Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

A lasting name? (Proverbs 10:6–7)

Posted by jac/cdc on March 12, 2007

בְּרָכֹות לְרֹאשׁ צַדִּיק וּפִי רְשָׁעִים יְכַסֶּה חָמָס׃
זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה וְשֵׁם רְשָׁעִים יִרְקָב׃

b’-ra-CHOT l’-ROSH tsa-DEEK u-fee r’-sha-EEM y’-cha-SE cha-MAS
zay-cher tsa-DEEK liv-ra-CHA v’-shaym r’-sha-EEM yir-KAV

A blessing is on the head of the righteous, [and the mouth of the wicked conceals violence].
The memory of the righteous is for a blessing, and the name of the wicked will rot.

There is an insurmountable textual problem in vs. 6: the second part of the saying (in brackets) does not create a clearly suitable contrast with the first part, and is repeated verbatim in vs. 11 of the chapter, where it creates a more fitting contrast. There are other cases of repetition in the chapter as well (cf. vss. 8b and 10b), which probably indicates textual corruption more than intentional unifying of the proverbs.

These two proverbs are held together by the theme of צַדִּיק/רְשָׁעִים (“righteous”/”wicked”) that pervades the beginning portions of this section (chap. 10–22) and more specifically by the word “blessing” in both. Interestingly, these contrast in number whenever they are used together in this chapter (I haven’t looked beyond here yet; nor do I have an explanation): “righteous” (sg.)/”wicked” (pl.) .

Presuming a parallel between the use of ancient proverbs and modern ones, we might imagine any number of social situations that would spontaneously call forth these sayings or allusions to them. They serve as general cautions against wicked behavior (defined socially, religiously, or morally) and/or motivations for righteous behavior—the promise of ongoing good repute and blessing. Can we safely say that the ancients were more concerned than we moderns with preservation of their name and memory? In a sense we only have the anecdotal evidence surrounding the importance of progeny and statements like this. Sometimes I’m not so sure there is a difference in value between ancients and moderns—at least in academia: we simply strive to get our name remembered with a blessing through affixing it to the front of a book, which we hope will be reprinted often and listed in perpetuity on Amazon (sorry, perhaps a bit too cynical).

Less can be stated about the literary context. Nothing much seems to be added to our understanding of these verses by their placement save the fact that a general picture of the righteous and wicked is being constructed in this collection, and therefore the import of the various righteous-wicked proverbs is strengthened by the collection. With respect to these two sayings in particular, there is clearly an emphasis on being blessed and being a blessing by acting righteously that is the result of the grouping of these similar proverbs.


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