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Posted March 8, 2006

Book: Understanding the Hebrew Bible: A Reader’s Guide
Author: Elliott Rabin
KTAV Publishing House, Newark, NJ, 2006, pp.250

An Excerpt from the Preface:

This book aims to impart the excitement of reading the Bible, to share some of the delights and surprises in store for the reader. Discover the Bible’s astonishing scope – the unique diversity of material it contains, of interest to people who love history and literature, to those seeking psychological insight or the meaning of life and an encounter with God. Experience the awesome power of biblical writing; stories, speeches and poems so immediate and direct that they can pierce the human heart millennia after they were written. Explore the drama of the history of the Jews and of their book — their national triumphs and catastrophes, the rapid alternation of sovereignty, conquest, and exile that produced a new conception of God and of the sacredness of writing. And enter into the fascinating world of biblical scholarship, which over the past two hundred years has continually changed our understanding of who wrote these texts and for what purposes.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Proverbs: The Wise Always Rise

Israelite proverbs are similar in style and function to their Ancient Near Eastern counterparts. Most of them are self-contained units within a single verse, consisting of two parts:

“Honor the wise shall inherit,
But dullards raise up disgrace (3:35)

In most proverbs, the two half-verses contrast. Often, the message seems at first deceptively easy: to understand the proverb properly, one must compare the parallel components of the two halves and draw out the implications of the comparisons. Here, in one of the simpler proverbs, not the elegance with which honor and disgrace wrap the expression in an envelope pattern. The interesting contrast lies in the choice of verbs: “inherit” versus “raise up.” The wise obtain honor almost passively. They don’t need to seek honor; it is bestowed upon them like a birthright. Dullards receive disgrace through their own effort; they seek it and take pride in it. The message seems to be: don’t seek status, let it come to you as the reward for your actions.

Proverbs traffic in types of people, contrasting the wise with the wicked under a variety of names. The particularity of a proverb’s message depends upon the nature of the contrast it draws between the types. As with this proverb, the contrast usually homes in on a psychological insight aimed at helping the student form the correct perspective for the time when he enters society.

In the early chapters of Proverbs, the instruction is directed to a “son.” Scholars differ whether to take the word literally, indicating that the proverbs were popular parental advice to children, or instead as a technical term used by a teacher to his students within the wisdom schools. Both scenarios show that proverbs were highly esteemed for their educational value within ancient Israel.

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction: There’s more than one way to read the bible
2. Storytelling
3. Law
4. History in the bible
5. History of the bible
6. Prophecy
7. Wisdom
8. Poetry
9. Conclusion