ALCIPHRON: ... But what apology can be made for nonsense, crude nonsense? ... Look here, said he, opening a Bible, in the forty-ninth Psalm : ... "Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the wickedness of my heels shall compass me about?" The iniquity of my heels! What nonsense after such a solemn introduction!
EUPHRANOR: For my own part, I have naturally weak eyes, and know there are many things that I cannot see, which are nevertheless distinctly seen by others. I do not therefore conclude a thing to be absolutely invisible, because it is so to me. And since it is possible it may be with my understanding as it is with my eyes, I dare not pronounce a thing to nonsense because I do not understand it. Of this passage many interpretations are given. The word rendered heels may signify fraud or supplantation: by some it is translated "past wickedness," the heel being the hinder part of the foot; by others "iniquity in the end of my days," the heel being one extremity of the body; by some "the iniquity of my enemies that may supplant me;" by others "my own faults or iniquities which I have passed over as light matters, and trampled under my feet." Some render it "the iniquity of my ways;" others, "my transgressions, which are like slips and slidings of the heel." And after all, might not this expression, so harsh and odd to English ears, have been very natural and obvious in the Hebrew tongue, which, as every other language, had its idioms? the force and propriety whereof may as easily be conceived lost in a long tract of time, as the signification of divers Hebrew words which are not now intelligible, though nobody doubts they had once a meaning as well as the other words of that langauge. Granting, therefore, that certain passages in the Holy Scripture may not be understood, it will not thence follow that its penman wrote nonsense; for I conceive nonsense to be one thing, and unintelligible another.
- George Berkeley, Alciphron 6.7
[Note: the verse in question is Psalm 49:5. Alciphron's quotation is one word different from the KJV in print today (which has "wickedness" instead of "iniquity"), but the KJV was edited a few times after the writing of this dialog in 1732. Of modern translations, NKJV has "the iniquity at my heels," and NASB and HCSB both read "the iniquity of my foes." LXX uses the Greek pterna meaning heel.]Posted by Kenny at November 1, 2006 3:03 PM
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