• Ryan M Armstrong

The Bible's Best Rap Battle

I recently talked about the importance of poetry with good trash talk, comparing the book of Job to hip hop rap battles. Please watch the video here.



In this post, I'll explain my translations with more detail.


Zophar's insults (Job 11:12-13)

12 וְאִישׁ נָבוּב יִלָּבֵב

וְעַיִר פֶּרֶא אָדָם יִוָּלֵד׃

13 אִם־אַתָּה הֲכִינוֹתָ לִבֶּךָ

וּפָרַשְׂתָּ אֵלָיו כַּפֶּךָ׃

12 You can only stick a brain in a head that’s empty

When a dude gives birth to a little baby donkey

13 If you had a brain in that empty head,

You’d start praying to God before you get yourself dead


These verses have some half-rhymes, although Hebrew poetry doesn't usually rhyme. The language has a lot of similar word endings, so rhymes don't sound as cool as they do in English. Still, yilavev (ילבב "given a brain") half-rhymes with yivaled (יולד "will be born"). And libekha (לבך "your brain") half-rhymes with kapekha (כפך, "your hands").


A wooden translation of v. 12 would say, "A hollow person is given a heart and a donkey of a wild-ass of a person is born." There might be some evidence that a scribe doubled-up synonyms for "donkey" by accident after the book was written. Either way, Zophar is referring to Job's words in 6:5, where he says he's vulnerable like a donkey. Zophar tells Job he's empty-headed like a donkey, too. In English, we tend to separate the "heart" from the "brain." But in the Bible, the "heart" isn't just the seat of emotion. It can also be the seat of intelligence. Zophar is clearly attacking Job's intelligence.




A wooden translation of v. 13 is: "If you had established your heart, then you would spread your palms to him." Zophar keeps coming after Job's intelligence. If Job had established some intelligence, he would repent. Zophar thinks it's pretty stupid of Job to double-down on his innocence. Job should just say he's sorry for whatever sin he committed.


Job's Counter-Attack (Job 12:2-3)

2 אָמְנָם כִּי אַתֶּם־עָם

וְעִמָּכֶם תָּמוּת חָכְמָה׃

3 גַּם־לִי לֵבָב כְּמוֹכֶם

לֹא־נֹפֵל אָנֹכִי מִכֶּם

וְאֶת־מִי־אֵין כְּמוֹ־אֵלֶּה׃

2 Wow. Y’all are a people.

Wisdom itself won’t die until you’re feeble.

Ok back to reality...

3 I actually do have a brain, I ain’t playin’

I haven’t dropped below that level where you’re stayin’

Anyone can come up with the rhymes that you’re sayin’


Job opens this speech with a lot of sound-alike words and alliteration.



A wooden translation of v. 2: "Surely because y'all are a people, So with you, wisdom will die." Zophar is the last of Job's friends to speak, and he just jumped on the same bandwagon. Job calls them "a people" to emphasize that they're all together. He sarcastically says that wisdom will die with them. Scholar Stephen Geller (and Ed Greenstein) argues that "people" ('am, עם) makes a pun with an Egyptian word for "intelligence." Egypt was famous for wisdom literature, and the book of Job has a few Egyptian references. One might then want to think about this verse with the second meaning: "Surely if ya'll were intelligence itself...wisdom would be dying with you." Job makes a pretty sharp cut. He sarcastically says that wisdom will die with them. But one could also hear it as if the friends are so stupid, they are killing wisdom.


Wooden translation of v. 3: "I also have a heart like y'all. I'm not falling below you. Who doesn't have stuff (i.e. "sayings") like this?" Job is responding to Zophar with specificity. Zophar says he has no brain (or "heart"), and Job says he has just as much, if not more brain than the three amigos. In fact, anyone can come up with stuff as smart as these guys. But Job uses his brain to produce double-meaning trash talk!


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