Saturday, June 25, 2011

Proverbs 14 Series, a Postscript

In the preface to this series of posts on Proverbs 14, I said that - among the universal sayings of all that we call proverbs - the very first one I remember hearing is Proverbs 14:29.  In this postscript, may I share with you my very favorite?  As I get ready to do that, I wonder very much how you have read the Proverbs for yourself.  Are you finding that they give you wisdom?  that they guide you?  that they are foreign sounding or are familiar?  or both?  Do they allow you, require you, to read pop psychology into them, as blogger CD-Host comments here (i.e., "I don't like reading pop psychology into the bible, except in books like Proverbs where it can't be avoided.")?  Can you read them and hear them alongside the other proverbs you've heard growing up or that you speak now to children around you growing up?  How different are they for grown ups?  Do they apply more to women than to men or the other way around?  Are they gendered?  Theological?  These questions are ones I have for you and are maybe ones you also have for yourself or for others like me.

For the series here, we asked other questions, some together:
Part I - What's with the womanly imagery in the very first proverb?

Part II - So what's the right way to read Proverbs 14:12?  What way seems right to my evangelical Christian missionary father, to SBC men today?  But what's its end?

Part III - What are the benefits to reading Proverbs 14:32 and 14:33 and 14:34 in both Hebrew and Hellene side by side?

Part V - What differences and similarities can we see between the Hebrew and the Greek of Proverbs when translated literally and individually into 19th-century English?

Part V - How does Proverbs 14:3 in both Hebraic Greek and Hebrew turn the tables on the binary structure of Aristotle's masculinist logic?

Part VI - What's the gender of Proverbs 14 read in English translation in 2011?

Part VII - How can one appreciate Proverbs 14 for its ancient Hebrew poetry?  Does one first need to become one of the "Old Testament scholars" (i.e. a "Biblia Hebraica scholar")?
My favorite proverb of the Hebrew Proverbs is 14:10.  It defies our attempts at conversation about it through blogging or even through our talking together face to face.  It makes us wonder, as we listen to John Balaban's English translation (reading page 25) of a confession by Hồ Xuân Hương; it makes us wonder whether she really is all alone or whether we can feel so much with her.  So listen to her second confession:
Confession (II)

Before dawn, the watch drum rumbles.
Lonely pink face among mountains and streams

addled but alert with a cup of fragrant wine
as the moon sets, just a sliver not yet full.

Moss seems to creep across the earth's face.
Stony peaks pierce the belly of the clouds.

Sick with sadness, spring passes, spring returns.
A bit of love shared, just the littlest bit.
Now back to the Hebrew proverb as Robert Alter brings it to us in our English:
The heart knows its own bitterness,
and in its joy no stranger mingles.
And, on this, we imagine the Hebrew proverb writer composing in her room, and then the copyists and editors all talking about including this set of verses in the whole of the collection of the Proverbs, and then the translator in Alexandria - in Egypt again - choosing clear or tricky Greek words, and now Alter in his office at his computer screen translating and writing in our English, as we here at our screens read (some together, and yet, absolutely alone perhaps with God alone):
Though some of these proverbs may give the impression of the rehearsal of rote learning, many others ... are arresting not just because of the concise poetic wit but also because they appear to derive from shrewd and considered reflection on moral behavior and human nature and sometimes from introspection as well.  If some of these maxims may seem too pat one is startled to come across this proverb:  "The heart knows its own bitterness, / and in its joy no stranger mingles" (14:10).  The book as a whole, after all, works on the assumption that knowledge and experience are eminently transmissible and teachable and that everyone draws on the same fund of set moral principles.  In this instance, however, the anthologists [of proverbs for The Proverbs] have included a very different perception -- that each person's experience is ultimately incommensurable, that one's inward sorrows and delights have no adequate reflection in the lexicon of the social realm.  Occasionally, despite the general adherence of the collection to moral certitude, one encounters a proverb that registers the stubborn ambiguity of human experience, as in this densely packed line:  "like water face to face / thus the heart of man to man" (27:19).  The first verset evidently means to say that water gives back a person his own reflected image, and so the second verset would seem to assert that a man may know the heart of another by pondering what is in his own heart.  But water, after all, is an unstable mirror, its surface liable to be troubled by wind or tide, its chromatic layers darkening or transforming the image, and hence the reflection of heart to heart may be a tricky or undependable business.  [pages 189 - 90]

No comments: