Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:11


מְקוֺר חַיִּים פִּי צַדִּיק וּפִי רְשָׁעִים יְכַסֶּה חָמָס׃


mǝqôr ḥāyyîm pî ṣaddîq ûpî rǝšāʿîm yǝkasseh ḥāmās


A fountain of life is the mouth of the righteous one, but the mouth of wicked people conceals violence.


  • The noun māqôr occurs almost exclusively in poetic/prophetic literature (the main exceptions being a couple of occurrences in Leviticus talking about menstrual blood or blood following child-birth). Other words in the same semantic field include the etymologically related עַיִן (ʿayin) and מַעְיָן (maʿyān), the former of which is most common in narrative literature, while the latter’s distribution is primarily poetic.
  • The second half of the verse is identical to the second half of Proverbs 10:6. There appears to be no text-critical evidence of an alternate ending for either verse 6 or verse 11. While this could just be due to the possibility that conventional groups of words, phrases, or images were movable in whole or in part in the Wisdom tradition, it could also be an indicator of some kind of multi-verse unit in the saying’s present context. More on this in a subsequent post.
  • The saying is concentrically arranged: [predicate] [subject] // [subject] [predicate].
  • Unlike Proverbs 10:6, both halves of the verse concern the same body part: the mouth. This verse is thus a much more direct contrast than those found in most of the preceding verses.
  • The two halves of the verse contrast the effects of the speech of righteous people and wicked people. The speech of righteous people gives life and produces good things. On the other hand, the speech of wicked people is associated with violence and destruction. As I mentioned in talking about Proverbs 10:6, the meaning of “conceals” is that the mouth covers the originating destructive and violent thoughts of the wicked and brings those thoughts into being through speech-acts.
  • Both halves of the verse, then, talk about open things coming from hidden origins. The source of a spring or fountain, like the human heart, is not generally visible, only its effects are. The emphasis of the first half of the verse is on the open effects, whereas the emphasis of the second half is on the hiddenness of the origin of the effects. This is in keeping with the running theme we’ve seen so far of openness = righteousness / hiddenness = wickedness.

Full Parsing

מְקוֺר – Noun, masculine, singular, construct of מָקוֺר (māqôr). Translated “a fountain.”
חַיִּים – Noun, masculine, plural (pluralia tantum) absolute of חַיִּים (ḥāyyîm). Translated “life.”
פִּי – Noun, masculine, singular, construct of פֶּה (). Translated “the mouth of ….”
צַדִּיק – Substantive adjective, masculine, singular, absolute of צַדִּיק (ṣaddîq). Translated “the righteous one.”
וּפִי – Noun, masculine, singular, construct of פֶּה (), with prefixed conjunction וּ. Translated “but the mouth of ….”
רְשָׁעִים – Substantive adjective, masculine, plural, absolute of רָשָׁע (rāšāʿ). Translated “the wicked ones/wicked people.”
יְכַסֶּה – Verb, D-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd person, masculine, singular of כסה. Translated “it covers.”
חָמָס – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of חָמָס (ḥāmās). Translated “violence.”

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