Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Loose lips (Proverbs 10:18–19)

Posted by jac/cdc on March 28, 2007

כַסֶּה שִׂנְאָה שִׂפְתֵי־שָׁקֶר וּמֹוצִא דִבָּה הוּא כְסִיל׃
בְּרֹב דְּבָרִים לֹא יֶחְדַּל־פָּשַׁע וְחֹשֵׂךְ שְׂפָתָיו מַשְׂכִּיל׃

m’-cha-SE sin-A sif-tay-SHA-ker u-mo-TSEE di-BA HU ch’-SEEL
b’-ROV d’-va-REEM LO yech-dal-PA-sha v’-cho-SHAYCH s’-fa-TAV mas-KEEL

Whoever conceals hatred—lying lips, and whoever spreads a rumor, that one is a fool
In an abundance of words there is no lack of wrongdoing, and whoever restrains their lips shows good sense.

After a brief tangent on wealth, etc., the topic returns to the topic of speech (cf. 10:12–14). These two verses both treat the issue of loose lips. Verse 18 contrasts “concealing” hatred with “spreading” rumors, neither of which is sanctioned. Both halves appear to deal with actions toward an “enemy”: one may keep the hatred hidden through hypocritical speech; or one may spread rumors to the detriment of the person. Murphy notes the presence of both “conceals” and “hatred” also in 10:12, where the effect of hatred is contrasted with the pacifying effects of love.

Verse 19 affirms that with loquaciousness comes wrongdoing, a theme that is affirmed in other wisdom writings as well, e.g., Sir 20:1–8; Abot 1:17 (וכל המרבה דברים מביא חטא, And all multiplying of words brings sin); Counsels of Wisdom 127–34. The last passage is particularly interesting, since it combines the issues of slander and careless speech, as in these two verses (that and I finally bought Lambert’s Babylonian Wisdom Literature (= BWL), so it is good to have such an occasion to cite it):

e ta-kul ka[r-ṣi q/í-bi ba-ni-ti
lim-né-e-ti e ta-ta-me da-me-eq-ta ti-iz-kàr
šá a-kil kar-ṣi qa-bu-ú li-mut-ti
i-na ri-ba-a-ti ša dšamaš ú-qa-‘-ú rēs-su
e tu-ma-ṣ pi-i-ka ú-ṣur šap-ti-ka
e-nim-me-e kab-ta-ti-ka e-di-iš e taq-bi
sur-riš ta-ta-mu-ú ta-ra-áš-ši ar-ka-niš
ú ina sa-naq at-me-e tu-šá-an-na-aḫ ṭè-en-ka

Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report.
Do not say evil things, speak well of people.
One who utters libel and speaks evil,
Men will waylay him with his debit account to Šamaš.
Beware of careless talk, guard your lips;
Do not utter solemn oaths while alone,
For what you say in a moment will follow you afterwards.
But exert yourself to restrain your speech. (BWL 106)


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