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Ecclesiastes 10:11-15


10:11 If the snake should bite before it is charmed, 1 

the snake charmer 2  is in trouble. 3 

Words and Works of Wise Men and Fools

10:12 The words of a wise person 4  win him 5  favor, 6 

but the words 7  of a fool are self-destructive. 8 

10:13 At the beginning his words 9  are foolish

and at the end 10  his talk 11  is wicked madness, 12 

10:14 yet a fool keeps on babbling. 13 

No one knows what will happen;

who can tell him what will happen in the future? 14 

10:15 The toil of a stupid fool 15  wears him out, 16 

because he does not even know the way to the city. 17 

1 tn Heb “without charming.”

2 tn Heb “the master of the tongue.”

3 tn Heb “has no profit”; ASV, NAB, NRSV “there is no advantage.”

4 tn Heb “of a wise man’s mouth.”

5 tn The phrase “win him” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

6 tn Or “are gracious.” The antithetical parallelism suggests that חֵן (khen) does not denote “gracious character” but “[gain] favor” (e.g., Gen 39:21; Exod 3:21; 11:3; 12:36; Prov 3:4, 34; 13:15; 22:1; 28:23; Eccl 9:11); cf. HALOT 332 s.v. חֵן 2; BDB 336 s.v. חֵן 2. The LXX, on the other hand, rendered חֶן with χάρις (caris, “gracious”). The English versions are divided: “are gracious” (KJV, YLT, ASV, NASB, NIV) and “win him favor” (NEB, RSV, NRSV, NAB, MLB, NJPS, Moffatt).

7 tn Heb “lips.”

8 tn Heb “consume him”; or “engulf him.” The verb I בלע (“to swallow”) creates a striking wordplay on the homonymic root II בלע (“to speak eloquently”; HALOT 134-35 s.v בלע). Rather than speaking eloquently (II בלע, “to speak eloquently”), the fool utters words that are self-destructive (I בלע, “to swallow, engulf”).

9 tn Heb “the words of his mouth.”

10 sn The terms “beginning” and “end” form a merism, a figure of speech in which two opposites are contrasted to indicate totality (e.g., Deut 6:7; Ps 139:8; Eccl 3:2-8). The words of a fool are madness from “start to finish.”

11 tn Heb “his mouth.”

12 tn Heb “madness of evil.”

13 tn Heb “and the fool multiplies words.” This line is best taken as the third line of a tricola encompassing 10:13-14a (NASB, NRSV, NJPS, Moffatt) rather than the first line of a tricola encompassing 10:14 (KJV, NEB, RSV, NAB, ASV, NIV). Several versions capture the sense of this line well: “a fool prates on and on” (Moffatt) and “Yet the fool talks and talks!” (NJPS).

14 tn Heb “after him”; or “after he [dies].”

15 tn The plural form of הַכְּסִילִים (hakkÿsilim, from כְּסִיל, kÿsil, “fool”) denotes (1) plural of number: referring to several fools or (2) plural of habitual character or plural of intensity (referring to a single person characterized by a habitual or intense quality of foolishness). The latter is favored because the two verbs in 10:15 are both singular in form: “wearies him” (תְּיַגְּעֶנּוּ, tÿyaggÿennu) and “he does [not] know” (לֹא־יָדַע, lo-yada’); see GKC 440-41 §135.p. The article on הַכְּסִילִים is used in the generic sense.

16 tn This line may be interpreted in one of three ways: (1) “the labor of fools wearies him because he did not know enough to go to a town,” referring to the labor of the peasants who had not been able to find a place in town where life was easier; (2) “the labor of the fools so wearies everyone of them (singular pronoun taken in a distributive sense) so much that he even does not know how to go to town,” that is, he does not even know how to do the easiest thing in the world; (3) “let the labor of fools so weary him that he may not even know how to go to town,” taking the verb as a jussive, describing the foolish man described in 10:12-14. See D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:592–93.

17 tn Heb “he does not know to go to the city.”

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