Book Review: Proverbs: An Introduction And Commentary

Proverbs:  An Introduction And Commentary, by Derek Kidner

It ought to come as no surprise that I am a fan of the book of Proverbs and the wisdom approach of the ancient Hebrews in general [1].  This book is, even now, a worthwhile book for those who want to understand the book of Proverbs better.  Although it is a pretty old book, by the standards of biblical commentaries at least, having been published in 1964, it is still worthwhile from a textual perspective despite not having the most recent translations included among it.  Indeed, its worth as a translation makes it quite a worthwhile and entertaining read.  What separates this slim (slightly less than 200 page) volume from the competition is that this book actually expects that its readers will care about the insights that can be gained from Proverbs from reading about, to give an example not at random, the wisdom of the wife of Nabal in 1 Samuel 25 as well as the worth of viewing cognates to the Hebrew in other Semitic languages like Ugaritic and Akkadian.  Of course, few people might be really interested in these matters, but for those who are, this book makes for a very worthwhile and scholarly read.

The contents of this book are divided into three very unequal parts.  The first part of the book, which takes up a bit more than 50 pages, consists of an introduction to wisdom in Israel and the ancient world and the structure, authorship, date of the book of Proverbs and then subject studies into such issues as the relationship between God and man, the biblical view of wisdom, the fool, the sluggard, the friend, words, the family, and life and death as they appear in the book of Proverbs.  The author mixes word studies with comparative language studies in related languages and also shows a sound understanding of the biblical context.  The second and largest section of the book consists of a short analysis that divides the book into sections and a longer commentary that runs for almost 130 pages, giving clever and sometimes humorous and thoughtful discussions of verses and passages, words and phrases, with the author choosing between the AV/KJV, RV, and RSV in an eclectic fashion, and also consulting ancient sources like the related wisdom literature of the ancient Near East and the LXX as well, which has a slightly different organization than the version we get from the Masoretic text.  The book then closes with a brief concordance that provides references to some of the more notable Proverbs that one might want to look up.  The result is a text that is short and informative and clearly oriented at an audience that has a high degree of regard for both intellectual knowledge about the Bible and for the high moral tone of Proverbs as scripture worthy of reflecting on and applying in one’s life.

For those readers who appreciate a combination of intellectual study and practical application, this book offers a short but powerful commentary on one of the most notable books of the Bible for practical wisdom.  For this reader at least, the book hits the high notes of defending the Bible against those who would view the wisdom of Proverbs as disconnected or merely cynical and worldly wise, and demonstrates as well a subtle grasp of the semantic domains of the characteristic language of Proverbs, and contrasts the Bible’s approach to wisdom with the wisdom literature of surrounding nations in a way that demonstrates the Bible’s respect for the wisdom of neighbors but also the moral improvement found in Israel as a result of the blessings of divine revelation.  A reader of this book, if they are prepared to translate some of the language into more familiar terms (the book’s references to Accadian, for example, would be better understood among contemporary scholars of Semitic languages as Akkadian, to give but one example, albeit a common one), but although this book demands a fair amount of prior knowledge to make it fully comprehensible, it rewards those who seek it out.  It would be ungenerous to ask anything more of a book than to reward those who seek to understand its contents.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Proverbs: An Introduction And Commentary

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Romans: A Self-Study Guide | Edge Induced Cohesion

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