Chapter 26: Beneath the Surface

26:1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.

      The two key words of this verse are "summer" and "harvest" – set in contrast (see also 6:8). Both terms are also found in an ancient text called the Gezer Calendar, a small (5x3") limestone tablet found at the ancient city of Gezer by British archaeologist R A Macalister in the first decade of the 20th century.
      Written in 10th century BC Hebrew, it probably represents an ancient folk song written as a scribal-apprentice exercise – the tablet was appears to have been reusable. "Summer" (line 7) would refer to July, when summer fruit was ripe and harvested. "Harvest," (both lines 4 and 5), would represent (March and April when the staples barley and wheat were gathered).

26:8 Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.

      I have spent 8 seasons excavating an ancient Biblical site in Israel, called today Khirbet el-Maqatir (Arabic). We think it was the Biblical city of Ai, the second city Joshua and the Israelite captured after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
      The Bible records two battles taking place around this city (Joshua 7-8), and we have found a number of slingstones in the excavation. I refer to these as GI (Government Issued) slingstones, because they would have been shaped by soldiers for military purposes (see Boyd Seevers 2013: 61-62; Warfare in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel).
      They are not just smooth stones from the stream (1 Sa 17:40), like David used on Goliath. GI slingstones during this period were standardly chipped from flint nodules to about 2-2.5 inches in diameter and about 9 ounces – roughly the size and shape as a modern billiard ball.
      At a reasonably standard size and weight, the soldier would not have to alter his regular throwing motion from one shot to the next. Of course, in battle, a slinger would throw anything he could find, but the rounder and smoother the stone, the more effectively they could be thrown. In the ancient world, slingers were part of the army's long-range artillery (along with archers).
      Archaeologists have uncovered numerous ancient depictions of soldiers using slings. But excavations have provided only a couple of slings – mainly those coming from tombs in the dry desert region of Egypt. I have seen a couple from King Tut's tomb in the Egypt Museum, Cairo. They are made of woven cloth – Tut's were linen. The ancient writer, Homer, spoke of a sling as "twisted sheep's wool" (Illiad Bk XIII.600) which would have been the simplest material for the average soldier to use.
      An ancient sling was a woven pocket, large enough to hold the billiard ball-size slingstone, with attached cords on both ends. The slinger would secure one end around a finger and hold the other end between his thumb and a finger. After a couple of windups he would let it fly, letting go of the unsecured end.
      For long-range lobbing of stone "missiles" on an enemy army or town, the slinger would use a vertical underhand spin (like fast pitch softball). For shorter distances and greater accuracy, they would use a horizontal spin. The Old Testament GI slingstones could be launched at 60 miles per hour and reach a distance of 200 yards.
      Just for the record, the shorter the cords, the more accurate the throw (for short range shots) but longer cords provided greater distance (and less accuracy). A professional slinger might shorten or lengthen the cords depending on the need or might even have a couple of different slings with differing cords lengths.
      Khirbet el-Maqatir is located along the northern border of the tribe of Benjamin. Interestingly, this tribe seemed to specialize in the use of a sling (Ju 20:16; IChr 26:14).

26:11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.

      In antiquity dogs were sometimes treated special – but for the purpose of being a sacrifice! The Egyptians, Canaanites and Philistines sacrificed dogs. The Egyptians mummified young dogs (a single cemetery at Saqqara has an estimated 8 million dog mummies! – different breeds, but usually puppies). The Philistines and Canaanites both buried sacrificed puppies with lettuce – obviously having a symbolic meaning! The Philistines were also known to eat dogs.
      So dogs in the ancient world were seldom treated as pets (see also 26:17). They were work animals (Job 30:1) and would have been considered expendable. Packs of wild dogs were known to roam and attack smaller animals and people (Ps 59:6, 14) and would treat dead animals as a source of food (see Ex 22:31).
      I am writing these words at our Tell el-Hammam excavation in Jordan. Here dogs are treated much as they are throughout the Middle East today – as work animals with seemingly little concern about the animal's feelings.
      But one of the wealthy local families does have a dog which is kept on a lease and treated as a pet. Another local family also has a dog which is chained up outside and kept as a watchdog. Susan, a friend from back home and a volunteer digger this season, loves dogs and began to pay special attention to him. She brought him treats – an extra pastry from breakfast. When the owner saw her interest, we were surprised that he actually encouraged it and told her that his name was "Bill."
      A few days later he even brought out the dog's birth certificate. It recorded his birth date (less than one year old) and recorded that he has had all his shots – in both Arabic and English. And sure enough, there was his name in English, right on the certificate, "Beel."

26:14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.

      In the Bible world city gates, palace gates and house doors were permanent wooden fixtures which swung open and closed. But none of them swung on hinges attached to the doorway sideposts. Today, we call those side mounted hinges T- or H-hinges, because of their shape.
      The hinges of ancient doors were not attached to the door jambs. Instead, ancient doors were attached to vertical posts which fit into lower and upper socketstones ("pivots"), constructed in association with the house wall. As the post swung in the socketstones, the door opened and closed.
      I have just returned from my excavation at Tall el-Hammam in the southern Jordan River Valley where we are digging a residential quarter immediately inside the ancient city wall. Just before I left, we found the doorway in a house wall. Right next to the doorway was a lower socketstone still set in place (in situ) in the house floor. We also found the upper socketstone, which had fallen and was sitting in destruction debris on the house floor.
(see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Vg8pIOvvLxw)

26:17 Like one who seizes a stray dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

      This dog in this verse is noted as a stray, thus not a pet. In ancient Israel, stray dogs roamed in packs – hungry and dangerous.
      At my dig in Jordan this year, every morning we drove 40 minutes from Madaba in the Jordanian mountains to Tall el-Hammam in the southern Jordan River valley. While it was winter (February) and their rainy season, the mountain slopes were virtually dirt and rock desert.
      Appearing to be void of any vegetation, there is obviously enough grass sprouting on the slopes for 100 or so sheep and goats each of the flocks we see on the hills. Each flock has a shepherd on a donkey and a few dogs who help keep the sheep in line and guard them.
      These dogs are simply treated as tools by the shepherd. He seems to care much more about his investment in the sheep than the value of the dogs.
      Yet on these morning trips down the mountain we also regularly see packs of 5 to 8 dogs roaming the hills. They look lean and are probably mean. At the dig site, we also saw a dog pack chasing a man in the distance. Sounding loud and ferocious, it scared one of our diggers. Fortunately he was able to make them turn away.