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The Inexperienced Person and the Journey to Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs

Mod.: Prof. R.P. Agustinus GIANTO.

To expose that path in a strategic manner, this study puts into its consideration these three features of the book: the pedagogical arrangement, the journey metaphor, and the journey motif. The book is structured as a prologue followed by six collections of sayings with different headings, yet all aim at a single task: to make a wise person out of the immature. The journey metaphor assists the reader to understand that the petî is this traveler, the course of a lifetime is the path taken, purpose is the destination, and so on. This study also follows a journey motif found in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh and in the Ugaritic legend of Aqht. Gilgamesh goes for an adventure to find the secret of immortality. His expedition ends with the acceptance of his limitation, through which he reorients his life. As he returns home, he makes use of all that he has learned for the benefit of his people. Meanwhile, Aqht pursues an action to establish himself as a dutiful son. Unfortunately, he is killed as a result of his poor judgment in dealing with the deception of the goddess Anat. Both compositions demonstrate how the life of a hero is determined by his judgments in response to the various events along the journey.

Similar to Gilgamesh and Aqht, the petî begins his life-adventure with a call (Prov 1-9). He makes himself ready by listening to the instruction of his father and of Lady Wisdom. He realizes that he is mindless and easily seduced, yet malleable. Therefore, what he needs most is ʿormâ (shrewdness). It will strengthen his resistance against temptations. As he is about to step into the unknown world beyond his father’s watch, he receives two invitations: one to dine at Lady Wisdom’s tavern (9:1-6,11), the other to join in Lady Folly’s fraudulent party (9:13-18). Lady Wisdom’s invitation is genuine, whereas Lady Folly’s is deceptive, just as is that of the goddess Anat who lures Aqht to death. Then in Prov 10-29, the petî must learn to survive. He receives a hand from the ʿārûm (the shrewd) who teaches him wittiness, and from the ḥākām (the wise) who shows him the value of perseverance. He encounters various types of seduction from these four enemies: the ḥăsar-lēb (the narrowminded), the lēṣ (the cynic), the kəsîl (the smug), the charming ʾĕwîl (the devious). The key for survival is that he must build a reliable habit of judging things properly. Prov 30-31 is the final stage. The petî feels exhausted as the wisdom that he pursues has proved elusive. Accepting his limitation and reorienting his purpose for the journey, he returns home. He appreciates more what he already has: family and responsibility in and for his homeland (31:11,23,28). He judges fairly at the city gates.

This study reaches its conclusion that the meaning of the word petî follows the movement of the person designated with that word. Starting from the Prologue (Prov 1-9) and moving through the various collections of sayings (Prov 10-31), the progress of this person toward maturity takes place. In the final chapter of the book, he returns home as a new person, very different from when he started the journey. He has become mature, capable of enjoying his life to its fullest. Given that the final chapter brings the Book of Proverbs to a glorious end, this petî now has become for every reader a perfect role model, a hero.