PROVERBS AND ECCLESIASTES Sayings of the Wise in Biblical Literature

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1 ENG 10 CP Mr. Wheeler U1: Seminar on Biblical Literature Wisdom Literature: Proverbs & Ecclesiastes PROVERBS AND ECCLESIASTES Sayings of the Wise in Biblical Literature SETTING AND MAJOR THEMES The Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes open a window to a realm of ancient Israelite experience little seen elsewhere in the Bible: everyday life. Proverbs guides individuals (not the nation) in how to do what is wise in their day-to-day lives. It teaches the attitudes and courses of actions that are right, just, and pious, and the ways of behavior that facilitate and strengthen personal relationships, the forms of communication and commerce that make life of the community congenial and secure, and the types of prudence and industry that help one achieve financial security. Ecclesiastes covers a miscellany of topics: the cycles of the natural order; the amassing of wealth in property and other forms; the opposing forces that govern life; friendship, particularly as an antidote to life s wearying uncertainties, the virtues and difficulties of human authority; the nature of folly and the possibilities and limitations of wisdom; the enjoyment of one s toil; the terrors of old age. In general, Ecclesiastes extracts from meditations on these topics dark reflections on the futility of human life. Significantly, the sayings in this collection observe that the traditional doctrine of reward and punishment for the good and wicked does not appear to work, at least in this life. In this regard, Ecclesiastes argues against the position evident in the book of Proverbs. AUTHORSHIP Both texts are ascribed to King Solomon, though his authorship is doubtful, as neither their language and content fit the time period in which Solomon would have lived. Consequently, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes must be thought of as collective works, holding the wisdom of mostly anonymous wise men and women from many walks of life and different periods. WISDOM LITERATURE The wisdom texts in the Bible are Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, which need to be read within the framework of an international Near Eastern wisdom tradition. Books very similar in character and content were written in Egypt and Mesopotamia, starting in the late third millennium BCE and extending to the Hellenistic period, as late as the third century BCE. FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION 1. Which of these sayings seem most clearly related to your own experiences of life? Which one appealed to you most? Why? 2. What seem to be the main topics or concerns of these sayings? How would you describe the kind of wisdom they express? 3. Some of the proverbs are based on the similarities of two or more things (see number 3). Others are based on the differences between two things (see number 5). Find at least one more example of each type.

2 1 Proverbs 30:18-19 Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship of the high seas, and the way of a man with a girl. 2 Proverbs 18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. 3 Proverbs 25:20 Like vinegar on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood, sorrow gnaws at the human heart. 4 Proverbs 27:10 Better is a neighbor who is nearby than kindred who are far away. 5 Proverbs 27:7 The sated appetite spurns honey, but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.

3 6 Proverbs 11:16 A gracious woman gets honor, but she who hates virtue is covered with shame. The timid become destitute, but the aggressive gain riches. 7 Proverbs 6:6-11 Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior. 8 Proverbs 23:4-5 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle toward heaven. 9 Proverbs 22:2 The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.

4 10 Proverbs 30:33 For as pressing milk produces curds, and pressing the nose produces blood, so pressing anger produces strife. 11 Proverbs: 26:27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling. 12 Proverbs 10:9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out. 13 Proverbs 21:13 If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard. 14 Proverbs 14:13 Even in laughter the heart is sad, and the end of joy is grief. 15 Proverbs 14:10 The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.

5 16 Proverbs 27:19 Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another. 17 Proverbs 23:29-35 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger late over wine, those who keep trying mixed wines. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. They struck me, you will say, but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink? 18 Proverbs 21:2 All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart.

6 19 Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them. 20 Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 21 Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

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