Persian Loans to Hebrew

Discussion in 'Judaism' started by mojobadshah, Jan 14, 2011.

  1. mojobadshah

    mojobadshah Interfaith Forums

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    In Our Own Religion in Ancient Persia Lawrence Mills states that "In her scriptures capable philologists discover over a hundred Persian words..." He's obviously referring to the Torah, but what I don't know is whether he means the Hebrew version or the Greek or what, but I assume he means the Hebrew.

    Anyone have any idea what these words are?
     
  2. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    when people talk about "Torah", you have to be very clear whether you mean "Torah" as a general term for religious teaching (in which case it includes the "Oral Torah"), or "Torah" as "scriptures", in which case it probably implies the Tanakh, the hebrew bible, or "Torah" as "pentateuch", the "five books of moses", the first five books of the hebrew bible. i'm not aware of persian words in the pentateuch, but we know of a number of them in the later books such as daniel, for example, but this is not an issue, as authorship of the "NaKh" bit of Tanakh is prophetically inspired rather than directly Revealed. of course our resident expert bob_x will be able to give you a more scholarly answer.

    i would strongly suggest a visit to jewfaq.com which will enable you to answer a number of questions from a "normative" mainstream jewish PoV.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  3. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    If I recall correctly, the Jews of Persia developed into a large and powerful nucleus of power in their own right, only going into decline after Ghengis Khan sacked Baghdad. So it would hardly be surprising that we'd see outright Persian words making their way into commentaries, just as American English invades British English language in terms of spelling, concepts, and new words.

    Of course, there is then the linguistic Semitic relationships between Hebrew and Persian (Farsi?), which is another discussion entirely, and one bb alludes to. :)
     
  4. bob x

    bob x New Member

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    Persian loan-words are common in the Talmud (late writing-down of "Oral Torah"), but in the Tanakh (Hebrew "Old Testament") are found in only four books: Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Esther and Ezra-Nehemiah are explicitly describing the Achaemenid period (Persian imperial rule); the author of Chronicles is re-writing the earlier history also found in Kings with additional information (some of it perhaps good, much of it bogus) at a late date: it is generally thought that the same author wrote Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah (the last chapter of Chronicles is repeated verbatim at the start of Ezra-Nehemiah!), and the use of Persian vocabulary in describing non-Persian courts (ganzak for "royal treasury", used at 1 Chr. 28:11 at the time of David when Jews would not yet have had any occasion to hear an Iranian word like ganzak, is an oft-cited example) tends to confirm this. In Daniel, the use of late vocabulary is again a give-away that the author is writing at a far later date than he pretends.
     
  5. mojobadshah

    mojobadshah Interfaith Forums

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    Is there a list of these words anywhere?
     
  6. bob x

    bob x New Member

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    I can't find a comprehensive list, but there really aren't more than a dozen or two. A lot of ideas moved from Persia to Judea, but not all that many words. Compare: certainly a lot of ideas from Judaism made it into Christianity, but very few words from Hebrew are in European languages: cherub and seraph were left alone by translators because of uncertainty about what the Hebrew even meant, but there aren't all that many other Hebrew words in English usage (and most of those would be recent borrowings through Yiddish); now, a lot of Hebrew proper names did cross over, but that is because stories as well as ideas were borrowed from Judaism into Christianity; whereas Zoroastrian stories, unlike Zoroastrian ideas, did not penetrate much into Judea.

    Non-controversial examples of Persian loans into Hebrew include:

    ganzak "treasury" which I mentioned before (later Persian was ginza)

    rabmag "high priest" is what is called a calque: in a calque, one part is translated (rab is native-Semitic for "great" as in rabbi) while the other part is borrowed (mag is obviously Persian).

    achshadarpen "governor; satrap"

    appeden: in Daniel, the king's court meets in "the tents of appeden" related to Persian apadana "audience hall"

    datt "law" is quite common in Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah (from Persian datta "what is given" like the Latin data "facts that are given")

    qinamon the spice "cinnamon"

    These are Indo-European, but probably not Persian:

    sumphonion (compare English symphony), a musical instrument like a pipe-organ, is definitely Greek, and its usage in Daniel is a sign that Daniel was composed after the Greeks invaded

    pithgam is "decree; edict" in Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah, but more like "issue; topic (for discussion or debate)" in Ecclesiastes. Late Persian has paigam with similar meaning, and Vedic Sanskrit a form pratigama, so it was supposed that Old Persian might have had an intermediate form *patigama though this was not found in the literature; but Greek has pthegma, used in Homer way too early to be a Persian borrowing; and it turns out that pithgam was being used in Aramaic before the Persians rose. This is probably from some older Indo-European-speaking realm like the Mitanni League, whose dominant language is not certain (there may have been several different languages in use among them) but Indo-European of some kind, perhaps West Iranian (that is, more like Kurdish than Persian, like the later Medes) or Phrygian (eventually mutated into Armenian, but the ancient Phrygian was not so terribly different from Greek).

    pardes is "walled garden" in Song of Songs, becoming "paradise" in Talmudic literature; Persian pardeiz is a better source than Greek paradeisos because, although par- or para- for "around; enclosing" is a common prefix in both, the second element (referring to walls) occurs alone in Persian but not in Greek, and since the Greek word is also only found late, it is considered a borrowing into Greek from Persian, and it was assumed the Hebrew also came from Persian. In view of the pithgam case, however, it is now thought to be some other Indo-European source like Mitannian; the Persian contribution was to shift the meaning from an earthly garden to an afterlife realm.

    You can see that the common theme among the words that were borrowed is either political institutions, or luxuries of the upper class; these are the kinds of words that tend to travel, because of an absence of pre-existing words for them in the language (compare the world-wide spread of words like "President" or "television").
     
  7. mojobadshah

    mojobadshah Interfaith Forums

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    Wow, that's really not that many loan words after all. What was Lawrence Mills talking about?
     
  8. bob x

    bob x New Member

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    I think Mills was including a lot of "stretchers". There are a fair number of Hebrew words whose origin is obscure, and Persian used to be a popular guess for the source (I included a couple of those). The cases where Persian is solidly established as the source don't total more than 20, I believe-- and they tend not to be really "profound" words, just words for political institutions or luxury items.
     
  9. bob x

    bob x New Member

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    I should add that I don't mean any disrespect to Mills: but he was writing in 1913. What I say is not things that I have personally figured out; no single human has enough time in a single lifespan to go through all this stuff; I am the beneficiary of a century more of research than Mills had. He gave us the first good and thorough translations of the Zoroastrian scriptures, for which we are in his debt, and tried to figure out the wider connections as well as he could with the information available to him.
     
  10. kiwimac

    kiwimac God is NOT about Fear

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    On a related topic, it is likely that Judaism was profoundly influenced by Zoroastrianism. Pre-exilic Judaism was quite different from the post-exile version.
     
  11. bob x

    bob x New Member

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    I missed one interesting Persian loanword in Hebrew. The full moon before spring equinox (the current full moon is sneaking in just before equinox, so Passover is not for a month, at one of its latest possible positions) is called Purim and the book of Esther claims this is from pur, a Persian word for "lot", because a date for massacring the Jews was picked randomly by casting lots: the theme of the holiday, as with most Jewish holidays, is "They tried to kill us; we're still here; let's party!"

    If pur was ever a Persian word for "lot", it is an obscure one, otherwise not known. An older text from the Hasmonean period (unfortunately I can't find the reference right now) called the holiday Pherurim, and this makes perfect sense coming from Persian perwar/ferwar, their end-of-winter holiday at the last full moon before Nawruz (equinox). The Persian calendar drifted: the Sassanian Empire adopted the simple Egyptian calendar of 12 30-day months, plus 5 extra days, no leap-day; so it wandered against the seasons until Omar Khayyam introduced leap-days, as noted in this stanza from the Rubaiyat:
    Ah, but your calculations, people say,
    Reduced the year to better reckoning-- Nay,
    'Twas but striking from the almanac,
    Unborn tomorrow and dead yesterday

    Unfortunately when the drift was stopped, the calendar was left with everything at the exact opposite season from where it had been intended, so Zoroastrians now have Ferwar in August! But the word is cognate to Latin Februalia from which we get English February (and to words like fervor and fever); the Roman celebration involved all the men running naked in the cold carrying whips, and trying to whip the women (it was lucky to get hit; this meant the woman would become pregnant that year). We don't know many details of the ancient Persian Ferwar, but presumably it involved the same kind of rule-breaking licentiousness found in "Carnival" or other "Festival of Fools" celebrations in late winter, in cultures all over the world. In Rome, Februalia was supposed to symbolically end the year; when New Year's was moved from March back to January, Februalia lost its importance and Saturnalia became the "Festival of Fools" when people were allowed to get away with things they ordinarily wouldn't.

    Purim is marked by dressing up in costumes (somewhat like American Halloween), staging silly skits, and getting very drunk. You are supposed to drink so much you "can't tell Haman from Mordecai" (the villain from the good guy, in the story the skits are supposed to retell). The purpose of both the masking and the drinking is to give people excuses to get away with breaking the rules (you can pretend that nobody knows who you are, or hope that nobody will remember more than blearily what you did). Neither of these features of the holiday seem to have much of anything to do with the "Esther" story and are perhaps inheritances from the Persian holiday it was based on.
     
  12. voice

    voice Interfaith Forums

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    interesting.
     

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