Old Testament


Sarah Schreiber

Reader 1

Arie C. Leder


Joan Beelan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Theology (Th.M)


Proverbs, Debt, Surety, Christianity


Six proverbs on surety for debt present unique difficulties for interpreters of the Hebrew Bible. Because surety for debt is only occasionally mentioned, the inner-biblical data is hard-pressed to resolve the many differences of opinion. There is a large body of primary texts from the ancient Near East that indicates that surety was a widespread practice in a vast historical period. There is also a large body of secondary literature focused on these texts. The primary and secondary literature is sufficiently robust as to warrant a closer look from biblical scholars. This thesis argues that the extra-biblical texts elucidate the proverbs and presents a methodological framework by which the two sets of evidence may be compared. The bodies of evidence are large and similar enough to warrant a contextual method that assumes a common historical background. Both the proverbs and the ancient Near Eastern texts reflect legal relationships between parties. The extra-biblical texts are analyzed for the legal relationships that they reflect and the results of this analysis are used to elucidate the proverbs. Additionally, these texts are analyzed for the ways in which they may reflect symbolic ceremonial acts. The proverbs had not been analyzed in this manner, so similar categories are applied to the proverbs. The comparative evidence presented supports the conclusion that commentators have made some unwarranted claims about the proverbs—specifically, about the way in which they reflect the enactment of surety relationships, their function, and their historical development. The evidence also supports one position on the relationship of the parties named in the proverbs. One new suggestion is made regarding the way in which the surety relationships reflected in Proverbs were likely to have functioned.



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