I received a wonderful gift a few days ago, a volume in the Wisdom Commentary series, on Proverbs, by Alice Ogden Bellis, with sidebars by a collection of other authors. Just in time for our last week of reading Proverbs in class, with portions of chapter 9.

It’s beautiful, and clearly erudite, and also accessible, just from looking at it briefly – grading has been keeping me from a lot of more enjoyable things lately – but this morning it’s time to dig into Proverbs 9 …

But on the way to that, I ran in to Bellis’s discussion of “the fool/folly,” which struck me as remarkably … pertinent. Here is a bit of the relevant discussion:

[Hebrew *evil/ivvelet*] is the worst sort of fool and folly that is encountered in Proverbs. … [Fools] are not just dumb, mindless idiots. From the point of view of the sages, they are morally corrupt creatures. They talk too much (10:14, 14:3, 17:28) and are arrogant (12:15) and contentious (e.g., 12:16; 20:3; 28:3). We might in our less charitable moments call them jerks or even schmucks. Today we may suspect that they are covering up insecurity, but whatever the reason for their behavior we view it as obnoxious. This root occurs forty time in Proverbs.

… if we were looking for a synonym in English it would be recklessness or irresponsibility rather than mere madness or idiocy, and certainly not silliness, though “recklessness” does not feel like a strong enough word. … We do not seem to have a perfect synonym for the Hebrew concept of Folly in English with its connotations of serious moral corruption.

Alice Ogden Bellis, Proverbs, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2018, 23.

But we can think of examples, no doubt.

"Nebuchadnezzar," William Blake