lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
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The Ḥorites dwelt in Seir beforehand; the children of Esau succeeded them and destroyed them, and they dwelt there in their place.
—Deuteronomy 2:12

Something I learned from the Judaica: the archaeological record shows that four thousand years there was a thriving Ḥorite civilisation in Seir. This was destroyed when the Edomites invaded; for a thousand years there were no cities at all in Edom, just a small population of seminomads.

Which is interesting, as it shows the author of Deuteronomy was familiar with the ancient history of the region. And for me the archaeological validation turns a throwaway reference in the Torah into a terrible tragedy overtaking a whole civilisation, only barely remembered in the historical record.

Thinking about it, it makes me glad that the Huns (for example) never succeeded in overrunning Western Europe two and a half millennia later, as the result could have been the same here.


That also was accounted a land of giants: giants dwelt therein in beforehand, whom the Ammonites call Zamzummim.
—Deuteronomy 2:20

The commentary in the Etz Chayim chumash explains this as meaning literally the buzz-buzzers, referring to the sound of their language to the Ammonite ears. Which reminds me of the way the Greek would later call anyone who did not speak Greek a barbarian: literally, someone who went bar-bar instead of speaking proper Greek.

So then, fellow non Greek or Ammonite speakers, how would you best prefer to speak: zam-zum, buzz-buzz or bar-bar?


It wasn't so long ago that I had no idea what made Biblical poetry poetry. It didn't rhyme (rhyme was invented as a device for memorising hymns by St Nicholas, of Santa Claus fame), and it had no (easily discernable) metre, and, with a few rare exceptions, it wasn't laid out differently from prose—so what made it poetry?

It was [livejournal.com profile] livredor who pointed out the most obvious answer to this—one indeed I should have spotted myself (and which I later discovered Hertz points out in his commentary, so I must have read it and forgotten it): Biblical poetry almost invariably displays parallelism, the second half of a sentence echoing the first in other words. For example, the opening of Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
For it is he that had founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? And who may stand in his holy place?

(See the Wikipedia article for more on this.)

So far, so good. But I discovered in R. Chaim Weiner's shiur on איכה (Lamentations) just before Tisha BeAv, that there's a whole lot more to Biblical poetry that I had previously been unaware of.

It's immediately apparent that the first, second and fourth chapters are alphabetic acrostics, with the third a triple acrostic. But the fifth chapter, though not an acrostic, also has twenty-two verses. (In mediaeval piyutim, the author's name would have appeared in acrostic here, but this is not the case here.) Which means there is a total of seven times twenty-two verses, seven being a number filled with mystical significance (seven days of creation, seven years before Shemittah, seven times seven years before the Jubilee, and seven times seven days plus one of the Omer, etc).

In Psalm 145 (אשרי), also an alphabetic acrostic, there are three verses which speak of G-d's kingdom:

They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power;
to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the majestic glory of his kingdom.
Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.
כבוד מלכותך יאמרו וגבורתך ידברו׃
להודיע לבני האדם גבורתיו וכבוד הדר מלכותו׃
מלכותך מלכות כל־עלמים וממשלתך בכל־דור ודר׃

These three are the ones for the letters ל, כ and מ - i.e. the letters of the word for "king", מלך. Apparently this device is made use of in איכה too, but I can't remember the examples we were given (the shiur was on Shabbos, so I couldn't take notes), and can't spot any now. :-( (For more on אשרי, see my notes from the drasha R. Weiner gave on the subject.)

As well as making use of the simple alphabetic acrostic, the book also uses the device known as אתב״ש [atbash], i.e. associating the first letter of the alphabet, א, with the last, ת, and the second, ב, with the next last, ש, etc. I'm familiar with this as an acrostical form, but here it's used for content association instead. For example, in chapter 1, the link between the א and ת verses is multitude (-רבת):

א How doth the city sit solitary, that had many people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! איכה ישבה בדד העיר רבתי עם היתה כאלמנה רבתי בגוים שרתי במדינות היתה למס׃
ת Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint. תבא כל־רעתם לפניך ועולל למו כאשר עוללת לי על כל פשעי כי רבות אנחתי, ולבי דוי׃
And in the second and second-last verses, comfort:
ב She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. בכו תבכה בלילה ודמעתה על לחיה אין לה מנחם מכל אהביה כל רעיה בגדו בה, היו לה לאיבים׃
ש They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it: thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me. שמעו כי נאנחה אני אין מנחם לי כל איבי שמעו רעתי ששו כי אתה עשית הבאת יום קראת ויהיו כמני׃

The work is also filled with references to earlier parts of the Bible, for example 1:3 לא מצאה מנוח ("she findeth no rest") brings to mind the wording used for the dove Noah released, in the book of Genesis (and of course the phrase was later used in a chorus of a זמר [Sabbath table hymn]).

Drat, I'm fairly certain there were other devices I learned about too, but I can't remember them now. Which does, at least, make me glad I do make such copious notes at any shiurim I'm at which aren't on Shabbos. :o)

referring to the beginning

Date: 2005-09-20 10:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I wonder how other nations might hear English or German. My mom's relatives who are not German found German sounded like shouting at each other. When my mom was not able to understand it at the beginning she found it was very hard language. I can't remember how English sounded to me at the beginning. I always hated English with a typical strong German accent and don't even like my own recordings. I refused to learn English from my mom and sticked to German. I just wondered why English people can't understand my German when I can understand their English.
I remember that I was confused when I first entered a shul in London and everybody sang Hebrew with a strong English accent. I wondered what they are singing. I knew before that you usually sing Hebrew but in a progressive shul it could have been English, too. It was Hebrew. English accent sounds maybe like row-row?

Re: referring to the beginning

Date: 2005-09-20 10:44 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Just to explain. I was a little child. I understood easy sentences in English already without really living there.

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