How correct are the translations that say heart is deceitful above all and incurable? In the LXX there's no deceitful just deep and that it is man. My concern is mainly about the "incurable" part. What does that Hebrew word mean and how is it interpreted by various commentators? This verse can be used to support a Gnostic view of man's total depravity ie absolute lack of goodness, due to the translation "incurable". Which word is better (exceedingly weak/sick/corrupt) or "incurable"?

Translations JPS Tanakh 1917 The heart is deceitful above all things, And it is exceeding weak--who can know it?

(ESV) Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

International Standard Version (ISV) Jeremiah 17:9: "The heart is more deceitful than anything. It is incurable who can know it?”

Septuagint (LXX) Ιερεμίας 17:9: “βαθεῖα ἡ καρδία παρὰ πάντα, καὶ ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν· καὶ τίς γνώσεται αὐτόν;

Brenton Septuagint Translation The heart is deep beyond all things, and it is the man, and who can know him

New English Translation (NET) Jeremiah 17:9: “The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it?”

New Heart English Bible (NHEB) Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?”


2 Answers 2


The commentaries there say the following:

Rashi - i.e. When the heart is full of deceit/evil then it is...

An expression of sickness, and this is its sickness.

Metzudos Tzion - It's a particularly strong pain

A painful matter, stronger than an arrow wound (refer to Iyov 34:5)

Malbim - The human heart is easily swayed

The human heart is ready to change at any moment according to the pictures that will be created in the soul at that time.


Yes, the word can be translated as incurable. In Chassidic thought, there actually is an "incurable" element to the hearts of many humans, although it is not in any way similar to the Gnostic idea of utter depravity, original sin etc.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes in Tze'ena Urena that this verse in Jeremiah is talking about the animalistic side of our heart, which will be drawn after material and lustful interests all its life. This is not because it is "depraved", but because that's what it inherits from its animal nature. In fact, it's generally innocent. Enjoying good food is a morally neutral thing that all animals share, and so do we thanks to the animal component of our beings.

To explain it in a different way (based on Tanya), the things which give us enjoyment and pleasure are unique to each individual, and are almost impossible to modify or change. We can cultivate pleasures, but generally speaking we are unable to do anything about the enjoyment of material pleasures. We are stuck with it, incurable. If a Jew were to accidentally take a bite out of pork, ch'v, he may be horrified at the mistake, but one thing he can't be blamed for is the fact that his mouth enjoyed the taste - there's nothing he can do about that*.

The purpose and goal of us being created with pleasures for material things, and (for most of us), pleasures for evil things, is that we should use our free will to reject these things under challenge and temptation. By doing so, we elevate ourselves and the world and perform Hashem's mission, which is to cleanse the world of mundanity, impurity and lowliness and elevate it to holiness, spirituality, Godliness and receptive to the Divine Presence. Each person is given their own mission and their own area of life to "fix" like this, i.e. their own set and range of pleasures and temptations.

By experiencing the energy and intensity of physical temptation, we are able to capture that energy by resisting (and repenting on the times we lose the battle) and rescue it, so that when evil is cured forever, we have kept all these wonderful sparks that never belonged on the side of evil in the first place.

* This is not the complete story, as Tanya mentions how King David destroyed this inclination through fasting, and discusses what goes on in the hearts of great people like him, as well as other people born with nothing but enjoyment of spiritual matters


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