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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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מָשָׁל, nmashal, rendered in the A.V. "byword," "parable," "proverb" (παραβολή, παροιμία ), expresses all and even more than is conveyed by these its English representatives. It is derived from a root מָשִׁל, mashdl, "to be like" (Arab. mathala, to "resemble"), and the primary idea involved in it is that of' likeness, comparison. This form of comparison would very naturally be taken by the short, pithy' sentences which passed into use as popular sayings and proverbs, especially when employed in mockery and sarcasm, as in Micah 2:4; Habakkuk 2:6, and even in the more developed taunting song of triumph for the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 14:4. Probably all proverbial savings were at first of the nature of similes, but the term mashal soon acquired a more extended significance. It was applied to denote such short, pointed sayings as do not involve a comparison directly, but still convey their meaning by the help of a figure, as in 1 Samuel 10:12; Ezekiel 12:22-23; Ezekiel 17:2-3 (comp. παραβολή, Luke 4:23). From this stage of its application it passed to that of sententious maxims generally, as in Proverbs 1:1; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 25:1; Proverbs 26:7; Proverbs 26:9; Ecclesiastes 12:9; Job 13:12, many of which, however, still involve a comparison (Proverbs 25:3; Proverbs 25:11-14, etc.; Proverbs 26:1-3, etc.). Such comparisons are either expressed, or the things compared are placed side by side, and the comparison left for the hearer or reader to supply. Next we find it used of those larger pieces in which a single idea is no longer exhausted in a sentence, but forms the germ of the whole, and is worked out into a didactic poem. Many instances of this kind occur in the first section of the book of Proverbs; others are found in Job 27, 29, in both which chapters Job takes up his mashal, or "parable," as it is rendered in the A.V. The "parable" of Balaam. in Numbers 23:7-10; Numbers 24:3-9; Numbers 24:15-24, are prophecies conveyed in figrmes; but mashal also denotes the "parable" proper, as in Ezekiel 17:2; Ezekiel 20:49 (Ezekiel 21:5); Ezekiel 24:3. Lowth, in lis notes on Isaiah 14:4, speaking of mashal, says: "I take this to be the general name for poetic style among the Hebrews, including every sort of it, as ranging under one, or other, or all of the characters, sententious, figurative, and sublime; which are all contained in the original notion, or in the use and application of the word mashal. Parables or proverbs, such as those of Solomon, are always expressed in short, pointed sentences; frequently figurative, being formed on some comparison, both in the matter and the form. Such, in general, is the style of the Hebrew poetry. Balaam's first prophecy (Numbers 23:7-10) is called his mashal, although it has hardly anything figurative in it; but it is beautifully sententious, and, from the very form and manner of it, has great spirit, force, and energy. Thus Job's last speeches, in answer to the three friends (ch. 27-31), are called mashals, from no one particular character which discriminates them from the rest of the poem, but from the sublime the figurative, the sententious manner which equally prevails through the whole poem, and makes it one of the first and most eminent examples extant of the truly great and beautiful in poetic style." Sir W. Jones says, "The moralists of the East have in general chosen to deliver their precepts in short, sententious maxims, to illustrate them by sprightly comparisons, or to inculcate them in the very ancient forms of agreeable apologues: there are, indeed, both in Arabic and Persian, philosophical tracts on ethics written with sound ratiocination and elegant perspicuity. But in every part of the Eastern world, from Pekin to Damascus, the popular teachers of moral wisdom have immemorially been poets, and there would be no end of enumerating their works, which are still extant in the five principal languages of Asia." (See PARABLE).

Our Lord frequently employed proverbs in his public instructions; and the illustration of these proverbs as occupied many learned men, who proceed partly by the aid of similar passages from the Old Test., and partly from the ancient writings of the Jews, especially from the Talmud,. whence it appears how much they were in use among that people, and that they were applied by Christ and his apostles agreeably to common usage. The proverbs contained in the Old and New Tests. are collected and illustrated by Drusius and Anireas Schottus, whose works are comprised in the ninth volume of the Critici Sacri, and also by Joachim Zehner, who elucidated them by parallel passages from the fathers, as well as from heathen writers, in a treatise published at Leipsic in 1601. The proverbs which are found in the New Test. have been illustrated by Vorstius and Visir. as well as by Lightfoot and Schottgen in their Horoe Hebraioe et Talmudicoe, and by Buxtorf in his Lexicon Chaldicumn Talmudicum et Rabbinicum, from which last- mentioned works Rosenmuller, Kuinol, Dr. Whitby, Dr. Adam Clarke, and other commentators, have derived their illustrations of the Jewish parables and proverbs. See Kelly, Proverbs of all Nations (Lond. 1859, 8vo); Sterling, Literature of Proverbs (ibid. 1860, 8vo); Bohn, Book of Proverbs. (See PROVERBS, BOOK OF).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Proverb'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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