Prov 23:7—”To Think” or “To Serve Food”? An Exegetical Note -- By: Kenneth L. Barker
MSJ 5:2 (Fall 94) p. 203
Prov 23:7—”To Think” or “To Serve Food”?
An Exegetical Note
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7, KJV). When a familiar Hebrew proverb has, in turn, become as proverbial in the English language as this one has (thanks to the KJV), one is reluctant to tamper with it. Yet the key word, the verb שָׁעַר (s̆̆āʿar, “to think”), has long been a crux interpretum. What I wish to do in this note is delineate how lexicons, translations, and commentaries have analyzed and interpreted this passage, and then suggest some possible semantic light from the cognate language Ugaritic.
The Brown, Driver, and Briggs lexicon assigns the meaning “calculate, reckon” to s̆̆āʿar in Prov 23:7—translating it, “as he has calculated in his soul, so is he”—but hastens to add that this meaning is dubious.2 The reason for the uncertainty is that this nuance is unattested elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. The suggested meaning is from late, post-biblical Hebrew (Piel stem) and Jewish Aramaic (Pael stem) usage—”put a valuation on, estimate”—and from the late Aramaic noun (from the same root) meaning “interest, market price.”3 The Arabic cognate to the latter is a loanword from Aramaic. BDB also indicates that the ostensibly related noun שַׁעַר (s̆̆aʿar) occurs in Gen 26:12 with
MSJ 5:2 (Fall 94) p. 204
the meaning “measure,” supposedly developed from an original meaning of “reckoning.” There “a hundredfold” renders the ultimate sense of “a hundred measures.”
It is helpful to note the renderings of the major ancient translations of Prov 23:7. Obviously, they too struggled with the meaning:
LXX: “For as if one should swallow a hair, so he eats and drinks” (apparently reading עָר [śēʿār, “hair”] instead of You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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