Monday, August 10, 2009

Random Verse: Ecclesiastes 10:12

Due to wisdom literature's more universal relevance and appeal, a random sample verse in books like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs has a higher chance of being relevant and applicable to daily life. Especially in Proverbs, one is less likely to be ripping a single verse out of context since the entire thought is often encapsulated in a single verse. Ecclesiastes 10 is more like the so-called "sentence literature" of Proverbs 10-29. ["Sentence literature" defines that type of wisdom literature where the interpretive context is usually a single verse, often consisting of a single sentence.]

Random Verse for Today:
Ecclesiastes 10:12 (NRSV)
Words spoken by the wise bring them favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.

I'm not really excited about the NRSV's rendering here. I decided to randomly pick not only the verse but also the translation from among those on my shelf. The NRSV's commitment to gender-neutrality by use of third person pronouns seems to have added some ambiguity that's not in the Hebrew text. I had a moment of confusion over the pronoun reference on first read. Are the lips of fools consuming the wise or are they consuming themselves? On the second read, I realized it was probably the latter but looked it up in Hebrew anyway. Hebrew's ability to mark gender makes the first option completely impossible grammatically (in English it is unlikely but possible).

My literal translation:
Words from the mouth of the wise (masc sg) are gracious,
but the lips (fem pl) of a fool (masc sg) consume him (piel fem sg w/ 3 masc sg suffix).
Of course, there's still the problem of lack of concord between the plural subject and the singular verb. I recall reading an article about that issue once upon a time. I think it was by E.J. Revell and dealt with number agreement in prose. My cop-out answer is that perhaps the poet feels less bound by the constraints of formal grammar.

I liked the NLT for this verse for its far greater clarity on first read over NRSV.
Wise words bring approval,
but fools are destroyed by their own words.
After two attempts, we have a tied score. Relevance - 1, Randomness - 1.

1 comment:

  1. But one should note that the relevance in question is very generic. I would find that text relevant no matter what day I read it.