Woman Wisdom and the Woman of Substance by Christine Roy Yoder

Two portraits of women frame the book of Proverbs: wisdom (personified as a woman) in Prov 1-9 and the “woman of substance” of Prov 31:10-31. Similarities in themes and vocabulary indicate that readers should identify these two women with each other. Note, for example, that both women are difficult “to find” (Prov 1:28, Prov 8:17, Prov 31:10) and are “more precious than jewels” (Prov 3:15, Prov 8:11, Prov 31:10). Both women have a house (Prov 9:1, Prov 31:15, Prov 31:21) and a staff of servant-girls (Prov 9:3, Prov 31:15). Both women Proverbside food (Prov 9:5, Prov 31:14) and a life of security (Prov 1:33, Prov 31:11). Their “fruit” is valuable (Prov 8:19, Prov 31:16, Prov 31:31); indeed, the noun “merchant profit” occurs in the book of Proverbs only in Prov 31:18 and Prov 3:14. Both women are known at the city gates (Prov 1:21, Prov 8:3, Prov 31:31) and bring honor to their companions (Prov 3:16, Prov 4:8, Prov 31:25). Both are physically strong (Prov 8:14, Prov 31:17, Prov 31:25) and despise wickedness (Prov 8:13, Prov 31:12). Both reach out to the needy (Prov 1:24, Prov 31:20). They laugh (Prov 1:26, Prov 8:30, Prov 31:25). And both women teach (Prov 1:23, Prov 1:25, Prov 8:6-9, Prov 8:14, Prov 8:32-34, Prov 31:26); they and their instruction are associated with the “fear of the LORD” (Prov 1:29-30, Prov 8:13, Prov 31:30).

The nature and extent of these parallels suggest that readers who first meet personified wisdom in the city streets (Prov 1-9) greet her again at the book’s end (Prov 31:10-31) and glimpse what life looks like for those who accept wisdom’s invitation to dwell in her household (Prov 9:1-6). Portraits of wisdom as a woman thus envelop a book that was intended primarily for men (the prologue to Proverbs identifies its primary audience in masculine plural terms: “naïve ones,” “young men,” “the wise,” and “the discerning” [Prov 1:4-5]).

Such complex and potent portraits of wisdom as a woman do not end with Proverbs. Sages would redraw her for generations to come. Wisdom becomes identified in Judaism with Torah (Bar 3:9-4:4, Sir 24:23-34) and in Wisdom of Solomon she is the “spirit of Sophia,” the breath of the power of God (Wis 7:7-10:18). Kabbalistic writings of medieval Judaism drew on depictions of her to portray the Shekhinah, the female element of the divinity, as did the Talmud and midrash to depict Knesseth Yisra’el, the personification of the community of Israel. Early Christians described the person and work of Jesus Christ using language and imagery associated with wisdom (for example, John 1:1-18, Col 1:15-20, Heb 1:1-3). And some theologians evoke her to describe the Holy Spirit. In short, personified wisdom—who first takes her stand in Proverbs—strides with increasing boldness across time, texts, and testaments, captivating the imaginations of many and taking on a robust life of her own.

Christine Roy Yoder, "Woman Wisdom", n.p. [cited 30 Mar 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/woman-wisdom

Contributors

Christine Roy Yoder

Christine Roy Yoder
Professor, Columbia Theological Seminary

Christine Roy Yoder is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and serves as professor of Old Testament language, literature, and exegesis at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is the author of Wisdom as a Woman of Substance: A Socioeconomic Reading of Proverbs 1-9 and 31:10-31 (de Gruyter, 2001) and Proverbs (Abingdon, 2009), in addition to many articles and chapters in books.

The personification of Wisdom as a woman in the book of Proverbs.

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

Relating to a set of esoteric, mystical Jewish teachings that emerged in the Middle Ages that attempts to convey the unknowable Divine in terms humans can understand.

Of or relating to the Middle Ages, generally from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. and overlapping somewhat with late antiquity.

The method of rabbinic interpretation of the Bible; the term midrash can also refer to a collection of such interpretation.

Application of human-like qualities to a concept, object, or nonhuman being; also called "anthropomorphizing."

A collection of rabbinic writings, mostly interpretations of the Hebrew Bible and the Mishnah (another rabbinic collection). There are two Talmuds, the Palestinian and the Babylonian, so called after the region in which each is believed to have been compiled. The Talmuds were likely composed between the third and the sixth centuries C.E.

A Wisdom book located in the Apocrypha.

Prov 1-9

1The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
Prologue
2For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,3for gaining inst ... View more

Prov 31:10-31

Ode to a Capable Wife
10A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of ... View more

Prov 1:28

28Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.

Prov 8:17

17I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.

Prov 31:10

Ode to a Capable Wife
10A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

Prov 3:15

15She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Prov 8:11

11for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

Prov 31:10

Ode to a Capable Wife
10A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

Prov 9:1

Wisdom's Feast
1Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.

Prov 31:15

15She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.

Prov 31:21

21She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.

Prov 9:3

3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,

Prov 31:15

15She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.

Prov 9:5

5“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.

Prov 31:14

14She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.

Prov 1:33

33but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Prov 31:11

11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.

Prov 8:19

19My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.

Prov 31:16

16She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

Prov 31:31

31Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Prov 31:18

18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.

Prov 3:14

14for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.

Prov 1:21

21At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

Prov 8:3

3beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

Prov 31:31

31Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

Prov 3:16

16Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Prov 4:8

8Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.

Prov 31:25

25Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.

Prov 8:14

14I have good advice and sound wisdom;
I have insight, I have strength.

Prov 31:17

17She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.

Prov 31:25

25Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.

Prov 8:13

13The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.

Prov 31:12

12She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

Prov 1:24

24Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,

Prov 31:20

20She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Prov 1:26

26I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,

Prov 8:30

30then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,

Prov 31:25

25Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.

Prov 1:23

23Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

Prov 1:25

25and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,

Prov 8:6-9

6Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;7for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.8All the ... View more

Prov 8:14

14I have good advice and sound wisdom;
I have insight, I have strength.

Prov 8:32-34

32“And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.33Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.34Happy is the one who listens to ... View more

Prov 31:26

26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Prov 1:29-30

29Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,30would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,

Prov 8:13

13The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.

Prov 31:30

30Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Prov 1-9

1The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
Prologue
2For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,3for gaining inst ... View more

Prov 31:10-31

Ode to a Capable Wife
10A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of ... View more

Prov 9:1-6

Wisdom's Feast
1Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table. ... View more

Prov 1:4-5

4to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—5Let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,

Bar 3:9-4:4

In Praise of Wisdom
9Hear the commandments of life, O Israel;
give ear, and learn wisdom!10Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemi ... View more

Sir 24:23-34

Wisdom and the Law
23All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God,
the law that Moses commanded us
as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob ... View more

Wis 7:7-10:18

Solomon's Respect for Wisdom
7Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.8I preferred her to scept ... View more

John 1:1-18

The Word Became Flesh
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God.3All things came into be ... View more

Col 1:15-20

The Supremacy of Christ
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, thing ... View more

Heb 1:1-3

God Has Spoken by His Son
1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, wh ... View more

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