Sparks, birds, or pestilence? 
Posted: 07 November 2013 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]
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At LH, I’ve posted about the famous Bible quote “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7) and my discovery that the Hebrew רשׁף בני benēy reshep, ‘the sons of flame,’ has been interpreted as both sparks and (vulture) birds, and in the most up-to-date commentary I can find as pestilence (see my post for details).  It occurs to me that our resident Biblical scholars might have some useful input, so I’m bringing the mystery here: what exactly is it that flies upward?

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Posted: 07 November 2013 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s a bird!

It’s a plague!

It’s ... the Human Torch?

(sorry)

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Posted: 08 November 2013 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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What, no Biblical scholars in town?

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Posted: 09 November 2013 12:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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languagehat - 08 November 2013 03:48 PM

What, no Biblical scholars in town?

Perhaps I’m not understanding your question, but it seems that Job’s allegory states that men are naturally prone to mischief just as sparks from a fire naturally move upward.

“It is people who breed trouble for themselves as surely as eagles fly to the height.” The New Jerusalem Bible

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Posted: 09 November 2013 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The Vulgate reads:

homo ad laborem nascitur et avis ad volatum (Man is born to labor and the bird to flight).

Laborem can be translated as “hardship, suffering” rather than “labor,” but the bird is a significant change.

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Posted: 09 November 2013 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Perhaps I’m not understanding your question, but it seems that Job’s allegory states that men are naturally prone to mischief just as sparks from a fire naturally move upward.

My question was: is it sparks, birds, pestilence, or something else, and how come the same Hebrew phrase (it’s apparently not a matter of different texts) can be interpreted so differently?  Sorry, I thought that was clear.

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Posted: 09 November 2013 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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My question was: is it sparks, birds, pestilence, or something else, and how come the same Hebrew phrase (it’s apparently not a matter of different texts) can be interpreted so differently?

You no doubt saw this Gensius effort to deal with the complexities of this phrase. If I read this correctly, he is suggesting that it is poetic transference of meaning from a word that means fire in it’s various forms (coals, flames, sparks, lightening) to “ravenous birds flying with the rapidity of lightening.” You note that the Barnes Notes on the Bible considers that formulation “strange” but why? Same with pestilence in which the body seems consumed with fire.

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Posted: 10 November 2013 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Thanks, that’s helpful.  I guess it seems odd to me that after a couple thousand years of commentary and study of Hebrew, there’s still no consensus about what the phrase means, but you’re right, all the interpretations are unproblematically derived from the basic sense.

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