Bite-Sized Exegesis, Proverbs, Proverbs 10

Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:7

Text

זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה וְשֵׁם רְשָׁעִים יִרְקָב׃

Transliteration

zēqer ṣaddîq librākâ wəšēm rəšāʿîm yirqāb.

Translation

The remembrance of a righteous person becomes a blessing, but the name of wicked people rots.

Notes

* The syntactic parallelism of this proverb is very neat. Both parts consist of three words: [memory of] [category of person] [does X].

* The meanings of the two halves also contrast more directly with each other than do the two halves of some of the preceding proverbs.

* What phonetic parallelism is likely intended is concentrated in the last word of each clause: librākâ and yirqāb. The stems of both words contain similar or similar-sounding consonants in different orders (b, k/q, r). Both words are also prefixed, the first with the preposition lə- > li- and the second with the verbal prefix yi-. To my English-speaking ear, the phonetic parallelism is less obvious than in some other proverbs, but to a native Hebrew ear, the connection may come across stronger.

* At this point, some kind of modulation in number between the two clauses of a proverb is starting to look conventional. In 10:3, 6, and 7, the singular righteous person is contrasted with the plural wicked people. In 10:2, there is contrast between the plural “storehouses” of the wicked and the singular “righteousness” that rescues. In 10:4, the contrast is between the singular “one having an idle hand” and the plural “diligent ones” whose hand prospers. It will be interesting to see if this continues and if any patterns emerge.

* An old suggested emendation of the last word from יִרְקָב () to יוּקָב () is still preserved in the BHS critical apparatus. As far as I can tell, this emendation goes back to an apparently Jewish scholar named Krochmal who lived and worked sometime in the middle of the 19th century. But what work by Krochmal? And which Krochmal? A. Krochmal or the more commonly cited Nachman Krochmal – or are they the same person? Krochmal’s name is often cited in connection with this emendation in late 19th century scholarship (BDB; T. K. Cheyne, Job and Solomon: Or, The Wisdom of the Old Testament (New York: T. Whittaker, 1889), 221; idem., “The Text of Job,” Jewish Quarterly Review, 9, no 4 [1897]: 575), but only his name, no book or article title, much less a page number. I’m sure everyone in the years 1880-1900 knew exactly which work by Krochmal this is supposed to be, but it isn’t so obvious nowadays. This kind of lazy citation is, in my experience, unfortunately rampant in 19th century biblical scholarship. In his commentary on the book of Proverbs, Delitzsch mentions a work by someone named Krochmal called Kerem Chemed. One can only assume this is the work that so impressed 19th century scholars that they didn’t feel that it needed any introduction or proper citation. In any case, the emendation is utterly unnecessary. No manuscript evidence hints of it, and there is no difficulty in the present text. On the contrary, the word יִרְקָב fits the context better than the suggested emendation, not only because of the phonetic parallelism noted above, but also because of the meaning of the proverb as a whole (see below). The only advantage I can see to יוּקָב is that the pairing of שֵׁם and the verb קָבַב (II) occurs elsewhere (in Lev 24:11), while רָקֵב occurs elsewhere only in Is 40:20.

* The sense of this proverb can be understood in two related ways. First, it seems to be saying that when people are dead and gone, the reputation of the righteous person improves with time–-they are seen as a blessing, and people more and more tend to bless their memory–-while that of the wicked person gets worse with time—it rots and eventually collapses like a diseased tree. Every person is, in life, a mixed bag. But the memories of those left behind that form the lasting reputation of the deceased tend to gravitate away from neutrality and balance towards an overall assessment of his or her life as either good or bad. So the person who, in life, was more righteous than wicked will, after death, tend to gain an increasingly good reputation, and vice-versa.

* Not only this, though, it also can be understood to say something about effect the very act of remembering itself has on the rememberer. When someone remembers a righteous person, it brings renewed blessing, happy memories, and encouragement. But the very act of remembering the wicked person rots the soul, bringing with it renewed bitterness and anger at the injuries the deceased inflicted upon those around him or her. These two understandings: the fate of a deceased person’s reputation and the effect that the act of remembering has, distinct though they are, are also interconnected and may both be intended by this saying.

Full Parsing

זֵכֶר – noun, masculine, singular, construct of זֵכֶר (zēqer). Translated “the remembrance of …”
צַדִּיק – noun, masculine, singular, absolute of צַדִּיק (ṣaddîq). Translated “the righteous one/person/man”
לִבְרָכָה – noun, feminine, singular, absolute of בְּרָכָה (bərākâ), with prefixed preposition ל (l). Translated “toward a blessing/leads to a blessing/becomes a blessing”
וְשֵׁם – noun, masculine, singular, construct of שֵׁם (šēm), with prefixed conjunction ו (w). Translated “but the name of …”
רְשָׁעִים – substantive adjective, masculine, plural, absolute of רָשָׁע (rāšāʿ). Translated “wicked people”
יִרְקָב – verb, G-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd, masculine, singular of רָקֵב (rāqēb). Translated “rots/will rot”

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