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Old Testament Notes


The Jewish Bible, corresponding to the Christian "Old Testament" is composed of three sections :

  1. the Law ("Torah") - the first five Books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
  2. the Prophets ("Naviim") - which includes some of the Books usually thought of as "Historical" - Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings (this group being called "the Former Prophets"), and the "Latter Prophets" or "Great Prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel - the English Bible also includes Daniel among the Great Prophets), and the Twelve "Minor Prophets" (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) - called Minor because they are shorter, not less important.
  3. the Writings (Hebrew : "Ketuvim", Greek : "Hagiographa") - the three "Big Writings" (Job, Psalms, Proverbs); the five Scrolls, "Megilloth" (listed in the order in which they are read throughout the year - Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther); and the Historical-Narrative Books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, I & II Chronicles);

The first syllables of these three section titles give the short name "Tanakh" often used for the Jewish Bible.

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are two of the three books of "Wisdom Literature" in the Old Testament (the third book is the Book of Job).
However, Wisdom writing is not confined to these three books, but can be found throughout the Old Testament. It is based on the experience and reflection of wise men through the ages, and from various cultures in the Middle East, from Egypt to Mesopotamia. It can be traced back at least a thousand years before the time of King Solomon, but came to full flower in Solomon and his teaching. Wisdom literature comprises proverbs, wise sayings, and reflections on the relationship of man to God, the contrast between wisdom and folly, and the characteristics of a righteous man.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Psalm 110:10) is the central thought of Old Testament Wisdom literature. ("Fear" meant awe and reverence, rather than being afraid.)

The main themes in the Book of Proverbs :

Proverbs 1:1-6 - the general introduction to the whole book
Proverbs, chapters 1 - 9 is an exhortation to seek Wisdom
Proverbs 10:1 - 22:16 is a collection of proverbs of Solomon
Proverbs 22:17 - 24:34 is a couple of collections of sayings of other wise men, which may reflect sayings from other lands
Proverbs, chapters 25 - 29 King Hezekiah's collection of proverbs of Solomon
Proverbs, chapter 30 - the sayings of Agur
Agur the son of Jakeh is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Ithiel and Ucal - another person called Ithiel is mentioned in Nehemiah 11:7, but this is probably someone living at a later date; Ucal is not mentioned elsewhere. However, hearing and recording these words of Agur's has been enough to preserve the memory of these men for thousands of years.
Proverbs, chapter 31:1-9 - the sayings of King Lemuel and his mother. King Lemuel is identified in the Hebrew text as king of Massa, which was a region in Arabia where some of the descendents of Ishmael settled (Gen.25:13-16, I Chron.1:29-31). It may be that his mother was one of Solomon's daughters who was sent to make a political marriage with the previous king of Massa, and who dedicated her son to God (his name means "Belonging to God")
Proverbs 31:10-31 - the Perfect Wife

Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved

Dr. Rollinson

Department of Religion
Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: April 9, 2008

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