AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Title of the Book. | Authorship. | The Collections and their Dates. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint. 


As distinct from the titles in the body of the book (see below), the title of the book as a whole is Mishle, which is an abbreviation of the opening sentence: "The Proverbs of (Mishle) Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel."

(On the meaning of the word mashal "proverbs," see above, p.151.)

The Septuagint has the title Paroimioi, "Comparisons", similarly taken from the opening word of the book.


Solomon is designated as the author in x.1 as well as in i.1. The tradition about his wisdom was doubtless due to three passages. In i Kgs.iv.29 (Hebr.v.11-14) it is said:

"And Yahweh gave Solomon wisdom".

In i Kgs.iv.31-34 (Hebr.v.11-14). Solomon is said to have been

"wiser than all men ... and he spake three thousand proverbs. And there came all peoples to hear the Wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom".

And in i Kgs.iii.16-28, where the story, borrowed in all probability from an Indian source, is told of Solomon's decision as to which of the two women was the mother of the child (cp. also i Kgs.iii.9ff, x.1ff.). There was, thus, sufficient traditional material to justify the belief that Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs. But so far as the evidence of the book itself is concerned, while it records the tradition, its ascriptions of authorship vary. Of the ten collections it contains, (see next section) three have no ascription. Of the other seven, two are ascribed to Solomon, one mentions his name in the title; while the remaining four are definitely ascribed to other authors. Thus, following the chronological order of the collections (see next section), we have these ascriptions of authorship:

x.1-x.16 is ascribed to Solomon. The title at the head of the whole book was probably taken from here. This collection contains 375 proverbs. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters that make up the name of Solomon is also 375. In all probability some scribe brought up the number of proverbs to correspond with the numerical value of "Solomon" (in Hebrew Shelomo). Such devices, in one form or another, occur elsewhere in the Old Testament, and are the mark of late times; so that in the present instance the device would tell against Solomonic authorship.

xxv-xxix has the title:

"These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out."

On this Toy [A critical & Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, p.147 (1914).] pointedly remarks: "the verb has this sense only here in the Old Testament. Elsewhere (Gen..8, Job ix.5, xxi.7, etc.) it means 'remove' (in space or in time), and its signification here (' transcribe ' = 'remove from one book to another') belongs to the late literary vocabulary. This superscription ... only bears testimony to the disposition, in later times, to ascribe all wise sayings to Solomon, and a special suggestion of Solomonic authorship may have been found in the mention of kings with which the collection opens."

x.17-xi.14 has no title as the Hebrew text now stands; but originally there was a title; it has inadvertently been put into the text instead of being kept separate; the Septuagint has preserved the title, which no doubt at one time stood in its proper place in the Hebrew form: "Sayings of the Wise." xi.15-xxiv.22 has no title. xxiv.23-34 has the title: "These also (belong) to the Wise men." xxx.1-14 has the title: "The words of Agur the son of Jakeh; the oracle." xxx15-33 has no title. xxxi.1-9 has the title: "The words of king Lemuel; the oracle which his mother taught him." i.7-ix.18 has the title: "The Proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel." This, with the last-mentioned collection, (xxxi.1-9) is the latest portion of the book. The title is therefore valueless as an indication of Solomonic authorship (see next section). xxxi.10-31 has no title.

It will thus be seen that the evidence of the book itself is against Solomonic authorship. It may, however, be asked whether, in view of the acknowledged antiquity of proverbial utterances and of the existence of the tradition of Solomon's wisdom, some elements may not have been preserved which trace their origin to him?

In reply to which it must be granted that the possibility of this cannot be wholly excluded. A Hebrew tradition usually has some basis in fact. Besides, Solomon's relations with the Egyptian royal house (i Kgs.iii.1) may well have brought him into contact with some Egyptian sages from whom he might have heard wise sayings. The Wisdom literature of Egypt goes back far into the third millennium BC. [Erman, Die Literatur der Aegypter, pp.86-121, 294-302 (1923).]

But while granting this possibility it is certain that the great mass of the collection in question is much later than the time of Solomon, and, indeed, that a large number of the sayings are post-exilic.


Reference has been made to the various collections contained in the book of Proverbs; some more detailed account of these is called for.

It has been pointed out above, (See pp.150 f.) that, in common with many another people of antiquity, the Hebrews had numerous sayings that were current in oral form - sayings of a popular character that expressed truths gained from the experience of life. The existence of such popular sayings invites, sooner or later, the collection of them; and in course of time collections of this kind would tend to increase. The formation of such collections would obviously be undertaken by the Hakamim, the Sages, or Wise Men; and in the natural order of things the Sage, in gathering together current proverbial sayings, would increase their number by adding words of his own.

Thus, Sages made collections of proverbs at different times, and in the book of Proverbs we have the final gathering together of a number of these collections. That some of these collections, apart from the additions of later scribes, belonged to pre-exilic times is suggested both by the existence of popular sayings long current, and also because, as we have seen, the Hakamim formed a recognized order already in the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

There are two other considerations that tend to confirm the belief that collections of proverbs, in written form, were in existence before the Exile. As has been pointed out above, the earliest form of the Hebrew proverb was a single-line saying, originally oral, but existing in this form even after having been reduced to writing. In course of time, no doubt, a line was added in many cases and a couplet was formed, but this still left the first line self-contained in its original form.

Now in two of the collections in our book (x.1-x.16 and xxv-xxix) there are a number of couplets in which the first line is self-contained, showing the probability of its having originally stood alone. One or two examples may be given: in x.I 5a and xviii.11 a there is the proverb,

"The rich man's wealth is his strong city," meaning that the rich man relies on his wealth. This is a self-contained saying. The context differs in the two passages, showing that originally the saying stood alone. Two single-line proverbs occur in xi.29, they are now joined by "and," but are quite independent of each other.

In .11a and xxviii.19a there is the proverb: "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread," which is again a self-contained saying. In this case the added line in each passage is similar, though not identical.

In xiv.5b it is said: "A false witness uttereth lies," [The different marginal renderings of the RV represent the same word in Hebrew.] and the same proverb is copied in vi.19a. Here the context in the two passages is quite different, showing again that the saying had been current independently of any context.

Many similar instances could be given (e.g. i.12, 14, 15, 19; xiv.4; xv.3, 26, 33; xix.23; xx.2; xxi.12, 29; x.8, 10; xxv.27; xxvii.2; xxviii.16, 19; and xv.21; xix.27 xxi.24 are single-line proverbs without an added context). The presence of these, while not necessarily proving a pre-exilic date for the two collections in question, offers an argument in that direction.

More decisive are the frequent references to the king, implying the existence of the monarchy. It is recognized that the mention of the king can quite conceivably be in reference to a Gentile monarch, e.g. in viii.15; xxx.22, 27; xxxi.4 belonging to later collections. But the way in which the king is spoken of in these two collections makes it very difficult to believe that the writer had a Gentile ruler in mind. How could a Jew speak of a Gentile king as one who utters a divine oracle (xvi.10), or as one whose heart is in the hand of Yahweh (xxi.1), or as one who is the friend of Yahweh (x.11), or as one whose throne will be established forever (xxix.14)? And there are many other passages in which the king is spoken of in such a way as to make it morally certain that the writer had an Israelite king in mind.

A great deal in these two collections, then (x.1-x.16 and xxv-xxix), must be assigned to a period before the downfall of the monarchy, though later sages undoubtedly added considerable portions.

Of pre-exilic date is also the collection contained in x.17-xi.14. This is very largely based on the Egyptian Wisdom-book called the "Teaching of Amen-em-ope". [For Details, see Oesterley, The Book of Proverbs, pp.xlvi-l (1929), & The Wisdom of Egypt & the Old Testament (1927); for the most recent discussion, see Moller, "Kritische Beitrage zur angeblichen Abhangigkeit der Spruche Salomos x.17-xxiv.22 von der agyptischen Lehre des Amen-em-ope," in Nach dem Gesetz und Zeugniss, pp.304 ff (1932).]

The best expert opinion assigns this to the eighth or seventh century BC, some authorities place it earlier. The fact of it being pre-exilic does not necessarily prove that the Jewish collection based on it is also pre-exilic. But there are various sayings in this collection which may well belong to some period before the Exile (x.28-xi.10, 11), and it is joined on to two other small collections (xi.15-xxiv.22 and xxiv.23-34) which in part are certainly pre-exilic, see especially xxiv.21.

Thus, these three collections in their original form may be assigned to the seventh century.

Of the four small collections contained in xxx and xxxi, three (xxx.1-14, xxx.15-33 and xxxi.1--9) do not offer any decisive indications as to date. Most commentators regard them as post-exilic. The style of the fourth (xxxi.10-31) suggests a late post-exilic date.

In the first collection in the book, as we now have it (i-ix), there is much to show that it belongs to a time long after the Exile. Quite decisive, apart from other indications, is the developed conception of Wisdom (see e.g. i.20-33, ii, iii.11-20, vii.4, and above all viii). It belongs, in all probability, to the third century BC, though it is likely enough that some earlier elements have been incorporated.


It is interesting to note that the Hebrew text of what is certainly the oldest part of our book (the collection contained in x-x.16) is in a more corrupt state than any other part of the book.

It looks as though the longer history of transmission here was responsible for the less satisfactory state of the text. This collection has many passages in which the textual corruption is serious. In an appreciable number of instances emendation seems almost hopeless, while corruptions of a minor character are very numerous. Chs.xiv and xvi have suffered in a special degree. In the collection xxv-xxix the text is in a somewhat better state, though here, too, in a few cases, e.g. xxvi.9, xxvii.9, emendation seems almost hopeless, so deep-seated is the corruption. The text of xxviii is in a worse state than any other chapter in this collection. In chs.x.I 7-xxiv.34 the text is again less corrupt, though in a number of minor cases emendation is necessary. In the first collection (i-ix) the corruptions are far less, and even where they occur they are not important. The last two chapters are remarkably free from corruption, apart from the title at the head of each chapter.

In a great number of cases the Septuagint is invaluable for emending the Hebrew text. At the same time, since the text of the Septuagint itself is often in a bad state, much caution is called for in making use of it.

But not infrequently, even where the Septuagint text is faulty, it gives a cue to what the underlying Hebrew text read, and thus helps to emend the Massoretic text. [Much help in studying the text will be found in Kuhn, Beitrage zur Erklarung des Salomonische Spruchbuches (1931).]

Again and again omissions or additions of words in the Septuagint are seen to represent a purer Hebrew text. There can be no doubt that so far as x-x.16 is concerned many verses in the Greek text presuppose a better Hebrew form than that of the Massoretic text.

Apart from what has been said, the Septuagint contains a certain amount of material that is wanting in the Hebrew. Some of this has evidently been translated from a Hebrew original, and may have been taken from some collection now lost (e.g. the couplets after ix.12). Other parts do not read like a translation from Hebrew, these may well be insertions from collections written in Greek.

Paraphrases occur not infrequently in the Septuagint (e.g. x.18, xi.31); this is probably due either to the corrupt state of the Hebrew original, or to the fact that the Greek translator did not understand the Hebrew, for this is often ambiguous. There are also cases in which the order of passages in the Septuagint differs from that of our present Hebrew text, e.g. xv.28-xvi.9, and the relative positions of the four collections in xxx, xxxi; but these differences occur mostly from xxiv.23 onwards. This clearly indicates that the various collections, as we should expect, originally circulated separately.