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The Moral Vision of Proverbs

A Virtue-Oriented Approach to Wisdom

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Wisdom literature is an unfamiliar genre to modern readers and presents many interpretive challenges. In this major new work, respected wisdom scholar Timothy Sandoval argues that the book of Proverbs, though difficult to access for some, provides a coherent moral vision for human flourishing.

The approach Sandoval argues for in The Moral Vision of Proverbs is that of virtue ethics, or character ethics, particularly that which emerges from the classical tradition of Aristotle (as opposed to reading the book, intentionally or unintentionally, through the lenses of modern ethical systems). Sandoval engages with specialists in this ethical tradition as well as biblical scholars to make his case that Proverbs is an ancient, virtue-oriented moral discourse.

This comprehensive critical study of Proverbs analyzes the book's major topics and strives to discern the moral and philosophical presuppositions and logic of its rhetoric, all the while engaging past and present interpretive approaches. Although authored by a Christian scholar, this text will be of great interest to a broadly ecumenical audience, whether students of the Old Testament/Tanakh/Hebrew Bible, biblical scholars, or Christian ethicists and moral theologians.

Part 1: The Case for Proverbs as Virtue-Oriented Moral Discourse
1. The Undervaluing of Proverbs' Moral Worth: The Role of Biblical Studies and Modern Ethics
2. The Prologue as Hermeneutical Key: Categories of Virtues and Figurative Language
3. The Anthropology of Proverbs: The Nature and Happiness of Human Beings
4. Proverbs' Way of Life: The Priority of Moral Agents over Right Acts
5. The Training of Desire for a Life of Flourishing in Proverbs
6. Desire, Knowledge, and Goodness: Beyond Wise and Just, Foolish and Wicked
7. The Centrality of Social Virtues for Flourishing
8. Practical Wisdom in Proverbs
9. The Efficacy and Limitations of Practical Wisdom in Proverbs
Part 2: The Implications of Proverbs as Virtue-Oriented Moral Discourse
10. Proverbs' Virtue Ethics beyond Proverbs? The Shared Moral Discourse of Proverbs and Amos
11. A Virtue-Ethics Approach to Cosmogony in Proverbs (Part 1): Reconsidering the Interpretive History of Natural Law, the Orders of Creation, and Empiricism in Proverbs
12. A Virtue-Ethics Approach to Cosmogony in Proverbs (Part 2): Reading Proverbs 8:22-31 as a Test Case
13. Wisdom as Practice (Part 1): Overview of Biblical Concepts and MacIntyrian Terms
14. Wisdom as Practice (Part 2): How MacIntyrian Practice Informs an Understanding of Proverbs' Virtue Ethics
Conclusion: Worthy Wisdom, Who Can Find?


"Sandoval presents Proverbs as a profoundly theological statement about the cultivation of moral character through the practice of the complex moral and intellectual activity that the sages call 'wisdom.' Eschewing conventional moralistic and utilitarian treatments, he brings to his reading a philosophical, cultural, and literary sophistication that encourages critical and self-critical engagement. This study will be essential for serious students of biblical wisdom traditions, in the academy and also in the church."

Ellen F. Davis, professor of Bible and practical theology, Duke Divinity School

"The book of Proverbs finally receives its full ethical due from the able hands of Timothy Sandoval, who offers the most robust and nuanced moral treatment to date of this often-overlooked book. Sandoval's study is both sophisticated and engaging, philosophical and dialogical, offering its share of exegetical surprises, all to highlight Proverbs' overarching goal to impart the 'craft of living well.'"

William P. Brown, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

"In a rich and incisive contribution to a burgeoning debate on Proverbs as a book of virtue ethics, Sandoval claims, by engaging with Aristotle and other classical writers on virtue ethics, that it is indeed an ancient, virtue-oriented moral discourse. Picking up on Proverbs' concern with character ethics, Sandoval discovers more profound aspects of its moral rhetoric and wider moral vision, including natural law, social virtues, and practical wisdom that together embody a coherent model for promoting human flourishing."

Katharine J. Dell, professor of Old Testament literature and theology, University of Cambridge

"In this substantial and engaging study, Sandoval sheds light on why biblical scholarship has largely relegated Proverbs to second-tier status as a source of theological and ethical insight. Delivering his scholarly erudition in clear prose, Sandoval redresses this balance and reveals Proverbs' merits as such an intellectual resource by examining its moral perspective in light of ancient virtue ethics. As I have with Sandoval's other books on Proverbs, I have learned much from this book and recommend it to others."

Gilberto A. Ruiz, associate professor of New Testament, Saint Anselm College

"In The Moral Vision of Proverbs, Sandoval helps dispel the all-too-common biases that Proverbs lacks moral complexity, displays simplistic act-consequence behavioral schemas, and promotes restrictive natural theologies. With precision, care, and wisdom, Sandoval demonstrates how Proverbs' engagement with premodern, virtue-oriented moral discourse yields instruction that is ethically and theologically relevant for the contemporary world. This is a must-have for any serious reader of Proverbs."

Patricia Vesely, associate professor of Hebrew Bible and Christian ethics, Memphis Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Timothy J. Sandoval
    Jeff Langhammer

    Timothy J. Sandoval

    Timothy J. Sandoval (PhD, Emory University) is associate dean of academic administration and associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. His teaching and scholarly work has focused on the...

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