Like other ancient cultures in the region, the Jews delighted in creating and reciting saying encapsulating their concepts of wisdom. Though some Hebrew proverbs are distinctively Jewish, others strongly resemble the sayings of their neighbors. Indeed, it has been argued that one collection in the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible (22:17-24:22) is a fairly straightforward adaptation of an Egyptian collection called The Wisdom of Amenemophis. Some proverbs are pious, others express a more worldly wisdom. They are among the most vivid and pointed of the works contained in the Writings.

What attitudes toward charity are expressed in these proverbs?

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love. (1)

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads, (2)
and the Lord will reward you.

Whoever blesses a neighbor with a loud voice,
rising early in the morning,
will be counted as cursing. (3)

New Revised Standard Version

(1) This lovely but seldom-quoted proverb seems to express a typically modern demand for the open expression of positive emotions. Rebuking someone is bad; but it is worse to love someone and not tell him or her.

(2) It has been suggested that carrying a pan of hot coals on the head was a form of penance for sin. The meaning of the proverb would then be that when you forgive those who have wronged young you will make them feel painfully guilty. The best revenge is no revenge. Compare this proverb with the attitude expressed toward enemies above, in Exodus 23:4-5.

(3) Clearly the speaker likes to sleep in!


This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Publishing.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:

Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

Reading About the World is now out of print. You can search for used copies using the following information:Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-567425-0 or Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 2, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-512826-4.

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