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Religious Motif: Dame Folly of Proverbs as Goddess or Mere Anti-Yahwist? Part 1

In the Book of Proverbs, two women battle for the place of supremacy in the life of the Israelite: Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly. Wisdom, like the prophets, calls out in the streets for the common man to follow her, chase her, and even marry her. Unfortunately, Folly also makes her move. She uses her eyes to capture the naive, invites him to a feast, and then she takes him to sheol. She flaunts herself before him, and she pulls him into the darkest alleys and convinces him to follow her, chase her, and even marry her.

Today, as one approaches the Old Testament in search for wisdom, one is met with several challenges, one being our language and another being our culture. While core theological truths are easily understood as they span culture and time (e.g., do not murder), it is also true that an understanding of both the language and the culture of the Hebrew Bible allow for a greater and deeper understanding of its truths. This is apparent when one searches for biblical wisdom.

There is a range of terms associates with “wisdom,” and in the Torah the word is used in an essence of having a skill: Exodus 31:3 equating wisdom with all kinds of craftsmanship. Solomon was given political wisdom/skillfulness by God, in 1 Kgs 5:26, resulting in a peace with Hiram. In 1 Kings 2:6, a woman, “in her wisdom,” cut off the head off of a man rather than displeasing the mighty Joab. Because of all of these, Earnest Lucas (citing Whybray) suggests the meaning life-skill: “the ability of the individual to conduct his life in the best possible way and to the best possible effect.”

This “life-skill” of wisdom is directly connected with the “fear of the LORD” in Proverbs 9:10, and in Proverbs 1:7 the “fear of the LORD” is connected with moral knowledge. Basically, “wisdom” is obeying God. It is possible that Exodus 9:20-21 explains this deeper with a contrast with non-Israelite individuals (i.e., Egyptians) who both “fear the word of the LORD” and pulled in their livestock from the fields and then those “who did not take the word of the Lord seriously,” and did not obey. Thus, we find a correlation with Deuteronomy 10:12-13, which reads: “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you except to [fear] him, to obey all his commandments, to love him, to serve him with all your mind and being, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes that I am giving you today for your own good?”

This stirs an important implication concerning her antithesis, namely, if Lady Wisdom stands for all that is good within Yahwism (pure/ideological/biblical Yahwism), then, necessarily, Dame Folly must stand as the antithesis to pure Yahwism. As this appears to be the case, is there any evidence for Dame Folly being featured as more than a simple ideological antithesis? The answer is that yes, there may be evidence for Dame Folly being more than an ideological antithesis, she may be a practical or material antithesis and represent an Ancient Near Eastern goddess – one especially close to Hebrews.

Understanding Lady Wisdom as Pure Yahwism

Lady Wisdom is linked directly with covenant obedience, but not only is there a link, there is a call for all of the young men of Israel to bind themselves to covenant obedience. In essence, this is a call to pure Yahwism, as seen in Prov 1.

The life of Solomon, the supposed author of the Lady Wisdom/Dame Folly discourses referred to by Kitchen as Solomon I, is significant within the context of pure Yahwism in that the life of Solomon stands in contrast to the spirit of the Davidic life. David cannot be understood as the perfect example of godliness for mankind, as the Hebrew Bible plainly illustrates, but it can be claimed that he was a pure monotheist, holding Yahweh as the one and only true God. This is understood throughout the text, but the primary inference for this claim comes from his “perfect heart” (1Kgs 11:4).

This Hebrew phrase is connected with "heart," and is found only fourteen times in the Old Testament. It is translated in the New International Version as “heart fully committed,” “heart fully devoted,” etc. The New American Standard Version gives a bit of a different feel by adding such phrases as “blameless heart” and “wholeheartedly.” The idea here as applied to David is simply a heart committed to Yahweh. Indeed, 1 Chronicles 29:19 explains “perfect heart” as “to obey [God’s] commands, rules, and regulations” (cf. 2Chron 16:9).

In contrast, Solomon did not have a perfect heart, as expressed in 1 Kings 11:4. Here the text reads, “When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been.”

This understanding of a perfect heart with reference to exclusive Yahwistic worship can be better understood when viewed through the lens of those Hebrew kings who were considered “perfect” in heart and those who were not. Concerning those kings who did exemplify a perfect heart one finds David (1Kgs 11:4; 15:3), Asa (2Chron 15:17), and Hezekiah (2Kgs 20:3; Is 38:3). Though these kings had their sins, they never in their lives turned from the one true God. On the other hand, those Hebrew kings who are specifically named as not having a perfect heart were Solomon (1Kgs 11:4), Amaziah (2Chron 25:1-2), and Abijam (1Kgs 15:1-3). Of course, many more could be added to the list, but the biblical writers name these three. It is interesting that both Solomon and Amaziah were considered good kings, to a point. For example, in 2 Chronicles 26:2 the reader is told that Amaziah and his son did what was right in the sight of God. The point here isn’t necessarily who was good and who was bad, or even who reigned well, but who had a record of having a heart that was completely sold out to God – not just at any one point in life but consistently, especially in light of the history of Israel as a whole.

Concerning this present study, it should be noted that Solomon is contrasted with David, and that David appears to have understood Wisdom’s call to pure worship.

It, then, appears quite troublesome that Proverbs 1-9 contains such an emphasis upon a fear of the LORD, a pure Yahwism, rather than a blurring of the two as is observed in the life of Solomon. Even if, perhaps, this reading reflects a later date of composition/redaction (as does Solomon II under Hezekiah’s reign), then this can still be understood as a call to pure Yahwism as opposed to the blurring of ideas found throughout the two kingdoms – especially those of the north began by Jeroboam but also in the south as influences converged.

The emphasis upon this work, the Lady Wisdom/Dame Folly discourses, is once again an emphasis upon pure Yahwistic worship. Every Hebrew is called to pure Yahwistic worship, but this is not always the case in reality. As evidenced by the life of Solomon, himself, many young men are enticed to follow that which they should not.

The differences, then, between non-Hebraic thought and that of the ideological/biblical Hebrews can be broken down very simply to the point of monotheism. While there were many similarities between Israel and her neighbors, ideological monotheism stood out over and against these similarities. The problem found throughout Scripture, especially in the histories, is that the Hebrews did not always live out their ideology. In fact, from the time of Aaron and the golden calf, there has been a blurring of two major ideas: Yahwism and the religion of Israel’s polytheistic neighbors. This syncretism eventually finds a home in the northern kingdom—it is Yahwistic with Ba’alistic features—it’s not purely Yahwistic, not perfect hearted. It appears, then, that Proverbs 1-9 is an attempt to keep this syncretism at bay by supplying to the Hebrews the life-skills needed to go beyond the rule of Law, but still within the framework of the Law – pure Yahwism.

to be continued...


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