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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue Jul 5 18:32:02 EDT 2005

On 05/07/2005 21:38, Karl Randolph wrote:

>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.

It was not me who suggested that the verse is about welding. I mentioned 
it as one among a number of possibilities. My favourite is magnetism, of 
course something which applies to iron but not the more common bronze. 
But I like your suggestion of the importance of having experience in the 
relevant field, or drawing on the direct experience of those who have, 
rather than imagining what might have happened.

>I noticed that the two cases where YXD is used, YXD is not alone, but once with “in”, the other time “with”. ...

Well, twice with B-, once also with )ET ("with"). But none of these are 
instrumental. I think this is sufficient to rule out an instrumental 
sense of B- with this verb.

>... 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.

Perhaps not, but it does if magnetism is in 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.
I do. The idea of sharpening iron with iron simply doesn't make sense. 
Nor does the idea of one person sharpening another - although I know 
preachers through the centuries have invented a number of imaginative 
interpretations of this.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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