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An Introduction to the Book of Proverbs

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A. In Hebrew: hm)lv= yl@v=m! meaning “Proverbs of Solomon.” The term yl@v=m! means “parallel” or “similar” and thus represents a description by means of comparison1

B. In Greek: PAROIMIAI has the sense of “being like” or “similar” (see paroimi'a, paromoia'zw and paro'moio). These are clever sayings using similes and comparisons--proverbs


A. Solomon: Solomon, the son of David, was said to have written over three thousand proverbs (1 Ki 4:32). Many of them are found in the book of Proverbs:2

1. 1:1--9:18

2. 10:1--22:16

3. 25:1--29:27 (these were selected by a committee appointed under king Hezekiah (726-698 B.C.)

B. Wisemen: Perhaps these were the ones who attended Solomon (cf. 1 Ki 4:31; 12:6). Their units are two:

1. 22:17--24:22

2. 24:23-34

C. Agur son of Jakeh: We do not know who this was. This is found in 30:1-33

D. King Lemuel: He was a non-Israelite who may have lived in the area of Uz where people still believed in the true God. This is in 31:1-9 and perhaps 31:10-31.

III. DATE: It seems that Proverbs was written and then compiled sometime between the tenth and sixth centuries B.C.

A. Very Late Date (Fourth Century B.C. 350 B.C. or Later)

1. This is held by C. H. Toy in ICC.

2. Solomon was identified with all wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs) as with the apocryphal book the Wisdom of Solomon
While pseudonyms were popular in the intertestamental period, this was not the case in pre-Hellenistic Israel. In addition it is probable that Solomon’s reputation came from real compositions of wisdom3

3. It is assumed that the pure monotheism in Proverbs reflects a postexilic origin since it was a late evolutionary development
The presupposition of an evolution of religion is not necessary since Israel’s religion was revealed from the days of the patriarchs and idolatry was always regarded as evil

4. Since Proverbs does not demonstrate “national” references, it must have been composed after the fall of the nation.
But the lack of national references is a part of the genre of literature known as wisdom literature and the multi-cultural nature setting of Israel.

5. Social customs and vices are from the time after the exile
But there is nothing in the customs or vices which require that they be limited to one particular time or another

6. The emphasis upon knowledge as a source for resolving problems is a Hellenistic approach to moral philosophy
This is a basic misunderstanding between Greek and Hebrew wisdom. Greek wisdom was concerned with speculation and cosmogony which was behind principles of the universe. Hebrew wisdom was interested in the revealed will of God (the Law) and the observable order which God placed into the universe.4

7. Proverbs was the product of a professional group of wise men who also put together Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus
But there must have been an earlier, classical model of written proverbial literature before a professional group of wise men could have arisen5

B. Moderately Late Date (Seventh-Sixth Centuries 600 B.C.):

1. This is held to by Driver, Norwack, and A.B. Davidson

2. The material ascribed to Solomon is identified with a later period of time:

a. 1--9 to the period just before the exile

b. 10--22 may have Solomonic roots, but reached its present form in the seventh century B.C.

3. The units attributed to the wisemen (22:17--24:34) are identified with the postexilic period

4. 25--29 is considered to be postexilic

5. 30--31 were added at a much later time

6. Some moderate critics place chapters 22--24 in an earlier period than chapters 1--9 and view the entire book as having been written no later than the time of Hezekiah

C. Early Date (Tenth Century to Sixth Century B.C.):

1. Much of the book was written during the time of Solomon (1--9; 10--22:6; [22:17--24:34]; 25--29:27)

2. There was a compilation of Solomon’s writings which occurred during the reign king Hezekiah (726-698 B.C.)

3. It is not possible to know when some of the material was written (30--31)6

4. Proverbs 22--24 were probably a source for the Egyptian work, The Wisdom of Amenemope which has been dated to from 1000 B.C. to the Persian and/or Greek periods7

D. Conclusion: Tenth to Sixth Century

1. Much of the material in Proverbs is old dating at least from the time of Solomon

2. Some of Proverbs was probably compiled as a canonical book at a later time (at least during the time of Hezekiah (726-698 B.C.)
Perhaps the placement of the two sections of anonymous sayings by the wisemen (22:17--24:22; and 24:23-34) suggests that they came from period between Solomon’s reign and the collection of Hezekiah’s scribes8

3. Proverbs 30--31 could have been added at a later time (the time of the exile?)

4. Albright wrote, “In a nutshell, my opinion with regard to the provenience and date of Proverbs is that its entire contents is probably pre-Exilic, but that much of the book was handed down orally until the fifth century B.C. when we know from Elephantine that Jews were interested in literature of a different kind.”9


A. To enable the readers to learn and apply the fear of the Lord to their lives

B. To provide skill for living (successful living) from the two perimeters of natural order and God’s word

C. To know wisdom and instruction (1:2)

D. To receive teaching in wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity (1:3)

E. To help the simple gain prudence and the youth gain knowledge and discretion (1:4)

F. To increase learning and to acquire skill in understanding (1:5)

G. To understand proverbs, parables, wise sayings, and riddles (1:6)

H. To learn the fear of the Lord (1:7)

1 Hill and Walton write, The Hebrew word for 'proverb' conveys a wide range of meanings, including the idea of comparison, a code of behavior, and the discovery of hidden truth. Essentially the book of Proverbs is a collection of comparisons based on observation and reflection that seeks to instruct people in 'right behavior' (Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 286).

LaSor et al write, Some scholars connect masal with the root 'to rule,' to a proverb was originally a word spoken by a ruler and therefore filled with special power and meaning; see A Bentzen, Introduction 1:168 (LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 547 n. 1). Some proverbs are not built upon comparisons. They are short, pithy sayings (Prov. 1--9; Job's speeches, 27:1; 29:1) or bywords (Deut. 28:37; Jer. 24:9; Ezek 14:8) or even taunt sons were the sufferer becomes the focus (cf. Isa. 14:4ff; Ibid.).

2 Cohen writes, A Rabbinic teaching asserts that the Israelite king wrote Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs in middle age, and Ecclesiastes towards the end of his life (Midrash Shir ha-Shirim, i. I, § 10) (A. Cohen, Proverbs: Hebrew Text & English Translation with an Introduction and Commentary, xii).

3 Archer writes, Thus in Greek literature the existence of the later epic poetry falsely attributed to Homer by no means demonstrates that Homer never composed any epic poetry of his own .... (Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 478).

4 Archer writes, Whereas Greek philosophy tended toward dialectical deduction from first principles arrived at by purely intellectual induction, Hebrew philosophy was more intuitive and analogical, endeavoring to interpret the moral order in the light of a personal, omniscient, and omnipotent God, who had revealed His will for ethical living (Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 479).

5 Archer writes, Compare Jeremiah 18:18, which speaks of the wise men as a class of experts on a par with priests and prophets in the preexilic generation. There can be no question that wisdom literature had a very early origin in the history of Egypt, going back at least to Ipuwer in the Sixth Dynasty (ca. 2500 B.C.). It is also evident from 1 Kings 4:30 that there was a long tradition of pre-Solomonic sages in Israel, and it is quite unwarranted to hold that the tenth century was to early for this kind of literature to have arisen among the Hebrew people (Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 480).

6 Hill and Walton write, Nothing is known of Agur and Lemuel of Massa. It seems likely they were members of the northern Arabian tribe of Massa, one of the sons of Ishmael (Gen. 25:14; 1 Chron. 1:30). The records of their 'counsel' are further examples of the universality of wisdom traditions in the ancient world. They also give evidence of the international character of Israelite wisdom. The Hebrew sage and scribe sought pleasing and truthful words of practical instruction, whether of Hebrew, Edomite (e.g., Job), or Arabian origin (e.g., Agur and Lemuel) (Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 287).

7 See Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 481-82.

8 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 287.

9 In Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East, ed. M. North and D. Winton Thomas (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1960), 13. LaSor et al write, Prov. 25:1 makes clear that the book could not have been completed before Hezekiah's time (ca. 715-686). The last two chapters may well have been added during or shortly after the Exile (ca. 500). Most likely chs. 10--29 were edited during Hezekiah's time and the introductory and concluding chapters were added during the two following centuries. The fifth century is a reasonable date for the final editing, although most of the contents are much earlier, with most individual proverbs and even longer speeches stemming from long before the Exile (LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 558; see also A. Cohen, Proverbs: Hebrew Text & English Translation with an Introduction and Commentary, xii).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines