Wisdom Literature and the Structure of Proverbs
AUTHOR: Perry, T. A.
PUBLISHER: Pennsylvania State University Press
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Wisdom is one of the oldest and continuous genres of our literary tradition, dating back to the Hebrew Bible and the literatures of the Ancient Near East and extending into modern times through such notable points of transmission as medieval Spain. Despite its length and multicultural complexity, wisdom can be characterized, beyond its well-known emphasis on guidance in practical living, by its use of literary structures such as proverbs and maxims. A close study of these forms reveals a remarkable continuity of purpose, an interest in underlying logical structures that were crucial to both the analysis and the production of meaning.
This study focuses less on "popular" proverbs than on the critical stance through which the sages approached such popular perceptions of truth. Perry argues that wisdom was a reaction to dangerous tendencies in the normal use of proverbs: their authoritarian presumption, the assumption that they somehow represent absolute truths. By way of reactive defense, sages responded through the creation of wisdom sayings, here viewed as specific tools of critical thinking and value analysis. Perry approaches the Bible from a literary point of view and draws interesting parallels with the work of such scholars as Greimas and other structuralists. He then offers a formula derived from the sages' own exegetical practices for unlocking the secrets of wisdom sayings.
PUBLICATION DATE: 8/20/1993
CATEGORY: Reference, Religion