[b-hebrew] Ecclesiastes 7:7

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Dec 18 18:45:23 EST 2007

On Dec 14, 2007 4:18 PM, Ron Snider wrote:
> I am looking at the last portion of Ecclesiastes 7:7, and wonder on how
> many occasions any of you are familiar with a masculine noun being used
> with a feminine subject.  A number of commentators state that it is not
> unusual, but they provide no examples.  I know that grammatical gender
> does not always match in the Greek and am inclined to think it is true
> in the Hebrew also.  If anyone has some examples that come to mind, I
> would appreciate any responses.

The rather recent BHQ has a long commentary on this verse.
It notes three oddities:
1) The word "mtnh" is feminine used with a masculine verb "vy)bd"
2) The complement introduced with ")t" lies between the subject and verb
3) The word lb lacks the definite article.
While all three are possible, the fact that all of these appear together
suggests the reading of the verse is wrong.  Nevertheless, one of the
key words is transliterated by Jerome as MATTHANA, so already by
his time this was the vocalization.

BHQ provides two main proposals for resolving the verse.  I actually like
the second of the two better.  This particular solution follows Midrash
Qohelet which reads, "vy)bd )t lb mtnh, it is written mtwnh, if Moses had
kept calm."  Driver in BHK suggested reading this as a corrupted form of
mtnm (following Pirke Avot, hww mtwnym bdyn - "be circumspect in
judgement").  I dislike mtnm because such spelling -- while common in
Iron Age inscriptions is rather rare in the Bible and also because Qohelet
is generally dated later to the Greek period.  However, I think it is possible
to read mtwn, and viewing the Midrash Qohelet form "mtwnh" as a
conflate of "mtwn" and "mtnh."  With "mtwn," the verse reads:
For extortion makes the wise man foolish,
  and ruins the mind of the restrained.
This reading restores a perfect parallelism in the verse, is consistent
with everything we know about Qohelet's spelling, and even has some
basis in the reading of Midrash Qohelet.  I might also note, following
the recent discussion here on vocalization, that we see that a change
of vocalization was reflected in a change in spelling of the consonantal
text (from "mtwn" to "mtnh").  I translated lb = mind because this is
probably the intention of the verse, where the heart was believed to
contain the mind.

The first solution proposed by BHQ is to read mtnh as "his vigor."
BHQ provides Deut 33:11, Ez 21:11, Job 40:16, and Nah 2:2 as
additional examples where a reading "vigor" can be accepted for
mtn, esp Deut 33:11 where "strength" appears in a parallelism.

Other solutions include: mtnh as an adjective of lb, "calm, restrained"
and lb read as feminine as in Prov 12:25

Reading mtnh "poise, self control" as antonym to mhrh "haste".

Reading "y)bd )t lb" as an expression related to "ytn )l lbw" of Ecc 7:2,
and mtnh as something other than "gift."

Yitzhak Sapir

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