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Bible Lexicons

Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Paroemia; or Proverb

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A wayside-saying in common use

Par-oi´-mi-a. παροιμία, a way-side; from παρά (para), beside, and οἶμος (oimos), a way or path. Hence Parœmia is a way side saying, a trite expression, or common remark, a proverb. As we say "a saw" or adage.

Like Parable, Parœmia is used in the Septuagint Version to translate the Hebrew word מָשָׁל (mahshal). Now this noun מָשָׁל (mahshal) belongs to the verb מָשַׁל (mahshal), which means to rule, control, to have, or exercise control.

Hence it is plain that there must be a close connection between "a rule" and "a proverb." This connection may be illustrated by our phrase "a ruling principle"; and by the fact that we might term what we call the Proverbs of Solomon’ ‘Solomons Rules; since that is just what they are: rules for guiding life. Indeed, if we ask what is the derivation of the word "Maxim," we may find its history not unlike that of παροιμία in Greek. It would seem to mean a saying most widely used,’ ‘most in vogue, in the market, by the roadside, and in ordinary life generally. By degrees, usage separated the words Parable and Parœmia; and Parable was limited to an illustration; while Parœmia was confined to what we now call a proverb.

The figure is used, therefore, of any sententious saying, because these are generally such as control and influence life.

The word Parœmia is used in the New Testament (John 10:6), where it is rendered "parable"; and in 16:25 (twice), 29, and 2 Peter 2:22, where it is rendered "Proverb."

The Latin name for the figure is PROVERBIUM, Proverb. Hence, the name given to the book of Proverbs,* [Note: See The Names and Order of the Books of the Old Testament, by the same author and publisher. Price fourpence.] which consists of collections of such brief sententious sayings which govern the life and control the walk.

Parœmiœ or Proverbs occuring in Scripture may be divided into three classes:-

(1) Those that are quoted as being already in use as such.

(2) Those which, though not quoted as such, were very probably already in use as proverbial expressions.

(3) Those which appear for the first time in Scripture; but which, owing to their fulness of meaning and their wide application, have since passed into general use as proverbial sayings.

1. Parœmiœ which are quoted as being already in use as such

Genesis 10:9.-"He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord " (R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] ).

Numbers 21:27.-"Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, Let the city of Sihon be built and prepared, " etc.

Three strophes are given from a popular poem, introduced by the word "wherefore."

The first (-27, 28) is an ironical call to the Amorites to rebuild their city Heshbon, which Israel had destroyed (see verses 25, 26).

The second (verse 29) is a prophecy of Moabs ruin.

The third (verse 30) is the justification of the woe pronounced in verse 29.

Verse 30 is obscure, because of the reading of the letter ר in אֲשֶׁר֒ which, according to Massorah, is one of the fifteen cases in which words, etc., are dotted. The letter (ר֒) ought, therefore, to be cancelled. In this case אִשׁ (îsh), man, is put for אִישׁ (îsh), men, and וַנַּשִּׁים (vannashsheem), we have laid them waste, would then be the plural of אִשָּׁה (isshah): women.

The strophe would then read:-

"We have shot at them,

Heshbon is destroyed even unto Dibon,

The women also even unto Nopha,

And the men even unto Medeba."* [Note: See Ginsburgs Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, pp. 326-328.]

1 Samuel 10:12.-"Therefore it became a proverb: Is Saul also among the prophets? "

1 Samuel 24:13.-"As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. "

2 Samuel 20:18.-"They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter."

Jeremiah 31:29.-"In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the childrens teeth are set on edge. "

Ezekiel 16:44.-"Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying: As is the mother, so is her daughter. " See 19:2, 3.

Luke 4:23.-"Ye will surely say unto me this proverb: Physician, heal thyself "

This was a well known proverb. It may be found in the Talmud, "Physician, heal thine own lameness."* [Note: Beresh. rab. sect. 23, and in Tanchuma, fol. 4. 2.]

John 1:46 (47).-"Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

This appears from 7:41, 42, 52, to have been a proverb already in use.

John 4:37.-"And herein is that saying true; One soweth, and another reapeth. "

2 Peter 2:22.-"But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb (Proverbs 26:11):

"The dog is turned to his own vomit again;

And the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."

When we contrast this with 1 Peter 2:25, we see how forcible is the difference between the saved sinner and the "reformed character." The saint may go astray, and the ungodly may reform; but they both turn again, the one to his Shepherd, and the other to his mire! There is all the difference in the world between a dirty sheep and a washed sow! It is not that which goeth into the mouth that defileth the man, but that which cometh out of the heart (Matthew 15:17-20).

The mouth, dish, or sepulchre, may be cleansed or whitened without, but within it is all uncleanness (Matthew 23:25-28).

"Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Truly "the Lord seeth not as man seeth."

How many hirelings are there who are engaged in merely washing sows and amusing goats, instead of seeking out and feeding Christs harassed and scattered and famishing sheep, who are at their wits end to know where to find a little green grass, or fresh water, which has not been trodden down with the feet of the goats, or defiled with the "vomit" of the dogs?

2. Parœmiœ which, though not quoted as such, were very probably already in use as proverbial expressions

"Like to a grain of mustard seed" (Matthew 13:31-32; Matthew 17:20. Luke 17:6). This was doubtless a proverbial saying among the Hebrews (not the Greeks), to indicate a very small thing: as we say, of rent, etc., "a peppercorn." See Buxtorf Lex. Talmud, under the word חרדל, and above, under Ellipsis and Synecdoche.

"As the sand of the sea," or "as the sand." This was used proverbially, in order to express a vast multitude that could not be numbered.

See Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12; Genesis 41:49. Joshua 11:4. Judges 7:12. 1 Samuel 13:5. 2 Samuel 17:11. 1 Kings 4:20; 1 Kings 4:29 (5:9). Job 29:18. Psalms 78:27; Psalms 139:18. Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 48:19. Jeremiah 15:8; Jeremiah 33:22. Hosea 1:10 (2:1). Habakkuk 1:9. And in the New Testament- Romans 9:27. Hebrews 11:12; and Revelation 20:8. See under Hyperbole.

"As the dust of the earth," or "dust," is used proverbially, by Metonymy (q.v. [Note: Which see.] ), for an innumerable multitude.

See Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14. Numbers 23:10.* [Note: . The A.V. renders this "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number the fourth part of Israel." The R.V. renders the second line, "Or number the fourth part of Israel"; and in the margin says, "Heb., Or, by number." But Dr. Ginsburg points out in his Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (p. 168), that the word åÌîÄñÀôÈø (umispahr), rendered "and the number," is obscure, because the first two letters åí were originally a separate word, being the abbreviation of the first word of the first line, viz.: åí for åÌîÄé, and who. Thus the two lines (dividing the word into two) are now seen to be a beautiful parallel:-

"Who can count the dust of Jacob?

And who can number the fourth part of Israel?"] 2 Chronicles 1:9. Job 22:24; Job 27:16. Psalms 78:27. Zephaniah 1:17. Zechariah 9:3. See under Hyperbole.

"As the stars of heaven," or "as the stars," is used proverbially to indicate a vast number that could not be counted.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle" (Matthew 19:24. Mark 10:25. Luke 18:25). This was a proverbial expression for a thing very unusual and very difficult. Lightfoot (Horœ Hebraicae) quotes several examples: from the Talmud,* [Note: Baby1. Berachoth. fol. 55, 2.] where, concerning dreams, it says "They do not show a man a palm-tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle." The gloss is, "A thing which he was not wont to see, nor concerning which he had ever thought." Another example is given, [Note: Baba Mezia, fol. 38, 2.] where Rabbi Sheshith answered R. Areram, disputing with him, and asserting something that was incongruous of him, and said, "Perhaps thou art one of these Pombeditha, who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle": i.e., as the Aruch interprets it, "Who speak things that are impossible."

"With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2). This was a very common proverb among the Jews, See Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 100, 1, and the Tract Sotah cap. 1, quoted by Lightfoot.

"Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye," etc. (Matthew 7:4). Lightfoot quotes from the Baba Bathra, fol. 15, 2, a well known proverb: "It is written in the days when they judged the judges (i.e., in the generation which judged their judges), When any [judge] said to another Cast out the mote out of thine eye, he answered, Cast you out the beam out of your own eye, " etc.

"Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12. Luke 14:11). Many similar sayings might be quoted from the Talmud. See Erubim, cap. i. Indeed, it was very ancient. See Job 5:11; Job 22:29. Psalms 18:27 (28); 113:6 (7). Proverbs 29:23, and the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:6-8), and of Mary (Luke 1:52-53).

"Shake off the dust of your feet" (Matthew 10:14. Mark 6:11. Luke 9:5. And Acts 13:51). The schools of the Scribes taught that the dust of heathen lands caused defilement. [Note: Tosaph. ad Kelim, cap, 1. Bah. Sanhedr., fol. 12. 1. Bab. Shabb, fol. 15. 2. Gloss in Sanhedr., fol. 5. 2. Tosaph. in Sanhedr., cap. 1, article 30, quoted by Lightfoot.] The shaking off of the dust of the feet, therefore, was a sign that, though the place might be in the land of Israel, it was as though it were a heathen and profane and defiled place.

"It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord," etc. (Matthew 10:25. Luke 6:40. John 13:16).* [Note: See the Talmud. Berachoth, cap. 9 and Chusar, cap. 20. Also Aben Ezra on .]

"Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation," etc. (Matthew 12:25. Mark 3:24-25. Luke 11:17. (See Buxtorf. Lex. Talmud, under חיב).

"To remove mountains" (Matthew 21:21. 1 Corinthians 13:2) was a Hebrew proverb, as may be seen in Buxtorf. Lex. Talmud, under עקר. It was common to say of a great teacher that he was "a rooter up of mountains." (See Bab. Berachoth, fol. 64. 1; Erubim, fol. 29. 1; Sanhedrim, fol. 24. 1; Baba Bathra, fol. 3. 2). And thus what they foolishly said of the learning of their wisest men, Christ said of His humblest disciple. In 1 Corinthians 13:2, knowledge and faith are combined by this Parœmia.

"Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12. Luke 6:31. (See Talmud, Bab. Sabbath, fol. 31.1, and Buxtorf. Lex. Talmud, under נגס).

"To unloose the shoe-latchet" (Matthew 3:11. Mark 1:7. Luke 3:16) was a proverb connected with the buying of a servant: the loosening of the shoe being a token of purchase. See Ruth 4:7-8; and Bah. Kiddushin, fol. 22. 2, cap. 1.

"If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" (Luke 23:31), or better (comparing Matthew 3:10 : "Now, also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.")

"If to a green tree, these things they are doing;

To the dry tree, what shall happen?" [Note: Talmud Sanhedrim, quoted by Drusius.]

I.e., if they deal thus with Me, a green and flourishing Tree, what shall happen to the nation-a dry and sapless trunk, when the Romans shall presently lay their axe to it? (See Psalms 1:1-6, and Jeremiah 17:5-8).

This was a proverb common among the Greeks as well as the Hebrews.

3. Parœmiœ which appear for the first time in Scripture; but, which, owing to their fulness of meaning and their wide application, have since passed into general use as proverbial sayings

Genesis 22:14.-"As it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. "

1 Kings 20:11.-This also has come down to, and is used by posterity as a proverb, full of meaning, and with many applications:

"Let not him that girdeth on his harness

Boast himself as he that putteth it off."

Job 6:5.-"Doth the wild ass bray when he is at grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?" (See A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] margin).

Job 14:19.-"The waters wear the stones."

Job 28:18.-"The price of wisdom is above rubies."

Psalms 62:9.-"Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance they are altogether lighter than vanity."

Psalms 111:10.-"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." So Deuteronomy 4:6. Job 28:28. Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10. Ecclesiastes 12:13. Probably the first use is in Job 28:28, but it passed into a common proverb.

Proverbs 1:17.-"Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird."

Proverbs 1:32.-"The prosperity of fools shall destroy them."

Proverbs 6:27.-"Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" This is doubtless a saying arising from common observation of daily life.

Proverbs 10:5.-"He that gathereth in summer is a wise son."

Verse 19: "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin."

Proverbs 11:15.-"He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it." Heb. shall be sore broken (so A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] margin). The common experience of this fact has made this a common proverb; but they are blessed indeed who learn and know from a happy experience that when Christ became Surety for His People, who were "strangers," He smarted for it, and was "sore broken" that they might be for ever blessed.

Proverbs 22:6.-"Train up a child in the way he should go."

Few proverbs have passed more into common use than this. Mr. C. H. Spurgeon once put it, "in the way you wish you had gone yourself." See under Pleonasm and Metonymy.

Proverbs 26:11.-"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly."

This is also a simile, which passed into a proverb. See 2 Peter 2:22, quoted and referred to above.

Proverbs 27:6.-"Faithful are the wounds of a friend."

Verse 7: "The full soul loatheth the honeycomb."

Verse 17: "As iron sharpeneth iron," etc.

Proverbs 28:21.-"To have respect of persons is not good."

This perhaps gave rise to another expressive Hebrew proverb: "You cannot straighten a pigs tail."

Ecclesiastes 9:4.-"For a living dog is better than a dead lion."

Ecclesiastes 10:1.-"Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour."

See under Ellipsis.

Ecclesiastes 11:6.-"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand."

Jeremiah 13:23.-"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?"

Jeremiah 23:28.-"What is the chaff (Heb., straw) to the wheat?"

Habakkuk 2:6.-"Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! How long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay " (see R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] ).

Malachi 2:10.-"Have we not all one father?" The Jews used this proverb in their controversy with the Lord in John 8:33; John 8:39, etc.

Matthew 5:13.-"If the salt have lost his savour (or taste) wherewith shall it be salted?"

Matthew 5:14.-"A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid."

Matthew 6:3.-"Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."

Matthew 6:21.-"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Greek, "there will your heart also be," with emphasis on "heart." (See Metonymy).

Matthew 6:24.-"No man can serve two masters." See Hermeneia.

Verse 34: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

Matthew 7:16.-"Ye shall know them by their fruits."

These words were first used by the Lord concerning false teachers. But to-day the saying has passed into general use, and is spoken (not so correctly) of every one.

Matthew 9:12.-"They that be whole need not a physician."

Matthew 10:10.-"The workman is worthy of his meat." So Luke 10:7. 1 Corinthians 9:7, etc.

Verse 22: "He that endureth to the end shall be saved." This Parœmia is further used Daniel 12:12. Matthew 24:13. Mark 13:13, etc. and refers to the faithful remnant of Jews enduring to the end of the coming "great tribulation." The τέλος (telos), end, should be distinguished from the συντέλεια (sunteleia), which is also translated end.

The latter word is used of the time of the end, while the former (telos) is used of the end or crisis of the sunteleia. The sunteleia refers to the consummation of all the ages and dispensations; a joining together of the ages, or ends, as it were, and is used of the whole time of the "great tribulation"; while the telos is the point of time at the end of it. It is of this point that this saying is used: "He that endureth to the end (telos) shall be saved (or delivered)."

The word συντέλεια (sunteleia) occurs only in Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20, and Hebrews 9:26. It will be easy, therefore, for the student to distinguish it from τέλος (telos), which is used in the other passages.

Matthew 12:34.-"For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."

Matthew 13:57.-"A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and in his own house."

Matthew 15:14.-"If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."

Matthew 24:28.-"For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." The word "for" introduces the Parœmia, which is from Job 39:30. "Her young ones suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she." Had this Parœmia been understood, and the title "Son of Man" noticed as referring to Christs title as exercising dominion in the Earth,* [Note: See The Divine Names and Titles, by the same author and publisher. One shilling.] these words would never have been interpreted of the church as the "Body" of Christ. Luke 17:37 clearly shows that it is a time of judgment (see verses 24-37); and that the taking and the leaving refer to judgment, and not to the Rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4:17; which was a subsequent revelation, and ought not to be read into the Gospels, which are perfectly clear without it.

Luke 17:37.-See Matthew 24:28 above.

Acts 9:5.-"It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks": i.e., the goads.

Acts 20:35.-"It is more blessed to give than to receive." This is one of the un-recorded Parœmiœ or Logia of Christ. But it does not follow that a papyrus which professes, some centuries later, to give other Parœmiœ is genuine and authentic.

1 Corinthians 5:6.-"A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Leaven is always used in a bad sense. Even in the case of one of the two wave-loaves, leaven was to be used because that loaf represented human nature; while the other loaf which represented Christs perfect nature had no leaven.

See other examples of such Proverbs in Proverbs 11:27; Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 17:1; Proverbs 17:10; Proverbs 17:19; Proverbs 17:28; Proverbs 19:2; Proverbs 19:24; Proverbs 20:4; Proverbs 20:11; Proverbs 20:14; Proverbs 20:21; Proverbs 20:25; Proverbs 22:13; Proverbs 25:11; Proverbs 25:16; Proverbs 25:27; Proverbs 26:4-5 (see under Ellipsis), 14; 27:8, 10, 22; 30:15, etc., etc. Ecclesiastes 4:5; Ecclesiastes 4:12; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Ecclesiastes 5:6; Ecclesiastes 5:8-10; Ecclesiastes 6:9; Ecclesiastes 9:18; Ecclesiastes 10:2; Ecclesiastes 10:8-9; Ecclesiastes 10:15; Ecclesiastes 10:19-20; Ecclesiastes 11:3-4; Ecclesiastes 11:7; Ecclesiastes 12:12. Micah 7:5-6. Matthew 5:15; Matthew 7:2; Matthew 7:5; Matthew 9:16; Matthew 10:24; Matthew 10:26; Matthew 13:12. Luke 9:62; Luke 12:48; Luke 23:31. 1 Corinthians 10:12; 1 Corinthians 15:33. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Titus 1:15

Non-Canonical, or, Supposed Scripture, Proverbs

There are many common sayings which are supposed to be in Scripture, even by those who should know better; and pass current among those who are ill-informed. For example-

"God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb."

This is not in the Bible; but is taken from Laurence-Sternes Sentimental Journey. And he took it probably from the French of Henri Etienne, Dieu mesure le froid à la brebis tondue. And both may have been acquainted with Isaiah 27:8 : "He stayeth his rough wind in the day of his east wind."

"Spare the rod and spoil the child."

Many use this, thinking it is Scripture. Even Butler, in his Hudibras, says: "That may be heard ten times to one quotation of Solomon." And yet Solomon said: "He that spareth the rod hateth his son" (Proverbs 13:24).

"A word to the wise is sufficient." (Sometimes "for them" is added, whereas it is singular, not plural).

This has been quoted as Scripture. But it is from the Latin of Terence* [Note: Phormio, sc. 3. 5:8. In Parrys edition of Terence, he says in a note that the Proverb is found in Plautus Persa 4:7. 18.] ; who himself is misquoted; for he said: "Dictum sapienti sat est," not Verbum sat sapienti.

It is said that the celebrated Robert Hall once planned a sermon on the words

"In the midst of life we are in death,"

But he abandoned it, we are told, when he found that it was not to be found in the Bible; but only in the Prayer-book.

It appears to have come from a monk of St. Gall, named Notker, in the tenth century, whose Latin hymn contained the line: "Media vita in morte sumus."

Misquoted Proverbial Sayings

Even in quoting common sayings from Scripture and the Prayer Book, which have passed into Proverbs, there is an habitual misquotation which has become practically universal. It may not be out of place to give one or two examples by way of warning.

"Man is prone to sin as the sparks fly upward." But Job 5:7 says: "Man is born unto trouble," etc.

"A merciful man is merciful to his beast." But Proverbs 12:10 has it: "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast."

"The truth as it is in Jesus" is almost invariably thus quoted. The Scripture says (Ephesians 4:21): "As the truth is in Jesus," which is a very different thing. The former implies that there is truth apart from Him. But the latter implies that the truth is in Jesus, and nowhere else.

"A nation shall be born in a day." No concordance will give this passage. Isaiah 66:8 asks: "Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once?"

"So plain that he who runs may read." On the contrary. So plain was to be the written vision that he who reads it may run, and flee from the coming judgments (Habakkuk 2:2).

"My time is in thy hand." Thank God, He said "times" (Psalms 31:15 (16)). Yes, "My times are always in thy hand." All my times: my times of sorrow and of joy; of trouble and of danger. All are in the hand of my God.* [Note: Shakespeare is misquoted in the other direction. He said: "The time is out of joint," not the times are out of joint. The next line would set people right, for he says:-

"The time is out of joint;-O cursed spite!

That I was born to set it right."

(Hamlet, Act i. sc. 4, at the close).

So Cowper: "The cups that cheer," not cup. (See his Task, 4:39, 40).]

"Let him cast the first stone." But John 8:7 says: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone."

"How great a fire a little matter kindleth." But in James 3:5 it is written: "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth."

The Apostolic benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14) suffers from various changes: fellowship, instead of communion; or, in addition to it, as though they were two different things: rest upon and abide; be and abide: for ever; now, henceforth, and for ever; now and for ever. And these are supposed to improve the words of the Holy Spirit! That such attempted improvement of Scripture meets with no check is a sad sign of the low regard in which its accuracy is held.


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Bibliography Information
Bullinger, E. W., D.D. Entry for 'Paroemia; or Proverb'. Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/bullinger/154.

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Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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