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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Jun 29 18:48:42 EDT 2005

On 29/06/2005 21:18, B. M. Rocine wrote:

>Hi Luke, you wrote:
>>The Hebrew sentence in question, without the vowels, is as follows: -
>>brzl bbrzl yhd w'yš yhd pny r'hw
>>The dispute is over the vowel points in Hebrew word that's translated
>>traditionally as 'sharpens', or possibly as 'united'. Without the
>>vowel points the Hebrew word is '  yhd  ', I think (sorry if that's
>>not how the MCW puts it).
>Actually, I don't see what vowels have to do with it.  Even with the vowels 
>as in the BHS, the word is ambiguous, meaning "together" or "it (he) 
A closer look shows that there is no ambiguity in BHS. The vowels of the 
first occurrence are ambiguous, but the accent, on the first syllable of 
YAXAD, in both cases implies the adverb (originally a noun) "together", 
with a retracted "segholate" accent, rather than a verb, which would 
always be stressed on the last syllable. Also the second occurrence is 
vocalised with two patahs, which implies the adverb, rather than with 
qamats and patah as for the verb. The first occurrence has qamets and 
patah because the stressed patah has changed to qamets "in pause" i.e. 
on the major sentence accent, by a regular rule. So the Masoretic text 
unambiguously rules out a verb form here, and strongly suggests the 
adverb "together". And this makes sense if we consider the force of 
magnetism, which indeed unites pieces of iron in a way comparable to 
close friendship - a rather more appropriate image than welding, in my 

On the other hand, the LXX OXUNEI and PAROXUNEI "sharpens" suggests a 
reading as a verb form. But this could well be one of the many places 
where the LXX translators misunderstood the Hebrew.

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

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