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Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press 2015. VIII, 187 S. = Readings: A New Biblical Commentary. Kart. £ 15,00. ISBN 978-1-909697-46-1.
Alan Moss is a researcher at the Australian Catholic University. His interest in Proverbs began under the teaching of Alonso Schökel, after which he completed a doctoral thesis on the personification of wisdom in Proverbs. He has since published on Proverbs’ history of interpretation and wisdom in Prov 1–9. His contribution to »Readings: A New Biblical Commentary« matches the series’ aim: to provide an interpretation from a personal literary perspective, unin-hibited by the traditional concerns of biblical criticism. Thus, M.’ volume on Proverbs includes only a thin bibliography and rarely interacts with secondary literature, ancient Near Eastern contexts, or the Hebrew text. In the case of Prov 8:22–31, for example, difficult linguistic decisions (e. g., begotten/created) and the historical origins of Wisdom are mostly ignored. Instead, the pictures of crea-tion and Wisdom’s proximity to God plus intra-canonical relations receive attention. M. consistently focuses on the imagery of Proverbs: »the commentary will be mainly concerned with discussing the book’s education impact through an examination of the imagery« (1).
In a brief introduction, he labels Proverbs an educational text intended to instruct Israelite youth. Most likely composed by »the wise men of Israel« (4), M. disfavors schools as the context of origin and claims the book’s final form coheres best with the context of parental instruction. He treats Proverbs as a canonical text, and throughout the commentary shows how it complements other biblical literature. He concludes that, by its imagery, Proverbs extends its reach to an audience of any generation. The commen-tary then divides into five sections (Prov 1–9; 10:1–22:16; 22:17–24:34; 25–29; 30–31) including an Appendix as well as indices of authors and biblical references.
For Prov 1–9, M. structures the text based on widely accepted categories of instruction and interlude. With easy-to-spot headings and subheadings in bold, he provides the NRSV translation of the text and, at times, introductory comments. He consistently relates the imagery of each passage in Prov 1–9 with the images that pre-cede and follow. So the banquet of Wisdom (9:1–6) promises a quality of life detailed in previous poems: »it includes right relationship with Yahweh (3.5–6), longevity (3.16), physical vitality (3.8), wealth and social well-being (3.2–4), and peaceful possession of the land (2.21)« (52). Such relationships between themes and imagery dominate the discussion of Prov 1–9 and the commentary as a whole.
Proverbs 10:1–22:16 is introduced with comments on the variety of literary forms and thematic patterns that persist throughout its chapters. The need to accept discipline and instruction appears consistently, while Prov 10–15 emphasizes righteousness, and Prov 16:1–22:16, the problems of poverty. In contrast to Prov 1–9, M. approaches Prov 10:1–22:16 topically. He provides a main thematic heading and lists pertinent passages in the titles of the following subsections. For example, »The Power of Language« includes nine sections, each attending to a characteristic of human speech. In all, he identifies seven main topics in these chapters: Formation in Wisdom, the Household, Righteousness, Yahweh and the King, Language, Poverty and Prosperity, and Joy and Sadness.
Proverbs 22:17–24:34 returns to a linear rather than a topical approach. M. typically treats the text in sections of two to three verses. He does mention the Instruction of Amenemope but primarily notes its difference to Proverbs. Amenemope, he claims, does not feature wisdom, and its imagery »may have a different context than in Proverbs« (98). M. continues to relate the imagery of these chapters with Proverbs 1:1–22:16. Thus, Proverbs 22:17–24:34 addresses concerns similar to Prov 1–9 but in a slightly different situation. The naïve youth of chapters 1–9 now receives instruction at the »threshold of public life« (109). M. dedicates a section to Prov 25–29 but underscores the distinction between chapters 25–27 and 28–29. The first depends more on metaphor and simile, with the latter confronting wise living in a turbulent society with more abstraction and antithesis. So the commentary moves through Prov 25–27 text by text but arrays Prov 28–29 based on theme, similar to Prov 10:1–22:16.
Proverbs 30–31 portrays three figures of exemplary wisdom. The imagery of these chapters resembles that of Prov 1–9, such as its feminine figures, animal images, and Agur’s educational reflec-tions. M. argues that, overall, Prov 30–31 guides the audience in building a wise household. He discusses the identity of the wife in Prov 30:10–31 at length and acknowledges her connections with Lady Wisdom. However, the woman’s human character seems to override her semblance of Personified Wisdom. With an appendix, M. includes a review of literature on »Solomon as the Author of Proverbs«. He summarizes four views from the pre-historical-critical era and six from the 20 th century, all pertaining to the Solomonic authorship of Proverbs. He also discusses six publications on Solomon’s historical representation in 1 Kings 1–11 and Chronicles. M. refrains from siding with certain positions and concludes that they all »merit their place in studies of the reception of Solomon« (171).
This commentary primarily contributes to scholarship on Proverbs by demonstrating the consistency of imagery throughout the book. M. not only adheres to the series’ aim but traces common themes and imagery in every chapter of Proverbs. With this approach, plus the writing style and layout, the commentary suits a lay audience. M. does make a few observations on the structure of the text and Hebrew terms, and the appendix offers a helpful review of discussions on Solomonic authorship and historicity. However, I wonder if a lay audience will be interested in such scholarship. Further, discussions of theology, application, and exegetical problem solving appear rarely, if at all. While this commentary does provide a reading of Proverbs that coheres its biblical imagery, with only a bit more effort, readers of Proverbs should be able to gather similar connections from other commentaries or through a reading of the text itself.