Open Proverbs: Exploring Genre and Openness in Proverbs 10:1-22:16

Change log
Millar, Suzanna Ruth 

This thesis has three main aims. First, I will propose and explain a genre ascription for the sayings in Prov 10:1-22:16 – the ‘didactic proverb’. Second, I will analyse ‘openness’ as a textual feature, and show its contribution to the functions of this genre. Third, I will demonstrate how reading this way may influence our understanding of some key issues in Proverbs’ scholarship. Part 1 tackles the first and second aims. In ch. 1, I suggest that the sayings in Prov 10:1-22:16 have something of a hybrid genre, displaying features akin to both ‘didactic’ texts and ‘proverbs’. This can be seen from their: generically related texts, probable social settings, media, self-presentation, and literary forms. As ‘didactic’ texts, the sayings shape the worldview, character and intellect of their students. As ‘proverbs’, they apply to specific situations with specific purposes. In ch. 2, I explain three manifestations of literary ‘openness’: polysemy can give a text multiple meanings; parallelism makes the relationship between lines unclear; imagery opens up worlds for exploration. Ch. 3 begins to show how this ‘openness’ enhances the sayings’ ‘didactic’ and ‘proverbial’ functions. Here I move beyond openness in interpretation to openness in application, and draw on the field of ‘paremiology’ (the technical study of the ‘proverb’ as a genre), which has been somewhat neglected in Proverbs’ scholarship. In Part 2, I turn to the text, drawing out the openness of key verses, and showing how they function ‘didactically’ and ‘as proverbs’. This proves to have implications for certain classic debates in Proverbs’ scholarship (my third aim). Ch. 4 considers ‘character’ terms (e.g. wise/foolish, righteous/wicked). I use cognitive linguistic theories to examine the terms as open categories with ‘prototype structure’. Viewed this way, the terms are not (as some have argued) abstract and cut off from the world, but profoundly useful for life. Ch. 5 considers the apparent ‘act-consequence connection’ in Proverbs. The connection is predictable but not inviolable, may come about through a number of agencies, and has strong motivational potential. Ch. 6 looks at proverbs about the king. These do not necessitate an actual court context, for the ‘king’ figure may encapsulate wider principles, and function as a teaching tool. Even when he appears to be glorified, his role may be subverted, requiring students to exercise their minds. In ch. 7, I consider the way wisdom is acquired in the ‘didactic proverb’ genre, and suggest a principle for gaining it: students must ‘trust and scrutinise’. They are thereby empowered in their quest for wisdom, whilst also becoming aware of their limitations. Throughout Part 2, I find ‘openness’ to be an important facilitator for didactic and proverbial goals. Prov 10:1-22:16 presents its readers with a panoply of fascinating texts. By exploring them as ‘open’, ‘didactic’, and ‘proverbial’, this thesis offers a fruitful reading strategy; new insights into functions and meanings; and some fresh perspectives on old debates.

Dell, Katharine Julia
Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Wisdom Literature, Proverbs, Genre, Openness, Ambiguity, Paremiology, Character Development, Didactic Strategies, Act-Consequence Connection, Wisdom
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities, offered by the Wolfson Foundation