Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:10




קֺרֵץ עַיִן יִתֵּן עַצָּבֶת וֶאֱוִיל שְׂפָתַיִם יִלָּבֵט׃


qōrēṣ ʿayin yittēn ʿaṣṣābet weʾĕwîl śǝpātayim yillābēṭ


The one winking the eye gives injury, but one who has foolish lips is thrown down.


* The second clause in the Masoretic Hebrew text is an exact repetition of the second clause of Proverbs 10:8. If this is a mistake in the Hebrew, it can be attributed to nothing other than the eye of some scribe jumping up two lines. By the time it was noticed, this mistake would have become a part of the sacred tradition. It is not clear, however, that this is a mistake.

* On the other hand, the Greek version of this verse has for its second clause ὁ δὲ ἐλέγχων μετὰ παρρησίας εἰρηνοποιεῖ – “but the one who reproves with boldness makes peace” (the Syriac follows the Greek, here). The BHS critical apparatus suggests as a Hebrew Vorlage וּמוֺכִיחַ יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֺם (transliteration: ûmôkîaḥ yaʿăśeh šālôm; translation: “the one who corrects makes peace.”). The BHS suggestion is simply a basic translation of the Greek back into Hebrew. It has no relation to a proposed text-critical process of change, meaning this translation does nothing to help clear up how the Hebrew and the Greek came to be so different in this clause.

* With no further evidence or analysis, at least two possibilities present themselves:

  1. The Greek represents the original form of Proverbs 10:10, from which the Masoretic Hebrew text diverged, probably via scribal error, at some point.
  2. The Hebrew represents the original form of Proverbs 10:10. The Greek translators were dissatisfied with this form of the verse, perhaps viewing it as corruption of some lost original, and composed what we now see in the Greek version as an educated guess at the verse’s original intention.

* Either of the two above options is plausible, though they do not necessarily represent the only two possibilities, just the two most obvious possibilities.

* The second option is rendered much less likely by the fact that the Greek form of Proverbs 10:11b, like its Hebrew form, is identical to Proverbs 10:6b. This means that the Greek translators did not automatically assume that exact repetition in close proximity was evidence of corruption (as some modern text-critics seem to).

* Codex Aleppo (a set of Hebrew manuscripts that is slightly older than the Leningrad Codex – the basis of the modern BHS – and is part of a different family of manuscripts) is identical to the BHS on this verse.

* The Latin Vulgate, which frequently agrees with the Hebrew against the Greek, also assumes the Hebrew form of the verse. While the form of the Vulgate is slightly different between 10:8b and 10:10b, the forms of 10:6b and 10:11b, which are also identical in the Hebrew, show the same tendency toward variation. There appears to be operative in the Vulgate’s translation philosophy an assumption of variation in meaning in apparently identical texts. Regardless, it is clear that the Hebrew texts behind the Vulgate of 10:8b and 10:10b are identical, as are the Hebrew texts behind 10:6b and 10:11b.

* The Syriac often shows a reliance on the Greek, so it cannot be regarded as an independent witness.

* All of this means that the point in time where the two traditions diverged is very far back (prior to the translation of the Vulgate, at least, meaning prior to about 400 CE).

* A full evaluation of the two traditions relies, then, on their comparative synchronic merit.

* The Hebrew text is difficult. Unlike the surrounding verses, both clauses concern the fate or activity of the wicked/foolish rather than forming a contrast with the fate/activity of the righteous/wise. Also, it is not clear how “winking the eye” is intended or what relationship it has with foolish speech. Is “winking the eye” connected with foolishness or with wickedness? It is true that these two categories are often interrelated in Wisdom Literature, but they do not seem, to me, usually to be conflated. In other words, while foolishness and wickedness are related, they are treated distinctly. Righteousness is usually contrasted with wickedness, wisdom with foolishness.

* It could simply be that this proverb makes the connection between wickedness and foolishness more directly than we usually see. The wicked one (who is also foolish) causes injury by his wickedness, but the foolish one (who is also wicked) is destroyed by his very foolishness.

* The Greek text has a lot of merit, but it is not without its problems. Unlike the Hebrew text, it maintains the contrast-dynamic of the surrounding verses in contrasting the activity/fate of the wicked or foolish with that of the righteous or wise. But what is the contrast, exactly? Is it primarily between the winking and reproving, or between the winking and the boldness or openness? If the former, the one who “winks the eye” is one who lets the error of another get by, who does not reprove. In doing this they actually cause injury, whereas the one who actively reproves another brings about wellness and wholeness. So the contrast is on the foolish/wise pole rather than the wicked/righteous pole. On the other hand, if the contrast is intended more to be between the winking and the openness, what the verse says is that the one who acts deceptively and secretly causes injury, whereas the one who brings things out into the open brings wholeness to a situation. In this case, the contrast is more on the wicked/righteous pole.

* The latter understanding of the Greek text is more in line with the meaning of “winking the eye,” as we see in its other occurrences. It turns out that the idiom קרץ עין (qrṣ ʿyn) – “pinch the eye” or “wink the eye” – is actually pretty rare, only occurring here, in Proverbs 6:13, and in Psalm 35:19. The meaning in Proverbs 6:13 is clear. It is an image or characteristic behavior that is given as part of a character sketch of a deceitful and wicked person who is in contrast with the straightforward and honest person. In other words, “winking the eye” is connected with deceit and subterfuge, especially of the political variety. In Psalm 35:19, the idiom is structurally parallel with “those who rejoice over me” – a group of the psalmist’s political enemies. It’s exact meaning is difficult to extract from the Psalm context, but since it is connected with political games but its larger context, whatever connection it has to a “rejoicing” meaning is colored by a more fundamental “subterfuge” meaning (i.e. something like the idea of “those who grin and wink at one another smugly at my expense”). In other words, taking the idiom’s three occurrences together, its connotation is definitely more one of wickedness than foolishness. Therefore, if the Greek text is original, it should be understood along the lines of the second understanding outlined in the previous note: a contrast between “winking the eye” and “with boldness” more than between “winking” and “reproving”.

* Without expanding the context beyond this single proverb, my inclination is to look at the Greek as the more original. As I will discuss in future posts, Proverbs 10:6-11 appear to form something of a macro-unit. The repetition of verse 8b in 10b makes this macro-unit more apparent, but it does not disappear entirely in the Greek text. It is my opinion, in either case, that the macro-unit is secondary, due more to the activity of the editor/compiler than to any original literary connection, since the thematic unity of the macro-unit is not distinct from its surroundings.

* The practical meaning of the Greek form of the proverb has to do judging character. It is wise to prefer the company of one who speaks boldly and openly than one who acts deceitfully and in a hidden or complicated fashion. The former, whose honestly includes reproof (which is valuable if not pleasant to receive), ultimately brings peace to a situation, whereas the latter, regardless of his subtlety and apparent worldly wisdom, ultimately causes injury. Bottom line: keep honest people around you.

Full Parsing

קֺרֵץ – G-stem active participle, masculine, singular from קָרַץ (qāraṣ). Translated “the one winking.”
עַיִן – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of עַיִן (ʿayin). Translated “eye/the eye.”
יִתֵּן – Verb, G-stem, prefix conjugation, third, masculine, singular of נָתַן (nātan). Translated “he gives/makes.”
עַצָּבֶת – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of עַצֶּבֶת (ʿaṣṣebet). Vowel modulation is caused by pausal stress. Translated “injury/harm.”
וֶאֱוִיל – Substantive adjective, masculine, singular, construct of אֱוִיל (ʾĕwîl), with prefixed conjunction w. Translated “but the one who is foolish of …”
שְׂפָתַיִם – Noun, feminine, dual, absolute of שָׂפָה (śāpāh). Translated “lips.”
יִלָּבֵט – Verb, N-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd, masculine, singular from לבט. Translated “is thrown down, will be thrown down.”

What do you think?