Chapter 1: Beneath the Surface

1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

      The English words "disciple" and "discipline" come from the same root word – the Latin term discipulus, meaning student or learner. "Disciples" are those who choose to put themselves under the "discipline" of someone or some school of thought. The follow-through of such a conscious commitment makes a difference in their lives.
       The Hebrew word for "discipline" in this verse is also frequently translated "instruction." It can speak of either punishment or training. While I tend to think of discipline as only punitive, it is probably best understood in context of the rigors of training and the consequences of our unwillingness to do so. Not embracing discipline in our lives would truly be a poor life choice.

     The Last Supper was a wall mural (29x15 ft.) painted by Leonardo da Vinci about 1495-1500 AD. Not a true fresco, da Vinci tried an unsuccessful new technique which began to deteriorate even during his lifetime. Commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza, it sits in the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.
      The mural representing the moment during the meal when Jesus said to His 12 disciples, "One of you will betray me." It shows 13 people situated along one side of the table, with Jesus conspicuous alone in the center and the apostles in four groups of three.
      From left to right the Apostles are identified as Bartholomew, James the Less (of Alphaeus), Andrew, Judas, Peter, John. On the other side of Jesus are Thomas (raised finger), James the Elder (of Zebedee), Philip, Simon the Canaanite-Zealot, Jude, Matthew.
      The unusual rectangular space covering Jesus' feet were a later doorway cut into the wall, after the painting had fallen into disrepair.

1:8 Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

      With the focus of the wise saying in Proverbs being in a family context, it is interesting that mother, father, son and brother are mentioned almost exclusively. There is one reference to daughter (31:29; translated "women" in NIV) and one reference to sister (along with another female relative in 7:4). Of course, in the Biblical world, once daughters began having menstrual cycles in their early teens, were married off and went to live with their husbands' families.
       But the extended family living together within close confines is quite clear from both the Bible and archaeology. The Law of Moses specifically and explicitly addressed appropriate and inappropriate interaction between 4 generations of an extended Israelite family (see Lev 18, 20), so we can assume they lived in close proximity.
       Excavation of settlements from the time of the Judges and earlier revealed domestic structures best understood as extended family compounds where up to 4 generations might live together. Yet beginning about the time of Solomon, it seems that the nature of domestic architecture began to change. Houses began to be constructed for individual nuclear families (father, mother, children) living under one roof.

Schematic reconstruction of a standardized Israelite house from the time of Solomon and afterwards. Known as a "four-room house," the main door was in the long side of the central room (probably unroofed). Interior long walls constructed by lines of stone or wooden pillars created rooms 2 and 3 on both sides of the central room. The 4th room was perpendicular at the rear of the house, never with an interior pillared wall. This house may or may not have had a second story. Either way, the roof was flat and served as regular living space for the family.

1:9 They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck,

      The Hebrew term "garland" is rare in the Bible, from the root "to twist or wind." It most likely suggests a turban of wound cloth worn on the head (although possibly a twisted wreath of branches or vines). Not a well-known or understood term, it may have been a special item. No doubt having some utilitarian value, it was presumably designed for appearance sake (see also 4:9). Made of organic material, such items for Old Testament times are not found in excavations.
       The "chain to adorn your neck" would be one of the many forms of a necklace that archaeologists do find. Generally in tombs, they consist of either metal (gold or bronze) chains or strings of beads or pendants. Of course, organic strings are also gone, leaving only the pearls and pendants.
       The Hebrew term for this "necklace" is plural, presumably representing multiple strings/chains or maybe just multiple beads/pendants on a single chain worn around the neck. Beyond the specialty items of royalty, ornaments from "ordinary" tombs certainly suggest that they would have made the wearer more attractive (see also 3:22).

The 7-foot tall Black Obelisk of Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (9th century BC) in the British Museum. This royal monument was discovered at Calah (modern Nimrud, Iraq) in 1845. The second register from the top depicts Israelite king Jehu bowed before Shalmaneser and wearing what would seem to be a cloth stocking cap on his head. The following cuneiform inscription accompanied the stone-carved relief.
"The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri, silver, gold, bowls of gold, chalices of gold, cups of gold, vases of gold, lead, a scepter for the king, and spear-shafts, I have received."

1:17 How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds!

      This verse points to a practice well-documented in the ancient world. Fowl were an important source of meat and catching birds with nets (Ho 7:12) is regularly pictured in both ancient Egyptian and Assyrian reliefs.
       While we are not certain how often they were used by the ancient Israelites, this verse indicates they knew of the practice. Some were thrown over birds while on the ground or in flight. Other nets were baited on the ground and drawn up to catch the birds.
       As a side note, there are also images from antiquity which depict men in nets. While it may just represent a symbolic act, it may represent actual events. If that is the case, these men were presumably not caught in the nets but were instead being held captive in them.

1:20 Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; 1:21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:

      These verses describe something that ancient Israelite people knew very well – the streets, squares and gateways of ancient cities. As an archaeologist working in the Holy Land, I have had the opportunity to excavate city gates at two different sites. Typical of gates excavated elsewhere, they all tend to be symmetrical with the same basic features.
       A typical Old Testament Israelite city gate was a large well-built complex constructed in conjunction with the city's defensive wall. But it was far more than just an opening in the city wall. A city gate was a complex, typically including protruding flanking towers, central passageway with flanking side rooms and possibly multiple sets of doors, and superstructure of defensive ramparts and rooms above the central passage.
       The central passage was typically 6-10 foot wide, closed with thick wooden double doors, probably faced with a fire-resistant metal covering. Excavated city gates have covered areas of some 50 x 75 feet. Inside these gates there is also typically an open area. While the average Old Testament city probably had more than one gate, there was no doubt a main gate for most cities.
       The purpose of these ancient gates extended beyond the city's defenses. Being the only real public meeting place in the typical city, it also served as the city market, courthouse and civic assembly place. Everyone in the city probably visited or passed through the city gate daily. So, if someone had anything of importance to communicate to the people of that city, this was the place where they would want to start sharing it.

Reconstructed plans of similar 10th century BC city gates in ancient Israel. Ancient gates were large roofed complexes with outer towers, double doors on the outer wall and inside gaterooms flanking the gate passageway. Pictured is a regular gate plan in Solomon's time with 6 inner gaterooms (3 on each side of the gate passageway). These rooms were regularly used by guards and for markets and meetings in the daily life of the city.