[b-hebrew] Iron sharpeneth iron? (Prov. 27:17)

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Jul 5 16:38:24 EDT 2005


Peter:

Having done some blacksmithing as well as other metal work, I now know why welding was rare and uncertain before the invention of the arc welder. All the welding I have done is with the arc welder.

The only other form of using a steel rod while welding is while using a torch that can put a focused flame to melt the steel only in a very limited area adding extra steel from a rod so that the metal flows together into one.

Welding in blacksmithing takes the two pieces to be welded, heats them both to white hot, just short of melting, then quickly transfer both pieces to the anvil and quickly pound them with a sledge hammer. The sudden extra pressure heats the metal past the melting point and the two pieces flow together, if you are lucky. Boy the sparks do fly! It takes a crew of three to do it correctly. I have seen it done only once, and that in a crowd of blacksmiths who were having fun watching this rare event.

Part of my discomfort with translating the first half of Proverbs 27:17 with the idea of joining is that it does not sound like blacksmithing. However, it does fit the sharpening idea quite well, something I have also done. But now you can criticize that now I am reading my experience as a metal worker back into how I understand the passage.

(One of my criticisms of most lexicographers is their limited experiences. How many have tracked a deer through the woods (though I with a camera) or put their hand to a plow? I still have a scythe. Have you ever tasted wheat when it has just ripened but still soft on the stalk? Delicious! Or how about fresh milk, still warm in the bucket after milking the cow? Store boughten stuff is insipid after that. How many have hammered a hot piece of steel into shape over an anvil or watched the curl of metal come off in a lathe? How many have put sheet metal into a brake and then joined the folds together while tin smithing? What about sweating pipes while plumbing? I have done construction in stone and wood, as well as cabinet making. How many have carved fancy shapes in wood? Don’t even bring up cloth making and sewing. Most lexicographers have specialized in linguistics, while the language was used in the fields and forests, workshops and markets where fancy linguistic hairsplitting is irrelevant.) Now back to the verse.

I noticed that the two cases where YXD is used, YXD is not alone, but once with “in”, the other time “with”. Such a helper word is lacking in the second half of the verse. In the first half, it may be possible to translate “Iron is joined by (means of) iron” where the instrumental use of the prefix B- provides the helping word for YXD, but then there is no corresponding parallelism in the second half of the verse. Even the instrumental use is problematic as rivet making and setting is a (now largely lost) art, much of it done historically with bronze or copper rivets, if not joining through soldering with copper or tin. The locative use of the B- prefix here does not make sense from a blacksmithing point of view.

Now we have possible verbs: XDD with the idea of grinding or sharpening, XDH encouraging, XWD asking a didactic question often in the form of a riddle and YXD being together with. Each word is used as a verb fewer than ten times in Tanakh, most fewer than five. Therefore any statement will have to be only tentative, one can not state definitely how this verse is read. I personally find the joining idea raising more questions than answers, while the sharpening idea gives a clean reading. You are free to disagree with me.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>
> 
> On 04/07/2005 22:57, Karl Randolph wrote:
> 
> > Luke:
> >
> > I hate to throw water on you, but .....
> >
> 
> > YXD as a verb occures only twice (there is a third time listed in 
> > the concordance, but that is questionable) Genesis 49:6 and 
> > Isaiah 14:20. Both cases have grammatical constructs connected 
> > with the verb: in Genesis it mentions the locative sense (in 
> > their assembly) and in Isaiah the word “with”. Such a grammatical 
> > construct is lacking in both uses in Proverbs 27. While that is 
> > not proof against your friend’s understanding, it does weaken it.
> >
> >
> 
> Karl, I don't know quite what you mean by "grammatical constructs" 
> here. Not apparently what is usually called the construct state. In 
> Genesis 49:6 there is a sentence with a subject KBDY, no direct 
> object, but a locative adverbial QHLM introduced with B-. In Isaiah 
> 14:20 the construction is similar except that the second person 
> subject is incorporated into the verb, the locative adverbial with 
> B- is QBWRH, and there is an additional adverbial of accompaniment 
> )TM "with them", hence "you will not be united to a grave with 
> them". And in Proverbs 27:17 the construction is identical in the 
> first half verse: subject BRZL, locative adverbial BRZL again with 
> B-; in the second half verse the subject is )Y$, but B- is omitted 
> before the locative adverbial PNY-R(HW is introduced, presumably 
> for stylistic reasons and perhaps because the combination BPNY 
> usually has connotations of hostility which are inappropriate here.
> 
> So I see no reason in the grammatical construction to rule out the 
> verb YXD here. It is the Masoretic pointing which rules it out, as 
> I pointed out before, for the verb YXD could not have patah in the 
> first syllable (which is stressed), implying that this is not a 
> verb at all but the adverb YAXAD "together". But oddly I cannot 
> find a case of YAXAD, or the similar YAXDAW, with an adverbial 
> meaning "together with".
> 
> > The second word in the Proverb, BBRZL can either be a locative 
> > use, or instrumental. Seeing as iron, unlike an assembly, is a 
> > solid, the locative use is pretty much ruled out, ...
> >
> 
> This simply doesn't follow. It is quite possible to be joined or 
> united with a solid - as has been suggested before, by magnetism or 
> welding, or all kinds of other means of fixing two solid objects 
> together.
> 
> > ... leaving the instrumental. If the verb has the meaning of to 
> > join, where is the instrumental in the parallelism of the second 
> > half of the proverb? ...
> >
> 
> Why does there have to be an instrumental? There is no instrumental 
> in Genesis 49:6 or Isaiah 14:20.
> 
> > ... An implied instrumental use is there if the meaning of 
> > sharpen is used. Again that weakens your friend’s understanding.
> >
> > The other two verbs don’t make any sense when used in this context.
> >
> > While I am being cautious not to claim that your friend’s 
> > understanding is ruled out, I find it weaker than when the verb 
> > to sharpen is used.
> >
> >
> 
> Well, I tried to do a similar analysis for the meaning "sharpen", 
> the verb XDD (or possibly XDH). If you are taking Proverbs 27:17 as 
> Qal, the only other occurrence of the verb is in Habakkuk 1:8, and 
> there is no instrumental adverbial there. The Hophal is found only 
> at Ezekiel 21:14,15,16, and again no instrumental adverbial. These 
> are the only occurrences, except for the doubtful Proverbs 27:17. 
> So your proposal that this is the verb in the Proverbs verse is by 
> your own criteria seriously weakened (but not ruled out), because 
> it is a unique construction of XDD (or XDH) with an explicit 
> instrument.
> 
> Perhaps the root XWD makes sense here after all, for clearly this is a riddle!
> 
> -- Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/

-- 
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