Monday, February 23, 2009

Wisdom of The Proverbs 31 "Woman"

A friend was discussing the famous Proverbs 31 Woman as the ideal for Christian femininity, and I was reminded of something I read at NETBible last year regarding Proverbs 31

The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife. A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women. And while that is valid in part, there is much more here. The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman (Claudia V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs, 92-93). Any careful reading of the passage would have to conclude that if it were merely a paradigm for women what it portrays may well be out of reach – she is a wealthy aristocrat who runs an estate with servants and conducts business affairs of real estate, vineyards, and merchandising, and also takes care of domestic matters and is involved with charity. Moreover, it says nothing about the woman’s personal relationship with her husband, her intellectual and emotional strengths, or her religious activities (E. Jacob, “Sagesse et Alphabet: Pr. 31:10-31,” Hommages à A. Dont-Sommer, 287-95). In general, it appears that the “woman” of Proverbs 31 is a symbol of all that wisdom represents. The poem, then, plays an important part in the personification of wisdom so common in the ancient Near East. But rather than deify Wisdom as the other ANE cultures did, Proverbs simply describes wisdom as a woman.
This argument makes a lot of sense to me. If wisdom can be personalized in Proverbs 8:1-36, why not in Proverbs 31:10-31. This interpretation makes the passage apply to both men and woman equally. Plus this takes some guilt of the ladies who may feel guilty for not perfectly living up to this standard.

What do you think?