By JR on Saturday, September 04, 2010
Solomon the Wise was much inclined to proverbs and, as a consequence, the Book of Proverbs in the Bible is usually attributed to him. And I have no doubt that some of the better proverbs there were indeed his work.
But there are also proverbs in that most unusual book of the Bible: Ecclesiastes. And I think the attribution of that book to Solomon is not in serious dispute.
Chapter 10 of Ecclesiastes contains a rapid-fire sequence of proverbs and one that has amused me lately is in verse 2. The NIV translates it, perhaps mischievously as:
"The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left."
It would be tempting to take that as a political statement and I do in fact put it up in the sidebar of my DISSECTING LEFTISM blog for a bit of fun. In fact, of course, Solomon was writing around 3,000 years before political divisions came to be referred to in Right/Left terms
So what does it mean? Probably the most literal translation from the Hebrew is: "The heart of the wise is at his right hand but the heart of the stupid is at his left hand". And the King James and the Geneva Bible versions render it along those lines too.
So what does it mean? The meaning is certainly obscure today so I thought I might look up how it was interpreted a couple of hundred years before Christ in the Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek done by 70 devout Jewish scholars in Alexandria). But it looks like they were no wiser than anybody else. They translated the Hebrew word for "heart" quite routinely as kardia, right as dexios and left as aristeros, which tells us nothing new.
I have looked at a number of other translations in the search for light and I have also consulted my extensive library of Bible commentaries without finding much either. So I suppose it is time to offer my own tentative suggestion: I suspect that it means that a wise man goes by reason whereas a fool goes by emotion. And, by coincidence, that is a pretty good summary of the difference between the political Right and Left of modern times.
How do I justify that translation? Only on rather vague grounds, unfortunately: It has long been a tradition in human societies, ancient and modern, to use "left" in a derogatory way. The Latin word for left is sinister and we all know what that word means today. And reason has always had a better reputation than emotion. Not a strong case but at least it makes SOME sense.
Someone might argue, however, that Hebrew is written from right to left, which suits left-handed people best and the tribe of Benjamin is praised in the Bible for its left-handed warriors (though the Septuagint translates them as ambidextrous warriors). So one could argue that Left-handedness was not viewed so negatively in Hebrew. To argue that is to lose sight of the text at issue, however. Solomon clearly associated left-handedness with fools.
Curiously, however, the ancient Greeks seem to have had a positive view of Left-handers. aristeros is a variant of aristos, meaning "best".
I write above from the viewpoint of a textual scholar but a religious person might reasonably see the matter quite differently. If such a person believes that the Bible was written by God, who is all-knowing, he could well see the text as a prophetic warning from God to avoid the political Left of today -- JR