Sunday, 16 July 2017

Egyptian Words in Tanakh

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First


                                            Egyptian Loan Words in Tanakh

          Did you ever wonder which words in Tanakh are not Hebrew but are Egyptian? Others have been wondering as well! In 1953, the classic article on this topic was published by Thomas Lambdin in the Journal of the American Oriental Society. Lambdin was a professor of Semitic Languages at Harvard for many years. (His Introduction to Biblical Hebrew is used as a textbook at Y.U.)
        Of course, identifying Egyptian loan words in Tanakh is not an exact science. We must distinguish between: 1) words that are definitely or almost certainly of Egyptian origin, 2) words that have a significant possibility of being of Egyptian origin, and 3) words for which an Egyptian origin has been suggested but the suggestion is very unlikely. For the most part, Lambdin’s article avoids words in the third category.
          I am going to present to you the words that Lambdin included. Usually, the suggested original Egyptian word does not completely match the Hebrew word. But scholars are capable of making educated guesses about which discrepancies are to be expected, and which discrepancies indicate that the supposed word borrowing should be rejected altogether.
         Egyptian is not a Semitic language, unlike Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian, Arabic, and several others.
        In alphabetical order, here are the words that Lambdin included in his article:
            Evyon:  “poor, needy, wretched.” That this word is of Egyptian origin is a big surprise to me. I had always thought that it came from the Hebrew root: A-B-H, which meant “to want.”
             Avnet:  girdle or sash. Lambdin writes that it is “possibly” connected to Egyptian “bnd.”  
              Avrekh: This word appears only at Gen. 41:43. Lambdin comments that the possible Egyptian origin of this word has led to an immense number of suggestions, almost all of which are baseless. But he does allow for the possibility that the word is Egyptian. The suggestion that he takes most seriously is that it means “attention.”
             Ach: This word appears only two times, at Jer. 36:22-23. It is a type of ancient fireplace.
            Achu:  grass or reed (as food for cattle).
            Achlamah:   This word only appears at Ex. 28:19 and 39:12. In Egyptian, it is the name of a  precious stone. The suggested Egyptian origin is based on the assumption that the Egyptian “N” can sometimes be equated with Hebrew “L.”  (See also “Leshem” below.)
            Etun: This word appears only at Prov. 7:16. It means “red linen.”
            Iy:  island. We all know this word from Gen. 10:5 and Esther 10:1. It appears many other times in Tanakh.
           Eifah:   measure.
            Bahat: This word appears only at Esther 1:6 (floors made of bahat and shesh). Lambdin first suggests an Egyptian origin for this word,  a type of stone, but then raises a difficulty with the suggestion.
             Butz:  linen. We all know this word from its appearance twice in the book of Esther. It appears six other times in Tanakh. Lambdin discusses this word at length. He believes that an Egyptian origin is possible but very questionable.
             Bochan (“even bochan”): This word appears at Is. 28:16. The meaning in Egyptian is a particular type of stone, perhaps close to granite. (If the word had a Hebrew/Semitic origin, the word would have the unusual meaning: “stone of testing” or “well-tested stone.”)
             Bachan:  This word appears at Is. 32:14 and 23:13. Based on the Egyptian, the meaning is “castle or fortress.”
             Gome:  reeds. We all know this word from Ex. 2:3. But it also appears twice in Isaiah and once in Job.
             Hovnim: ebony. This word only appears at Ez. 27:15.
             Hin:  a liquid measure.
            Zeret:  a unit of measure. Based on the Egyptian, it seems to be related to “hand” or “handful.”
            Chanichav: We all know this word from Gen. 14:14. Avraham took these type of men with him when he went to rescue Lot.  Based on Egyptian, the meaning seems to be “armed” men. (If the word would be Hebrew/Semitic, the meaning would be something like “trainees,” from chet-nun-caf.)
             Chartumim: This word is found in Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. It is always in the plural. Lambdin views it as very likely that this word is of Egyptian origin, but he still cannot prove it.  (The Egyptian words that have been suggested are not sufficiently close to the Hebrew.)
              Chotam: seal, signet ring. We all know the Hebrew verb chet-tav-mem which means “to seal.” But since the noun chotam is Egyptian, this means that the Hebrew verb derived from the noun. (Typically in Hebrew, the verb precedes the noun; the noun is formed by taking the three letter root of the verb and adding a mem or a tav as the initial letter.)
               Taba’at: signet ring, seal. The Egyptian word is something like “gbt,” but Lambdin believes that this is a sufficient match. I had always thought that taba’at came from the Hebrew/Semitic tav-bet-ayin, which meant “press down.”
               Tene:   basket. This word only appears in Deuteronomy (four times).
               Ye’or:  Originally, this was the word for “the Nile.” Later, the meaning became “a river.”
              Ketem:  valuable type of gold. Lambdin believes that the word is foreign to both Hebrew and Egyptian and originally came from Sumerian.             
               Leshem: a type of precious stone. It is mentioned only at Ex. 28:19 and 39:12. It derives from the Egyptian N-Sh-M.
               Marach: “to anoint a wound.”  It is found at Is. 38:21.
              Nofek  and Puk: Each appear a few times. The meaning is “turquoise” or “malachite stone.”
               Neter:  This word appears two times: at  Prov. 25:20 and  Jer. 2:22. The meaning is “natron,” which is a natural soda consisting essentially of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.
                Suf:  fresh-water reed, seaweed.
                 Pach: Sometimes this word means a trap used to trap chickens. Other times it is a thin sheet of metal. Both of these are of Egyptian origin.
                 Tzi: ship. This word appears only three times in Tanakh.
                 Kof: ape, monkey. This word only appears two times in Tanakh (in the plural).
                 Kalachat: pot, kettle. This word only appears two times in Tanakh. The Egyptian original is K-R-Ch-T.
                  Keset: an ink vessel. This word appears only three times, all in Ezekiel chapter 9.
                 Shushan: a type of flower.  (I had always thought the word was Hebrew/Semitic and originated as a “flower with six petals.”)
                  Shitah (almost always in the plural, Shitim): acacia.
                  Sekhiyot:  ships. This word only appears at Is. 2:16. Those assuming it was Hebrew thought it came from the root sin, caf, he, which meant “look.” The meaning might be “objects to be looked at”  or “images.” But at Is. 2:16, it is parallel to oniot=ships. Thus, the Egyptian etymology fits much better!
                    Shasah: to plunder. We should all know this root from Lekha Dodi: ve-hayu le-meshisah shosayikh: “they that spoil thee shall become spoil.” The original Egyptian term is “shasu,” which means: nomads or marauders.
                     Sha’atnez: Lambdin suggests an Egyptian origin for this difficult word, related to an Egyptian word that means “weave.” But he admits that his suggestion is conjectural.
                       Shayish: white marble. Shayish appears at 1 Chr. 29:2. The same word in a different form, shesh, appears twice in Est. 1:6 and once in Shir Ha-Shirim. The Egyptian word meant “alabaster.”
                       Shesh: fine linen.   This word appears many times in Tanakh.
                       Tachra: This word appears at Ex. 28:32 and 39:23. It is a type of garment. Lambdin mentions a scholar who suggested an Egyptian origin but he doubts that the suggestion is correct.
                       Did any of you notice that I left out one significant word?  Yes, I left out Paroh. This word is certainly Egyptian and originally meant “great house.”
                       So now, if anyone ever asks you how many Egyptian loan words there are in the Tanakh, you know that there are not just a handful. But neither are there 100. As Lambdin realizes, some of the suggestions that he included are probably not correct. On the other hand, for the most part, he did not  include words that had an Egyptian origin suggestion that he viewed as very unlikely. But some of these unlikely suggestions may be correct. So the actual number of Egyptian loan words in Tanakh is probably around 40.
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Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.  He was once able to (barely) read ancient Persian cuneiform. He admits he knows nothing about ancient Egyptian.         

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Story of the Hertz Chumash

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First


                                                The Story of the Hertz Chumash

                    “The Pentateuch and Haftorahs” of Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz is one of the most important works of the Jewish religion in the 20th century. To quote one scholar, it “almost single-handedly [gave] shape to the way in which English-speaking Jewish laymen the world over have understood their Judaism over the course of the past two generations.” I recently came across a book which told the story of this work. The book is: A Vindication of Judaism: The Polemics of the Hertz Pentateuch, by Harvey Meirovich (1998). I learned much from this book, and I would like to share some of it.                   
                  First, a bit of biography. Joseph Herman Hertz was born in 1872 in Slovakia. He was brought to the US in 1884 and grew up in NYC on the Lower East Side. He attended City College and Columbia University. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1894, as part of their first graduating class of eight students. After serving congregations in Syracuse (1894-98), Johannesburg (1898-1911) and New York City (1912), he was appointed chief rabbi of England in 1913. He held that position until his death in 1946.
                   R. Hertz began work on his commentary in 1920. But it was not until 1929 that the first volume came out. The last volume, Deuteronomy, came out in 1936. He did not produce this monumental commentary on his own. He had four Anglo-Jewish collaborators: Joshua Abelson, Abraham Cohen, Gerald Friedlander and Samuel Frampton.  Periodically, these men submitted their initial drafts of the sections assigned to them. R. Hertz recast their material into his own style.
                     What was the background to this work? The author explains it all.  In England in 1901, one year before his move to New York, Solomon Schechter wrote:  “[T]he new century does not open under very favourable auspices for Judaism…[O]ur Scriptures are the constant object of attack, our history is questioned, and its morality is declared to be an inferior sort…[T]he younger generation…if not directly hostile, are by dint of mere ignorance sadly indifferent to everything Jewish, and incapable of taking the place of their parents in the Synagogue…” Schechter argued that an English commentary on the Five Books (and the rest of the Bible as well), written under Jewish auspices, was needed to respond to these challenges.
                   There were already English commentaries on the Five Books before that of R. Hertz, but since they were almost always written by non-Jews, they would typically have an anti-Jewish bias. R. Hertz once remarked about such commentaries: “It is as if a version of Shakespeare were made into Spanish by a Spaniard who had but an imperfect acquaintance with English…and who was filled with hatred and contempt for the British character and the entire British people.”
                 In his preface, R. Hertz mentions the few and limited English commentaries written by Jews before him: a commentary published in 1844 by De Sola, Lindenthal and Raphall, of which Genesis alone appeared, and commentaries by Marcus Kalisch on Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus, which appeared over the years 1855-72. He also mentions some glosses in English on the Five Books published David Levi and Isaac Delgado in 1796.


                 Schechter repeated his plea for a Jewish commentary again after his move to New York in 1902 (when he came to head the Jewish Theological Seminary).  The commentary of R. Hertz was a response to the need expressed in Schechter’s plea. 
                The author explains further that traditional Judaism at the time of R. Hertz was threatened by the late 19th century Biblical criticism of Julius Wellhausen and by its reconstruction of history, which characterized Jewish law as anachronistic, as compared with Christianity’s emphasis on faith and morality. Also, R. Hertz was troubled by the mounting self-confidence of Liberal/Reform Judaism. The work of R. Hertz should be read as a reaction to these challenges.
               In his preface, R. Hertz makes the following remark: ”[T]he criticism of the Pentateuch associated with the name of Wellhausen is a perversion of history and a desecration of religion.” Using  archaeology and philology, R. Hertz crafted a sophisticated work that attempted to underscore the Divinity and unity of the Torah, and the integrity of Judaism and its moral superiority to Christianity.
                Aside from the need for a commentary on the Five Books written under Jewish auspices to defend and promote traditional Judaism, there was the more practical need for a commentary that could be used in the synagogue. Before the commentary of R. Hertz, if an English speaking Jew wanted to follow the Torah reading in shul with one work in his hand that included a Hebrew text of the entire Chumash, an English translation, and any kind of English commentary, there was no such work! As we walk into our shuls with hundreds or ArtScroll and Hertz Chumashim, this is hard for us to imagine!  (On the very unlikely chance that there was such a work, the commentary would have been by written by a non-Jew, and it certainly would not have been divided into parshiyyot, let alone include haftarot!)
               While R. Hertz’ work was completed before the Holocaust, it became even more useful thereafter, as the destruction of  European Jewry shifted the center of gravity in Jewish life to the English speaking world. As one scholar wrote: “Hertz had forged in advance for the Jews of England and America a tool to sustain their fortitude and faith.”
                 The two most interesting discussions in the book are the story of the complaint of his collaborators, and the story of how R. Hertz’ work did not sell well initially, despite the tremendous amount of work that went into it.
                  With regard  to the collaborators, on July 8th 1929, after Genesis came out, three of his four collaborators (the other one was already deceased) wrote a letter of complaint about how their names were not included on the title page, even though he did acknowledge their assistance in the introduction. They wrote:  “On the title page of the Commentary the names of your collaborators do not appear. In all similar works, proper tribute is paid in this way to those who have collaborated, as for instance in Kittel’s “Biblia Hebraica.” Accordingly, we feel strongly that following the words: “Edited by the Chief Rabbi” some such phrase as “With the collaboration of…” should certainly follow. We do not consider that our point is covered by the bare reference in the Introduction. We submit that in the subsequent volumes, and also when a new edition of Genesis appears, we should be favored in the way indicated.”
               R. Hertz wrote back: “[N]othing is further from my nature than to deprive others of the honour which is justly their due….Your complaint, moreover, is unjustified. The English usage in regard to any collective enterprise of a literary nature is that only the editor’s name appears.  (The example of Kittel’s Bible is not an analogous case). An absolute parallel case is…..Such is the rule when the contribution of each man is reprinted as it is, without any recasting on the part of the editor. How much the more should it apply in a case where the contributions have been recast and often altogether rewritten by the editor!”
                Genesis sold very poorly initially, causing R. Hertz extreme disappointment. He even considered canceling the publication of the remaining volumes! But people were hesitant to buy the single volumes in view of the anticipated publication of the entire five books in one work.  In 1936, the Soncino Press approached him, as they understood that tremendous sales would result by combining the five volumes into one. Also, a large donation by a friend of R. Hertz enabled the work to be sold at a much lower price. (The Soncino edition also changed the text used for the English translation at the top. Instead of the revised King James version, the more readable 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation was chosen. I admit that, until I prepared this column, I had always assumed that the translation was by R. Hertz himself!) With the Soncino Press edition, sales took off and the work became the mainstay of English-speaking synagogues of every denomination for decades. (Another English option did not appear until 1981 when the Reform movement published its own Chumash.)
            For another interesting article on the Hertz Chumash, see the article by Yosef Lindell, of May 29 2017, at www.thelehrhaus.com.
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Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar.  His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (Kodesh Press, 2015).  He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.