(an outtake from Once More, From the Beginning. This is one of the bits that didn’t make it into the book.)
Down through the ages have come the sacred proverbs – many, many proverbs – some pithy and useful, some repetitive and trite. (They are not hard to find, so it’s unnecessary to repeat them here.)
We seem to detect the work of two contributing deities. There is The Lord, who requires nothing beyond obedience to His laws. He is more than happy to manage for His people, no matter how many, and discourages all attempts at understanding.
“Trust Me,” He says. “I’ll take care of you. And you’ll know if you put a foot wrong, because I’ll make you suffer for it.”
His influence can be detected most clearly in the several hundred proverbs which reiterate – in myriad ever so slightly varying word combinations – one central theme: that doing the right thing (don’t fret . . . He’ll let you know what that is) will be well rewarded. Refusing to do so is wicked and will be punished in a variety of both general and very concrete ways.
Fittingly, His sister deity is Wisdom, and her message is quite different. Like The Lord, She has existed from the beginning of time. She was His playmate before ever He was inspired to create heaven and earth, and She was glad to help Him do it, but their collaboration ended there. Blind obedience has no place in Her requirements. Encouraging all to seek knowledge and understanding, She offers long life, honour and the richest of rewards to those who learn to think for themselves.
One can easily see how these two deities, like so many other siblings, might have drifted apart. The Lord, by His own admission, was a jealous god, and He didn’t want to share. It’s not impossible to sort out which of the proverbs were more likely inspired by Wisdom.
It seems almost impertinent to suggest that intermingled with the production of such Titans might be the dribblings of a mere mortal, but to this conclusion we are unavoidably drawn. Someone had to collate and transcribe these divinely inspired hints for self-improvement – the deities couldn’t be expected to do it themselves – and the anonymous individual who took on this responsibility, becoming immersed in the words of advice, allowed himself to slip in a few thoughts of his own.
One can only guess what little family drama was playing itself out in the home of this man, but he appears to be determined to warn his own son of the dangers of consorting with loose women. Spoken words are so fleeting – indeed, the boy barely listened to him at the best of times – and he could imagine no better way to preserve his recommendations than to intersperse them among the sacred proverbs.
Accordingly, he sprinkled in his admonitions, describing in suspiciously intimate detail the flattering words, the beauty, the lips, the very eyelids of the women to be avoided. Such women are predators, he insists, endlessly on the prowl for innocent, upstanding family men to seduce and destroy. Once in the clutches of such a one, a man could never get free of her, and shouldn’t even be expected to try.
As an example, he says . . . purely hypothetically, he says . . . there might be just such a woman living down the street and around that corner (you can see it clearly from the window there), lying in wait. And if a man were to pass her way in the evening or in the dark of night (perhaps both – sometimes in the evening, and sometimes late at night), she might grab him and kiss him and drag him into her house and up to her bed. He would be powerless to resist. He couldn’t be blamed. Who could blame him? Her bed would be hung with tapestries and covered with fine Egyptian linen. It would be perfumed, with myrrh and aloes and cinnamon . . . but I’m just guessing! She would seduce him, quite completely against his will, the hussy. He might stay till morning, because her husband might be away on a long journey and definitely couldn’t get home that night. (Did I mention that this is just hypothetical?) And the next time he happened to inadvertently find himself in her bed, she might pester him for money, the whore . . . there never was such a spendthrift! Money runs through her fingers like water through a sieve . . . .
And let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that her husband did find out. It would cause a terrible scene! He would be in a jealous rage and insist on vengeance, and there would be no buying him off at any price . . . probably. Think of the trouble it would take to hush all that up!
Anyway, he says, believe me, you don’t want to have to go through all that. Find yourself a good, decent, hard-working wife, and try to be satisfied with her. Stay away from loose women. And especially avoid that house around the corner.
At the last minute, perhaps thinking to render his particular agenda just a touch less obvious, our scrivener dashed off a few introductory lines warning his beloved son against the insidious lure of cut-throats and bandits – those who lurk in the dark, waiting to rob and murder innocent passers-by indiscriminately in various bloody ways. They’ll try to entice you to join them, he promises. It may sound like a whole lot of fun, but don’t you do it!
Having inserted this bright red herring, he appears to have been satisfied that he’s covered his tracks and duly consigns his work to the ages.