Roland Murphy approaches Proverbs as “a collection of collections.” The long poems of chapters 1–9 introduce the collections of short sayings in chapters 10-31. With this division Murphy accepts “the unproven but likely assumption” that during the postexilic period chapters 1-9 set the tone for the mostly pre-exilic collections in chapters 10–31. Murphy cautions his readers to consider the limitations of proverbial sayings. The Israelite sages sought in their optimistic teachings to express “the mystery that surrounds all human action: not only self-knowledge, but knowledge of the mysterious role of God.” Much of the wisdom of Proverbs points out the ambiguities of life. Yet the Proverbs do not provide the final word; "rather they act as a goad, a prod to further thought."
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Roland E. Murphy is George Washington Ivey Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Duke University. He is the author of Hermeneia: Song of Songs.