Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly in Proverbs 9 by Carol Newsom


In chapter 9, there are two figures, woman wisdom and woman folly;  and they are representative figures, symbolic figures, for the right way of life, the wrong way of life, the wise way, the way that will lead to destruction; so they are symbolic figures.  But, it’s interesting that in the earlier chapters, there are two types of human women who are described, one is the wife of one’s youth, that is the woman that the wise young man ought to marry and then there is the temptress figure, the strange woman, the foreign woman.  And so what appears, is that the symbolic figures also have their counter parts in the practical advice that the young man was given and in the way the probably male authors of this text understood the virtues and dangers of young men’s encounters with women. 

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Now feminists have been quite critical of this representation because they recognize the general tendency, in at least western thought, to oftentimes use paired women, good and bad women, to represent male perspective on the symbolic world.  For example, in Christian tradition, you have the whore of Babylon and the Virgin Mother. So this use of women in symbolic terms, many feminists have said has distorting and probably negative effects on male and female relations and on women’s’ sense of self.


Carol Newsom

Carol Newsom
Professor, Emory University

Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University, is the author of a commentary on Job in the New Interpreter’s Bible and of a book on Job, The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations (Oxford University Press, 2003). She also wrote the entry for Job in the Women’s Bible Commentary (Westminster John Knox, 2012).

detail from Picassos Three women

The personification of Wisdom as a woman in the book of Proverbs.

Evaluating its subject carefully, rigorously, and with minimal preconceptions. "Critical" religious scholarship contrasts with popular and sectarian studies.

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