Songs & Sayings #10 - Hebrew Proverbs Ch. 10


The Songs and Sayings Podcast: Reading through the wisdom literature of the world.

By Menashe David Israel

Chapter 10 of Hebrew Proverbs

Further reading: The Wisdom Books by Robert Alter

Proverbs by the Bible Project


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My comments:

In chapter 10, we move into section two of the six major sections of the book of Proverbs. This second section spans from Ch. 10 verse 1 all the way to chapter 22 vs 16. 

In the first section—which was the first 9 chapters of Proverbs—we saw a narrative style with quasi-dramatic elements. In the second section, we will see a collection of aphorisms and sayings that have no obvious connection to one another other than their style.

The style connection, however, is significant. Verse one of Ch. 10 says, “The proverbs of Solomon.” Now, as I have mentioned in previous episodes, this could mean that Solomon himself is the originator of these proverbs. Scholars seem to doubt that, though. Others think that the superscription, “the proverbs of Solomon,” could be in line with the ancient tradition of attributing literary work to a person of great renown. As a third possibility, R.B.Y Scott suggests that the most likely reason for the attribution to Solomon is that these proverbs are written in the Solomonic style.

So what are the elements of this Solomonic style?

Well, they are mostly the elements of Hebrew poetry: lines or stichs - which are comprised of three or four beats or accents each. Unfortunately, for us, because we are reading in English translation, instead of the Hebrew original, we don’t get to appreciate the rhythmic meters of these lines. Though, we can rest assured that the sense and meaning are not too far off.

Then these metered stich-lines are assembled in a format of usually two, but sometimes three, lines, which typically treat themes in a parallel fashion. This parallel way of delivering the proverbs can be divided into three main kinds.

The first kind is called:

  1. Synonymous parallelism, This is where two lines express the same idea but in slightly different ways. 

An example of synonymous parallelism is Proverbs 7:1:

“My son, keep my words (which is the first line; 

then), AND treasure up my commandments with you. 

(which is the second line running thematically parallel to the first.)

In synonymous parallels, the second line rephrases the first line.

The second kind is:

  1. Antithetic parallelism, in which the truth of the first line is contrastingly stated in the second.

An example of antithetical parallelism is Proverbs 10:5, 

First line, “A son who gathers in summer is prudent,” 

Second line, “BUT a son who sleeps in harvest brings shame.”

In antithetical parallels, the second line usually begins with the word “but” and then shows the other side of the coin, so to speak. 

In our present chapter, which consists almost entirely of antithetical parallels, further examples can be seen in the contrasts between wise and foolish; father and mother; gladness and sorrow.

Once the pattern is pointed out to you, it becomes hard to miss.

The third kind of parallelism we see in this Solomonic style is called Synthetic Parallelism.

  1. Synthetic parallelism, is where the second stich simply carries on the idea of the first stich, and, by doing so, forms one whole sentence:

An example of this is Proverbs 1:10, 

First “My son, if sinners entice you,” 

Second, “do not consent.”

In a synthetic parallel, the second line does not repeat the first idea, as in a synonymous parallel, or contrast it, as in an antithetical parallel, but continues and builds on the first line. ☗

Read Proverbs Chapter 10 on the Bible App