Friday, August 15, 2008

Thinking about Proverbs

1986 saw the publication of a massive anthology edited by Wolfgang Mieder, The Prentice Hall Encyclopedia of World Proverbs.

In the 1990s, Harold Cordry produced an even larger collection, The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs. The subtitle reveals the scope of this work: "Over 20,000 Adages from More than 120 Languages, Nationalities and Ethnic Groups."

More recently, Jon R. Stone has added the Routledge Book of World Proverbs.

Each book is filled with thousands of proverbs coming from every corner of the earth.

The Sumerians, residents of Southern Mesopotamia, developed the first language for which we have written evidence. Among their documents, 4,000 years old, are proverbs by the hundreds.

Like many of today's proverbs, some that were circulated among the ancient Sumerians take up the question of money: Wealth is far away; poverty is close at hand.

Others address what you say and credibility: Tell a lie and then tell the truth: it will be considered a lie (reminiscent of the boy who cried "wolf!").

Evidently, not all of the Sumerian proverbs were written and remembered by men: To be sick is acceptable; to be pregnant is painful; but to be pregnant and sick is just too much.

It sounds like an exaggeration. But it's true: Throughout recorded history, and in every part of the world, people have always come up with short sayings that encapsulate the wisdom that comes from experience. Every culture at every time has had its proverbs.

Perhaps that makes it all the more remarkable that in ancient Israel, a certain collection of these kinds of sayings came to be recognized as holy Scripture, the biblical Book of Proverbs.

Soon, I'm supposed to give a short introduction to the Book of Proverbs. Got any suggestions? Ideas?

1 comment:

Carisse said...

Some of the most useful things I've heard about Proverbs have come from Dave Bland, who sees the book as a collection of guidance for young adults. He was raising a houseful of boys and I had one in the house at the time, and I thought there was so much -- wisdom -- in the way he handled the book's ideas.