sons, 4:la) and "your"
(father, 4:la), and 2) 4:1 uses the plural "sons" rather than the singular. Rhetorically,
110 E.g., Whybray (Proverbs, 75), although he calls 4:1-9 an instruction, describes the text
as an "introduction" and suggests that "it may be a fragment of a longer piece, lacking the
whole original body of the Instruction."
these are important variants.111 The close rhetorical relationship presupposed by both
previous lectures is two steps removed in this lecture. The speaker does not address
the audience as an individual or claim an immediate relationship to them. Rather, the
rhetorical relationship is more distant, a key factor that influences the ensuing rhetoric.
The initial statement of the proposition uses the same imperatives and objects
found in the propositions of 1:8-19 and 2:1-22.
Hear (fmw, 1:8), Oh sons, a father's discipline (rWaUm, 1:8)
and pay attention (bwq, 2:2) to the knowledge of insight (hnAyBi, 2:3). (4:1)
Consequently, the proposition of this lecture is essentially the same as the propositions
of these previous lectures: The student should carefully listen to and receive the
rhetor's instruction. Next, the rhetor supplies an initial reason for accepting this
proposition, namely "since I give good (bOF) instruction to you" (v. 4:2a, emphasis
mine). He does not immediately defend this statement, i.e., explain why his
instruction is good. Rather, this claim will be the subject of the proof. Finally, the
rhetor restates the proposition: "do not abandon my teaching" (v. 2b).
The remainder of the text (4:4-9) consists of a single proof offered in support
of the rhetor's appeal for the student's attention, namely, the citation of the speech of
the father's father (hence "the grandfather").112 The rhetor introduces the grandfather's
speech by describing the rhetorical situation in which the speech was delivered.
111 Others claim that the plurals and the lack of personal pronouns are insignificant (e.g.,
Toy, Proverbs, 84; Whybray, Proverbs, 76).
112 I am unaware of any other instruction in the Old Testament or in the Wisdom Literature
of the ancient Near East in which the father/rhetor cites the speech of his father/teacher.
I was a son of my father,
delicate and alone before my mother
and he taught me and said to me, (4:3-4a)
Read superficially, the first line is a truism. However, this statement achieves a
powerful rhetorical effect by establishing rapport between the rhetor and his audience.
Once, the rhetor claims, he was like his audience of "sons," i.e., he was a "son" who
received the instruction of his father/teacher (see below on Ethos). The second line
further defines the rhetor's situation: He was a beloved child of his mother. As
pointed out by almost every exegete of this passage, this line strongly suggests a
familial setting for the speech of the grandfather.113 Then, the third line (4:4a) directly
introduces the grandfather's speech.
The beginning of the grandfather's speech is clearly demarcated by the rhetor's
introduction (4:4). However, at what point do the words of the grandfather cease?
Close reading, with special attention to pronouns, resolves this question. The rhetor
113 Three caveats must be raised against this near unanimous interpretation. 1) Although
the mother is mentioned in 4:3, it is the teaching of the father's father that is cited in 4:4b-9.
The rhetor simply claims that when he was instructed by the grandfather, he was a beloved
child of his mother. Thus, although strongly suggestive of a familial setting, this line does not
rule out the possibility of an educational setting outside the home. 2) It must not be assumed
that the setting of the grandfather's speech coincides with the setting of the rhetor's speech
(e.g., Farmer, Who Knows, 39; Van Leeuwen, "The Book of Proverbs," 58-59). This
assumption stems from a failure to take seriously the differences between this lecture and
previous lectures (e.g., singular to plural address, personal pronouns to no personal pronouns).
3) The Book of Kemit (Letters from Ancient Egypt, SBLWAW 1, trans. Edward F. Wente, ed.
Edmund S. Meltzer [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990], 16) contains a similar statement: "I am
one beloved of his father, praised of his mother, and beloved of his brothers and sisters. I
never perturbed my father, nor did I show disregard to my mother. I repeat what my
instructor said so as to master temperament." It is of some interest that the writer mentions
his instructor apart from his father and mother. The similarity of this text to Proverbs 4:3
raises the possibility that "he taught me" (4:4) may refer to the "father's discipline" that the
rhetor introduced in the proposition (4:1), not the biological father/mother of 4:3. Admittedly,
these caveats do not overturn the consensus position of a familial setting for Proverbs 4:3-4,
but they do temper any absolute claims regarding the setting of the grandfather's speech.
consistently addresses his audience with plural pronouns (4:1-2), but the grandfather
addresses a singular audience with singular pronouns (4:4). Singular pronouns, and
thus the grandfather's speech, continue through the end of the lecture (4:9).114
Nonetheless, there is a sense in which the speech of the grandfather merges into and
becomes the speech of the rhetor. In fact, this rhetorical effect appears to be a key
reason for the inclusion of the citation, namely, to identify or equate the words of the
rhetor with the speech of the grandfather. Thus, what the grandfather told the rhetor,
the rhetor is now telling the sons.
The grandfather's speech lacks a proem. Instead, his speech begins with a
proposition similar in content and form to that of the rhetor: "Let your heart grasp my
words; Keep my commandments" (v. 4bc). To this propositional statement, the
grandfather adds an initial reason to accept his words, namely, "and live" (v. 4e). He
then restates the proposition in both positive and negative terms: "Acquire wisdom,
acquire insight; do not forget and do not turn aside from the words of my mouth"
(v. 5). Thus, the aim of the grandfather's rhetoric is the acceptance and retention of his
teaching ("my words," "my commandments," "the words of my mouth"), the same
proposition offered by the rhetor in 4:1-2 (and 1:8-9, 2:1-11).
In order to convince the son to accept this proposition, the grandfather
personifies his teaching as a woman and enumerates the benefits of becoming her
114 For example, the grandfather begins his speech, "Let your heart (j~B,li, singular noun
and suffix) grasp my words, Keep my commandments (rmow;, singular imperative) and live
(hyeH;v,, singular imperative)" (4:4). This use of singular pronouns continues through verse 9:
"She will put on your head (j~w;xrol;, singular noun and pronoun) a wreath of honor, a
beautiful crown she will bestow on you (j~n,G;maT;, singular noun and pronoun)."
disciple or protege. The grandfather lays the groundwork for this strategy in his
proposition where he subtly equates "my words" and "my commandments" (4:4) with
"wisdom" and "insight" (4:5).115 Then, in the proof, the grandfather describes
"wisdom" and "insight" as a woman whom the son should love, not abandon, acquire,
cherish, and embrace (4:6, 8). Admittedly, these imperatives do not require a
personified object, i.e., "her" rather than "it." However, they do suggest this
possibility, which is confirmed by the grandfather's description of how wisdom/insight
will respond to the love and embrace of the son. She will guard, protect, exalt, and
honor the son (4:6, 8, 9, see below on Pathos).
The conclusion of the grandfather's speech coincides with the conclusion of the
rhetor's lecture. Both speeches end with the promise of woman wisdom/insight
bestowing laurels upon the son(s) because of his pursuit of the rhetor's/grandfather's
teaching (4:9). The arrangement of the lecture, then, is straightforward. The rhetor
identifies his teaching with the instruction of the grandfather. The grandfather equates
his words with wisdom and insight and then personifies these ideals as a woman.
Thus, the rhetor's citation of the grandfather's speech equates his words not only with
the grandfather's, but with wisdom and insight. However, while the rational
development of this argument is clear, the rhetorical force of this strategy does not lie
115 For example, he says:
Acquire wisdom, acquire insight,
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words of my mouth. (4:5)
Here, the acquisition of wisdom and insight is parallel to not forgetting and not turning aside
from the words of the grandfather. Thus, by means of parallel structure, the grandfather
equates his own teaching to wisdom and insight. At this point he does not yet personify these
concepts. Rather, here they are objects to be bought or acquired (hnq) by diligent pursuit.