Bite-Sized Exegesis, Old Testament, Proverbs, Proverbs 10

Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:6-11 as a Unit?

While the primary sense unit in most of the book of Proverbs is the individual verse, some of the sayings group together rather naturally. Sometimes this is pretty clearly because the verses were originally a unit, and for one reason or another the subsequent versification did not reflect this original unity (i.e. Proverbs 30:7-9). At other times, though, the grouping seems more redactional, meaning at some stage in the collection of the sayings that make up our book of Proverbs some sayings were placed in close proximity to others and may even have been edited so as to fit together better. The exact form of compositional processes such as these cannot be reconstructed with certainty, so that the more we delve into supposed redactions, the more what we appear to observe about the text is mere speculation. Sometimes, however, these speculations seem to have some explanatory power, so they are worth exploring.

Before going on, a reminder: Bite-Sized Exegesis is not about finished research. Rather, the point of the blog is to be a glimpse into the initial stages of biblical interpretation, mostly prior to the consultation of secondary literature. This being said, the grouping of Proverbs 10:6-11 strikes me initially as having some characteristics of internal unity. The first characteristic is the fact that the second halves of verses 6 and 11 are identical, and this looks like an inclusio, like bookends. The first halves of these verses are not identical, but they do have a similarity in that both talk about some anatomical feature of the righteous person: the head in the former, the mouth in the latter. Furthermore, the former is about blessings coming to the righteous person, the latter about blessings coming from the righteous person.

The second characteristic that catches my attention is specifically a characteristic of the Hebrew text: the fact that the second halves of verses 8 and 10 are identical. Now, in a previous post I stated that I think the Greek text is more likely original for a variety of reasons, but there’s no certain way to tell. Text criticism isn’t anything like an exact science, and for every rule of thumb (i.e. the more difficult reading is original) there are at least as many examples that don’t follow it as those that do. For the moment, if we simply ignore the Greek text and deal with the Hebrew form of Proverbs 10:10 as intentional, the fact that the second halves of verses 8 and 10 are identical seems to suggest that verses 7-8 and 9-10 are parallel couplets. There is a kind of alternation between the righteous/wicked contrast and the wise/foolish contrast in the Hebrew of these four verses. As I mentioned in the post on Proverbs 10:10, taking the Hebrew of 10:10b influences the meaning of 10:10a and pushes it toward the wise/foolish contrast. Unfortunately, the “winking the eye” idiom is elsewhere more closely connected to the righteous/wicked contrast. Otherwise, not much else suggests this parallel couplet, either syntactically, phonetically, or in subject matter.

My conclusion is rather inconclusive: the apparent inclusio of vv. 6b and 11b suggests a unit in 10:6-11, but little else does so with any kind of certainty. More research is needed, and this is the point where I would start consulting secondary literature.

What do you think?