Hezekiah and the 130-proverb collection: does it really add up?

You claim that the collection of proverbs “compiled by the men of Hezekiah” has 130 sayings in it because this is the value of Hezekiah’s name in Hebrew.  But his name is actually spelled different ways in the Bible, so the value could be 136, 140, or 146 instead.  Besides, there are 138 verses in this section of Proverbs, or 137 if you don’t count the heading; neither of those match any possible value for Hezekiah’s name.

Hebrew, like several other languages, uses letters for numbers, so every word has a total numerical value that can be employed for symbolic purposes.  The argument I’ve made in the introduction to Proverbs in The Books of the Bible and in the study guide to Proverbs/Ecclesiastes/James is that the compilers of this collection put exactly 130 sayings in it as a way of honoring their royal patron.

It is true that the name HezekiaHezekiah130h is spelled different ways in the Bible, resulting in different totals. In the book of Kings, for example, it’s typically Hizqiyahu, which adds up to 136.  In the title to the book of Isaiah, it’s Yihizqiyah, which totals 140. And in Chronicles, it’s usually Yihizqiyahu, totaling 146.

However, the issue when it comes to appreciating the design of the book of Proverbs is how the name is spelled in the heading that introduces the second collection of Solomon’s proverbs.  There it is Hizqiyah, which adds up to 130.  If the compilers of the book are using the value of Hezekiah’s name to determine the size of this collection, then 130 is the value we must consider them to be using.

And while it is true that the traditional verse divisions typically do correspond one-to-one with the individual sayings in the book of Proverbs, this is not the case in every part of the book.  In this second collection of Solomon’s proverbs specifically, there are several longer sayings that make up more than one verse, for example:
Remove the dross from the silver,
and a silversmith can produce a vessel;
remove wicked officials from the king’s presence,
and his throne will be established through righteousness.
(This is Proverbs 25:4-5 in the traditional numbering.) So there will be something less than 137 actual proverbs in this collection.

It would not be difficult to propose a division of the material that would result in a total of 130 discrete sayings.  However, it would be just as easy to dispute this division and suggest a different one that would yield another total.  I don’t think it’s possible for us to establish today exactly how the compilers of Proverbs intended for this material to be divided up.  However, the way they use, to all appearances, the value of Solomon’s name, 375, to determine the size of the first collection, which clearly contains 375 discrete sayings, strongly implies that the same thing is going on in the second collection of Solomon’s proverbs, the one “compiled by the men of Hezekiah.”  This is particularly true since a few proverbs are repeated from the first collection (e.g. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts,” 18:8 = 26:22), suggesting that the compilers were trying to get up to a particular total.

To read a comment on this post and a reply, click here.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

3 thoughts on “Hezekiah and the 130-proverb collection: does it really add up?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s