Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Sport (Proverbs 10:23)

Posted by jac/cdc on April 4, 2007


כִּשְׂחֹוק לִכְסִיל עֲשֹׂות זִמָּה וְחָכְמָה לְאִישׁ תְּבוּנָה׃


kis-KHOK likh-SEEL a-SOT zi-MA v’-khokh-MA l’-EESH t’-vu-NA


As sport for a fool is acting wickedly, and wisdom for a person of understanding.

My translation conveys some of the syntactic ambiguity of this proverb. The most persuasive understanding is as a chiastically ordered saying in which כִּשְׂחֹוק is gapped in the second half. Thus, just as committing iniquity (זִמָּה ‘plan, cunning’ is usually negative, and clearly so here in contrast with וְחָכְמָה in the second part) is “sport” for the fool, so is (acting) with wisdom for the person of understanding.

Thus, כִּשְׂחֹוק receives both a negative and positive nuance in this proverb. Negatively, the fool fails to take seriously the moral dimensions of life, and thus acting wickedly is no more than jesting on their part. Positively, the person of understanding takes delight in (cf. 8:30–31; 21:15) wisdom—ambiguously referred to as the principle by which the person acts or an object of contemplation in itself.

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