Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Generational Pride (Proverbs 17:6)

Posted by jac/cdc on January 30, 2007

עֲטֶרֶת זְקֵנִים בְּנֵי בָנִים וְתִפְאֶרֶת בָּנִים אֲבֹותָם׃

a-TE-ret z’-qay-NEEM b’-nay-va-NEEM v’-tif-ER-et ba-NEEM a-vo-TAM

Grandchildren are a crown for the old, and the glory of children are their parents.

The glory of a man in his children is well-attested througout the Hebrew Bible (see esp. Ps 127:4–6), but this proverb involves three generations in reciprocal glory of each other. Ben Sira comes close to this reciprocal sentiment in the pithy statement כבוד אישׁ כבוד אביו A man’s glory is his father’s glory (3:11). Yet ANE wisdom teaches not simply that generations may take pride in one another, but that each generation reflects, for good or for ill, on the earlier ones (cf. Prov 10:1; 19:26). Going further still, this proverb may indicate that it is the younger generation’s duty and privilege to reflect their glory back on the earlier generations. This interpretation is consistent with the Ben Sira proverb, which appears at the end of a discourse on honoring parents (3:1–11).

Glory and pride in one’s offspring is a natural sentiment; the sages hardly need to teach it. However, giving honor to earlier generations seems to be an ever-present difficulty, despite how much we may decry it as especially acute in “our day.” At the same time, there is no denying that particularly since Freud the earlier generations have become the whipping-boy for the wrongs of their offspring, and any glory attained by younger generations is kept for itself! Instead, Ask the former generations . . . (Job 8:8–10).

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