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

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Wed Jul 6 15:55:58 EDT 2005


Peter:

Even magnetism is not a good answer. Good permenant magnets were largely unknown before about the 1930s, and even compas needles needed to be constantly renewed (using a lodestone) at the time of Columbus and other early European explorers as the metal could not maintain its magnetism. Any metal worked by blacksmithing will have no magnetism. (Most modern permenant magnets are more properly metalic ceramics, or non-metalic ceramics or plastics with metals mixed into them, than regular metals.)

Sharpening, on the other hand, can have steel sharpening steel. The reason for it is differences in tempering. Cutting edges, such as axes and knives, hard temporing is not desirable, as hard steel is also brittle. Particularly axes, if they are brittle, will break when used to cut down a tree. Knives used in cooking will also run into the same problem to a lesser degree. The softer tempering does not hold an edge as well as a hard tempered steel. However, chisels used in stone work and files can be tempored very hard: the stone chisel because it can be made fat to counteract for its brittleness, and a file because it is not used in impact situations. While a woodsman’s preferred tool for sharpening his ax is a special stone, when he wants to travel lightly, he will often bring a file (steel) instead for sharpening. Similarly, I expect you have seen in cooking where the chef swipes his knife along a rod of steel? That too is sharpening. While it is not as effective as using a stone, the steel does not dirty up the knife so that the knife can be used immediately after sharpening, and if the swiping is done often throughout the day, a satisfactory edge can be maintained. Steel sharpening steel.

But even “soft” tempering of steel results in a harder, sharper edge than bronze, which is why tempered steel is the reason for the “iron age”. Iron that is not steeled is a very inferior material for almost all uses.

Now the question is, how does a man sharpen the face of his neighbor? I understand it that in personal interaction, a person, as his neighbor bounces ideas off of him, can point out weaknesses in an argument, challenge assumptions and all in all sharpen his neighbor’s outlook. This is not physical, but spiritual and mental.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>

> 
> On 05/07/2005 21:38, Karl Randolph wrote:
> 
> > 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.
> >
> >
> 
> 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)
> http://www.qaya.org/

-- 
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