Sprüche (Proverbia) 1-15

Bernd U. Schipper reads the book of Proverbs within the context of ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature and at the same time as an integral part of the Old Testament. As a work of literature from the Second Temple period, the book of Proverbs takes part in the theological debates of its time over issues such as the significance of the Torah (and particularly the Deuteronomic law) or whether humans are capable of living in accordance with the divine will.

The analysis of ancient Near Eastern parallels gives special attention to textual material that has previously not been applied to the exegesis of the book of Proverbs: the sapiential texts from the Egyptian Late Period (6th–2nd c. B.C.E.).

On the whole, the final form of the book of Proverbs emerges as a text from the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods that can be ascribed to a circle of “scribes” who were well-versed in the scriptures of ancient Israel.

The publisher, V&R, have sent a review copy. My thoughts are below, and to save space you are encouraged to visit here for the TOC and front matter.

Two words spring immediately to mind concerning this volume:  Lengthy and thorough.  The volume is 870 pages long plus indices, and it only covers just less than half of the Book of Proverbs!  By contrast, the entire Book of Proverbs itself runs from page 947 to 972 in Dothan’s edition of Codex Leningradensis, a paltry 25 pages.

Schipper fills the space with 116 pages of introduction leading up to his discussion of Pr 1:1-7.  Each pericope is prefaced by a bibliography and includes a new translation of the text, copious text critical notes, an ‘orientation’ to the passage, the ‘Form’ of the passage, and a word by word and phrase by phrase commentary proper.  Each pericope is then discussed as to its ‘Aim’ (or goal).

This pattern is repeated throughout the volume with occasional insertions of ‘Forschungsgeschitliche Skizze’ when needed.

English readers need no despair; the present volume will also appear in English in the Hermeneia Commentary series (though at the moment it does not yet appear on the Fortress Press website).

This is a historical critical commentary in the best sense of that phrase.  It is classic in style and presentation and offers scholars (though not casual readers) a state of the art critical commentary on one of the Bible’s most intriguing books.  Schipper writes clearly and in spite of the size of the work, precisely.  He wastes not a word.

Readers of the volume are encouraged to take special note of the ‘Aim’ of each pericope.  Here Schipper makes some of the most interesting and relevant observations found in the volume.  In short he shows with stunning clarity the utter relevance of the Book of Proverbs.  Yet he does so whilst avoiding completely any eisegetical tendencies.  Proverbs is shown to be relevant- but without the gymnastics usually performed by eisegetes.

Weisheitliche Bildung hat zwar ihren Wert, kann jedoch den Menschen nicht allein zum Leben führen.  Dazu ist JHWH nötig, denn neben der weisheitlichen Kompetenz gibt es den Weg der Torheit, der genauso machtvoll ist wie die personifizierte Weisheit (p. 578).

Readers of German will want to obtain a copy for themselves or encourage their library to do so and English readers will want to watch for the publication of the Hermeneia edition.  This is a commentary well worth consulting.