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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Song of a Valiant Woman: 3

Wolters continues with his exploration of Prov. 31:10-31 as a hymn. He writes,
    Afterall there is no good reason to restrict the term 'hymn' to songs in praise of God. Historically, at least, the Greek hymnos, applied to poetry 'in praise of gods or heroes', and a similar point can be made with respect to the Hebrew tehilla [praise - the Psalter is called the Book of Tehilla] and its cognates. Neither the sapiential features nor the human subject should prevent us from reading the Song of the Valiant Woman as illustrating the Gattung [genre] which Gunkel [1967] gave the technical designation Hymnus.

    There is first of all the overall structure of the hymn. This is generally divided into the introduction, which announces the praise which will be given and names its subject, then the body or Haupstück, which enumerates the praiseworthy attributes and deeds of the mighty one being acclaimed, and thirdly the concluding exhortation to the audience and others to join in the poet's praise. In the acrostic poem of Proverbs this corresponds respectively to verses 10-12, in which the subject of praise is intorduced as the Valiant Woman, a priceless asset to her husband; to verses 13-27, in which are recounted the mighty deeds of the woman as efficient manager, enterprising businesswoman and generous benefactress, and then the audience and her own handiwork are exhorted to join in praise. To appreciate the last point, we must realize that the imperative tenu, with which the last verse begins, is addressed to the audience (since the imperative is plural), and that it is to be read as a form of the verb tana, 'celebrate in song', not of natan, 'give'. The song therefore concludes with the words,

      Extol her for the fruit of her hands,
      And let her works praise her in the gates.

    Given this concluding call to praise, the overall structural parallel with the hymns of the Psalter is striking. (Wolters. page 6)
Wolters goes on to outline in detail the parallels with hymns of praise. He compares the products of the valiant woman, those things which praise her, to the animate and inanimate creatures which praise their maker in heaven. He notes the participial form of the verb tsopiyya in verse 27 and dignity or honour in verse 25. He ends by commenting on the use of 'surpass' in verse 29 and concludes that this passage is a hymn.

There is some fascinating material in this book so I hope you will follow along. I have deliberately chosen the JPS 1917 as a very literal version because I feel that it best represents some of the elements that Wolters comments on. However, he proposes many changes that are not found in the JPS.

For example, he proposes the following change for verse 31.
    Extol her for the fruit of her hands,
    And let her works praise her in the gates. Wolters

    Give her of the fruit of her hands;
    and let her works praise her in the gates. JPS 1917.
The TNIV is one of the few translations that accords with this.
    Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

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