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Ecclesiastes 7:1

Context
Life is Brief and Death is Certain!

7:1 A good reputation 1  is better 2  than precious 3  perfume; 4 

likewise, 5  the day of one’s 6  death 7  is better than the day of one’s birth. 8 

Ecclesiastes 10:1

Context

10:1 One dead fly 9  makes the perfumer’s ointment give off a rancid stench, 10 

so a little folly can outweigh 11  much wisdom. 12 

1 tn Heb “name.” The Hebrew term שֵׁם (shem, “name”) is used metonymically for a person’s reputation (e.g., Prov 22:1; Deut 22:14, 19; Neh 6:13; also Gen 6:4; 12:2; 2 Sam 7:9; 8:13; 23:18, 22; 1 Chr 5:24; 12:31; 2 Chr 26:15; Neh 9:10; Isa 63:12, 14; Jer 32:20; Ezek 16:14; Dan 9:15); cf. HALOT 1549 s.v. שֵׁם D.2; BDB 1028 s.v. שֵׁם 2.b.

2 tn The comparative term טוֹב (tov, “better”) is repeated throughout 7:1-12. It introduces a series of “Better-than sayings,” particularly in 7:1-6 in which every poetic unit is introduced by טוֹב.

3 tn Heb “good.” The repetition of טוֹב (tov, “good”) forms an inclusion (a structural device that rounds off the unit), while the two internal terms מִשֶּׁמֶןשֵׁם (shem mishemen, “name …ointment”) create a paronomastic wordplay (see the note on the word “perfume”). The combination of these two sets of literary devices creates an AB:B'A' chiasm: מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב // שֵׁם טוֹב (tov shem // mishemen tov, e.g., “good name”// “ointment good”).

4 tn Or “oil”; or “ointment.” The term שֶׁמֶן (shemen) refers to fragrant “perfume; cologne; ointment” (Amos 6:6; Eccl 10:1; Song 1:2 [1:3 HT]; 4:10); see HALOT 1568 s.v. שֶׁמֶן A.2.c. Bodily oils were expensive (1 Kgs 17:12; 2 Kgs 2:4). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity (Deut 32:8; 33:24; Job 29:6; Prov 21:17; Ezek 16:13, 20). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Ps 45:8; Eccl 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Prov 27:9). The similar sounding terms “name” (שֵׁם, shem) and “perfume” (שֶׁמֶן) create a wordplay (paronomasia). See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTSup), 242–43; J. J. Glück, “Paronomasia in Biblical Literature,” Semitics 1 (1970): 50–78; A. Guillaume, “Paronomasia in the Old Testament.” JSS 9 (1964): 282–90; J. M. Sasson, “Wordplay in the OT,” IDBSup 968-70.

5 tn The vav prefixed to the form וְיוֹם (vÿyom) functions in a comparative sense, e.g., Job 5:7; 12:11; 16:21; Prov 25:25 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, §437).

6 tn The word “one’s” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn The article prefixed to הַמָּוֶת (hammavet, “death”) probably functions in an indefinite possessive sense or in a generic sense: “one’s death,” e.g., Gen 44:2 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §86, §92).

8 sn There are two ways to understand this proverb: (1) Happy times (characterized by celebration and “fragrant perfume”) teach us less than hard times (“the day of one’s death”) which can bring about moral improvement (“a good reputation”). (2) It is better to come to the end of one’s life (“day of one’s death”) with a good reputation (“a good name”) than to merely be starting life (“day of one’s birth”) in an auspicious manner in joy and wealth (“fine perfume”). Folly and wickedness could foil a good beginning so that a person ends life as a fool. For example, Solomon began as the wisest man who ever lived, only to end life as one of history’s greatest fools.

9 tn Heb “flies of death.” The plural form of “flies” (זְבוּבֵי, zÿvuve) may be taken as a plural of number (“dead flies”) or a distributive plural referring to one little fly (“one dead fly”). The singular form of the following verb and the parallelism support the latter: “one little fly…so a little folly.”

10 tn The verb בָּאַשׁ (baash) means “to cause to stink; to turn rancid; to emit a stinking odor” (e.g., Exod 16:24; Ps 38:6; Eccl 10:1); see HALOT 107 s.v. באשׁ 1; BDB 93 s.v. בָּאַשׁ. It is related to the noun בְּאשׁ (bÿosh, “stench”; Isa 34:3; Joel 2:20; Amos 4:10); cf. HALOT 107 s.v. באשׁ; BDB 93 s.v. בְּאשׁ. The verbal root נבע means “to ferment” or “to emit; to pour out; to bubble; to belch forth; to cause to gush forth” (HALOT 665 s.v. נבע; BDB 615 s.v. נָבַע). The two terms יַבְאִישׁ יַבִּיעַ (yavish yabbia’, “to stink” and “to ferment”) create a hendiadys: a figurative expression in which two terms are used to connote one idea: “makes a rancid stench.” Several versions treat this as a hendiadys (Old Greek, Symmachus, Targum, Vulgate); however, the Syriac treats them as separate verbs. Most translations treat these as a hendiadys: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor” (KJV); “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink” (NASB); “dead flies give perfume a bad smell” (NIV); “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off an evil odor” (RSV); Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor” (NRSV); “Dead flies cause a perfumer’s perfume to send forth a stink” (YLT); “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor” (NRSV). Others render both separately: “Dead flies make the perfumer’s sweet ointment rancid and ferment” (NEB); “Dead flies turn the perfumer’s ointment fetid and putrid” (NJPS).

11 tn Heb “carries more weight than”; or “is more precious than.” The adjective יָקָר (yaqar) denotes “precious; valuable; costly” (HALOT 432 s.v. יָקָר 2) or “weighty; influential” (BDB 430 s.v. יָקָר 4). The related verb denotes “to carry weight,” that is, to be influential (HALOT 432 s.v. יָקָר 2). The idea is not that a little folly is more valuable than much wisdom; but that a little folly can have more influence than great wisdom. It only takes one little mistake to ruin a life of great wisdom. The English versions understand it this way: “so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor” (NASB); “so a little folly outweighs massive wisdom” (NJPS); “so a little folly outweighs an abundance of wisdom” (MLB); “so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (RSV, NRSV, NIV); “so can a little folly make wisdom lose its worth” (NEB); “so a little folly annuls great wisdom” (ASV); “a single slip can ruin much that is good” (NAB); “so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor” (KJV). The LXX rendered the line rather freely: τιμιον ὀλιγον σοφιἀ ὑπερ δοξαν ἀφροσυνης μεγαλην (“a little wisdom is more precious than great glory of folly”). This does not accurately represent the Hebrew syntax.

sn Qoheleth creates a wordplay by using two Hebrew words for social honor or influence: “weighty” = honorable (יָקָר, yaqar) and “heavy” = honor (כָּבוֹד, cavod).

12 tn The MT reads מֵחָכְמָה מִכָּבוֹד (mekhokhmah mikkavod, “more than wisdom, more than honor”), but several medieval Hebrew mss read וּמִכָּבוֹד מֵחָכְמָה (mekhokhmah umikkavod, “more than wisdom and honor”). However the textual problem is resolved, the two nouns form a hendiadys: two terms joined by vav that describe one concept. The first noun retains its full nominal sense, while the second functions adjectivally: “heavy wisdom” or better, “great wisdom.”



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