Defective Transliteration of Greek Words in Rabbinic Literature

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  • Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania

    Defective Transliteration of Greek Words in Rabbinic LiteratureAuthor(s): Saul LiebermanSource: The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Jul., 1982), pp. 62-64Published by: University of Pennsylvania PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1454461 .Accessed: 18/12/2014 16:19

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  • THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW, LXXIII, No. I (July, 1982), 62-64

    DEFECTIVE TRANSLITERATION OF GREEK WORDS IN RABBINIC LITERATURE

    By SAUL LIEBERMAN,* Jewish Theological Seminary of America

    RABBINIC SCHOLARS WILL ever be grateful to Samuel Krauss and his predecessors for their contribution to our understanding of the interrelation between Jew and Gentile in Palestine during the first four centuries C.E. Krauss' Lehnwdrter and his three volumes of the Talmudische Archiologie are still of immense value to any serious Rabbinic scholar.

    On the other hand it is well known that a modern dictionary of Greek and Latin loanwords included in early Rabbinic literature is a dire necessity. Over

    eighty years have passed since the publication of Krauss' dictionary. New texts and scientific editions of previously published ones are now available. Modern

    compilations of both ancient and medieval Greek and Latin lexica are now at our

    disposal. Thanks to our teachers we are now equipped with sound methods of research in Rabbinic literature.

    The first prerequisite for the proper understanding of a foreign word is concentration on the context of the source. Sometimes the word in question is an X, and its meaning can be deciphered more "algebraico."' Since the sense of all the other members of the phrase under consideration is clear, we must substitute for the obscure X a word which would best fit the context of the sentence. When the transliteration of the foreign word is defective, the dictionaries of foreign words are a poor help.

    The situation is much worse when we are confronted with a fragmentary citation from a lost source. The entire quotation is incomprehensible, because it is

    incomplete. The whole passage is an X. In this case we must direct all our attention towards cognate sources. Occasionally they may help us to reconstruct the broken passage. We shall illustrate it by the following example.

    'Aruk2 quotes Midrash Yelamdenu from the section beginning with the verse 3jpy '5 ;nx n;15 (Num. 23:7): nx Tl nx ?xw' in?5 Tr11 ?'YInw 155,

    * [As this article was being typeset, we heard of the sudden passing of its author. Professor Lieberman's brilliant contributions to a proper understanding of Rabbinic literature are unparalleled. Joining the 2,000-year-old tradition of Jewish learning with the modern scholarly methodologies of the Western world, he defined the nature of Judaic Studies and became for all of us The Teacher. The sense of loss is profound.-ED.]

    If we may latinize the Arabic. 2 S.v. 'oluo'nI.

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  • GREEK WORDS IN RABBINIC LITERATURE-LIEBERMAN 63

    O'lV'U'11 'MD, "Like a king who issued a proclamation: Next day I am going to

    [hold court and] try my son, [and he tried him]3 "prokhimatos." All the

    corrections and explanations of the foreign word in our dictionaries are senseless, and are not worth recording. Moreover, the whole passage in the quotation is not understandable. Fortunately, we are able to discover part of the preceding portion of the text.

    'Aruk4 quotes from the same section of the same Midrash the following:

    T51P7xK nuv .wKrn Kin D'vilr K? rr1io nnnn pn v5U n5pi r13n n rtD'vyn r xK5 .13'3 ;nr1'; Tl'"7 DX ;'nKl T1' "Like a woman who complained to the

    governor that her son infuriated her. She thought that the governor would

    frighten her son by word of mouth only. But the governor sent an officer.5 As soon as she saw the officer, she diverted her complaint."

    This parable is much more explicit in other Midrashim.6 There it reads: "Like a woman who came to court to complain about her son. When she saw the judge sitting and torturing with fire, pitch, and whips,7 she was frightened, etc. She

    approached the judge and complained: My master, when I was pregnant with my boy, he used to kick me inside my womb." The case was, of course, dismissed.

    It is clear that the parables refer to the verse' Num. 23:8, which reads: How shall I curse whom the Lord hath not cursed? This verse puzzled the Rabbis. Balaam was especially invited to curse a nation whom the Lord has not cursed; otherwise there was no need for Balaam. A Yelamdenu type of Midrash, Midrash Tanhuma9 ad loc., elaborated on it: How shall I curse a nation whom the Lord has not cursed, even in the cases when it deserved to be cursed. He has always found an excuse to exonerate it. The Midrash illustrates its thesis by a series of

    examples. In this light the Yelamdenu passages quoted by 'Aruk are quite understandable.

    It first compared the situation to that of a woman who complained to the authorities of the behavior of her son, but when she realized that her charge may involve serious punishment, she twisted her accusation into an absurdity. Like-

    wise, when the Lord saw that the charge against Israel might carry severe

    punishment, he diverted the accusation to something else. And the Rabbis cited our parable: "Like a king who declared: Next day I am going to [hold court and] try my son, [and he tried him]'1 OltUn'[O]'1D," ntpo oxTXpaoS;, i.e., "pro forma only."

    3The text is somehow abbreviated. We have to add the word 13'1. 4 S.v. T,5SD. I quote from ed. Venice, 1531. 5 On the functions of this officer see my remarks in JQR, XXXV (1944), 72,

    n. 102. 6 Lev. Rabbah XXVII.6, ed. Margulies, p. 635; Pesikta de Rab Kahana IX, ed.

    Mandelbaum, p. 155, and parallels. 7 See my comments in JQR, ibid, p. 72, and nn. ibid. 8 Included in the section of Midrash Yelamdenu indicated by cAruk.

    Balak, ed. Buber 18; previous editions, 16. See also Rashi ad loc. 10 See above, n. 3.

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  • 64 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW

    The following example also indicates a defective transliteration which misled the commentators and the dictionaries.

    We read in Deut. Rabbah 111.2: '13Y: D3rnK ;I7V,3Y 'KTV T"110 Tl;m ?'X '1D1 KYnl - 1 5D33 ,T' 11 RflK ln' 11 up 1V'n 'LLRKV "Do not think that I shall treat you like a master treats his slave when he seeks to sell him Kurissin, for whatever price he can get," etc. Krauss" corrects the word to read T'OD'1lp:Kp and associates it with that word in Exod. Rabbah XLIII.8. However, our passage has

    nothing to do with the text of Exod. Rabbah. Moreover, the printed text of our Midrash is corrupt. A better reading is available in Codd. Oxford and Munich:

    T'D'1jjP. Here again we have a defective transliteration. We should read: KaLrd Kpiaov TD'1P[t~], i.e., "by decision of the court." When a master treats his slave with unusual cruelty, he is compelled by the courts'2 to sell him. The same rule

    applies to the case when the master must pay a debt. Under such circumstances the master will sell his slave at whatever price he can get.13

    " LW, p. 520, bottom. 12 See Digest 21;1,12,12. 13 See my note in the third edition of Debarim Rabbah, ed. Lieberman

    (Jerusalem, 1974), p. 84, bottom.

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    Article Contentsp. [62]p. 63p. 64

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Jul., 1982), pp. 1-96Front MatterEditors' NoteThe Wicked Priest, the Man of Lies, and the Righteous Teacher: The Problem of Identity [pp. 1-37]Dual Personal Pronouns and Dual Verbs in Hebrew [pp. 38-58]Critical NotesA Note on the Dual in Biblical Hebrew [pp. 59-61]Defective Transliteration of Greek Words in Rabbinic Literature [pp. 62-64]

    Book ReviewsReview: Theory and Method in the Study of Biblical Poetry [pp. 65-77]Review: Once More: Jesus in the Talmud [pp. 78-86]Review: Marcus' "aside Ashkenaz" [pp. 87-89]Review: Obadiah Maymn's "Treatise of the Pool" [pp. 90-91]

    Review: Short Notices [pp. 92-93]Books Received [pp. 94-96]Back Matter

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