This review originally appeared on bostonbiblegeeks.wordpress.com on 1/27/10.
Special thanks to Robert of Yale University Press for a review copy (unsolicited!) of this book.
For many who have spent much time digging into the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, Michael V Fox will probably need no introduction. He has written numerous books on the subject, including this commentary's predecessor on Proverbs 1-9. I will not be including any thoughts on that particular commentary; the following thoughts are restricted solely to Proverbs 10-31.
The Anchor Bible Commentary on Proverbs 10-31 contains a detailed study of the Hebrew text (transliterated, which means it takes me twice as long to read it as it would if it were in Hebrew) and issues dealing with the book of Proverbs. He sees the four collections in chapters 10-29 as dating to the 8th-7th centuries BC, with the 4 units in chapters 30-31 added later (date uncertain). The inclusion of so many proverbs involving a king and his court makes it most likely these collections come from the monarchy period (whereas he takes Qoheleth and Ben Sira later, since their view of kingship is much more negative).
Fox not only comments on the text, but also offers some ancient near eastern parallels. In his comments on the well known proverb of 25:21-22 ("you will heap coals on his head"), Fox notes, "Schadenfruede angers God" and "mercy is the best revenge." He does not try to nail down a practice of heaping literal coals on someone's head, instead showing that the metaphor is meant simply to show the pain of humiliation. He also goes on to give similar examples of this proverb in Egyptian and Babylonian literature.
At points, Fox goes beyond his own comments and historical background. For instance, Fox includes 30 pages of discussion of "The Woman of Strength" in 31:10-31, including not only his own comments and overview of potential historical settings, but a short survey of the history of interpretation, a feature he helpfully includes throughout the commentary.
After his commentary portion, Fox has attached four essays. The first, "The Growth of Wisdom," attempts to trace the differences in the understanding of wisdom in the various stages of Proverbs' composition. In "Ethics" Fox finds similarities between Proverbs and the Socratic ("the sages of Proverbs, like Socrates, believed that ignorance alone is the problem and wisdom alone the solution"). In the essay "Revelation" Fox attempts to show that revelation in Proverbs is not "verbal" (i.e., from the Torah) but Proverbs "treats the power of the human mind as adequate to the attainment of all sorts of knowledge." He follows this with "Knowledge," where he argues that Wisdom epistemology is not empiricism, but argues for a "coherence theory of truth." I would imagine that someone trained in philosophy would do a better job than I in analyzing much of what is contained in these essays, but I still found them interesting to read.
There are, naturally, areas of potential disagreement for those interested in studying Proverbs more deeply, particularly if you are an evangelical. Fox has little interest in theological synthesis or application. This should be of no surprise, considering he once wrote "faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship." Naturally I stand in sharp disagreement here.
Fox also bucks the trend of seeing smaller collections within the larger collection of the book. Most proverbs are essentially to stand on their own, though of course there may be a couple verses (in our Bibles) that are grouped together. So, where Garrett sees a chiastic structure in 14:8-15, Fox sees nothing of the sort. Proverbs may be paired together (25:16-17), or even clustered according to themes (divine control in 16:1-9), but they are never organized in longer structures. I'm not inclined to agree with Fox here, though I admit finding larger structures can owe itself to the creativity of the scholar more than anything else. Wouldn't the book of Proverbs, being a collection of proverbs, gather together smaller collections thay may already have been grouped in a chiasm? After all, chiasms are all over the Hebrew Bible, it would seem odd that they wouldn't be found in Proverbs.
All in all, Fox is a very good scholar of Wisdom literature, and thus has written a very helpful, scholarly work on Proverbs. Scholars will, of course, get the most use out of it, but I'd venture to say that it would serve well preachers and teachers, too. It will probably not be the only commentary you'll want to consult, but it is certainly worth having by your side.