Ecclesiastes 10:1New English Translation (NET Bible)
10 One dead fly[a] makes the perfumer’s ointment give off a rancid stench,[b] so a little folly can outweigh[c] much wisdom.[d]
Ecclesiastes 10:1tnHeb “flies of death.” The plural form of “flies” (זְבוּבֵי, zevuve) may be taken as a plural of number (“dead flies”) or a distributive plural referring to one little fly (“one dead fly”). The singular form of the following verb and the parallelism support the latter: “one little fly…so a little folly.”
Ecclesiastes 10:1tn The verb בָּאַשׁ (baʾash) means “to cause to stink; to turn rancid; to emit a stinking odor” (e.g., Exod 16:24; Ps 38:6; Eccl 10:1); see HALOT 107 s.v. באשׁ 1; BDB 93 s.v. בָּאַשׁ. It is related to the noun בְּאשׁ (beʾosh, “stench”; Isa 34:3; Joel 2:20; Amos 4:10); cf. HALOT 107 s.v. באשׁ; BDB 93 s.v. בְּאשׁ. The verbal root נבע means “to ferment” or “to emit; to pour out; to bubble; to belch forth; to cause to gush forth” (HALOT 665 s.v. נבע; BDB 615 s.v. נָבַע). The two terms יַבְאִישׁ יַבִּיעַ (yavʾish yabbiaʿ, “to stink” and “to ferment”) create a hendiadys: a figurative expression in which two terms are used to connote one idea: “makes a rancid stench.” Several versions treat this as a hendiadys (Old Greek, Symmachus, Targum, Vulgate); however, the Syriac treats them as separate verbs. Most translations treat these as a hendiadys: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor” (KJV); “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink” (NASB); “dead flies give perfume a bad smell” (NIV); “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off an evil odor” (RSV); Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor” (NRSV); “Dead flies cause a perfumer’s perfume to send forth a stink” (YLT); “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor” (NRSV). Others render both separately: “Dead flies make the perfumer’s sweet ointment rancid and ferment” (NEB); “Dead flies turn the perfumer’s ointment fetid and putrid” (NJPS).
Ecclesiastes 10:1tnHeb “carries more weight than”; or “is more precious than.” The adjective יָקָר (yaqar) denotes “precious; valuable; costly” (HALOT 432 s.v. יָקָר 2) or “weighty; influential” (BDB 430 s.v. יָקָר 4). The related verb denotes “to carry weight,” that is, to be influential (HALOT 432 s.v. יָקָר 2). The idea is not that a little folly is more valuable than much wisdom, but that a little folly can have more influence than great wisdom. It only takes one little mistake to ruin a life of great wisdom. The English versions understand it this way: “so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor” (NASB); “so a little folly outweighs massive wisdom” (NJPS); “so a little folly outweighs an abundance of wisdom” (MLB); “so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (RSV, NRSV, NIV); “so can a little folly make wisdom lose its worth” (NEB); “so a little folly annuls great wisdom” (ASV); “a single slip can ruin much that is good” (NAB); “so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor” (KJV). The LXX rendered the line rather freely: “a little wisdom is more precious than great glory of folly.” This does not accurately represent the Hebrew syntax.sn Qoheleth creates a wordplay by using two Hebrew words for social honor or influence: “weighty” = honorable (יָקָר, yaqar) and “heavy” = honor (כָּבוֹד, kavod).
Ecclesiastes 10:1tn The MT reads מֵחָכְמָה מִכָּבוֹד (mekhokhmah mikkavod, “more than wisdom, more than honor”), but several medieval Hebrew mss read מֵחָכְמָה וּמִכָּבוֹד (mekhokhmah umikkavod, “more than wisdom and honor”). However the textual problem is resolved, the two nouns form a hendiadys: two terms joined by vav that describe one concept. The first noun retains its full nominal sense, while the second functions adjectivally: “heavy wisdom” or better, “great wisdom.”
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