Men And Manners - Studies In Life From Jewish Proverbs

Men And Manners - Studies In Life From Jewish Proverbs

Men And Manners

Students of the Old Testament do not require to be told that the universalism of the Book of Proverbs is a remarkable fact. But even those whose knowledge of Jewish history is not exact, and who have not made a comparative study of the post-exilic writings, need have no difficulty in perceiving how strange it is, if they will give the briefest consideration to the following points. Just how free are these sayings from indications of the national aspirations or religious peculiarities of the Jews? Never once in the whole Book of Proverbs is mention made of Israel or of any synonym for Israel!

Not a word is said of the nation’s past history or present fears and hopes; the word “prophet” never once occurs, although the influence of prophetic teaching is frequently manifest; Priests, Levites, Temple and even Jerusalem are absolutely ignored; “sacrifice” is mentioned four times in disparagement; To do justice and judgement is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (Pr. 213; cp. 158; 17{1{(mg)}}; 2127): and “offerings” once incidentally: I have peaceofferings with me (Pr. 714). Even the divinely appointed Law is passed silently by; it is neither commended nor condemned. True, the word “law” is often found in Proverbs, but the law which men are there bidden to observe is not the precepts, ritual or moral, of the great Pentateuch, not the Law of Moses, but the doctrine laid down by the Sage and his confrêres!

Ben Sirach differs from the Sages represented in Proverbs to this extent that once or twice he identifies the Law of Moses with the Divine Wisdom, and asserts that Wisdom has chosen Zion for her resting-place. Otherwise his book has precisely the same broadly humanistic and super-national character.

Clearly one need not be an expert in Jewish history to see that all this is startling; but it seems little less than astounding as soon as it is brought into comparison with the passionate patriotism and religious exclusiveness that characterise other books of the Old Testament, not only those that set forth the Law, but also such prophecies as Isaiah 40-66, or again the Psalms. For example, contrast the ecclesiastical version of Israel’s history given in the Books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, which in its present form is the work of a Levite of Jerusalem writing about 350-250 B.C., i.e., at the very period of this Wisdom preaching. A glance will show that the narrative of the Chronicler is consistently intended to set forth the praises and virtues of the holy city, Jerusalem, and its inhabitants, the true “Israel.” From first to last his work burns with national devotion, and the events of history are by him so related as to make prominent the honours due to the divine Law of Moses, wherein he sees the nation’s eternal hope and sure defence. Greater contrast there could scarcely be.

The seeming indifference of Proverbs and Ben Sirach would be explained if the Sages had been irreligious or mere worldly-wise men, contemptuous of altruistic, national sentiment. But their doctrine is in no way anti-national: there is absolutely no whisper of polemic against Judaism or even depreciation of its special tenets. Neither were they irreligious; that is quite certain. Although on the surface there is no warm glow of religious zeal, again and again “the fear of Jehovah,” said they, “is the foundation of Wisdom.” The Sages, at least the majority of them, were respectable, earnest, and God-fearing Jews. It seems to the present writer psychologically incredible to suppose that such persons in Jerusalem of 300-200 B.C. were, in their heart of hearts, unmoved by the extraordinary distinctive sentiments of their race. Why then the apparent apathy shown in their proverbs?

It is true that a taste for aphoristic ethical teaching was manifesting itself at this period in various countries besides Judæa, and that such moralistic teaching always tends to be cosmopolitan, but we find therein no adequate explanation of the astonishing facts just mentioned. It is more to the point to follow up a hint suggested by the conversation of the two Wise-men depicted in the preceding chapter. Hellenism seemed to be in the ascendant, as no observant person in Jerusalem of the third century could fail to perceive; equally, no sober-minded pietist of the old school could be blind to its demoralising tendencies, and no patriot fail to dread its disintegrating effect on Judaism. How to encounter the insidious and attractive force that threatened the overthrow not only of Jewish nationality but of Jewish virtue: that was the problem for every loyal Jew.

The Priests and Levites of the Law of Moses were fighting the foe in one way. The Wise had chanced on another weapon for the fray. In the old, common-sense maxims of their fathers, which being rooted in Israel’s religious faith and enriched by the ethical idealism of the great prophets presented a general moral standard, or at least a moral ardour, clearly superior to the normal tone of the neighbouring Hellenic cities, the Wise perceived they had an instrument for countering the peril on its more mundane side. Their duty was to teach men that in order to get on in life it was not necessary, even in the clamorous confident Hellenic atmosphere, to fling morality overboard and laugh at the fear of Jehovah.

To suppose that all, or even the majority, of the Wise-men consciously formulated this point of view is of course not essential: many of them may have been actuated by an instinctive rather than a reasoned antagonism to the spirit of the age. The point is that, viewing the teaching of wisdom on the one part and the circumstances of the period on the other, this is the rôle the Wise in actual fact fulfilled. Now it is evident that the nature of the work presented to them was such as to make the advocacy of nationalism or even of the duty of conformity to the Law somewhat irrelevant for them. It was for others to enjoin these things. The Wise kept to their own path. Broad-minded yet loyal Jews, they were engaged on a task that happened to be naturally independent of the ritual injunctions of the Law and of any immediate political concerns. It was their business to urge morality, and to be very practical in so doing; to tell men how to get on and not be blackguards; to persuade men that the wages of sin is not victory but death—a noble task, however matter-of-fact the means they used for its achievement.

We believe, then, that the universalism of these proverbs is to be explained chiefly as the mark of the Wise-men’s ability to keep to the point, not as evidence either of lack of patriotism or of indifference to the national faith. They were speaking to the heart on the common things of daily life that men of all races necessarily share with one another. Consequently—perhaps without their knowing or intending it—what they said transcended time and country. It was none the less work for their people. As we hope to show later, there is good reason to believe that the plain, common-sense morality of the Wise preserved for Judaism the respect and affection of many ordinary men, whom the Levites, with all their enthusiasm for the specific forms of the national worship, would have lost. Religion has no right to despise or overlook even the least of its advocates. There was One who said, “He that is not against us is on our part.”

Reviewing the argument of these pages and the suggestions of the last chapter, we conclude that, whilst the ranks of the Wise were wide enough to include men of diverse character and outlook, they must be credited with having had a definite standpoint and a method of their own well suited to the circumstances of their times.

Let us now turn our attention from the Wise themselves to the men they observed. Let us walk with Judah and Joseph through the busy streets, and take our stand with them in the open spaces by the city-gates, and overhear their comments on the scenes of human intercourse which met their eyes. Let us, as it were, join some group that has gathered round to enjoy their talk, to applaud their maxims and their morals, to laugh as the characteristics of this man or of that are hit off in some shrewd epigram, and perhaps—if need be—to take to heart the lesson.

In the popular talk there were doubtless many sayings concerning the habits of the various craftsmen and traders—the potter, the sandal-maker, and so forth—but (perhaps because the purpose of the Wise was so broadly humanistic in its outlook) such specialistic sayings are rare in the literature the Sages have left us. A few, however, do occur in which men are pictured from the standpoint of their external relationships, and with these we may conveniently begin.

First, then, an observation so faithful to human nature that it has never lost its spice and is appropriate in all countries, although it must always have had peculiar pungency in the deceitful, haggling, Eastern marts. Behold the bargain-hunter drawn to the life:

“It is nought, it is nought,” saith the buyer;

But when he is gone on his way then he boasteth

(Pr. 2014).

Not a man in old Jerusalem but must have felt the dry humour and the accusing truth. But here is the other side of the transaction:

A merchant shall hardly keep himself from doing wrong,

And a huckster shall not be acquitted of sin.

Many have transgressed for the sake of gain,

And the fortune-hunter requires a blind eye.

As a nail will stick fast between the joinings of stones,

So will sin thrust in between buying and selling

(E. 2629-272).

Six of one and half a dozen of the other, but perhaps neither buyer nor seller were such rogues as they are painted! Let us allow a discount for the epigram.

Of the man in debt, a problem for society in all periods, the Sages said plainly but sufficiently:

The rich man lords it over the poor,

And the borrower is the lender’s slave

(Pr. 227).

Ben Sirach, however, was much more graphic; says he,

Many have treated a loan as a windfall,

And have been a plague to those that helped them.

Till the loan is lent, he will kiss a man’s hand,

And for his neighbour’s money will speak right humbly;

But when payment falls due, he prolongs the days,

And girds and grumbles and says, “Hard times”

(E. 294, 5).

Support for Ben Sirach’s description might still be obtained.

The rendering of assistance to unfortunate members of the community has always been a prominent and admirable feature of Jewish society, and quotations to be given later on will bear witness to the esteem in which the Sages held the practice of charity. But the alms-giving was not wide enough, or else not deep enough or (it may be) not wise enough—as our own is not yet—to succour the lowest stratum of society. Remember Lazarus at the rich man’s gate: apparently there were such as he in Ben Sirach’s time, whether brought low by misfortune or by fault:

My son, lead not a beggar’s life;

It is better to die than to beg.

A man that looketh unto the table of another,

His life is not to be counted life

(E. 4028-29).

In E. 38, Ben Sirach discusses an ancient and unsettled controversy—subject, the doctor. As he devotes half a chapter to the matter, we may reasonably assign it a paragraph.

It would seem that in those days the medical profession was under a slight cloud. Some people (and for these we have no mercy: they were doubtless prescribing for others, not for themselves) were of opinion that all sorts of healing were an invention of iniquity and an attempt to thwart God’s will. Ben Sirach enters a healthy-minded protest against these fanatical obscurantists, insisting on the healing properties of plants: Was not water made sweet with wood to acquaint every man of God’s power? (E. 385); an allusion to Exod. 1525. More damaging is the unspoken but obvious implication of the sober-minded Chronicler when he records concerning King Asa that in the thirty and ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet; his disease was exceeding great; yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians. And Asa ... died in the one and fortieth year of his reign (2 Chron. 1612).

But to this the physician may make a weighty answer. Until later times than Asa’s it seems possible that orthodox medical practice was in the hands of the priestly classes, and therefore it may be suspected that Asa is censured for having committed the unpardonable wickedness of daring to call in one of the non-priestly practitioners, dealers in herbs and incantations, outsiders, quacks, charlatans, impostors all of them. But unfortunately, whatever the rights and wrongs of Asa’s case, it must be admitted that the profession did not wholly succeed in quelling the doubts about its merits. Physician, heal thyself—so ran the proverb in our Lord’s time (Luke 423), and is it not written of a certain poor woman that she had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing better, but rather worse (Mark 526)? Moreover, reluctantly, we have to notice that the Mishna, still later, gives utterance to the disconcerting opinion that the best of physicians is deserving of Gehenna (Kidd, 414).

Well, well, it is a vexed question. With relief let us turn, in conclusion, to Ben Sirach’s altogether cheerier view. The Lord, says he, created medicines out of the earth, and a prudent man will not despise them. Wherefore, honour a physician as thou needest him with the honours due; for verily the Lord hath created him. For from the Most High cometh his healing, and from the king he shall receive a gift.... My son, in thy sickness be not negligent, but pray unto the Lord, and He shall heal thee. Put away wrong-doing, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thine heart from all manner of sin. Offer a sweet offering and a memorial, set in order a fat offering as best thou art able. Then give place to the physician, and let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands is the issue for good: they also shall beseech the Lord that He may prosper them to find out what is wrong and to save the life (E. 381-15)—then, as the conclusion of the passage, in the Greek text come these words which read like a very doubtful compliment,

He that sinneth before his Maker—

Let him fall into the hands of the physician

But Ben Sirach must be acquitted of malice, for the Greek text turns out to be a mistranslation of the original Hebrew which fortunately has here been recovered; and all ends happily thus:

He that sinneth before his Maker

Will behave himself proudly before a physician

Good doctrine! Sound therapeutics and sound theology are allies, not enemies.

Reference to the special trades may be few, but some of those few are memorable. Thus the only allusion in Proverbs to the unskilled labourer is one of the poignant sayings of the Book:

The labourer’s appetite laboureth for him,

For his mouth constrains him to toil

(Pr. 1626):

Hunger! that unwearying goad of men, so beneficial to the race, so pitilessly cruel to the individual.

Ben Sirach gives us a glimpse of many men in some graphic verses—the ploughman, the cattle-driver, the engraver, the smith, the potter:

The wisdom of the scribe cometh by opportunity of leisure,

And he that hath little business shall become wise.

How shall he become wise that holdeth the plough,

That glorieth in the shaft of the goad,

That driveth oxen, and is busied in their labours,

And whose discourse is of the stock of bulls?

He will set his heart upon the turning of furrows,

And his wakefulness is to give his heifers their fodder.

So is every artificer and workmaster

That passeth his time by night as by day,

Cutting gravings of signets,

And his diligence is to make great variety:

He will set his heart to preserve likeness in his portraiture,

And will be wakeful to finish his work.

So is the smith sitting by the anvil

And considering the unwrought iron;

The vapour of the fire will waste his flesh,

And with the heat of the furnace will he contend;

The noise of the hammer will be ever in his ear

And his eyes upon the pattern of the vessel:

He will set his heart upon perfecting his works,

And he will be wakeful to adorn them perfectly.

So is the potter sitting at his work,

And turning the wheel about with his feet;

Who is alway anxiously set at his work,

And all his handicraft is by number;

He will fashion the clay with his arm,

And bend its strength in front of his feet;

He will apply his heart to finish the glazing,

And he will be wakeful to make clean the furnace.

All these put their trust in their hands,

And each becometh wise in his own work.

Without these shall not a city be inhabited

And wherever they sojourn they will not hunger.

They shall not be sought for in the council of the people,

And in the assembly they shall not mount up on high;

They shall not sit on the seat of the judge,

Nor understand the covenant of judgement,

Neither shall they declare instruction and judgement,

And among them that speak proverbs they shall not be found.

But they will maintain the fabric of the world,

And in the handiwork of their craft is their prayer

(E. 3824-34).

The passage is so interesting an illustration of the attitude of the educated Jews towards manual labour that a digression is irresistible. Among the Greeks all humbler forms of labour were heartily despised. In ancient society so much of the rough work was performed by slaves that the fortunate classes could and, as a rule, did find occupation in military, political, commercial, and literary or artistic affairs. Even the farmer was reckoned of small account, because, despite the honest worth of his occupation, his busy life and practical interests denied him the intellectual leisure of the town population. The Romans had certain incidents in their historical traditions that gave to agriculture a measure of honour, at least in theory. Otherwise their standpoint was much the same as that of the Greeks. But the Jews maintained a more generous and a very sensible attitude, as is exemplified by this quotation from Ben Sirach. They recognised the limitations imposed by hard toil, but at the same time they saw that it had an essential part to play in the economy of the whole, and therefore they freely acknowledged its merits:

Hate not laborious work,

For toil hath been appointed of God

(E. 715).

Nevertheless Ben Sirach is well pleased that God had not made him a farmer or a smith. It is evident that he did not deem the art of the craftsman compatible with learning; and, since he loved his scribe’s life, his satisfaction at having full leisure to prosecute the search for Wisdom is very human and pardonable. All the same, some may feel there is a touch of intellectual snobbery in his tone. If so, his successors, the Rabbis of later Judaism, did not follow him in the fault. They took the view that the degrading tendencies of certain occupations must be frankly recognised, but that there were many trades requiring manual toil which ought to be highly esteemed.

In that most interesting work of the first and second century A.D., The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers, we read that Shemaiah said, Love work. Rabbi Meir, however, said cautiously, Have little business, and be busy in the Law. It is said in the Talmud (Kidd, 99a) that Whosoever doth not teach his son work, teacheth him to rob. These remarks scarcely carry the question beyond Ben Sirach’s view. But many of the Rabbis went much further and urged that religious and intellectual studies were not profitably undertaken unless accompanied by some acquaintance with manual labour. Thus, said Rabbi Gamaliel (about 90 A.D.), An excellent thing is study of the Law combined with some worldly trade ... but all study of the Law apart from manual toil must fail at last and be the cause of sin. Another, and a powerful, saying is this: Flay a carcase in the street and earn a living, and say not, “I am a famous man, and the work is beneath my dignity.” St. Paul will doubtless occur to many as an instance of a great scholar who was proud to know and to exercise the trade of tent-making.

Recall how earnestly he protested to the Christians of Corinth his independence of their monetary help (cp. Acts 181-3; 1 Cor. 412, 2 Cor. 119). This admirable association of labour and learning persisted among the Jews, and their history contains many examples of splendid men who combined the virtues of great scholarship with the pursuit of some humble means of livelihood. Some of the best-known Rabbis of the Middle Ages supported themselves by labouring as carpenters, shoemakers, builders, bakers, and so forth.

Of the numerous sayings concerning wealth and poverty we may mention some that bring before us the concrete picture of men rich and poor. Here is one that is eloquent of the bitterness of the contrast:

The rich man’s wealth is his strong city;

The poor man’s poverty is his undoing

(Pr. 1015).

Even to-day, in a land where Justice is designed to be even-handed, but must needs be approached through the lawyer, who imagines that the rich and the poor stand on level terms? Even among the well-to-do the majority of men would think twice before engaging in legal warfare with a millionaire or a railway company.

Of the friendlessness of the poor there are these pathetic proverbs:

Wealth addeth many friends,

But the poor is separated even from the friend he hath

(Pr. 194).

The poor is hated even of his own neighbour,

But the rich hath many friends

(Pr. 1420).[51]

And this from Ben Sirach:

My son, deprive not the poor of his living,

And make not the needy eyes to wait long

(E. 41).

Do not those eyes stare hungrily from the proverb, and seem to gaze after us as we hurry on?

A sterner note is heard in this almost ironical observation:

A rich man toileth in gathering money, and when he resteth he is filled with his good things:

A poor man toileth in lack of substance, and when he resteth he cometh to want

(E. 313).

Two beautiful passages in the Book of Proverbs recognise that the problem of success goes deeper than riches:

Better a dinner of herbs where love is,

Than a fatted ox and hatred therewith

(Pr. 1517).

Remove far from me vanity and lies:

Give me neither poverty nor riches;

Feed me with the food that is needful for me:

Lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, “Who is the Lord?”

Or lest I be poor, and steal,

And use profanely the name of my God

(Pr. 308, 9).

Both grand sayings. The last is a really noble prayer for the Golden Mean, and at the same time an effective accusation which we know to be only too true of many self-confident rich men on the one hand, and many embittered poor men on the other.

Finally, let us ruminate on the fact that wealth and dyspepsia are old acquaintances: Better is a poor man, being sound and of good constitution, than a rich man that is plagued in his body, says Ben Sirach (E. 3014); and doubtless he had plenty of shocking examples to confirm his opinion, if there be any truth in Poseidonius’ description of the Hellenic cities whose citizens “practically lived in the banqueting halls,” and were wont to pocket what they could not there devour.

In the next place we may turn to proverbs dealing with character. Fastening upon one outstanding quality, for the moment they identify the personality with it. And if that is never entirely fair to any human being—because even the best of us is, for instance, never perfectly brave, nor the worst of us wholly mean—nevertheless it is good to be told bluntly whither the bias of our nature tends. To isolate the Virtues and the Vices and to hold them up for praise or blame has ever been a favourite and a successful method of moral education.

The quotations that follow are, as it were, swift portraits, some of them only lightning sketches, seizing in outline some obvious feature; but others (for all their brevity) are so full of life and colour, and often so tellingly correct, that no comment is needed to enforce the justice or importance of what is said. They have been compared to “Meissonier pictures: minute, graphic, realistic, unromantic; pictures drawn not by Fancy but by Observation”:—

The Mean Man

Riches are not comely for a niggard,

And what shall a covetous man do with money?

He that gathereth by miserliness gathereth for others,

And others shall revel in his goods

(E. 143, 4).

The miser hasteth after riches

And knoweth not that want shall come upon him

(Pr. 2822).

And the Generous

There is that scattereth, and increaseth yet more;

And there is that withholdeth, and it tendeth only to want.

The liberal man shall prosper the more,

And he that nourisheth others shall himself be nourished

(Pr. 1124, 25)—

But appearances are sometimes deceptive:

There is that feigneth himself rich, yet hath nothing;

And there is that feigneth poverty, yet hath great wealth

(Pr. 137).

There are numerous sayings dealing with the tale-bearer and the mischief-maker, for slander was a prominent evil of the crowded Oriental cities:

The Slanderer

The liar disseminates strife:

The whisperer parteth friends

(Pr. 1628).

For lack of wood the fire goes out,

And where there is no whisperer, contention ceaseth

(Pr. 2620).

The Mischief-Maker

An evil man digs a pit of mischief

And on his lips is a fire that burns

(Pr. 1627).

An evil man, a sinful man, deals always in crooked speech.

He winks his eyes and shuffles his feet,

And his fingers make secret signs:

His thoughts are all plots,

He plans ceaselessly mischief;

A spreader of discord.

Wherefore, his ruin shall come in an instant.

Like a flash he’ll be broken, and that beyond mending

(Pr. 612-15).

The Boaster

As clouds and wind that yield no rain,

So is he who brags of gifts ungiven

(Pr. 2514).

The Self-Confident Man.

The fool is quite certain his way is right,

But the wise man listens to counsel

(Pr. 1215).

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit?

There is more hope of a fool than of him

(Pr. 2612).

—the last, a saying that increases in force when a little later we come to note just what the Wise-men thought of a fool! With these proverbs on the Proud we may conveniently group some sayings on the man whose tongue runs away with his discretion:

The Garrulous Man

The tongue of the Wise distils knowledge,

But the mouth of fools poureth out folly

(Pr. 152).

A fool’s mouth is his destruction,

His lips are the snare of his soul

(Pr. 187).

A fool’s vexation is instantly known,

But a prudent man ignores an affront

(Pr. 1216).

How true! Most normal persons have acquired the power to delay or suppress the answer that rises to the lips in anger, but which of us would not confess that it was hard to learn this wisdom and that it is never easy to observe its teaching? The temptation to blurt out all our thought in time of trouble or vexation is always with us. In the hot-tempered East restraint was even more necessary than it is amongst ourselves, and one is therefore not surprised to find the absence of this virtue receiving the same fearsome condemnation as self-confidence:

Seest thou a man that is hasty of speech?

There is more hope of a fool than of him

(Pr. 2920).

Next, a group of proverbs concerning certain persons who to their own great surprise have missed success in society. The list may begin with a character one scarcely expects to meet in Scripture:

The Practical Joker

As a madman that casteth firebrands, arrows and death,

So is he who deceives his neighbour and cries, “I was only in jest”

(Pr. 2618, 19).

Then some advice to

The Boor in Society

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler

Bear in mind his lordship’s presence;

And if thou be a hearty eater,

Put a knife to thy throat

(Pr. 231-3).

And, thirdly, in two proverbs,

The Inopportune Man

As one that taketh off a garment in cold weather,

And as vinegar upon a wound;

So is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart

(Pr. 2520).

He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning;

It shall be counted a curse unto him

(Pr. 2714).

The last saying prompts the thought that Mr. E. V. Lucas is also among the Sages, for has he not given it as his opinion that “early rising leads to self-conceit, intolerance, and dulness after dinner”? “The old poet,” says he, “was right—

‘When the morning riseth red

Rise not thou but keep thy Bed;

When the Dawn is dull and gray

Sleep is still the better way:

Beasts are up betimes, but then

They are beasts and we are men.’”

The last of the social failures is the Flatterer, oily and ingratiating, but treacherous and in the end exposed:

The Flatterer

The words of a flatterer are like dainty morsels

Going down to the innermost parts of the body

(Pr. 188).

A man that flattereth his neighbour

Spreadeth a net for his feet

(Pr. 295; cp. 2628).

He that rebuketh a man shall afterward find more favour

Than he that flattereth with the tongue

(Pr. 2823).

Theophrastus, a Greek writer, has left us certain character-sketches of Athenian society about 300 B.C., many of which might profitably be studied in relation to these Hebrew epigrams. His essay on The Flatterer is a case in point. Here is the Greek conception:—

“Flattery may be considered as a mode of companionship, base but profitable to him who flatters. The flatterer is a person who will say as he walks with another, ‘Do you see how people are looking at you? This happens to no man in Athens but you.’... With these and the like words he will remove a morsel of wool from his patron’s coat; or, if a speck of chaff has been laid on the other’s hair by the wind, he will pick it off, adding with a laugh, ‘Do you see? Because I have not met you for two days, you have had your beard full of white hairs—although no one has darker hair for his years than you?’ Then he will request the company to be silent while the great man is speaking, and will praise him too in his hearing, and mark his approbation at a pause with ‘True’; or he will laugh at a frigid joke and stuff his cloak in his mouth as if he could not repress his amusement. He will request those who pass by to ‘stand still until His Honour has passed.’...

When he assists at the purchase of slippers, he will declare that the foot is more shapely than the shoes. If his patron is approaching a friend, he will run forward and say ‘He is coming to you’; and then, turning back, ‘I have announced you.’... He is the first of the guests to praise the wine, and to say as he reclines next the host, “How delicate is your fare,’ and (taking up something from the table) ‘Now this—how excellent it is.’... He will take the cushions from the slave in the theatre and spread them on the seat with his own hands. He will say that his patron’s house is well built, his land well planted, and that his portrait is excellent.” Even when full allowance is made for the unity of authorship and the conscious and careful artistry of the Greek writing, it must be felt that comparison between the Hebrew portrait and the Greek is scarcely possible, the advantage is so entirely with the latter.

The Wise were perhaps unusually dull in their dicta concerning the Flatterer, but at their best they never come within sight of the brilliant detail that makes the Greek portrait live before our eyes. It is all the more significant therefore that the Hebrew has hit the one point that the Greek ignores or overlooks: the moral issues of flattery. Theophrastus, the artist, observes that flattery is a base employment; with its evil and disastrous consequences he does not trouble himself. The Wise miss almost everything except that: A man that flattereth his neighbour, said they, spreadeth a net for his feet. They offer an unadorned assertion; but, taken to heart, it would prove more useful to society than all the subtlety of the Athenian delineation. Note then in passing how the contrast is an epitome of the struggle between the two world-ideas, Hellenic and Jewish; on the one hand the overwhelming charm and skill of the Greek, and on the other the unfailing instinct of the Hebrew for the one thing the Greek world lacked.

The Lazy Man

In the lazy man the Wise found a subject that stirred not only their wit but also their eloquence. In two instances proverb has expanded to become a parable and a picture, both of which arrive at the same conclusion. The parable is very famous—

Go to the ant, thou sluggard,

Consider her ways and be wise,

Which, having no chief, overseer or ruler,

Provideth her meat in the summer

And gathereth her food in the harvest.

How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard?

When wilt thou arise from thy slumber?

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,

A little folding of the hands to sleep—

So shall thy poverty come as a robber,

And thy want as an armed man

(Pr. 66-11).

But the picture deserves to be no less familiar:

I passed by the field of the slothful,

By the vineyard of the witless man:

And lo! it was all grown over with thorns,

Its surface was covered with nettles,

Its stonewall was broken down.

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,

A little folding of the hands to sleep—

So shall thy poverty come as a robber,