The placement of vv.7-12 in Proverbs 9

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Hebrew Exegesis course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

As Waltke summarizes, “Because vv. 7-12 interrupt the competitive invitations of Wisdom (vv. 1-6) and Folly (vv. 13-18), most modern scholars regard these verses as a diverse composition and secondarily added to the text” (438; cf. Clifford, 103). Consequently, various explanations concerning the placement of vv.7-12 in Proverbs 9 have been provided. The significance of this literary-critical issue extends into how one understands the composition of the entire book of Proverbs let alone the interpretation of chapter 9. This paper will use Fox’s interpretation as a case study of the “literary-critical view,” examine the validity of his approach, investigate the potential of “unified literary unit” alternative explanation using Waltke’s view as a case study, and finally draw some tentative conclusions.

Fox advocates that ch. 9 is one among many interludes that was added to the original “10 Lectures” of chs. 1-9. Whereas vv.1-6 + 11 provide WW’s invitation, and vv.13-18 Woman Folly’s counter-invitation, Fox regards vv.7-9, 10, and 12 as undoubtedly later additions to this otherwise unified text. Verses 7-10 interrupt the juxtaposition of Wisdom and Folly’s speeches and displace v.11 from its proper position after vv.1-6 as the reinforcement and sequel of v.6’s exhortation. This transposition of v.11 is evidenced by the כִּי clause beginning v.11, which provides the reason for v.6’s appeal, as well as the use of a 1st person pronoun which clearly links this verse with WW’s address in vv.1-6 as opposed to the maxims of vv.7-10. Finally, Fox argues that “the passage [vv.7-10] does not echo the vocabulary of the preceding section and does not confront Wisdom’s invitation directly. . . .” Verse 7-9 address “who is capable of learning”; v.10 provides an independent definition of wisdom; and v.12 “identifies the recipient of wisdom’s benefits” (295-318; cf. 322-330).

Fox’s explanation is compelling. However, despite its draws, alternative explanations which treat the text as a unified literary unit (e.g., Waltke’s below) question the necessity of Fox’s complicated, theorized revisions. Furthermore, although the appropriateness of v.11 as a conclusion to vv.1-6 is reasonable and attractive, various factors challenge this view. First, the reversion to a 1st person pronoun in v.11 may actually indicate that vv.7-12 is a continuation of WW’s speech (Longman, 218-220). Second, the LXX, Peshitta, and Targum’s rendering of the beginning of v.11 (see BHS apparatus), i.e., “for in this manner,” would eliminate this 1st person pronoun altogether. In this case, v.11 could easily be interpreted as referring to the preceding content of v.10 (Leibeck). But finally, if a scribe(s) in fact edited this text as Fox suggests, one wonders why he would insert an emendation between an otherwise clear unity of vv.1-6 and 11.

Waltke, “although not denying the probability of their diverse origins” recognizes vv.7-12’s inclusion as logical and meaningful (438). Verses 7-12 supplement vv.1-6 and 13-18; whereas “the first and last stanzas of this poem are invitations to the gullible; the middle insertion is instruction” (430). He explains,

“Verses 7-9 contrast the opposing responses of the mocker and the wise with the corresponding negative and positive effects that their responses have on the wisdom teacher. . . . Verses 11-12 contrast the personal gain of being wise with the great loss of being a mocker. . . . Looking back to vv. 7-9, v. 10a states that the essential foundation of being educable or wise is ‘the fear of the LORD,’ and looking ahead, v. 10b names ‘insight’ from knowing the Holy One as the essential foundation form wisdom’s benefits (vv. 11-12a).” (439)

Such explanations like this, which competently handle the text as a final literary unit, challenge the necessity of complex explanations like Fox’s.

Finally, even if the component parts of chapter 9 were not originally a literary unity, their final composition is and can be interpreted as such (e.g., Waltke). Therefore, to rearrange the text, as Fox does, is to privilege one’s hypothesis over the received text. But more so, the existence of such sound explanations as to why vv.7-12 may have been added to Prov 9 (e.g., Waltke) prompts the question of whether or not vv.7-12 are even an addition in the first place (Tully). A heavy burden of proof certainly lies with those who seek to argue otherwise.