Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Proverbs: Types of Proverbs

1. The Inscription. משלי/Proverbs, what are they? Diversity of opinions on this book. Proverbs, strophes, similitudes, enigmas, fables, מליצה, a clear sentence, and חידה, a dark saying.


This Book is calledמִ֭שְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹ֣ה , the Proverbs of Solomon. Now, they are משלי, sentences, Proverbs, controlling maxims, which among sentences excel, full of wisdom, difficulty, gravity, mystery, utility, acumen, authority, and power, as it were. Otherwise, among the Hebrews משל denotes speech, figurative, parabolic, having something of similitude. And indeed in this book are found many things similar, dissimilar, and antithetical, and a great many things expressed metaphorically, allegorically, and in other sorts of figures. Neverthless, you may elsewhere find sentences simply stated, maxims or chreias,[1] pertaining to the use of life, without any form or convolution of words. Whence Mercerus advises that משלי is more rightly translated as whatever sort of sentences or maxims, whether simple of figurative. And there are various species of maxims of this sort, for example, Proverbs, that is, sentences brief, acute, but plain and easy: strophes, which mean one thing in the husk of the letter, but signify another; of which sort are the Symbols of Pythagoras:[2] Similitudes, or comparative sentences: enigmas, which have a sense involved, and only obvious to the wise: and finally, fables, wherein animals are introduced as speaking. Solomon himself in Proverbs 1:6 distinguishes מְלִיצָה, a clear sentence, which has a ready interpretation, whether expressed in proper words, or tropes: and חִידָה, an enigma, a sentence obscure, involved, which he calls the דִּבְרֵ֥י חֲ֜כָמִ֗ים, the words of the Wise,[3] because the wise alone are able to compose such words and sentences, and to explain them.

[1] That is, brief, practical anecdotes. [2] That is, hortatory sayings of Pythagoras, pertaining to virtue. [3] Proverbs 1:6: “To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings (לְהָבִ֣ין מָ֭שָׁל וּמְלִיצָ֑ה דִּבְרֵ֥י חֲ֜כָמִ֗ים וְחִידֹתָֽם׃).”

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