ABSTRACT

Something of the both/and, pragmatic/symbolic totality of woman in the discourse of Proverbs 1-9 can be seen in the two great paired poems of Proverbs 7 and 8. Although very different in style and content, these poems of the strange woman and of personified wisdom form a diptych. Chapter 8, with its strong mythic overtones, is written largely in the symbolic register; chapter 7 largely in the realistic. But in the framing of chapter 7 there are certain elements that establish its relationship to chapter 8 and disclose its mythic dimensions. In the father's account of the meeting between the vapid youth and the strange woman the words are ominous and negative. The woman is associated with many of the wisdom tradition's bad values, yet appears to be an ordinary, mundane character. The setting is twilight, so that the woman arrives with the onset of "night and darkness" (v. 9). She is associated with concealment and with the appearance of what is illicit (v. Where wisdom tradition values quietness, she is "noisy" (v. 11), and her movement is characterized as restless, vagrant, and flitting. When she is still, she is "lying in wait" (v. 12), a predatory quality that is made explicit in verses 22-23. Her smooth speech "turns" the young man (v. 21). The symbolic register is more explicitly evoked in the introductory and concluding remarks of the father. Calling wisdom "sister" and "kinswoman" (v. 4) introduces explicit personification. Those words also set up a relation of equivalence between wisdom and "the wife ofyour youth" from chapter 5, instilling actual marriage with the protective values of wisdom. Similarly, the father's concluding words in verses 24-27 expose the monstrous, mythic dimension of the strange woman. She is not just a woman who has seduced a simple-minded young man. She is a predator who has slain multitudes. Indeed, her vagina is the gate of Sheo!. Her womb, death itself.