Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Dangerous Book for Men

Author, subject, and interpreter

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In an earlier blog, I mentioned wrote the following:

There are two books in the Bible which are written by men and for men.  …   The woman’s perspective is entirely missing in these books.  Though women are mentioned in these books, it is always from the perspective of men.  In these books you find information and opinion about women (though women are far from being the central subject of either tome) conveyed to men by other men.  

Do you know the name of these books of the Bible?  I’ll blog about them later.

Leigh Ann, among the commenters on that blog, caught the core of my question and came up with three suggestions, all of the fitting the bill nicely:  1 and 2 Timothy, and Proverbs.  It’s interesting that a woman is the one whose radar seems tuned accurately to the wave-lengths I was talking about.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are epistles written by a man (Paul) to other individual men (Timothy and Titus).  So, they qualify in the narrowest sense. But, in these more general terms – men writing to and for other men, as men to men – the Pastoral Epistles of Paul weren’t what I had in mind.  Leigh Ann was correct to name the Proverbs.  It is the one book where one can make a solid case for the feature I was thinking of.  The other book like it is the Book of Psalms. 

In one respect, the Psalms may comply with the criteria I mentioned more strictly than the Proverbs.  The Proverbs contain teaching which the male collector of that bit of wisdom credits to his mother – “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him …” (Prov. 31:1).  There is nothing like this in the Psalms. 

LOOKING CLOSER AT PROVERBS

Proverbs is the Book most easily recognizable as written by men for men.  Its introductory chapters continually address “my son,” while the speaker consistently casts himself as one who gives “the instruction of a father” who passes on what his father taught him “when I was my father’s son,  …” (Prov 4:1-3).  To be sure, the teaching of the son’s mother is endorsed and affirmed, but the son encounters his mother’s wisdom directly via his father’s exhortation to it in the pages of this collection, as we’ve already seen in Proverbs 31:1ff.  In other words, the book of Proverbs presents itself as a man’s, a father’s, teaching directed toward his sons. 

The most dramatic way this feature of Proverbs shows itself is by the perspective it takes.  It is always the perspective of the male, not the female.  There are, for example, frequent statements about how wonder it is to have a good wife or how terrible to have a bad wife.  But, where are the observations about how wonderful it is for the woman to have a good husband, or how wretched it is for the women to have a foolish husband?  Women are spoken about frequently in the Proverbs, but women are never directly addressed in the Proverbs. 

Finally, Proverbs belongs to a genre of literature from the ancient Near East, all of its exemplars showing this same feature – they were teaching from older men directed toward younger men, to prepare them to enter the ranks of mature men who could rule their families, communities, and nations with all the success that wisdom brings. 

Comparing the book of Proverbs with other ancient Near Eastern literature sheds light on how the collection arose in the first place.  In order to instruct their sons, court officials in many lands pulled together the wisdom they had acquired in a lifetime of diplomatic service.  From Egypt we have at least ten such collections, from The Instruction of Onchsheshonquy in the fourth or fifth century BC.  An Akkadian translation of a Sumerian original titled The Instructions of Shurruppak dates from approximately 1300 B.C.  Ahiquar, who served as vizier to the Assyrian kings Sennacherib and Esarhaddon in the seventh century B.C. left The Words of Ahiqar

Prophetic authorities in later years added Solomon’s proverbs to the canon of Scripture.  The Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel  – the actual title of our canonical book – takes its place alongside these and other collections.  Prophets after Solomon continued to add to the collection until it reached the form we have it.  A manual of instruction for the king’s sons became available to all of God’s children.

MANLY WORSHIP OF THE MASCULINE GOD

The Psalms are identical to the Proverbs in these respects.  Unlike today, when “worship teams” routinely feature women as leaders – sometimes as the only leaders – the Temple worship teams were composed of men (e.g. the Sons of Korah), all-male choirs led by male choir leaders (see 1 Chron. 15 for details). God required that the men of Israel appear three times Jerusalem for the feasts of the LORD, making clear whose responsibility He made it for His worship.  The NT mandate that males shoulder the responsibility for leading the church in worship, doctrine, and defense of the faith is nothing new – it was all there when God first specified how His people were to worship him.

Women were always permitted to attend the feasts of the LORD (1 Sam. 1:1-7), and they did so in accordance with their individual feminine responsibilities (management of the home, rearing children, good works in the community).  And, we have at least two examples of hymns of praise in the OT written by women (Hannah’s hymn in 1 Sam. 2 and Deborah’s in Judges 5) that preceded Mary’s Magnificat.  But no psalm is ever ascribed to female authorship, and – like the Proverbs – the subjects mentioned in the Psalms are invariably presented from the masculine point of view. 

A MANLY BIBLE? A MANLY GOD? OH, NO!!

No doubt in the current climate this feature of the Psalms and Proverbs – namely, that they are by men and for men – insultS the feminist heart.  Baptized feminists (i.e. those who style themselves egalitarians) discount or ignore this feature of the Psalms and Proverbs.  And, reluctant complementarians blush and apologize when confronted by the androcentric flavor of these books.  Behind all these reactions is the 8-ton gorilla whose paws are on every page of the Bible:  patriarchy.  Feminists hate it, egalitarians condescend to it wherever they’re unable to erase it, and obsequious complementarians make endless excuses for it. 

But, the chief flaw in The Dangerous Book for Boys is stated clearly on its back cover:  ” … for boys of all ages, from eight to eighty …” .  And, this is just as much a flaw in the Bible, at least in the current sexual climate, for the Bible is “flawed” in exactly the same way as The Dangerous Book for Boys.  In a genuine sense, the entire Bible is by men and spoken to men.  It is, pre-eminently, The Dangerous Book for Men

And, women?  What do they do with such a book?  They either love it, or hate it, depending on their attitude toward the ultimately masculine God who stands behind the Bible as its Author, its Subject, and its Interpreter.

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