Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

A love-hate relationship (Proverbs 10:12)

Posted by jac/cdc on March 16, 2007


שִׂנְאָה תְּעֹורֵר מְדָנִים וְעַל כָּל־פְּשָׁעִים תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה׃


sin-A t’-o-RAYR m’-da-NEEM v’-al kol-p’sha-EEM t’-cha-SE a-ha-va


Hatred stirs up strife, and over all offenses covers love.

If there was any overarching theme, e.g., righteous and wicked, holding the proverbs in this collection (or chapter) together, it would appear to fall apart at this point. This proverb supports instead the notion that proverbs may be juxtaposed simply based on “catchwords”—in this case the יְכַסֶּה/תְּכַסֶּה connection with the preceding verse.

It is unclear to me, however, whether and what this connection adds to the interpretation of either. Could it be that there is an additional contrast of sorts between “covering” of violence and the “covering” of love? But is either saying clear in itself? The notion that love covers over all offenses (or sins) is interpreted in two different, though related, ways in the New Testament: James 5:20 adjoins this saying with one that echoes Prov 10:2b, that the righteous save from death: “whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” It is unclear who’s sins the writer has in mind: those of the person saving or those of the sinner who is saved? 1 Peter 4:8 cites this proverb with what is probably closer to its intended sense in Proverbs: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

It would appear that understanding the possible interplay between this verse and the preceding, based on the catchword, hinges more on how verse 11b is understood: does the mouth of the wicked (subj.) cover or conceal violence (obj.) (and what does that mean?), or does violence (subj.) cover the mouth of the wicked (obj.) (and what does that mean?). Although the interpretation “concealing violence” was persuasive to me while interpreting verse 11 in isolation, given the context of verse 12 I’m wondering whether it needs to be rendered “covers violence” and interpreted with respect to verse 12: while love covers over offenses (alluding to atonement, but probably more generally meant as “overlooks” or “forgives”), the mouth of the wicked “covers (everything) with violence,” in the sense of spreads violence all around.

Thus the connection here hinges on a wordplay that takes “covers” in two different metaphorical senses: cover = overlook or forgive in vs. 12b; cover = spread over everything in vs. 11b. Hence the juxtapositioning of these two proverbs results in a contrast not only between hatred and love, but love and violence. Sound plausible? Any other ways to relate these verses or is this just trying too hard?

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