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Ecclesiastes 12:3-6


12:3 when those who keep watch over the house 1  begin to tremble, 2 

and the virile men begin to stoop over, 3 

and the grinders 4  begin to cease because they grow few,

and those who look through the windows grow dim, 5 

12:4 and the doors along the street are shut;

when the sound of the grinding mill 6  grows low,

and one is awakened 7  by the sound of a bird,

and all their 8  songs 9  grow faint, 10 

12:5 and they are afraid of heights and the dangers 11  in the street;

the almond blossoms 12  grow white, 13 

and the grasshopper 14  drags itself along, 15 

and the caper berry 16  shrivels up 17 

because man goes to his eternal home, 18 

and the mourners go about in the streets –

12:6 before the silver cord is removed,

or the golden bowl is broken,

or the pitcher is shattered at the well, 19 

or the water wheel 20  is broken at the cistern –

1 tn Heb “the watchers of the house.”

2 tn The verb זְוּעַ (zÿua’, “to tremble”) probably does not refer to physical tremors but to trembling in fear (e.g., Esth 5:9; Hab 2:7; Sir 48:12); cf. HALOT 267 s.v. זוע). At the onset of old age, those who had been the most courageous during their youth suddenly become fearful.

3 tn The verb עָוַת (’avat, “to bend; to stoop”) means “to be stooped” (HALOT 804 s.v. עות) rather than “to bend themselves” (BDB 736 s.v. עות). The perfect tense may be taken in an ingressive sense (“begin to stoop over”).

4 tn The term הַטֹּחֲנוֹת (hattokhanot, Qal active participle feminine plural from טָחַן, takhan, “to grind”) is a double entendre. In its literal sense, it refers to female mill-grinders; in its figurative sense, it refers to molar teeth (HALOT 374 s.v. *טֹחֲנָה). The related Hebrew noun טַחֲנָה (takhanah) refers to a “mill,” and the related Arabic noun tahinat means “molar tooth” (HALOT 374 s.v. *טַחֲנָה).

5 tn The verb חָשַׁךְ (khashakh, “to grow dim”) is used elsewhere in reference to failing eyesight (e.g., Ps 69:24; Lam 5:17); see HALOT 361 s.v. חשׁך 2. Therefore, the phrase “those who look through the windows” is probably a figurative description of the eyes, picturing failing eyesight at the onset of old age.

6 tn The noun טַחֲנָה (takhanah) refers to a “grinding-mill” where grain is ground into flour (HALOT 374 s.v. טַחֲנָה). The term is here used as a double entendre, figuratively describing the loss of one’s teeth at the onset of old age. The figurative usage also draws upon the polysemantic nature of this noun; the related Arabic root tahinat means “molar tooth” (HALOT 374 s.v. *טֹחֲנָה).

7 tn Heb “rises up.” The verb קוּם (qum, “to arise”) refers to being awakened from sleep in the middle of the night by a sound (e.g., Exod 12:30; 1 Sam 3:6, 8) and waking up early in the morning (e.g., Gen 24:54; Judg 16:3; Ruth 3:14; Neh 2:12; Job 14:12; 24:14); see HALOT 1086 s.v. קוּם 1; BDB 877 s.v. קוּם 1.a. Here it describes one of the frustrations of old age: the elderly person is unable to get a full night’s sleep because every little sound awakens him in the middle of the night or too early in the morning.

8 tn The term “their” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.

9 tn Heb “all the daughters of song.” The expression “the daughters of song” (בְּנוֹת הַשִּׁיר, bÿnot hashir) is an idiom for “songs; musical sounds; melodious notes” (HALOT 166 s.v. I בַּת 2; BDB 123 s.v. בַּת 5; GKC 418 §128.v). The genitive הַשִּׁיר (“song”) represents the nature, quality, character or condition of the construct בְּנוֹת (“daughters”); see IBHS 149-51 §9.5.3b. The idiom refers to the musical songs sung during one’s youth or to the ability to hear songs that are sung. This line is lamenting the loss of hearing which occurs at the onset of old age.

10 tn Heb “are brought low.”

11 tn The Hebrew noun חַתְחַתִּים (khatkhattim) literally means “terrors” (HALOT 363 s.v. חַתְחַת; BDB 369 s.v. חַתְחַת). Here it is used as a metonymy (cause for effect) to refer to dangers that cause the elderly to be fearful of going outside or walking along the streets. The form חַתְחַתִּים is a reduplicated noun stem from the root חתת (“terror”); HALOT 363 s.v. חַתְחַת; BDB 369 s.v. חַתְחַת. The reduplication of the noun stem intensifies its meaning: the noun חִתַּת (khittat) means “terror,” so the intensified reduplicated form חַתְחַת (khatkhat) connotes something like “great terror” (see S. Moscati, Comparative Grammar, 78-79, §12.9-13). The plural form חַתְחַתִּים (“great terrors”) denotes plural of number (more than one) or plural of intensity (which would further intensify the experience of fear); see IBHS 122 §7.4.3a.

12 tn The noun שָׁקֵד (shaqed) is used in the OT in reference to the “almond nut” (e.g., Gen 43:11; Num 17:23) and metonymically (product for thing producing it) for the “almond tree” (e.g., Jer 1:11); cf. HALOT 1638 s.v. שָׁקֵד; BDB 1052 s.v. שָׁקֵד 2.

13 tn The verb נצץ (“to blossom”) is a geminate verb (II = III) that, in this case, is written with a matres lectionis (plene spelling) rather than the normal spelling of וינץ (GKC 204 §73.g). The Hiphil verb יָנֵאץ (yanets) is from the root נצץ “to shine; to sparkle; to blossom” (HALOT 717 s.v. נצץ; BDB 665 s.v. נָצַץ). It is used in reference to almond blossoms whose color progresses from pink to white as they ripen (e.g., Song 6:11). This is an appropriate metaphor (comparison of sight) to describe white hair that often accompanies the onset of old age.

14 tn Or “locust.”

15 tn The verb סָבַל (saval, “to bear a heavy load”) means “to drag oneself along” as a burden (BDB 687 s.v. סָבַל) or “to become thick; to move slowly forward; to clear off” (HALOT 741 s.v. סבל).

16 tn The noun אֲבִיּוֹנָה (’aviyyonah, “caper berry, caper fruit”) is a hapax legomenon, occurring only here in the Hebrew Bible. It refers to the Capparis spinosa fruit which was eaten as an aphrodisiac in the ancient Near East (HALOT 5 s.v. אֲבִיּוֹנָה; BDB 2–3 s.v. אֲבִיּוֹנָה). There are two options for the interpretation of this figure: (1) At the onset of old age, the sexual virility that marked one’s youth is nothing more than a distant memory, and even aphrodisiacs fail to stimulate sexual desire to allow for sexual intercourse. (2) The onset of old age is like the shriveling up of the caper berry fruit; the once virile youth has passed his prime just like a shriveled caper berry can no longer provide a sexual stimulant.

17 tc The MT vocalizes consonantal ותפר as וְתָפֵר (vÿtafer, conjunction + Hiphil imperfect 3rd person feminine singular from פָּרַר , parar, “to burst”). However, an alternate vocalization tradition of וְתֻפַּר (vÿtupar, conjunction + Hophal imperfect 3rd person feminine singular “to be broken down”) is reflected in the LXX which reads καὶ διασκεδασθῇ (kai diaskedasqh, “is scattered”) and Symmachus καὶ διαλυθῇ (kai dialuqh, “is broken up”) which is followed by the Syriac. On the other hand, Aquila’s καὶ καρπεύσει (kai karpeusei, “are enjoyed,” of fruits) reflects וְתִפְרֶה (Qal imperfect 3rd person feminine singular from פָרַה, “to bear fruit”); this does not reflect an alternate reading but a translator’s error in word division between וְתָפֵר הָאֲבִיּוֹנָה (vÿtafer haaviyyonah, “the caper berry bursts”) and וְתִפְרֶה אֲבִיּוֹנָה (vÿtifrehaviyyonah, “the caper berry bears fruit”).

tn Or “fails”; or “bursts.” The meaning of the verb פָּרַר (parar, “to break; to make ineffectual”) is debated: (1) “to be ineffectual,” that is, to fail to provide sexual power as an aphrodisiac, or (2) “to break; to burst,” that is, the caper berry fruit shrivels as it lingers on its branch beyond its period of ripeness (HALOT 975 s.v. פרר 2.f; BDB 830 s.v. I. פָּרַר 2.d).

18 tn In the construct phrase בֵּית עוֹלָמוֹ (betolamo, “house of his eternity”), the genitive עוֹלָמוֹ (“eternity”) functions as an attributive adjective: “his eternal home.” This is an idiom for the grave as the resting place of the body (e.g., Ps 49:12 [11]; Job 7:9; 14:10-12; Eccl 12:5) or Sheol as the residence of the dead (e.g., Job 17:13; 30:23); see HALOT 124 s.v. I בַּיִת 2; 799 (5); BDB 109 s.v. בַּיִת 1.d. For example, the term בֵּית (“house”) is used in Job 30:23 in parallelism with “death” (מָוֶת, mavet). The same idiom appears in postbiblical Hebrew: “the house of eternity” (בֵּית עוֹלָם, betolam) is a euphemism for a burial ground or cemetery (e.g., Lamentations Rabbah 1:5); see Jastrow 1084-85 s.v. עָלַם III. This idiom is also found in a Moabite text in reference to the grave (Deir Alla Inscription 2:6). A similar idiom is found in Phoenician and Palmyrene in reference to the grave (DISO 35). The idiom appears to have originated in Egyptian literature (H. A. Hoffner, TDOT 2:113). See F. Cumont, Afterlife in Roman Paganism, 48-50.

19 tn Heb “water-spring.”

20 tn The term גַּלְגַּל (galgal, “wheel”) refers to the “water wheel” or “paddle wheel” for drawing water from a well (HALOT 190 s.v. I גַּלְגַּל 2; BDB 165 s.v. גַּלְגַּל 1.b). This Hebrew noun is related to the Akkadian term gulgullu (“pot”), as well as Phoenician (?) גלגל (“wheel for drawing water”). The Latin term girgillus (“lever for the bucket”) is a late derivation from this term. See G. Dalman, Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina, 2:225-28.

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