Playing with Proverbs

When I was in Ghana in July, the Kasem OT translators and I went through their translation of Ecclesiastes, picking up on things I had noted while checking the draft here in the UK.  Thankfully this didn’t throw up too many surprises and we worked through it in two days.

In Chapter 1 the writer quotes some proverbs which presumably would have been well known to his readers. Our discussions brought out the fact that Kasem has proverbs which support similar truths.  In Chapter 1 verse 15 we have:

What is crooked cannot be made straight.  (ESV)
What is twisted cannot be straightened. (NIV)

The Kasem proverb says:

They don’t straighten a dry stick.

The meaning is that some things are just the way they are and you can’t expect to change them.  This appears to be reinforced by the proverb which follows:

What is lacking cannot be counted. (ESV, NIV)
You can’t count things that aren’t there. (GNB)

One commentator summarises this by saying that:

There are some things which education, even the best education, is powerless to do: it cannot untangle the twists in the human heart; it cannot make up for what is lacking in the soul.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, “The Pundit’s Folly”, 1995,
The Banner of Truth Trust.

When we move on to Chapter 1 verse 18, we find another pair of proverbial sayings:

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief. (NIV)
The wiser you are, the more worries you have;
the more you know, the more it hurts. (GNB)

In this case there is a Kasem proverb which says:

How the finger measures, it’s pus also measures thus.

Perhaps here we might say that the more you know, the more you realise how much there still is to learn, and how little you can do to put right people’s follies.

The question arises as to how far the translator may go in substituting a Kasem proverb for the one found in the Biblical text. We don’t want to give the impression that the same proverbs were present in the culture and language of the original author, but we do want to reflect the natural way in which Kasena would express such truths. Not an easy one to straighten out! A literal translation of what we currently have for the Kasem translation of these verses is:

If something is twisted, its straightening out is very difficult. And things which are not there are impossible that somebody calculates their number. (1:15)

How a person’s enlightenment measures, his anxieties also measure thus. However much his knowledge is great, his sadness also will be great like that. (1:18)

What do you think?

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