An update to this post. It turns out that the quote from the New York Times, Reuters and (as of Wednesday) National Public Radio (which did a piece on this for All Things Considered), “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful,” attributed only to a “classical Hebrew text,” comes from something called the Koholet Rabbah (קהלת רבה), a collection of commentaries on Ecclesiastes (or Qoholeth, “The Teacher”) compiled from various sources and edited sometime between the sixth century A.D. and the eighth century A.D. — roughly the same period as the Qur’an, according to Islamic history.
I have not found the text of the Koholet Rabbah online, but I did find a specific citation — 7,16 — cited by several online sources, beginning with this article about the children of Sderot.
What toasts my Poptarts most about this is how sloppy the reporting has been in attributing the quote:
“He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”
solely to a “classic Hebrew text.” This is reporting at its double-double animal style sloppiest (without the delicious burger goodness). I googled the quote and found the source in one search. I go to a decent theological library, I could probably find the book in translation and check the exact quote — what bit of Qoholeth is it referencing, what is the context for the statement, what is the original source.
The Reuters reporter not following this, yeah, that I can get. Wire service work requires more speed than precision. But there’s no excuse for someone at the NY Times or NPR not to follow this up and find out where that quote came from. No end of good Christian and Jewish theological libraries a 30 minute cab ride from midtown Manhattan or NPR’s DC offices.