Wisdom: craftsman, child or companion?

Posted: 24th September 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

I’m continuing to look at the portrayal of Wisdom in Proverbs 8. Several Bibles have noted that the translation of 8.30 has significant theological importance in our understanding of who and how God created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2. There seem to be three main views: that (a) Wisdom was God’s companion, but not actively involved in creation; (b) Wisdom was the architect of creation, either emanating from God á la the Word, or joyfully working behind the scene; or (c) Wisdom was a child, playing with creation as it was made.

These three views of Proverbs 8.30-31 are represented by the following translations:

The Companion (NEB)
The Craftsman (NRSV)
The Child (NCV)
Then I was at his side each day,
his darling and delight,
playing in his presence continually,
playing on the earth, when he had finished it,
while my delight was in mankind.
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
I was like a child by his side.
I was delighted every day,
enjoying his presence all the time,
enjoying the whole world,
and delighted with all its people.
Also: REB, TNIV Also: NLT, NIV, NASB, ESV, CEV, KJV, NKJV, ASV, HCSB, NAB, NET, NETS Footnoted in several translations: NRSV, TNIV, NEB/REB, among others.

I’ve included a footnote with the other significant translations that follow each interpretative path. The NET Bible includes this lengthy footnote:

Critical to the interpretation of this line is the meaning of אָמוֹן (’amon). Several suggestions have been made: “master craftsman” (cf. ASV, NASB, NIV, NRSV), “nursing child” (cf. NCV), “foster father.” R. B. Y. Scott chooses “faithful” – a binding or living link (“Wisdom in Creation: The ‘Amon of Proverbs 8:30,” VT 10 [1960]: 213-23). The image of a child is consistent with the previous figure of being “given birth to” (vv. 24, 25). However, “craftsman” has the most support (LXX, Vulgate, Syriac, Tg. Prov 8:30, Song 7:1; Jer 52:15; also P. W. Skehan, “Structures in Poems on Wisdom: Proverbs 8 and Sirach 24,” CBQ 41 [1979]: 365-79).

Certainly both the Craftsman and the Child translations include the element of companionship (“I was beside him”, “… by his side”), though the Companion view seems to be lacking the critical ” אָמוֹן (’amon)” phrase – which I must assume is a textual issue. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the NEB and REB had been the only representatives of this view, given their idiosyncratic approach to OT textual sources; however, the TNIV takes this approach as well, which seems to give it modern validity:

Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in humankind.

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    Since my Hebrew Bible is still open at Proverbs 8 – The TNIV rendering appears to be based on reading `amon as “constantly”. This fits in well with the parallelism of “day after day” and “always” in the following lines. The meaning “master worker” for `amon is poorly attested, being possible but uncertain in Jeremiah 52:15 and there is a similar form apparently with this meaning in Song of Songs 7:1. The Hebrew consonants could equally be read `emun meaning “faithfulness”, which could easily be used adverbially in the sense “constantly”. I suppose that the “child” sense comes from the KJV rendering as I read it (certainly not “master worker”): “as one brought up with him” based I suppose on reading `amon as a Qal passive participle of the verb `aman in the sense “nourish, be a foster parent”.

  2. Thanks, Peter. I waffled on where to put the KJV since I initially read it as “a child” as you’ve noted. Then I read Strong’s notes and they noted that the most likely meaning was “as one trained through apprenticeship”. But maybe that’s just an attempt to line up with other interpretations.

    I will note that the NJB has deftly navigated these verses:

    I was beside the master craftsman,
    delighting him day after day,
    ever at play in his presence,
    at play everywhere on his earth,
    delighting to be with the children of men.

  3. tc robinson says:

    Peter, I also see the reasoning behind the TNIV’s choice–the synonymous parallelism of “constantly” and “day after day,” which make “constantly” a viable option for the Hebrew in question.

  4. Peter noted: The TNIV rendering appears to be based on reading `amon as “constantly”. This fits in well with the parallelism of “day after day” and “always” in the following lines.

    Okay, that makes sense. They must be rendering “constantly” in a sense of “faithful” as mentioned in the NET notes. I read that note as the translation could be “I was faithfully at his side”, which seems to be the interpretation of the NEB/REB’s “each day” in that first line. I wasn’t sure if that was the case because the NEB/REB doesn’t include a parallel in line 2, which the other translations seem to do (e.g. TNIV: “day after day”).

  5. Peter Kirk says:

    I think NEB has transposed (as is its wont) “each day” from the second line to the first. I wonder if “darling” is supposed to be its rendering of ‘amon.

    For reference, here is a very literal translation of verse 30, words in brackets added to make sense in English:

    And I was (in) his proximity ‘amon
    And I was (his) delight day (by) day
    Playing to his face (i.e. in front of him) in all time.

  6. Peter: I wonder if “darling” is supposed to be its rendering of ‘amon.

    I think you’re right. For what it’s worth, here are the notes from the NEB Oxford Study Edition:

    30: Darling: The Heb. is uncertain; perhaps the meaning is master workman or confidant. If darling, the figure is of a child playing in the presence of a loving father. The personification of Wisdom is of profound theological significance, for it corrects a faulty notion that God was thought of in Wisdom literature as somewhat remote from his creation. A development in the idea of personification can be traced from Job ch. 28, which asks about Wisdom’s hiding place, through [Proverbs] 8.22-31 (and 3.19-20), to Ecclus. 24.1-24 and Wis. 7.22-8.21. In Ecclus. 24.1 Wisdom is identified with Torah; in Wis. she is viewed, in a Greek manner, as an emanation of God.