Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Wise and foolish talk (Proverbs 15:2)

Posted by jac/cdc on January 31, 2007

לְשֹׁון חֲכָמִים תֵּיטִיב דָּעַת וּפִי כְסִילִים יַבִּיעַ אִוֶּלֶת׃

l’-SHON cha-cha-MEEM tay-TEEV DA-at u-FEE ch’-see-LEEM ya-BEE-a i-VE-let

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge good, but the mouth of fools pours out folly.

Speech is a central topic of chapter 15 of Proverbs (note esp. the affinities of vs. 2a with 7a and vs. 2b with 14b; see also 15:1). The imagery used to describe the speech of the wise is intriguing but far from transparent. In any case, it seems unwarranted to change the text to תטיף ‘to drip’ to better parallel ‘pour forth’ (lit., ‘gush’). I’ve given a very literal rendering: ‘make good’.

‘Tongue of the wise’ and ‘mouth of the fool’ form a fitting contrast, as do ‘knowledge’ and ‘folly’. Thus, there is a simple contrast between the wise, who speak knowledge, and the foolish, who speak folly. But this seems rather banal. The dissimilarity between the imagery of the verbs may be interpreted as adding a second, more subtle layer to the contrast: the wise make good use of knowledge, whether taken in the sense of ‘make pleasant’, ‘commend’, or ‘use wisely’; by contrast, the fools not only peddle in folly rather than knowledge, it gushes forth from their mouth without any discretion or control. The wise both dispense knowledge (cf. vs. 7a) and do so discriminatingly; the foolish by contrast blather away without thought.

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