Saturday, February 9, 2019

Qohelet 12:5-8 Another comparison

There are more bits in the symposium that allow me to see some of Alter's work. Here is a section from a favorite book - Qohelet aka Ecclesiastes.

“And the almond blossoms, / and the locust tree is laden, / and the caper fruit falls apart. / For man is going to his everlasting house, / and the mourners turn round in the market. / Until the silver cord is snapped, / and the golden bowl is smashed, / and the pitcher is broken against the well, / and the jug smashed at the pit. / And dust returns to the earth as it was, / and the life-breath returns to God Who gave it. / Merest breath, said Qohelet. All is mere breath”

These verses are midway through chapter 12, verse 5 to the end of verse 8.

This section of the symposium on Alter's translation is from David Bentley Hart.

I too love the phrasing in the KJV, the pitcher broken at the fountain. Unfortunately, it does not obey my rules. 

Here is what I did with the chapter to verse 8, putting in a bit more for context. Notice the repetition of while - see below how the music ties the passage together grammatically using that phrase.

1 Remember your creator in the days of your prime, while evil days have not yet come or years touch that you say, There is no delight in them for me.
2~ While the sun is not darkened, or the light or the moon or the stars, and the thick clouds return after the showers.
3 In the day that the keepers quaver inside, and personal ability is subverted, and the grinders are idle for they are few and the seers in the slits are sooty.
4 And the portals are latched in the souk. Abased is the voice of the grinding, and one arises at the voice of the bird and all the daughters of the song are depressed.
5B Even from aloft they fear, and dismay is in the way, and the almond is spurned, and the grasshopper is burdened, and appetite is without effect, for the earthling walks to his obscure house, and those who wail circle in the souk.
6B While the pledge of silver is not distant or the golden globe splintered, or pitcher broken at the font, or the tumbleweed splintered by the pit,
7 And the dust returns upon the earth as it was, and the wind returns to this God who gave her.
8 An utter futility, touts the Qohelet, total futility. 

John Hobbins I know was not in agreement with my use of futility for הבל. We had some somewhat futile discussions about it years ago. (It is the same stem as Abel.) Alter's choice is not breath. It is mere breath. He has a point about the abstract aspect of futility. But all is not concrete in the ancient world. They have both concrete stories and abstractions about them just like we do.

I am glad to see this phrase mere breath but I tend to skip adjectives if I read too quickly. I also regard a composite gloss as weaker in English than a single word mapping, but I do allow them. So even if I don't like his choice, it obeys my rules. But I am too fond of my alliterative t's in the style of Dr Seuss.

When I read breath, I hear נשׁם. I also use breathe for the rare חוה (close in sound but not in letters to הבל). This last stem חוה also has homonyms, municipality and of course Eve.

So Adam, humus, and Eve, breathe, gave birth to futility. Think climate change. Will that first Adam survive in this garden?

Now about Alter's reading interpretation. The almond does not blossom (צוץ) for me but is spurned (נאץ). Blossom would be counter to the parallels - each of which describes a falling apart. Laden is fine. I didn't use that English archaism except once for lade the stem טען in Gen 45:17, preserving the hapax. That stem occurs a second time for stab. (Isaiah 14:19).

Is it a locust tree that is laden? Or the caterpillar (KJV) that is burdened? חגב is always grasshopper (6 times) for me. I distinguished grasshopper from

(חסל). Is it a jug? גלגל is a frequent stem indicating whirlwind (9), tumbleweed (3), Gilgal (39), or skull (3 times). I used jug for another hapax in 2 Kings 4:2. I think the triple parallel of broken vessels works. It's just not what I have read in the passage.

Caper-fruit? For me that is the break down of appetite or consent. (One loses one's taste and desire for food.) And souk is more direct שׁוק (even sounds the same in Hebrew), than market (ערב). I note that pitcher has no article in the Hebrew. The font is not a well (באר). Whether בוע is a font is another question. I cannot use fountain (קור). It's the trouble with keeping stems separate and finding English equivalents.

Note the threefold recurrence of עד אשׁר (while) in verses 1 to 6. The ornament beginning verse 2 clearly ties it to verse 1. The B beginning verse 6 ties that verse to the opening phrase of the chapter.
There's more in the music than rhythm and tone. There is also coherence.

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