GEORGE B. BRYAN
The Proverbs of Jesus: Issues of History and
Rhetoric.By Alan P. Winton. Supplement Series No. 35:
Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Sheffield, Eng.:
JSOT Press, 1990. Pp. 236.
The author uses proverbial sayings as a means of
explicating the complex interrelationships among biblical
wisdom literature, eschatology, and Jesus' teaching about
the Kingdom of God, and in that limited sense, the book is
theological rather than paremiological. To his effort to
define "the place of proverbial wisdom in the Synoptic
presentations of Jesus (p. 11)," Doctor Winton devotes six
closely-reasoned chapters, the titles of which suggest his
approach: "Aspects of Wisdom in the Synoptic Gospels,"
"Classifying and Analyzing Proverbial Wisdom," "Problems of
Historical Reconstruction: Wisdom, Eschatology and the
Kingdom of God," "The Functions/-Rhetoric of the Proverbial
Saying in the Synoptic Literature," and "Wisdom of the
Kingdom: The Significance of Proverbial Wisdom." Wisdom
locutions appear, according to Winton's analysis, in (1) the
Imperative saying, (2) the Interrogative saying, (3) "longer
sections of wisdom discourse, where a number of sayings are
joined together (p. 28)," and (4) the Descriptive saying,
the last of which comprises Winton's corpus of "proverbial
sayings" and is the focus of his discussion.
Skirting Archer Taylor's pessimism about accurately
defining the proverb, Winton embraces functional and
linguistic characteristics as noted by D. Zeller (Die
weisheitlichen Mahnsprüche bei den Synoptikern [Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1977]): (1) "In
both form and content the saying exhibits a generalizing
character which allows it to be applied in similar
situations" (p. 33); (2) "[T]he proverbial
saying is seen to be independent of context; there is a
sense in which it can 'stand on its own'" (p. 34); (3) "[B]inary form [is] a common feature of
proverbial sayings" (p. 34); (4) "Certain stylistic
features are common in proverbial sayings which help to
distinguish them from ordinary speech," (p. 35), such as
terseness and elevated diction; biblical references and
another of authors cited. and (5) "The proverb may be
distinguished from the riddle on account of the lack of
clarity in the sense of the riddle" (p. 35). He accepts
much of Alan Dundes' structural approach to classifying
proverbs and applies those principles to Jesus' proverbial
sayings before turning to problems of interpretation.
Concluding that Rudolf Bultmann's form-criticism is too
historical and therefore limits the scope of interpretation,
Winton adapts the literary/rhetorical approaches of W. A.
Beardslee and J. A. Crossan and elements of Norman Perrin's
"historical reconstruction of Jesus' message, and the
effects of such principles on the interpretation of the
proverbial material (p. 98)."
The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue 5:1997 & Issue
electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.
The proverb specialist will appreciate the breadth of the
author's reading, as evinced by a lengthy bibliography that
cites, among other specialists in folk speech, R. D.
Abrahams, E. Ojo Arewa, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, R. A. George,
P. A. Goodwin, M. Kimmerle, B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, A.
Krikmann, M. Kuusi, N. R. Norrick, G. L. Permyakov, P.
Seitel, J. W. Wenzel, R. N. Whybray, and J. G. Williams.
Winton's notes are a feast of interesting materials that are
often fascinating apart from their relationship to the text.
The reader is further assisted by the inclusion of an index
of biblical and extra-biblical references and another of
George B. Bryan
Department of Theatre
Royall Tyler Theatre
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405