Today, 2537 years ago

יום רביעי, 23 בספטמבר, 2015

On the 10th of Tishrei 522 BCE, Darius the Achaemenid – later to be known as Darius the Great – killed the impostor king Gaumata/Bardiya/Smerdis and ascended to the throne. We know the basics of the story from Darius' own account, a trilingual cuneiform inscription in Behistun, Iran, and more details from Herodotus' account, some 100 years later. So what's the story?

According to Dārayavahuš (Darius) himself, after the death of Kurauš (Cyrus) the great, the founder of the great Achaemenid (Persian) empire, Cyrus' son Kambujiya (Cambyses) ascended to the throne. He killed his brother and heir, Bardiya (Smerdis), but nobody knew that. Then he went to Egypt. A man by the name Gaumata the Magu* lied to the people saying he was Bardiya, and took the kingdom from Kambujiya. Then Kambujiya died by his own hand. Most people didn't know that the king is an impostor, and he killed everyone who might have told. Dārayavahuš describes him as an awful king, full of lies, who did horrible things and was greatly feared. Then, on the 10th of Bagayadi (Tishrei)**, Dārayavahuš, who shared common ancestry with Cyrus, with the help of six other Persians, slew Gaumata and returned the empire to its legitimate rulers – the Achaemenids.

The Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great

The Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great. Photo: Aryobazan, cc-by-sa

Some 100 years later, Herodotus elaborates and gives us some more juicy details. Note that 100 years are enough time for myths to develop (Hey, with the internet today we see even 100 hours are more than enough for hoax to become fact), and that the distance is not only in time but also in space (Greece vs. Persia), culture and sides (Herodotus wasn't very fond of us, Persians).

Herodotus doesn't give different names to Bardiya and Gaumata, but calls them both Smerdis. He tells us the reason Cambyses slew Smerdis is a dream that warned him about Smerdis usurping the throne. Then Cambyses went to Egypt to smash a rebellion, and when the false Smerdis took over, he realized his mistake – the dream had warned him of Smerdis the Magus, a Mede*! He wanted to go back to Susa right away to re-seize the kingship, but in Syria he had an accident: when he mounted his horse, his sword wounded his thigh and the wound was severely infected. When he realized he was dying, he gathered the Persian nobles who were with him, and told them that a Mede named Smerdis usurped the throne and pretends to be Smerdis the Achaemenid. This means the Medes are taking over again, putting the Persian's sovereignty and freedom in grave danger. Cambyses died, the servant who did the actual slaying denied it – he had no one to back him up now – and the nobles were not sure what was now true and what was false.

Then one of the Persian nobles, namely Otanes (Persian Hutāna), tried to find out the truth: He noticed the present Smerdis never goes out in public or invites people over to his palace, two things which Achaemenid kings did on a daily basis. Maybe he didn't want anyone to see him and realize he's not the real Smerdis? Otanes' daughter (we only have her Greek name – Phaedyme) was married to Cambyses, and when Smerdis usurped the throne, he also usurped Cambyses' wives. So Otanes had someone in the king's harem whom he could ask! Of course, he couldn't talk to her directly, so he sent her message from the city gates through a eunuch. He told her that he suspects Smerdis is not the son of Cyrus but a Mede with the same name.

He asked her: Is the man you're sleeping with Smerdis the son of Cyrus or another man?

She said – I can't tell the difference, I've never seen the son of Cyrus (or maybe I've only seen him).

He said: Atossa (Persian Hutausa), Cyrus' daughter, is also one of the wives whom Smerdis usurped (or inherited) from Cambyses. Ask her, she surely knows what her brother looks like!

Phaedyme replied: But he separated us! We no longer live in one house, each of us has her separate quarters!

This, of course, gets Otanes even more suspicious. Now, Smerdis the Mede had no ears, because Cyrus had cut them off as punishment for some offense. So Otanes tells his daughter: When your turn comes to sleep with the king, wait until he falls asleep and feel for his ears. If he has ears – all is well. If he has no ears – well, we know who he is. And he shouldn't get away with usurping the throne and sleeping with a noble girl such as youself. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.

The girl says: It's very dangerous! If he wakes up and realizes I was feeling for his ears, he'll understand what I'm up to and kill me! But I will do it nevertheless, and if I perish, I perish.

Then Otanes gathers six other Persian nobles, the last one to join was Darius the Achaemenid, and they kill Smerdis. And his men. And all the other Medes they could get their hands on. And they run in the streets with the Mede's heads in their hands calling for all Persians to kill Medes. This event was celebrated at least until the 4th century CE, as a holiday called in Greek Magophonia (the Persian name is not known). The only custom we know of this holiday, is that Medes should not get out of their homes on that holiday.

The seven then decide a monarchy would be the best way to rule, choose Darius as the next king (it was a contest and he cheated), and agree that the other six would have the privilege of free access to the king, and their families would only marry one another. Darius marries Atossa (Hutausa), the daughter of Cyrus, and together they are the proud parents of Xerxes, Persian Xšayārša, Hebrew Achashverosh (Ahasuerus). He, in turn, marries Otanes' daughter Amestris. Some identify her with Queen Esther, but she's definitely not Jewish and not chosen in any way similar to that described in the Scroll of Esther.

However, if this story reminds you of that of Esther – a girl talks to her older relative through a eunuch, risks herself and saves her people and then there's a great massacre and the false king dies (Haman has the signet ring, that's king-like) – that's no coincidence. If you happen to be Shiite, you may associate the tenth day of the year with another great massacre – that of Karbala – where a representative of God – Imam Hossein – was slain. All these holidays draw on the same Near Eastern New Year myths and customs, but that's a whole 'nother story.

* Magu is a religious title, but it doesn't seem to mean this here. Herodotus says the impostor Smerdis was a Mede – from Media. Media was the empire that preceded the Persian one, and the Achaemenid kings always mention "Persia, Media and the other provinces". In fact, Cyrus' mother was a Median princess, but that should be a separate post.

** Bagayadi is the month parallel to Tishrei. The meaning of the name is "worshipping God". Apparently, other nations also had High Holidays during this month, because it’s a proper time to ask God, or the gods, for a prosperous year, i.e. good rain. Baga, "God" or "god" shares common roots with Russian bog, "God". This is the first element in the name of the city baga-dāta, the city given, laid or created (dāta, cp. Latin data "givens") by God. This city is known to-day by the name Baghdad, and hopefully if and when peace is achieved in our area, it could be a twin city of Netanya in Israel, with the same meaning.

Thamar Eilam Gindin is an Iranist and a linguist, and author and a lecturer. She received her PhD in Iranian linguistics, and now serves as a faculty member in the Middle Eastern department in Shalem College in Jerusalem and a research fellow in the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Research in Haifa University. Besides academic books and articles, she's the proud author of The Good, the Bad and the World – A Journey to Pre-Islamic Iran (Hebrew only), and The Book of Esther Unmasked (Hebrew, soon in English and Persian).

This post is adapted from The Book of Esther Unmasked. Order your English/Hebrew/Persian copy today, and help Iranians get a free PDF. Or at least help me spread the word! Crowdfunding campaign ends October 16th.

It's all about Rosh Hashana!

יום שישי, 11 בספטמבר, 2015

פוסט זה בעברית: ראש השנה – כל השנה!

My grandfather Shlomo Harari, RIP, used to say that Purim and Kippurim are the same holiday, because both are "pretend holidays": in Purim the Jews pretend to be Goyim (gentiles), and in Kippurim the "Goyim" pretend to be good Jews.

Little did he know, the link between Purim and Kippurim goes way beyond jokes. In fact, it goes thousands of years into the past. In this short series of articles, we will see that these two holidays share deep roots, beliefs, myths and even historical events in the ancient near east. Moreover, Hanukkah, Passover and the Mimuna spring from the same roots, as do New Year events in Islam, New Season holidays in Christianity and other holidays in other cultures. And it's all about New Year's.

Masechet Rosh Hashana says there are four New Years and four judgment days. The names of the Jewish (i.e. Babylonian) months also indicate at least two beginning points: Tishrei (Akkadian Tishritu) means "a beginning", while Marheshvan originates in Akkadian Waraḥ-Shamnu – the eighth month (w-m changes are routine in word-borrowings in the ancient near east, as both are labial – pronounced using the lips) – i.e. a count that begins in the ancient New Year in the month of Nissan.

As a matter of fact, the Tishrei New Year is just as ancient. The vernal (spring) equinox – Nissan – is a symbolic New Year. Nature wakes up, the trees begin to bloom, the days become longer than the nights, the weather is already/still pleasant. It's the national New Near for the Israelites, because in Passover we became a nation. The Mishna tells us it's the New Year for kings: We cannot begin the count of each king's years from the day of coronation, because each king will have a different new year, after several years we won't remember the exact date, and chaos is soon to follow. The solution is that regardless of the coronation date, the king's next year begins in Nissan. Even if he was crowned in Adar. But an agricultural new year in Nissan would be useless, because it would mean that in a Sabbath year, first we won't be allowed to reap what we've sown in the autumn, and then it would be prohibited to sew for next year. The natural and agricultural New Year begins in the autumn, that is, in Tishrei. Two of the judgement days mentioned in the Mishna are in Tishrei: Rosh Hashana is the personal judgement day, and Sukkot is the first judgement day for nature: Will there be enough rain? The other natural judgement days are the other pilgrimage festivals – Passover in Nissan – Will there be enough wheat? And Shavuot in Sivan: Will there be enough fruit?

The New Year has always been a source of excitement as well as fear. In our times it's mostly excitement (or depression), summing-up, intospection and New Year resolutions, but some of us remember the slightly superstitious fear before 5784, Hebrew תשמ"ד which spelled "will be destroyed") and before December 21st 2012 because of the Aztec prophecy, as well as the allegedly rational fear before the year 2000. In the ancient world the new year was also a mix of fear and excitement. Fortunes are about to be decided; the individual, the community and sometimes the whole world – is in danger. This is why we Jews do things we don't normally do throughout the month of Elul and to a greater extent on the first ten days of the year, culminating in Yom Kippur: getting up before dawn for Slichot during these forty days, and fasting on Yom Kippur, when the usual Jewish holiday is about "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!".

Let's take a closer look at the last statement. Does this description fit all the holidays? Not really. Sukkot, Shavuot and Tu Bishvat are about eating, but without the hating, though we did see the Mishna regards Sukkot and Shavuot as judgement days (and Tu Bishvat as a New Year). The "they tried to kill us we won" holidays are conveniently located around solstices and equinoxes: The solar, or lunisolar New Year usually begins with a new season: around the spring or autumn equinox (March and September 21st, give or take a day), or around a solstice (December or June 22nd±1 – winter or summer depends on hemisphere). In simpler words – Sun years (whether their months are based on the moon, like the Jewish year, or arbitrary like the Gregorian calendar) usually begin around the longest day or night of the year, or around the time when day and night are equal.

The Midrash tells us that Hanukkah was actually created on the first Kislev of existence, when Adam saw the days are getting shorter and shorter, and feared the world would come to an end (the world is in danger!). He fasted for 8 days (which is something he didn't normally do), and the days began to get longer: the world was saved! The Maccabis chose Kislev 25th because that was the day the Greeks desecrated the temple, and the Greeks chose that day probably because it is connected to the rebirth of the Sun and a time of light holidays all around the globe (the story of the little pot of oil, by the way, is first documented some 200 years after the events and is not flawless). In the Maccabis' story too, the Jews are in danger – spiritual danger – and there had to be a great massacre in order to save the day. If an 8 day holiday of light starting on the 25th of the month sounds familiar, it is because this was also the birth date of the Sun god in pagan Europe, and when the emperor Constantine wanted to make Christianity more appealing, he identified Jesus with the Sun God (and gave him a halo, later copied unto other saints).

Want to read more? crowdfund the English (and Persian) version of The Book of Esther, Unmasked. This article is based on parts of chapter 9 of The Book of Esther, Unmasked. Want to hear more? Invite me to a well-paid lecture. During the crowdfunding campaign – that is, until October 16th, there are serious discounts on lectures as well, so you may want to take advantage of that.

Next time: All Holidays are High! On the "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat" paradigm of Jewish holidays. (will be linked when published)


Before you ask: This article series is licensed cc-by-sa. You may quote or republish it without explicit permission, as long as you give the following credit to the writer, Thamar E. Gindin (including links) + a link to the original article, and allow others to do the same.

Thamar E. Gindin is a faculty member in Shalem College in Jerusalem, researcher at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf center in Haifa University, lecturer and author of The Good, the Bad and the World, a Journey to Pre-Islamic Iran (Hebrew) and The Book of Esther, Unmasked (Hebrew, English and Persian). This article is based on the 9th chapter of The Book of Esther, Unmasked.

My teaching philosophy

יום שני, 12 במאי, 2014

זאת פילוסופיית ההוראה שלי, כפי ששלחתי עם מועמדות למשרה מסוימת. זה גרם לי לעבור את הסינון הראשוני ולהגיע לשלב הראיון, עדיין לא ידוע אם המשרה שלי או שהיה מישהו עוד יותר תותח ממני. בכל אופן, אם כבר כתבתי אז שווה לחלוק גם אתכם.

תקציר מנהלים: לימודי שפה צריכים להיות כיף, והתלמיד צריך לגלות יותר מאשר ללמוד.
כמו כן, המורה אינו חף מטעויות.

Statement of Teaching Philosophy – Persian teaching
Thamar E. Gindin, PhD.

In Sanskrit literature, the study of Sanskrit language is one of the most difficult tasks in existence, but there is a shortcut: Sometimes, the student only has to realize he already knows Sanskrit from a past life, tap into a dormant memory.

I don't expect my students to know or remember Persian from a past life, but my main goal is to make their experience – as much as possible – one of learning rather than studying; discovering rather than being taught; understanding rather than memorizing.

In almost each one of my classes, there's a part of self-discovery. E.g. on the first class we start with a simple dialog (my name is… what's your name? what's his name? what are their names etc.), then they listen to a similar dialogue, see it written, and analyze the language by themselves: how the letters sound, place and stress of the different components of the sentence; after learning the declined copula, they define the structure (stem + person suffix) themselves, and for "to have" I give them the declined verbs in random order for them to sort; for the perfect subjunctive they get a text abounding in this form, and define it themselves (name and meaning) by its structure.

When teaching a language for beginners, I strive to be as normative as possible, as long as the normative forms are natural. In Persian I adhere to the farhangestān (Persian academy) rules, except when unnatural, e.g. glide consonants for the short copula after ā and u. As we advance, I take a descriptive (what there is) rather than a normative (what should be) approach.

It's important for me to teach students the real, natural language. On the first semester making up or modifying texts is inevitable, but starting from the second semester I give them real texts from the web or sentences I've heard from natural speakers in natural speech (i.e. not examples they gave me but things that came up in conversation). When I do make up sentences or stories (I write my own comic strips), I verify the text with up to 4 native speakers, depending on the complexity of the text.

In language learning, there's an inevitable memorization portion: person suffixes, glide consonants, vocabulary etc. For these, my goal is to make it as pleasurable as possible using songs and games – e.g. Ali Akbar-e Badbakht (Poor Ali Akbar), a small teddy bear that I bring to class for the students to throw at each other while declining verbs or adding possessive suffixes to nouns.

I like using slang or – if the environment allows and with the consent of all the students – "dirty" words to explain phenomena. As a linguist, for me these words are not dirty, they're just as legitimate as straitlaced words – and certainly more interesting. The phonological and morphological phenomena are the same, but because it's funnier and a bit embarrassing, they remember the paradigm better. For word formation and structure, I give them slang or funny words to analyze and define (e.g. the noun of action khoddāfpendāri "considering oneself hot" and their favorite present participle – gušpākkon – Q-tip).

There is also a neurological justification: first, the more neurological paths lead to a piece of information, the easier it is to retrieve it. Secondly, emotional reaction causes the brain to secrete a specific kind of adrenaline which enhances memory. This is why you remember what you did on September 11th 2001, but probably have no recollection of October 11th of the same year.

The other day I gave my 12 year old daughter a short Persian class as we were walking down the street. I taught her a song that she can sing to her baby brother. It's a song I made up with three present-tense verbs in the 2nd sg. I told her the meaning, and we discussed the verbs. She found them on her own – three words with similar structure. She found out the verbs come at the end of the sentence. She noticed they all start with mi- and end in -i. I gave these parts names and explained their function. Then I taught her to decline the verbs in all other persons, and in order for it to be more memorable, I had her decline the slang verbs for "to pass wind (loudly)", "to pass wind (silently)", and "to defecate".

Another way to minimize memorization is by emphasizing word formation. This way, not only do my students avoid memorizing, they don't even consider some words as vocabulary items. E.g. on one of the texts we had the verb sarpiči kard, which the students have never seen before. They do, however, know the noun sar "head" and the verb pičidan "to turn, twist". By the structure of sarpiči they realized the literal meaning was "she turned her head", and with the context, they understood it meant "to refuse".

Another purpose, not directly related to language teaching, is "infecting" them with my love for the culture. When I taught Sanskrit, I used to tell my students mythological tales on various grammatical subjects and had an Indian-food party every year. When I taught Hebrew in Hamburg, we had a Kabbalat Shabbat with the Israeli students. In teaching Persian, we use Taarof in class (e.g. when asking to go to the little Iranist's room) and I invite all the students for a Nowruz (Persian New Year) party with Persian food and a lecture. I show my students that there are people on the other side, even if their regime is now "The enemy". I do that by selecting texts that would demonstrate different sectors of Iranian society and identity: from poetry – both protesting and "benign", to Fars News, Keyhan and Asr-e Iran on one hand, and Radio Farda, Facebook and blogs on the other hand. I strive to refresh my texts every year so as to keep up with current affairs and keep my students – as well as myself – interested and up to date.

In the 21st century, oral and audio skills are no less important than literacy skills. Many of the sources available online include audio. Oral skills are important more for extra-academic purposes: I want my students to talk with Iranians and encourage them to find VC partners on Facebook (sometimes I'm the go-between), though I advise them not to talk about politics. I strive to teach my classes in Persian. With the very advanced students, I end every class with a 10 minute "lecture" by one of the students on a topic of their choice. It comes out quite interesting – we learn about each other's interests – from bats (the animal) to cardiology, and of course allows the students to practice their oral skills.

In our day and age, typing is more relevant than handwriting. This is why on the first class I teach how to install a Persian keyboard, and give typing exercises. Ideally, all assignments have to be submitted typed (preferably digitally – it's better for the environment and for me to keep record). I don't ban paper dictionaries, but don't encourage their use either. The first class of the second semester is dedicated to online and CD dictionaries.

One of the major challenges in a diverse classroom is "not leaving wounded soldiers in the battlefield" on one hand, but not on the expense of the brighter students on the other hand. For weaker students, I offer more exercises, and once in a while I hold a boost-up class for students who need it, with a smaller group, no A or B students allowed, so the weaker students feel more comfortable to ask until they understand. There I also use more slang and dirty words, if the environment allows (this year I had too many religious students and used only mild slang). At the same time I allow the fast learners to rush forward in the book on the first year, I supply them easy-Persian books with audio and exercises (from Iran Language Institute) to do on their spare time, and later translate articles and stories they find on their own. They submit their translations and exercises for me to check and make sure they rush forward in the right direction and don't go astray.

Lastly, I see myself not only as a teacher but also as an educator. The most important thing is to teach my students to think for themselves. They have to know neither I nor any other teacher is infallible. I encourage them to make up new explanations, mnemonics and examples, which I use later with the next generation of students (e.g. from my last course – the difference between subjunctive and indicative moods is the difference between job positions and police "wanted" ads). More importantly, I encourage them to challenge everything I say, find flaws in the theory or offer their own views. My last words on every living-language course are these: "Language is a living being. A language that doesn't change is a dead one. If you see interesting examples of phenomena we've learned – please send them to me to show the next generation. If you find examples contradicting what we've learned here – by all means send them to me. Maybe you've just detected a change or a flaw".

רוצים להיות תלמידים שלי? הנה ההזדמנות שלכם: קורס קיץ מרוכז בפרסית.

پیام تبریک و شادباش نوروزی خاخام آوراهام گیسر به مردم شریف ایران (+English +עברית)

יום שישי, 16 במרץ, 2012

עברית וחיות אחרות גאה לארח את ברכתו של הרב אברהם (אבי) גיסר לבני העם האיראני בפרוס עליהם שנה טובה וחדשה.  המקור העברי מובא בסוף הפוסט.

The Persian greeting is followed by an English translation.

پیام تبریک و شادباش نوروزی خاخام آوراهام گیسر* به مردم شریف ایران


But it was on the 'net!

יום שלישי, 2 באוגוסט, 2011

Tal Ofer sent me a link to this viral video and asked for my scholarly opinion on minutes 10-12. They basically say that elohim (Hebrew "God", but literally "gods") as well as the name of the Lord, i.e. Jehovah, are both masculine and feminine in Hebrew.

Direct link, in case the embedding doesn't work.

Tal, just as you thought, it's – well – crap. And you don't even have to be a linguist to know that. Just to be the Hebrew speaker you are. But when given a task – I excavate (that's a literal translation of Hebrew slang "to go on and on about something").

So this is my scholarly opinion:

The common literal translation of בראשית ברא אלוהים (Gen 1:1) is "In the beginning God creates.

NO!!!!!!! It's "created", and although I know it, I've checked both King James and the two New Revised Standard Versions (NRSV) – both the American one and the Anglicized edition. Thank you Oremus.

And thanks for quoting "the Hebraic translation, found in the Zohar" (penultimate stress, by the way: Zohar, not Zohar). According to the video, it is "with wisdom, Elohim creates". I've had the Zohar since 2004 and so far it only served for protection – against all sorts of evil forces, I guess, but also against falling bookshelves: 23 Zohar volumes on the lower shelves stabilize them. And whaddaya know – the English translation of the Zohar (vol. I p. 155) also says "In the Beginning Elohim created". ED. Past tense. And "in the beginning". Not "in wisdom". This is from the English translation of the Zohar, because the Aramaic quotes the Hebrew.

I've googled up "in wisdom Elohim creates" and found 6 occurences, the most credible of which was in gnosticteachings.org, which, as its name tells, is not exactly subjective nor scholarly.

This interpretation (to be distinguished from translation!) of בראשית ברא אלוהים Berešit bara elohim is based on Prov. 3:19 יְהוָה–בְּחָכְמָה יָסַד-אָרֶץ;    כּוֹנֵן שָׁמַיִם, בִּתְבוּנָה – The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. The present tense is not justified in any way.

00:10:07 "The Feminine form of el (אל) is eloah (אלה), and means "Goddess". Elohim is plural, thus means Gods and Goddesses".

OMG, where do I start?
El is certainly "a god". The feminine is indeed written אלה, but pronounced ela. The he (ה) at the end of ela is a mater lectionis, i.e. it serves to mark the vowel a at the end of the word. It originates from ancient Semitic t, and goes back to t when not in final position, e.g. elat-hamazal "the goddess of fortune". It's also t in ancient Semitic languages such as Ugaritic and Akkadian. That's the feminine marker.
In Eloah the he is consonantal, i.e. it represents the consonant h. That's why its plural is elohim. The a before the h is not etymological, but rather a "stolen" vowel that facilitates the pronunciation of a vowelless laryngeal consonant (that is, it was supposed to be *eloh, but Hebrew can't pronounce that, so the a was added before the h). That's why it "disappears" before suffixes beginning with a vowel, such as the (masculine) plural –im.
I'm sorry, but there's no feminine marker there. Eloah is definitely masculine, and the consonantal h is also found in Arabic ilah and allah (as in la ilah illa 'llah – there is no god but allah).

The etymologies of el and eloah are subject to long debate, so with your permission, I'll omit them here.

Conclusion (10:30): God is established in the first words of the Bible as androgenous, containing both male and female.

How do you reach a (well, sort of) plausible conclusion with an argument that is long, wrong and not-so-strong? Here's how: The masculine in Hebrew is the unmarked gender. It means that if we don't know who we're talking about we use the masculine, e.g. "whoever forgot" in Hebrew would be מי ששכח, the verb in the 3rd sg. masc. When referring to a plural of unknown or mixed gender, we use the masculine. Thus when we say elim in Hebrew, the literal translation is "Gods", but it also includes Goddesses (surprise! it also happens in English! When referring to the Greek Gods or the Hindu Gods, the Goddesses are included. It's magic!). However, Hebrew Elohim is always referred to as masculine singular – we can know this by verb and adjective agreement (verbs and adjectives referring to the Lord are always masc. sg.), but it's no doubt a morphological plural.

ca. 10:50-11:00 The word Elohim referes to angels – the governors of creation, which are both masculine and feminine –

I know it's not an academic response, but — WTF?

Even in Zoroastrianism, that had much influence on Judaism and esoteric teachings in the West, the elements are identified with deities, but one supreme god created them all.

11:20 ff. In the Bible, the angel who oversaw the creation of Humanity is called Ja-hovah – Elohim (the narrator says Ja-hovah, the writing says Jehovah)

I hope our religious people don't hear you. Angels appeared in the Jewish faith much later, only after the contact with the Zoroastrian religion in the first-temple exile. Nowhere in the Bible will you find Elohim or Jehovah as the name of an angel (Angel, by the way, both the Greek word and the pre-exilic meaning of the Hebrew word it translates – מלאך – mal'akh, is originally "a messenger, an envoy").

11:40 Jehovah is another important name of God, not to be confused with Jahveh.


12:00 Yod, or ya, can be translated as "male" or "phallus" – Adam.  (WTF?)

The name of the letter yod comes from Hebrew (Semitic) yad, meaning hand, and that was the form of the letter in ancient times. The connection between yad and phallus is – well, you're adults. You know. But girls do it too. The only connection I see between the letter yod and masculinity is that the Y chromosome is tiny, like the letter yod. But I don't think the ancients knew that, and the letter yod was not this small when the name YHWH came into being.

Hava or Heve, is female, mother, uterus – Eve. (double WTF).

Oh, I get it. English accent. You can't distinguish ḥet (ח) from he (ה). Well: Eve's name in Hebrew is חוה, transcribed in English as Hava, but actually pronounced in Modern Hebrew khava (Kh like German ch when it doesn't follow i or e) and in Ancient Hebrew probably ḥawa ( is the laryngeal h, that is deeper in the throat, as in Arabic Muhammad). It comes from the root חוה/חיה ḥwh/ḥyh from which also comes "life". And yes, women give life, that's why in so many languages "woman" comes from the same root as "creation" (Latin genesis, genetics – Greek gynaecology).

But the name YHWH comes from the root הוה/היה hwh/hyh, with the letter he (like good old English h), which means "to be". YHWH thus means something like "he exists" (Modern Hebrew "he will be"). It is sometimes pronounced Yahweh, and no one can really know how it's supposed to be pronounced, because vocalization is much later than the ancient inscriptions. In the Massoretic Bible it usually receives the same vocalization as the word that's supposed to be pronounced instead of it: Jehovah like Adonay, Jehovih like Elohim. Yahveh may be closer to the original pronunciation of the verb.

Even the name Jahovah contains both masculine and feminine forces.

Ummmm… no. It's a 3rd sg. masculine verb. Sorry.

Bottom lines, people:

1. The fact that something was on the net doesn't make it true. The Hebrew readers among you can read this article by Avishai Ivri on Latma website (this is what Latma makes for English speakers).

2. I don't know what it is that you were trying to prove, and I didn't watch further or before. But if you want to convince, use facts that are correct, or at least such that not many people would identify as complete BS.

Alt-tab: Six months ago an expert on spinal problems said that if I don't get surgery for my two lower vertebrae, hemiplegia will be mine (being cripple waist down, no control or sensation including sex and excretions). L5-S1 disc rupture is something I was completely ignorant about, but I do have some body-mind background. His speech about the non-existence of body-mind connection and lack of possibility to influence bodily processes by the mind, actually saved me from surgery:  I didn't believe anything else he said and got all sorts of alternative treatment + second and third opinions from his peers that said I'm not candidate for operation, and need not worry more than the next person. Shift-Alt-Tab.

I'm a linguist, but you only have to know basic Hebrew to understand your Hebrew arguments are, well, wrong, and once I know the part I understand is wrong, I won't listen to anything else you have to say.

Wanna hear more? I give enrichment lectures wherever they pay well. This is my Contact form.

a heart of shit

יום שישי, 19 בנובמבר, 2010

It's past midnight.

A group of people of different nationalities walk in a European city.

They sing.

One of these people says she knows a love song, but doesn't remember its name. She sings a few words, or lines, and two of her friends start singing it.

The three – two Iranians and one Israeli – walk through the city at night and sing, almost whisper, one of Iran's fondest love songs, Soltān-e Ghalbhā – "King of hearts" (not the card). It's a memory I will always cherish, with people I will always love.

This is how the singer Monica sings it – in Persian and in English (don't go away, there's another version right after).

I told my friend Uri about this night. He doesn't speak Persian, but can find anything on the web. He found the lyrics and translated them by Google translate.

Now Persian is written in a consonantal alphabet, like Hebrew and unlike English. But while in Hebrew there is usually only one way to spell a word, in Persian morphemes occasionally break away from the word. Thus the non-human plural suffix -hā (ها) may be written either separately, e.g. قلب ها ghalb hā "hearts", or as part of the same word, e.g.قلبها ghalbhā. The continuous prefix mī- می may either be written as part of the word, e.g. میگه mige "says" (colloquial) or separately, e.g. می گه mi ge. This is the spelling in the case of the lyrics Uri chose to translate by Google.

Needless to say, in languages with consonantal alphabets there are a lot more homographs (words that are spelled the same) than in languages like English, that always indicate the vowels. Add to this the multiple ways of spelling so many of the words, and you'll find a heaven for Google-translate jokes.

This is how Soltān-e Ghalbhā sounds when you let Google translate do the job. If you were wondering why employ proper translators instead of using software (Persian  نرم افزار narm afzār, not to be confused with its homograph نرم naram "I should not go").

Wanna hear more? I give enrichment lectures wherever they pay well. This is my Contact form.

ואם אתם דוברי עברית ורוצים ללמוד אצלי פרסית – הנה ההזדמנות שלכם: לימודי פרסית.

Woe to the eyes that thus see

יום שישי, 18 בדצמבר, 2009

Executive Summary: "Thou shall not" is WRONG! either "you shall" or "Thou shalt".

As of last night, one of the trending topics on Twitter was the inarticulate "Thou Shall Not".

Twitter Trending Topics 20091217

Twitter Trending Topics 20091217

The sadder thing is that Google has  463,000 results for "Thou Shall Not". Thank the Lord "Thou Shalt Not" still has more (1,990,000), but I feel these data call for a post about English, and this time also in English, as a service to the public.

Guys, saying "thou shall not" is comparable to "I has", or "she have", ok?

In many languages, the verb has to agree with the subject. That means that the verb expresses not only the action, but also the person (first, second, third), number (singular or plural) and in some forms in some languages also the gender of the grammatical subject.

In Modern English, the verb in the present distinguishes only 3rd person singular (ends with s) from all others: I have, you (sg.) have, she has, we have, you (pl.) have, they have. In the past there is no distinction whatsoever: I, you, she, we, you, they – all had. In Hebrew some forms also distinguish gender: e.g. at amart you (sg. f.) said vs. ata amarta you (sg. m.) said. In Russian the past is actually a participial form, that is, it's partly verb and partly nominal (i.e. noun or adjective). So all feminine singulars would end in -a, neuters in -o and masculine singulars with zero: ona byla "she was", vs. on byl "he was", eto bylo "it was" (Dear Lord, forgive my transcription, it's for non-Cyrillic-readers).

The only English verb that distinguishes more than just 3rd sg. is the copula, that is, the verb "to be":

In the present we have I am, you (sg.) are, he/she/it is, and we/you(pl.)/they are.

Believe it or not, Old English had more distinctions than most English speakers can even imagine, both in the verb system and in the nominal system. One day I may write about that.

In any case, not only Old and Middle English but also Archaic New English, has the pronoun thou for 2nd sg., distinct from you, which served for 2nd pl. or as a respectful form for the singular (like usted in Spanish, vous in French, vy in Russian, shomā in Persian). When the subject is thou, the verb agrees with it and ends with -t (art, shalt, hast). When the subject is you, the verb agrees with it and appears in the plural form (are, shall, have).

As it so often happens, the respectful form you took over, and familiar thou was abandoned except in archaic or very high-register (high level of language) uses.The funny thing is, now Thou is considered more respectful than you. The other funny thing is the speakers do feel the need for number distinction in the second person, which gave rise to forms like you guys, y'all, and youse.

I shan't delve into ye, thee, thine and thy right now. I think ye have had enough for one post. To sum it up, the verb should agree with the subject, so if you're using archaic thou, the verb should agree with thou, not with the plural you: Thou art, thou hast, thou shalt ; you are, you have, you shall.

P.S. This lack of agreement occurs also with other verbs, but to a lesser extent: "Thou are": 108,000 results vs. 4,970,000 for "Thou art"; "Thou have": 343,000 results vs. 4,000,000 for "Thou hast".

P.P.S. Come to think of it, this post has added a couple of more results to the search "Thou Shall not", which it denunciates. Maybe at least some of the other results are not so ineloquent after all.

P.P.P.S. I know as a descriptivist I shouldn't use judgmental terminology like "wrong" and "sad", but deep down I'm just a normativist and things like that are literally painful.

Wanna hear more? I give enrichment lectures wherever they pay well. This is my Contact form.