Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"A Covering of the Eyes" in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 20 in light of Hugh Nibley's One Eternal Round

Abraham at Gerar, as in Egypt, loses his wife (nee sister) to a king, who, under divine mandate, is compelled to restore her to her husband. God comes to an ailing king Abimelech in a dream and warns him to return Abraham's wife under penalty of death; Abimelech wakens terrified and confronts the prophet in a withering reproach for passing off wife as sister; Abraham responds in a vigorous defence based around his vulnerability as a resident foreigner throughout the inhabited globe and insists, that technically speaking, "indeed she is my sister" (Joseph Smith Translation: "she was my sister"), that is, before, "she became my wife." The argument is what it is, yet Abimelech showers Abraham with every possible gift and, upon returning "the man his wife," makes the following arrangements:

Genesis 20
16 And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.
17 So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.

If the English words are something less than crystalline, the Hebrew is just as dim.

Claus Westermann renders the verses (Genesis 12-36, 317):

"See, I am giving your brother a thousand silver pieces; this is to be a public justification of you before all of yours-you are entirely vindicated." (Here the scope of the gift and vindication remains hopelessly narrow--only Sarah's family hears about it.)

In what follows I hope to elucidate both the KJV and Joseph Smith Translation of the verses in light of the very heart of wonderful things in Hugh Nibley's and Michael Rhodes's masterpiece, One Eternal Round.

Let's start with the Prophet Joseph's translation, as found in both Old Testament Manuscript 1 and Manuscript 2 (which--because of its confounding obscurity?--is not found in the LDS edition of the Holy Bible):

17And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, he shall give unto thee a covering of the eyes, [crossed out words: an that all who shall be with the] and it shall be a token unto all that thou mayest not be taken again from Abraham thy husband. And thus she was reproved.
18 So Abraham prayed unto God; and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maid servants, and they bare unto unto him children.

The crossed-out words in Old Testament Manuscript 1 show something of the mental effort that accompanies seeric translation: as Hugh Nibley taught, translation through a Urim and Thummim, or by means of intense seeric focus without such helps, is much more difficult than using a dictionary. Here is work at its most supreme: and here is the gift of the Holy Scriptures.

In the Prophet's reading we learn that the thousand pieces of silver have to do with the purchase of a literal object termed "a covering of the eyes," as "a token unto all", in metaphorical sense, of Sarah's married status--sister no more. But what exactly is "a covering of the eyes"? And whose eyes are being covered? On this point all the commentators differ, except in one thing: it does not refer to a physical object.

By comparison, Joseph's literal clarifications appear to be unimaginably crass, and utterly naive. Yet the Targum Onqelos hints at the "covering" as bought object: "he (or it = the hard cash) will be to you a costly veil" (Onqelos). In Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews we read: "To Sarah he gave a costly robe that covered her whole person," at once "a reproach to Abraham that he had not fitted [his princess] Sarah out with the splendor due to his wife" (1:260 and note 198: Bereshit Rabbah 52.12; MHG I, 301). I sense the Prophet's' concrete "crassness" need not obviate the nuances built into Abimelech's discourse: there's room for both the literal and metaphorical here. But let's look first at how the professors have unraveled the "covering."

E.A. Speiser renders: "Let that [the silver] serve you as a blind to everybody who is with you; you have been publicly vindicated." The "blind" or "covering for the eyes," as he translates (148), "appears to describe a method for diverting or forestalling suspicion. Whether the phrase carries special overtones cannot, of course, be determined," (Genesis, 150). I'm indebted to commentaries but cannot understand "a method for diverting suspicion." Would that be staying at home and closing the blinds? Or using kung-fu on any would-be wife-snatchers? "It's in your court now, Abraham." According to Professor Hermann Gunkel, (Genesis, 222): " 'Eye-covering' is a naive legal term. It refers to appeasement [one would have to be dense not to think so: 1000 smackeroos] which hinders one from seeing the harm done one." One from seeing whom? Harm from whom? Huh? Professor Westermann gives us a bit more to go on: "It is clear that the expression is intended in the sense of a justification of her honor, but it is not immediately clear what the image means." Thus: " 'the gift means that the critical eyes of others will be covered so that they will be unable to discover anything shocking in Sarah' (G. von Rad); Sarah's honor is completely restored (J. Skinner); 'so that the people will not look disdainfully on her' (B. Jacob)," (Genesis 12-36, 328). And Westermann, following some of the greats here, must on the right track: it's not a veil that Sarah wears, necessarily; rather the effect Abimelech's bestowal has on onlookers.

All these commentators filch from Rashi (as my generous borrowings from The Complete Jewish Bible at Chabad.org Library makes clear):

And to Sarah he said: Abimelech [said] in her honor in order to appease her, “Behold I have bestowed upon you this honor; I have given money to your brother, about whom you said, He is my brother. Behold this money and this honor are to you a covering of the eyes.”

[Of her associates]: They will cover their eyes, so that they will not denigrate you, for had I returned you empty-handed, they could say,“After he violated her, he returned her.” Now that I had to spend much money and to appease you, they will know that against my will I returned you, and through a miracle. —

and with all: And with all the people in the world. —

you shall contend: You shall have the opportunity to contend and to show these evident facts. Wherever the word הוֹכָחָה appears, it refers to the clarification of matters.

[Rashi cites the Targumic reading]: “Behold it will be for you a covering of honor on account of my eyes, which gazed upon you and upon all who are with you.” Therefore, he [Onkelos]
translated it :“And I saw you and all who are with you.”

Now back to Targum Onqelos:

16. And to Sarah he said, Behold, I have given a thousand seleen of silver to thy brother; behold, that is to thee a veil of honour, for my having sent to take thee, and to see thee, and all that is with thee; and concerning all whatever thou hast spoken thou art reproved (Onqelos, tr. J.W. Etheridge: ultimasurf.net/bible; for the Targumic florilegium for Genesis 20:16, please visit The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon at HUC-JIR).

Note how Etheridge dodges the literal and the crass. What he renders "veil of honour," the Onqelos bluntly terms "a costly veil" (ykr)--an actual object which costs a pretty penny. Perhaps I'm wrong about ykr: Michael Maher insists on the rendering "a garment of honor" being a literal translation of the Hebrew. Yet the bit about honor in modern translations surely comes from the Greek Translation of the Bible: tauta estai soi eis timen tou prosopou sou kai pasais tais meta sou: "this shall be for you as honor-covering [timen] of your countenance and for all who may be with you," that is to say: "if your honor is intact that of all your female associates and indeed that of the tribe will remain intact as well." And the translation garment in light of Abimelech's princely endowment, which makes of Sarah a true municipal (as in the sense in which it appears in Doctrine and Covenants 124:39), also sets me thinking about the interconnectedness of things.


Thus from Rashi (and company, that is, all commentators else), we learn that "a covering of the eyes" signifies a poetic expression of a woman's vindication after being "catched" by King Henry, or almost. But how on earth will it work? Things get out: rumors could dog Sarah forever--and Isaac's about to be born. . . (Rumor has it he's Abimelech's son.) Is she just supposed to stamp her feet and contend her way out of it all?

I'm not convinced.

With my eye on the Prophet's reading (and the Targumim), and sensitive to the legal implications of Abimelech's speech (as signaled by the commentators), I render the Hebrew as follows:

1. See now, I do accordingly transfer to thy Brother (or place under his control) '1000 silverweight.'

2a. See then, 'hu-lakh' 'kesut einaym' [Abimelech is using strict legal and ritual terminology here: 'he-to you': 'a covering of eyes']

2b. regarding all that pertains to thee, even all [legal quiddities here: all is covered; or: this reward and gift covers the honor of all women associated with you, relations, handmaidens, etc.].

3. And so her legal status was accordingly settled for her.

The Hebrew text may be corrupt: the scholars all agree on this (the editor of Genesis in the Biblia Hebraica all but insists). Nobody rests easy with "lekhol asher ittakh ve et khol," and emendations have been proposed. I consider the phrase to be the typical intelligible legal language; Joseph Smith is right by crossing out the entire line all together, although he does so only after an initial struggle at translation. Yet I would insist on one point: the Prophet is not saying that the Received Text in Hebrew is wrong (although the implication may be there). Noting the unintelligibility of the phrasal string (i.e., as nonsense), he simply bypasses it in order to restore the fuller cultural practice lurking behind the words: the Prophet's not going to delve into legal intricacies here, word-by-word.

For me, the essential phrases of the text (all rather mysterious) are: "1000 silverweight," "he-to you," and "a covering of eyes." Nobody seems to know what these phrases signify. "1000 silverweight" seems materially clear, but note the scholarly glosses: "a fabulously large sum" (Westermann, 327); "a very considerable sum" (Gunkel). This is all wrong: "1000 silverweight" means "1000 silverweight," not just big bucks, but a very specific amount that would have referred to a most specific and particular transaction. "Hu-lakh" ("he-to you") is more clear: Abimelech has to give the money to Sarah via Abraham, since "by the rules the wife cannot [directly] acquire it" (Westermann, 327).

There is a specificity of things here: all the commentary notes the legal language, but what's it all about?

Step One: Abimelech transfers Sarah to Abraham along with a specific silverweight.

Step Two: It's now Abraham's obligation, not Abimelech's ("he" to you) to transfer the equivalent to Sarah in order to cover all legal loose ends.

Step Three: Sarah now returns legally to her status as Abraham's wife.

But what Step Three really means for Abimelech is that Sarah now obtains, for the first time, a specific legal status as Abraham's wife, everywhere and in all things, and is sister no longer, no way. The entire legal rigmarole thus spells a marriage: Abimelech (Father of the King) gives away the Princess (Sarah) to his client-heir (he's just made Abraham heir to a hugh tract of land). And marriage, in the Ancient Near East, necessarily makes up a rite of coronation: she is to wear a glorious crown.

Given that the "1000 pieces of silver" convey concrete and specific referentiality, and that it is Abraham's fresh obligation to transfer the equivalent to Sarah, in token of receiving her as wife by the laws of the Canaanite kinglets, it now makes more sense to consider "a covering of the eyes" as referring to a second, "bought," concrete object, however metaphorically described.

Let's return to the Prophet's translation:

1. Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver;

2. behold, he shall give unto thee a covering of the eyes[:]
and it shall be a token unto all
that thou mayest not be taken again
from Abraham thy husband.

3. And thus she was reproved [the Prophet did not modify this last line--legal stuff to bypass].

Three things stand out here, wonderful things.

First comes the discourse shift from Step One to Step Two, from "thy brother" to "Abraham thy husband." The shift would be irony, terrible irony, except for the strict ritualistic purpose of the language: what we have here becomes the technical terminology of a marriage. It is precisely the rarity of marriage ceremonies, per se, in ancient texts that make the matter tricky to reach. (The subject of such ceremonies, and whether Genesis 20 contributes to such, demands further attention elsewhere.) But Joseph Smith has restored precisely the most telling words of all: a shift from "brother" to "husband": Abimelech has now obviated Abraham's need to ever play his game again--Abraham and Sarah are safe now--and forevermore.

The second point: "He shall give unto thee" expands into intelligible words the technical transfer of rights from Abimelech, erstwhile husband (or father), to Abraham--and thus to and over Sarah, a transfer of rights [not just vindication here] which is cast in the shadowy, metaphorical form of "a covering of eyes."

Third: What does it ["it shall be a token"] refer to? The "1000 silverweight"? Or the "covering"? Or just the act of transfer? And does "token" refer to a concrete object? Or, a symbolic act of transfer? I would say it refers to all of the above. In the first instance, the pronoun refers back to the metaphor(?) or noun phrase(?) "a covering of the eyes," but that "covering", whatever it is, only betokens the act of transfer of authority over Sarah from Abimelech to Abraham. (She has to be officially "restored" to Abraham--see: this is all technical legal and royal practice in order to obviate any lese-majesty or violation of private rights). "And it shall be a token" bespeaks both object (if any) and act.

Certainly for Joseph Smith the noun phrase "a covering of the eyes" bespeaks an object Abraham "give[s]" to Sarah, which then serves as a visible token to all the world of her new, or renewed and now permanent status as Princess-wife. The covering must be a precious object indeed to match the princely gift: indeed Abimelech not only makes Sarah legal and lawful wife but markedly a Princess. The Covering must betoken a Princess, as well as Queen, or it means nothing at all--it's not some simple veil being referred to--the commentators, by the way, are right on that point. The covering of the eyes, more than veil, perforce conveys metaphorical profundity.

And here's where Hugh Nibley's comments on Abraham and Sarah come into play. For Brother Nibley the repetition of the sister-wife episode throughout Genesis spells no mere repetition but ritual (and that formalized by law and custom). And in this ritual setting in which Sarah intercedes for the soul of her brother, Nibley finds an exact parallel in the doings of Isis and Osiris. "What is going on here? Abraham and Sarah identified with Isis and Osiris?" he asks (One Eternal Round, 151; see ps. 148-160). But: "That is just the beginning of the parallels that affirm their identity," as he goes on to show in utmost detail. Again: "If Isis was first of all the great princesses, Sarah's name shows her to be the same." And that's why Abimelech hoped to keep her: she looks and acts like a princess because she is a princess--a forlorn Anastasia recast as all dreams come true. Truly, without princess there can be no right to the throne (in Egypt, especially). "Sarah, like Isis, is the ageless mother and perennial bride; with the birth of Isaac she becomes young again," says Nibley--and the birth of Isaac follows directly the incident at Gerar. No time to spare: Abraham needs to assert his right to the Princess at just this juncture. Abimelech's marriage ceremony thus makes possible a universal, not just Hebrew, claim for Isaac's majestic terrestrial inheritance to be. And it is all made possible because of Sarah. (For further discussion of Abimelech's quest for fertility and his reasons for marrying Sarah, see H. Nibley, "The Sacrifice of Sarah," Abraham in Egypt, an unforgettably brilliant essay).

But we need to capture this elusive "covering of the eyes." Here things converge on the fascinating. Nibley, who doesn't touch upon this particular phrase from Genesis 20:17, does dwell on the objects worn on the heads of ladies who substitute, like Sarah, for Isis. Ani's wife (as Isis: "bears the large and conspicuous emblems of Isis, all signifying stages of rebirth [the stages of life: birth, initiation, marriage, coronation, death, resurrection]--the huge lotus [draped over the forehead and literally covering the eyes], menat-necklace or pectoral of pregnancy, and the large sistrum which soothed Isis at the delivery . . [and]. . . her crown is the same throne [hieroglyph as Isis'] worn on her head," (154). The idea of soothing recalls what Gunkel says about Sarah's appeasement--in Egypt you appease the goddess, or else; for Bastet easily shifts to Sekhmet: tame kitty to fierce tigress: "The Lady's green stone goes back to prehistoric times as the tranquilizing amulet of Sachmis [Sekhmet]," and includes both turquoise amulet and a green malachite girdle (431).

So "a covering of the eyes" suddenly explodes into a bouquet of choices: flowers draped on the head, jewels, and, above all, the crown that stands for the right to the throne: "1000 silverweight" becomes not merely princely gift--it is Abimelech's All. As the Hebrew text emphasizes: it's all and everything that I can possibly give. Abimelech fades as Abraham waxes. (As Johannes Pedersen would say, To Abraham belongs the increase and the blessing.)

But there's more in Chapter 10 of One Eternal Round ("Jewel of Discernment"), and it is here that things get serious--and deeply beautiful.

Discernment is the telling word. Recall what the JST says: "and it shall be a token unto all that thou mayest not be taken again from [not Abraham thy brother but from] Abraham thy husband." All will discern (and borrow from) Sarah's permanent status from the covering she wears--and they will accordingly cover in her presence.

Is that covering, then, a diadem or jewel? Nibley loves to cite the Talmudic description of Abraham, who "had a precious stone hung round his neck which brought immediate healing to any sick person who looked on it" (One Eternal Round, Ch. 10, 423). (He constantly reminds us that Abraham, according to the Pearl of Great Price, is possessor [a koneh] of Urim and Thummim.)

All this goes too far: Talmudic legend to Sarah's covering of eyes? (And whose eyes are being covered anyhow?) Not at all. Note how the Abimelech episode ends: Upon the transfer of the silver and the covering, "Abraham prayed unto God; and God healed Abimelech." Now for Nibley, the stone of Abraham is to be understood as a green stone, a stone that greens and restores the world in rebirth and fertility: "and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maid servants, and [note it well] they bare unto him children." The phrase unto him has been added by Joseph Smith, and the addition signifies much. The healing of Abimelech consists precisely in his recovered ability to sire heirs. Sarah grants, by way of the green jewel, whose apotropaic brilliance blindingly covers the eyes of all who behold it, Abimelech's right to posterity by turning away the plague. She has amply repaid the "1000 pieces." Abimelech has given his every penny (see Targum Neofiti 1), and in return, all is amply restored to him. He, too, has passed his test.

When "Abraham administered to Abimelech," recounts Hugh Nibley, " 'all his house were healed, and the women could bear children with no pain, and they could have male children"; at the same moment, Sarah, barren until then, became fruitful, "the blind, deaf, lame, etc., were healed, and the sun shone out 48 times brighter than usual, even as on the first day of creation" ("The Sacrifice of Sarah," Abraham in Egypt = Beer, Leben Abrahams). That last moment recalls the New Year's rising of the Sun in company with Sirius, "a covering of the eyes" indeed (174-5). Universal Vindication, as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will soon, in summation, be.

The transfer from Abimelech (= Abraham) to Sarah plays out again when "Solomon gave the great sapphire to the Queen of Sheba" after she bests him in the universal game (429). "The jewels work as mirrors that convey "the [healing; fructifying] light of the sun into the earth" (434). Thus: in a medieval fresco "you can see Abraham the Righteous [holding] two round mirrors, which show his offspring on the one mirror, the sons of Sarah, and on the other the sons of Hagar" (Abimelech comes in the picture too as Abraham's gentilic double) (434). Again, we are told that "Asenath, like Joseph, wore the diamond crown of twelve emeralds and is identified with [the Egyptian goddess of weapons, bows and arrows, shields, etc.] Neith, 'the Lady of the Green Crown' " (460).

Shield your eyes when Pippa passes: Sapphires of green, emeralds, crowns, diamonds, blinding mirrors, tiaras, the cobra crown piercing the eyes of any would-be snatcher, and even the hypocephalus (the crown-and-pectoral worn at the head and neck, Aaron-like, that bursts into shimmering flames that leave the observer "awestruck and dumbfounded", 460)--our very own Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham)--all, all these answer to "a covering for the eyes."

Yet nothing so charms like the simple lotus draped over the forehead--more precious than rubies: "even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matt. 6:29). A lotus for Sarah--"to kindle the Easter-fire."


Note: Please now also see the complementary essay, "What Hugh Nibley Meant (Or, Sarah to the Rescue)," published 12/09/2011, on blogspot.com



Notes:
The Lotus as Crown: "A parable of a king who entered a city: when the men of the city came forth to crown the king with a crown of gold studded with precious stones and pearls, they were met and told: 'The king requires nothing from you except a crown of lilies.' Forthwith, the men of the city rejoiced," W. G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms (Ps. 45), 449.

Sarah wears a perakh (a blossom-shaped ornament) on her head; an afer (tiara, head-cover: "fruit" or "fruitful"), even a pe'er (head-dress from the verb pa'ar: to glorify or make beautiful) or po'arah (green branch, top branch, etc.).

Sarah wears the Egyptian tpj.t: a nisba adjective meaning "that which pertains to the head," being defined as the uraeus, the White Crown of Upper Egypt, and the Solar Eye [which corresponds also to the hypocephalus]. Hathor herself bears the name tpj.t (here: "first or eldest) as the First Lady, the feminine sun god herself (m jtn.t tpj.t nt jtn(.w) "as the Eldest Solar Globe of the Solar Globes"): see my Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Religious and Cultural Setting, 124. Comparable is the blinding amulet to ward off the evil eye given to one Padiamon [a great "Book of Mormon" name], 104.

The edition of the Joseph Smith Translation to read and to hold sacred as a gift to our generation is Faulring, Jackson, and Matthews, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts.

Vulgate: Biblia Sacra, Stuttgart edition: hoc erit tibi in velamen oculorum ad omnes qui tecum sunt et quocumque perrexeris.
Septuagint: Septuaginta, Gottingen edition, 1974.

The Aramaic Bible: Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis, tr. Michael Maher, p. 73 n. 12.
Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis, tr. Martin McNamara.
The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (CAL), an online resource, is priceless.



Abimelech and Fertility:
From "The Sacrifice of Sarah," Abraham in Egypt: "Here Sarah appears as the central figure in that ritual complex that marks the New Year all over the ancient world and has been noticed in these studies in its form of the Egyptian Sed festival. The theme of Sarah's royal marriages is not lust but the desire of Pharaoh and Abimelech to establish a kingly line. Sarah was at least 61 when she left the house of Pharaoh and 89 when she visited Abimelech. Pharaoh's only interest in Sarah, Josephus insists, was to establish a royal line; or, as Bernhard Beer puts it, "his object was rather to become related to Abraham by marriage," i.e., he wanted Abraham's glory, and that was the only way he could get it. Abimelech's interest is completely dominated by the fertility motif, for he contests with Abraham over "a well of water". . . To complete the scene, Abraham concludes the episode by planting one of his groves in the land of the Philistines (Genesis 21:33). If Sarah is the bounteous and child-giving mother, Abraham no less presides over the life-giving waters." After all, as the Pyramid Texts say: "If you are green then will the king be green as a living rush is green" (One Eternal Round, 430).




Again: In JST Genesis 21:33, the battle over the planting and the water continues with Abimelech doing the planting instead of Abraham: but he dedicates it all in prayer to Abraham's God!



Neith: Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon der Agyptischen Religionsgeschichte.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 22: Bildash and Haza

Nowhere does the Joseph Smith Translation of the Holy Bible get more specific than in its rare but telling changes in, or spell-binding creation of, Biblical names, and particularly those appearing in the Abraham narrative (for instance, Mount Hanabal in Genesis 14). At times the changes seem to reflect a wish for consistency in transcription: Girgashite does match the Hebrew better than Girgasite; Zeboiim beats Zeboim (as in KJV Genesis 14:2,8): though how would the Prophet know which choice to make? His Hebrew lessons were years away. At other times, the Prophet simply crosses out one consonant or vowel and substitutes another. Thus poor Pildash becomes Bildash, and Hazo, Haza in JST Old Testament Manuscripts 1 and 2 of Genesis 22:22.

The Authorized Version (i.e., Don't Touch) reads:

20 And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor;
21 Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram,
22 And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash [cf. JST OT Mss 1 and 2], and Jidlaph [JST OT Ms.2 has Sidlaph], and Bethuel.
23 And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.
24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash [JST OT Ms.2 has Thahasel], and Maachah.

Can a case be made for changing these two odd names? Could the Received Text of the Bible be in error?

Yes and yes.

Professor Goshen-Gottstein has given us a Law of scribes: "By this law, he means that all scribes at all times and places make certain predictable kinds of errors" (Ronald S. Hendel, The Text of Genesis 1-11, 40). And even Latter-day Saint John Whitmer falls under this cautionary law: "Some of the names in the more extensive genealogy lists in Genesis show evidence of multiple layers of editing. As John Whitmer was making a copy of an earlier manuscript, it appears that he had difficulty reading Sidney Rigdon's handwriting in OT1 and therefore rendered some unusual spellings," Faulring, Jackson, Matthews, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, 586. So much then for Sidlaph and Thahasel, I suppose. And it's possible that Bildash and company are also modern scribal missteps. . .

But let's go back to ancient scribes.

Touching first Hazo, what we note in the Hebrew is the consonantal root h-z-w (Het-Zayin-Waw). Upon this root, the Masoretes (whom we surely honor for the gift of the Bible) have inserted a vocalization that obviates the waw (or vav)--by converting it into a simple vowel: a long -o. But such an insertion reflects incomplete analysis of the root. We do not know what the vowels might have been, but if the reading is Haza, then it reflects an analysis of the name as Hazaw, with the final a- being both long and distinct and rounded--and thus all but whistling for a change.

Indeed some students relate the name to a place found in an Assyrian text: Hazu (ha-zu-u). Though there is no way of knowing whether this Hazu must be equated with the personal name Hazo, Hazu does show us options other than that of the Received Text. And that's what Brother Joseph is doing as well. He wants the freedom to pursue options and ideas in his quest to uncover the true facts of the matter. And, at once, he shows, in utter simplicity--no lights or flares--and without hesitation, his total independence from the countless generations of scholarship bound to a Received Text. He speaks with authority, not as the scribes.

But Bildash for Pildash: wouldn't that amount to Balderdash?

No so fast!

If anything, the unanalyzable name Pildash (and so much for the countless generations of ignorant scholarship--one little name. . .), evokes the word for concubine, pilgash. And most surprisingly, that very word occurs just two lines down in verse 24: And his pilgash, whose name was Reumah. . .

Now it doesn't take much imagination to see how an ancient scribe, a bit deaf to the wee difference between voiced and unvoiced labial stops, and working long before the text of Genesis became fixed, just might--given the proximity of the homonymous words--have mixed Bildash with pilgash and come up with Pildash.

There's something fun about it all, and yet it points the mind heavenward: "prophets again in the land."

Lexicographers hunting for Pildash in the wreckage of languages come up only with the late Nabatean name, Pindash (unexplained). Bildash scores more hits: The Bible gives us Bildad, a name rich in cognates throughout the Semitic world: Heb. bn + dad/dod = son of so-and-so; Bir-Dadda (cuneiform); Bil-Adad from Apil-Adda or Adad (Nuzi); Ugaritic (ie Canaanite) yields Blshsh and Blshpsh, and Bld (from ld); the word bldn signifies land. The possible derivation of Bildad, if likely not Bildash, from Apil-Adda via Bil-Adad brings us round full circle, in a confusion of labial stops, to Pildad or Pildash.

But Bilshash definitely puts Bildash into the game.






Notes:
Hazu (Esarhaddon): see Westermann's Commentary on Genesis, 368.

Ugaritic: G. del Olmo Lete and J. Sanmartin, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, 2 vols.


Confronted with variants, the Prophet, only at times following his Phinney Bible (or Cooperstown edition of the KJV) in these next instances (perhaps with Zeboiim, for instance), always chooses readings that better reflect the Hebrew and at once also work better for English speakers: Ajalon (3 times in the KJV) not Aijalon (the Phinney Bible name index does show Ajalon only), Lubim not Lubims, Sukiim not Sukiims, Us for Uz (the s for the ts works better than the z), Girgashite not Girgasite, Phicol not Phichol--he doesn't want a confusable ch (see Gen. 10:23; 1 Chron. 6:69; 2 Chron 12:3 and the like). The Prophet also always follows Ezra, and not Nehemiah, where variants in the names occur (Bani not Binnui; Jorah not Haniph). We don't understand much about the nature of the work involved, yet it would seem that the Prophet is not relying on a knowledge of Hebrew (these corrections were made prior to his study of that language), but on inspiration. And, in this group of inspired corrections, I would also include the reading re-em for unicorns (Isaiah 34:7)--he didn't need to wait for Hebrew lessons to give us re-em (and note the separation of consonants reflecting the glottal stop aleph), for unicorns, in this case a Hebrew singular noun intended for a collective noun in English as consistent with English usage.

A copy of the Phinney Bible may be consulted at BYU's Rare Books library.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Alma and Helam as a Name-pair

Hugh Nibley gives us a beautiful definition of the Book of Mormon name Helam, the stuff on which dreams are made: "It's the word in all Semitic languages for dream. It means 'to be healthy, to recuperate, to restore, a revive a place, to prosper.' A better name you couldn't give to a new settlement than prosperity, or restoration, or health, or revival, or suitability, or happy land. Helam was good name, a name of good omen," Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, 154.

We find more about the place name Helam on page 334 of J. Simons magisterial Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, where Helam and Alma make up a name-pair.

According to Simons, the place name Helam (2 Samuel 10 16-7) is "possibly identical with Alema ['lmah = with an ayin]" of 1 Maccabees 5: 26, 35. "The name," Simon continues, "is now known also from an Egyptian text (BASOR no. 83, 1941, p. 33)," a fact likely to perk up a Mormon ear.

In the Book of Mormon friends Alma and Helam lead the Waters of Mormon community, the new Church. Alma baptizes Helam at the Waters of Mormon before baptizing anyone else, and, in their journey to Zarahemla, the first stopping-place, a desert oasis, is called Alma; the second, a beautiful resting-place where they consider putting down roots, Helam.

So it is that not only the ancient Transjordan but Ancient America also knows the name pair Alma and Helam. As Hugh Nibley says of Laman and Lemuel, Alma and Helam likewise "also form a genuine 'pair of pendant names,' such as ancient Semites of the desert were wont to give their two eldest sons," An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 283.


Notes:
Another candidate for our Alma--the same name, really--comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls: Alma, the son of Judah, written with aleph rather than ayin: see Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, 99. Hugh Nibley also discusses the Alma with ayin, a name "popular among the Arabs": An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 76. Nothing Hugh Nibley wrote ever seems to go out of date--but the same holds true with much of solid historiography. We're not talking about the latest i-phone here. History lasts. It doesn't progress, improve, or evolve. The best simply endures.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"A Trifling Matter": Zoar in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 13

The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible prominently features startling additions to the record, often with expansive doctrinal ramifications. Just as startling are the little changes: additions and deletions that burst out of nowhere and, seemingly, have little to add to the story.

One wee omission concerns the phrase about Zoar in KJV Genesis 13:10:

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,
even as the garden of the Lord,
like the land of Egypt,
as thou comest unto Zoar.

The verse has been commented to death: deletions, rewrites, clarifications all are called for. Something is seriously wrong. . .

Because no single reading, deletion, or rewrite has won out over all comers, we have no way to test the full merits of the Prophet Joseph's reading. That reading, however, does deal with the problematic material in its own deft way (and without fussy commentary):

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,
even as the garden of the Lord,
like the land of Egypt.

Here, the phrase "as thou comest unto Zoar" vanishes, leaving a perfect gem of a couplet in the Hebrew:

like the garden of the Lord (ki gan Adonai)
like the land of Egypt (ki eretz mitzraim),

a stunning poetic expression which conflates the two places on earth most renowned for fruitfulness:

Eden and
Egypt's Delta.

The phrase about Zoar, vague in itself (even without the loss of geographical compass), also upsets the literary force of the couplet.

The Prophet Joseph Smith resolves a puzzle. After all: "The clause is equally unintelligible, whether we place the Pentapolis, of which Zoar was a member, at the south, or at the north end of the Dead Sea. Most commentators quietly ignore this difference. Others evade it by arbitrarily reshaping the whole sentence," W. W. Moore, "The Incongruous Clause in Gen XIII. 10," (The Old Testament Student, 6.8 at Union Theological Seminary, 1887), 237.

Professor Gunkel, for his part, asserts that all three of the phrases (garden, Egypt, and Zoar) are forthwith corrupt, being interposed and unhelpful editorial glosses--not to mention the chronologically daft addition about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah--and perforce merit deletion. But which comes in first for deletion? This could be fun: try first one, and read the resulting verse; then another; and another. . .Then try deleting all three at once--there goes the Bible.

Besides, everyone knows that that area was never well watered, so what watered plain? What we get: And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld--exactly nothing.

No wonder the Lord resorts to the unlettered; you can't read a Bible that equals "exactly nothing."

And no wonder Hugh Nibley would tell his students the very reason he loved reading the Book of Mormon so often was that it hadn't been commented to death. (And here is a touch of wisdom students of the book ought to ponder today.)

Surely the Joseph Smith Translation gives us the best possible reading in English. Nothing at all is said about the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text: it may be corrupt, poorly arranged, or just unintelligible to us dummies. Be that as it may, the English needs trimming up. And not only does the Prophet prune well, he suggests a very good Hebrew parallelism.

Now the French and German translators have their own little trick of rearranging the phrases so as to preserve both Zoar and the final couplet: "before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah until thou comest to Zoar [which was spared]," and then finish off with the concise couplet--but the King James Version didn't leave Brother Joseph that option. Even so, the rearrangement leaves something to be desired--good, solid sense.

How easy for readers to choose text critical technique over the logic of didactic narrative! There is a point to the poetic couplet about Egypt and Eden, says Von Rad: If "The twofold comparison with Paradise and with Egypt sounds surprisingly worldly and enlightened," it is only to induce Lot, like Serpent, Eve, to choose "quickly." "Striking for our usually reticent narrator are the strong superlatives used to describe the beauty of the land and the wickedness of its inhabitants, as well as the broad ceremoniousness with which the fascinating impression and then the making of the decision are painted. But the narrator wants to make a strong impression here. The unheard beauty of the land. . .and the unheard of depravity of its inhabitants! And how quickly and naturally the man on the heights of Bethel made his choice!" (Genesis: A Commentary, 172).

Indeed, how could anyone beat the Prophet's editing of the lines for optimum clarity and beauty? Joseph, while not resolving every quibble of criticism, at least gives us something--and that something accords perfectly with the narrative logic revealed by Von Rad.

The Joseph Smith Translation, however unfamiliar its additions, omissions, and cadences may be, and however shocking its lack of dependence on millennia of commentary, is a thing of beauty.





Notes:
Zoar, some say, is to be identified with the place, Tell esh-Shaghur, also Segor. And Hugh Nibley says Segor is the same name Lehi gives to an oasis spot in the Arabian Peninsula (Ar. Shajer = clump of trees or bushes, oasis). The footnote for 1 Ne. 16:13a in modern copies of the Book of Mormon yields the ludicrous "HEB twisting, intertwining": Oh, those twisting turns of commentary! In Shajer, we have one of Nibley's greatest identifications of a Book of Mormon name (Lehi in the Desert, 78-9).

Monday, June 21, 2010

The names Heni and Haner in the Book of Moses

According to the Book of Moses, Enoch was sent to preach to the seven peoples who constituted the civilized, cultivated, educated world. (The name Enoch signifies "trained" or "educated," as we learn from Hugh Nibley's Enoch the Prophet.) Others lived on the margins of culture (the warlike Canaanites and Enoch's own peaceable Land of Canaan), but they are excluded from these Perfect Seven.

The names of the seven peoples arrest the attention in their resemblance to both Biblical and Book of Mormon names--they have an undeniable Semitic look to them:

Sharon
Enoch (or Hannoch)
Omner
Heni
Shum
Haner
Hannannihah.

And given that some three or four of these names seem to be built on the Semitic root hn or hnn, we start to sense what these people thought of themselves: favored, graced, cultivated. Here every Virginia goose is a swan (as John Adams would say), each a Rose of Sharon. The place name Sharon, by the way, signifies, as appellative noun, "flat country," an excellent place for pasturage. The people of Sharon are therefore shepherds of rich pasturage. These are all lands to "be longed for, craved for" (cf. the Arabic root hanna = Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, 224-5; Sharon and Sharona: James Hoch, Semitic Words in New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period Texts, 263).


But if the text demands Semitic names for these antediluvians, shall we not also take into consideration Egyptian, a fellow Afro-Asiatic language with many correspondences to Semitic.

Let us begin with Haner and Heni.

Haner fits the Egyptian mold perfectly; in fact, the mold is that of a fortified tower, or hnr.t (xnr.t) a Bollwerk or Festung, as the Egyptian Woerterbuch has it: a mighty bulwark. It doesn't take much imagination to recall all the Bergs and Burgs and Borgs at the root of European Civilization--or their bourgeoisie inhabitants that make up the root of all evil. My own Swedish ancestors dwelt for hundreds of years at a Nordic ritual locus later, and forever after, called Borg. The word hnr also describes the harem, the walled-in household of the king. Harem, by the way, comes from the Arabic root h-r-m that describes "that which is forbidden," or sacred, or is to be protected by walls.

Thus we see that the favored and graced inhabitants of the civilized world of Enoch's day had to resort to fortresses and castles in order to protect their way of life. It is the Bronze Age in world history, and indeed hnr also signifies weapons and instruments made of that metal. Sharon becomes Shiryon (a coat of mail).

On the opposite side of the road from the fortified castle stands the tent, the hn.t. The people of the tent, in Egyptian, are the hnj: the Heni. That the Heni should be, originally at least, the people of the tent chimes in perfectly with the wording of the Book of Moses about Enoch's preaching:


Chapter 7
5 And it came to pass that I beheld in the valley of Shum, and lo, a great people which dwelt in tents, which were the people of Shum.
6 And again the Lord said unto me: Look; and I looked towards the north, and I beheld the people of Canaan, which dwelt in tents. [When the Canaanites exterminate the hapless people of Shum, who did not pay attention to Enoch, there are now left only six civilized peoples on the earth.]

Chapter 6
37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places [bergs and burgs and borgs?], and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.
38 And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here and keep the tents, while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us [a non-civilized, unsophisticated person, a tribal person].

But tents give way to palaces in Egypt. Thus a hnw becomes both a private and also a princely Wohnort or Residenz (as the Woerterbuch has it). The Pharaoh himself dwells in a hnw: a residence (but in the long ago a vasty tent). Recall the opening line of the Book of Abraham: "In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence (hnw) of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence."

What could be more odd than the use of the word residence by Joseph Smith to describe Abraham? What could be more Egyptian then hnw as residence, as Hugh Nibley also noted? The choice of translation is an exact one. And here again comes telling evidence that the Prophet was reading real Egyptian words written in actual hieroglyphs off a physical, tangible papyrus roll. The idea that the papyri bought by the Prophet were just helps to his inspiration makes little sense. Brother Joseph held the physical papyrus roll of Abraham in his own hands. Only with such a tangible object could the Prophet key in to such exacting Egyptian readings as the text reveals. And such a physical, concrete object alone can be a sign or earnest of the resurrection of the dead (another theme of the words of Enoch in the Book of Moses). That we should have the actual roll of hieroglyphics becomes a seal of Abraham's own love for us; he wrote his book "for the benefit of my posterity."

Indeed the phrase is not residence alone, that is, a tent (and Abraham often dwelt in tents), but the residence of my fathers and a place of residence, not only what the dictionary calls a Wohnort but also a Hauptort, eines Gaus [district], eines Landes, einer Stadt, etc. The residence of my fathers is the place of the Semitic people themselves, headed by the plain of Oli-shem [3wj-shm = expanse or place of Shem], according to Abraham's own book. To find another place of residence is to dispossess oneself, to cut oneself off from the tribe, to become not Shem but Shum--destined for desolation.

But to return to Enoch, another outcast on a mission to save the world by preaching.

How perfectly the names combine: the land of Haner with its walled castles, prefiguring the awful wars about to descend on the world, and offset only by the towers of Zion: "Then the towers of Zion glittered/like the sun in yonder skies"--for Zi-on is literally the place of white hot, intense, glittering light. Haner, by way of contrast, is walled darkness, a prison world (something like our own, more and more). A person of hnr, in Egyptian, is also a robber, an evildoer, now locked in a vast prison. Next, then, come the folk of Heni, the dwellers in tents, who even have a professional caste of tent-keepers to keep things in strictest order when out on the hunt or at war--when anything could happen at home. A mere hour listening to the wild man, and all your goods are spoiled by robbers. Enoch is bad news for capitalism. And what of those of Hanannihah: In Egyptian hnn denotes chaos, rebellion (also hn, or xn, the works of Seth.

What happened to our choice, educated, graced, and favored people--our rosy people of Hannah and Samuel and Hannoch and Sharon and Shum? They now "are looking forth with fear, in torment, for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God to be poured out upon them" (7:1).

10 And the Lord said unto me: Go to this people, and say unto them—Repent, lest I come out and smite them with a curse, and they die.

A plea for mercy (hnn) remains: the mercy of the Lord.

Hannanihah.



Notes:
The Seven Peoples and their place: "What was the world like in Enoch's day? Joseph Smith places the action amidst pastoral nomads ranging the mountains and valleys--and so do the other sources. They show us the righteous and the wicked, sometimes designated as Sethians and Cainites, living respectively in the mountains and the lowlands," Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, 194. "The wicked gathered together in great valleys," 194; "the sinners in the plain [the Sharon]," 195. "Besides the people of Canaan. . .seven other exotic tribes are named in the Joseph Smith Enoch, suggesting the familiar seven-pattern of tribal organizations," 197, as with the Lehites.

Sharon in J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, ps. 83-4.

Mount Hanabal in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14

The Prophet Joseph left for the benefit of the Saints not one but two books of Abraham: that taken from a roll of papyrus, a physical, tangible roll of Egyptian hieroglyphs (and like the gold plates, a tangible earnest of the resurrection of the dead), now published as the Book of Abraham, and that of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Together, these two offerings fill in the picture of Abraham's life with details, stories, and revelations not found in the Holy Bible and reveal the covenant of the Priesthood God made with the fathers.

Among the easily missed details added by Brother Joseph to the ancient story of Abraham is the place name Hanabal, which could refer to one or several of the Mountains of Moab, on the east of the Dead Sea, perhaps Jebel Sihan, with its high ruins and caves. The mountain towers out of nowhere in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14:9--a verse not found in the current LDS edition of the Holy Bible = KJV Genesis 14:10:

1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;
2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;
9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.
10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits [JST OT Manuscript 1 has: was filled with slime pits]; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.

To the last verse, the Prophet adds:

and they that remained fled to the mountain[s--crossed out] which is called Hanabal. (Old Testament Manuscript 2, p. 640),

or,

to the Mountain [note the capital letter] which was called [Hanable: crossed out] Hanabal (Old Testament Manuscript 1, p. 125).

Of the two manuscripts, Manuscript 2 is the more telling: Hanabal refers to a particular peak rather than a range (the plural mountains is amended to the singular), and we are told by the ancient Hebrew redactor that people in his day still call the mountain Hanabal. By telling us what the mountain is now called, rather than what it was called, also bespeaks an etiological origin of the name, that is, one fixed from a concrete historical event. The Prophet takes care that the name is correctly spelled: Hanabal not Hanable. The spelling with b rather than v, a softening following the vowel, reflects archaic Hebrew usage; the vocalization of the Masoretic Text, on the other hand, follows post-exilic pronunciation, which would yield Ha-naval.

Any understanding of the meaning of Hanabal, which likely represents either Ha + Nabal (The Nabal) or Har + Nabal (Mount Nabal), builds around the thematic opposition of two homonymous Semitic verbs: the Arabic n-b-l (to be noble, magnanimous, as in nabl; nabil; pl. nibal, nubala: "noble; lofty, exalted, sublime, august; magnificent, splendid, glorious": Wehr's Dictionary of Modern Arabic) and Hebrew n-b-l (the Qal intransitive form of the verb signifies it sank, dropped down--and thus to fade and wear away = Klein, Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, 422). In Koehler-Baumgartner (p. 589), we find under n-b-l, which divides into the verbal pair navel (wither) and naval (be foolish), and its nominal derivatives the following meanings: wither, be contemptible, despise. Things n-b-l are "wretched things"--a lost and a fallen people--"senseless" and "foolish" both "intellectually and morally," even they who groan under a weight of "heavy sin." Related thematic roots are Arabic and Hebrew n-b-' (Arabic naba'a: "to be high, raised, elevated, protruding, projecting, prominent"; to tell, and even to prophesy = a prophet is a navi), and Hebrew n-p-l (to fall).

Akkadian n-b-l (from the verb abalu) yields the arid or dry land: in a time of war people flee the cities into the nabal, a place without water, the dry and thirsty land. Mount Dry-and-Thirsty. The place Bazu is "a forgotten place of dry land, saline ground [qaqqar tabti], a waterless place." And to think a mere moment ago, before the arrows and the brimstone fell, Lot, in Bethel, stood overlooking quite a different qaqqar or kikar: a watered plain, just like the Garden of Eden (Gen. 13:10). Another Akkadian word, nablu (nab = brilliance, shining splendor), describes flames and fierce lightning, which gods and heroes rain down on their enemies: "I fought with them, I rained fire on them." "Enlil [the prince of the powers of the air] whirls in the midst of the enemies, he keeps the flame(s) [nabla] smoking." Fury transforms flames into ball lightning: "rain down like shooting stars, strike continually like ball lightning" (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, no. N). The stars in their courses fight Sisera. And fire from heaven will complete the downfall of the Cities of the Plain.

Perhaps the primary derivation of the name Hanabal (which, again, likely represents the article ha- plus the root n-b-l or even a shortened form of the word har, or mountain, plus n-b-l) best corresponds to the Arabic root n-b-l: Mount Noble, Mount Lofty, the Splendid, the August. Mighty Mount Nebo derives from the root n-b-': Mount Prominent, or even ultimately from n-b-l. The Enochic literature (Nibley, 30), speaks of a Mount Nebus near Salem, clearly an echo from Nebo; yet we are told this is the very place where Melchizedek met Abraham after the latter rescued Lot from the battling kings of Genesis 14. Curious is an unknown mountain from Jubilees: Lubar (= l/n -b-r/l(?). On the peak of Lubar, the ark rests; at her foot, Noah's sons first build cities (Jubilees 5:28; 6:1; 7:14-17; 10:15, in Charlesworth, OT Pseudepigrapha, vol.1; Genesis Apocryphon). As near to the mark is the Mountain of Gabla or Gebal, the Horite homeland, mentioned in the Targumic readings of Genesis 14:6, just four verses shy of our Hanabal. In the Targum Mount Gabla (g-b-l "border" or "mountain") replaces Mount Seir of Edom. So we now have n-b-', l-b-r or l-b-l, and g-b-l, an entire constellation of like mountain words or names featured in the accounts of Noah, Shem, and Abraham.

A perfect vocalic match for Hanabal appears in the Benjaminite town of Neballat (Neh. 11:34). In Arabic the place is Beit Nabala (the last two vowels are both long). The meaning of Neballat or Beit Nabala might accordingly be Noble City (one thinks of Jerusalem "beautiful for situation"; or Capernaum, the "exalted," the "city upon a hill"). If the hill is also a tell, or ruin, Neballat then also bespeaks the withering root of Hebrew n-b-l, an eroded wreck. Neballat also recalls the Arabic word for a paved or tiled floor (balats), which might really have been a prominent feature of the place and which also suggests the idea of steps upward from the tar pits into Mount Nabal's protective heights.

In another stab at Hanabal, the vowels don't match: The name of the Carthaginian general is Hanni-bal, (Baal favors him (with a son): hn/hnn: to favor, grace, pity), a name comparable to the Hebrew Hanniel (see Dictionary of the Bible by Sir William Smith, 1872). We likewise resist positing an unknown nominal form h-n-b-l (as bizarre as the Psalmic word for frost: hanamal).

On the other hand, Mount Nabal, following the Hebrew understanding of the same root nbl, might signify Mount Weathered, Mount Withered, Mount Anything-but-August-and-Splendid. In other words, the exact opposite of what the Arabic root conveys. But could both readings work together to give us a true picture of Hanabal?

A secondary, etiological derivation, which plays on the Hebrew root, might exist for Hanabal, one rooted in the storyline with its account of the downfall of the kings in the desperate Vale of Siddim (how ironic for the Targum to translate Siddim as Orchards), where the warriors sink into tar pits (like our own La Brea) and wither into oblivion. The survivors, roundly beaten, flee into a weathered and eroded hill that hangs above the bottomless pits. When we say that names are etiological in origin or function, we refer to such linguistic association (including word play) centering on a historical event. Such etiological derivation in no wise affects the validity of the primary, linguistic derivation from an verbal root, upon which it plays, or elaborates.

The article ha- ("the") with the triliteral root n-b-l may thus signify (The) Mount Ruin, Withered Top. (I'm thinking of Tolkien here: Orodruin, Weathertop.) There are all kinds of suggestive hints that evoke the Hebrew notion of a Mount Nabal. A quick Internet glimpse of the Mountains of Moab arrests the soul: extinct Tannur, Jebel Shihan (Geonames.org). And on the west of the Dead Sea we spot: "The cap rock and the pillars of salt that have fallen from the mountain top" (WysInfo Docuwebs: Life from the Dead Sea: Geological Structure). Or perhaps the mountain resembled a jar. Jar in Hebrew also derives from n-b-l, or perhaps it ultimately derives from another root as per Arabic b-l-ts, (ballats), a jar, being that which, like a eons-contorted mountain, is "wrung forcibly," pinched into shape. Sunk, withered, and geologically wrung out to dry: that is Jebel Usdum, Mount Sodom.

Given that the verbal root n-b-l signifies "to fall down, faint, lose strength" (so Gesenius), or to wither and fall, fall to ruin, wear out (so Koehler and Baumgartner), and thus also to folly and stupidity, the name works a bitter and terribly apt word play: "[they foolishly] fled, and [foolishly] fell [n-p-l] there: right into the tar pits; and they that remained fled to the mountain [or to the range: herah nasu]. In place of herah [har + directional -ah, "to the mountain or to the range"], the Samaritan Pentateuch significantly has the variant h-h-r-h, "to the mountain, to that particular mountain or range," all of which gives notice that something is off, something missing in the Received Text. We look for more: "To the mountain, or range," says the Prophet: "which was called Ha-nabal." Ha-nabal then becomes not only a place of ascent and escape but the place of falling--and the place of folly (nevalah)--the place of the rout--the place of the corpse (navlah).

Mankind flees upward, trudgingly, under a withering sun--and the gravity of heavy sin. Lightning seems to dance on the blushing peak; in the gulf below, the pits spew and bubble. The sophisticated city-dweller is left an eternal Nabutum (Akkadian: Fugitive) The name Ha-Nabal spells doom: the Fall of Kings. All is folly, vanity, and disgrace.

Nabal the glorious meets Nabal the Sunken, and the height of the mountain (Jebel Shihan rises over three thousand feet) only accentuates the depth of the fall in coincidentia oppositorum, the meeting of opposites: both tar pits and the Dead Sea seem bottomless. As Hamlet would say: "Oh what a falling-off was there!" A still greater fall awaits the Cities of the Plain!

Mount Nabal and Mount Lebanon (Lebanon being the Brilliant, White Mountain, even the Holy Temple) remarkably coincide in a sobering anagram (n-b-l ~ l-b-n): on the one side, curse; on the other, blessing (cf. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 1:148, 484). In like manner rise the mirroring mountains of curse and blessing, Ebal and Gerizim--"on the other side Jordan" (Deuteronomy 11:29-30). Choices must be made. Lot, from the giddy ladder of Bethel (the House of God), envisions a watered Eden below--but that is "no lasting city"; it is only "when a man comes up to the top of Mount Nebo, [that] he sees in the Sea of Tiberias a whirlpool, sieve-like, which is Miriam's Well," the very well of living waters first discovered by Abraham and promised his posterity (Midrash on Psalms, 1:341; Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 3: 50-4). From Holy Bethel Lot sights not Eden, but Nabal. Abraham, climbing to higher ground, "rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad"; Moses glimpsed Galilee; Nephi, on the "exceedingly high mountain," saw Mary's well and its tree of life (John 8:56; 1 Nephi 11).

Here is irony indeed: and the more withering the more understated, in true Hebrew fashion.

Building on the ironic paronomasia in JST Genesis 14, we move to Job 14: 18 and discover "the mountain that lies prostrate" (har-nofel yibol), as some ranges seem to do, a phrase that also plays on the roots n-p-l and n-b-l. N-p-l is the primary root of falling in Hebrew, and really just amounts to n-b-l anyhow. Klein relates n-b-l (and note the reflexive n- prefix built onto all the various (n)-b-l roots) to the verbs b-l-h, b-l-l (the fall of the tower all over again), and n-p-l, verbs of fading, failing, falling, and confusion: Babel meets Sodom, and all is lost--witheringly so (Etymological Dictionary, 422). The generations of men fall like leaves, intones great Homer (cf. Jeremiah 8). Enoch on Mount Simeon, "high and lifted up"--and suspended in time--saw one generation pass after another (Moses 7).

The verse in Job speaks to a familiar, though archaic, name for weathered peaks or maybe even our own Hanabal. And here is a hint that our Ha-nabal might derive from Har-Nabal. A linguistic shift from Har-Nabal to Ha-Nabal is altogether likely, the final r dropping before the n, as perforce occurs in Arabic. Or perchance the scribal ear simply missed and misconstrued Brother Joseph's New England /r/: Ha[r]nabal, just as we find in the initial scribal mistakes for the following Book of Abraham names: Koash for Korash; Elkenah, not scribal Elkenner.

Job reads:

18 And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place.
19 The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man,

and certainly the hope of man meets destruction in Genesis 14.

Yet the translation, "the mountain falling cometh to nought (yibol)," but poorly renders the Hebrew, where we find the bound construction har-nofel, not har nofel. Thus--if we want to get picky--not any abstract mountain falls, but that abstraction which is called 'Mount Nofel'). Har-nofel distantly reflects a place name, or, more likely, it was a common designation for eroded peaks.

Again, "cometh to nought" amounts to a flawed attempt to read the verbal root n-b-l as an organic metaphor of withering. What we should read is "will sink down" or "erode": "Indeed [ulay] 'Mount Implodes' erodes to dust."

And, according to the Shoher Tov, this verse from Job does have to do with Abraham and the kingdom of Sodom. Reading Job "in the light of what Scripture says elsewhere": "The mountain falling crumbleth away refers to Sodom and its sister cities; And the rock is removed out of his place refers to Abraham, for he is the rock" (see Isaiah 51:1-2: Shoher Tov on Psalm 53: W. G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 1: 486-7).

A midrashic reading of Scripture reflects literary intertextuality; yet, given the antique pulpit origin of such Psalmic homilies, the waves of midrash may also cast up historical and thematic pearls. That the rock should recall Abraham is no surprise (Isaiah 51:1-2), but neither can we read the mountain falling crumbleth without Jebel Usdum (Mount Sodom) looming before our eyes as the concrete example of all fallen kingdoms. Besides, that Psalm 53 should reveal Abraham should come as no surprise to Latter-day Saints in light of what the same psalm (which pairs with Psalm 14) says and conveys about the world of Joseph Smith at the time of his First Vision (see Braude, xvi).

Boasted History, as discipline, actually takes second seat to Midrash as interpreter of events. Students of Biblical geography remain hopelessly confused about the location of the Jordan-Pentapolis (of Genesis 14), giving us both a northern and a southern "hypothesis." The Cities of the Plain have vanished, together with their captains and kings. But one thing is certain: Latter-day Saints find the Biblical record of Abraham to be a faithful record of historical events (see Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 171ff). Ancient Hanabal, wherever it is, comes to us both new and concrete, and the meaning of the name proposed here fits both a Semitic rootage descriptive of Nebos and noble heights and the literary themes of the etiological narrative.

The Prophet in his translations, like the faithful scribe, brings forth things both old and new. How beautiful are his feet upon the mountains, the feet that announce a gospel dispensation in which old things come to light anew.

How beautiful the mountain which is called Hanabal.



Notes: Based on notes taken from my 2001-2002 notebook. I haven't found anything else on Hanabal in books or articles about the Joseph Smith Translation.

The text, transcribed according to scholarly standards, is found in Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, Scott Faulring, Kent Jackson, Robert Matthews (eds). The introduction to the volume and the explanations of the various manuscripts of the JST are invaluable. See also the invaluable talk, "The Doctrinal Restoration," given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in The Joseph Smith Translation, a collection of talks edited by Monte S. Nyman and Robert S. Millet.

Other useful editions of the JST include Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible (Independence, Missouri, 1970), which I studied as a young child and of which I'm fond, and The Bible Corrected by Joseph Smith, Kenneth and Lyndell Lutes (eds), which shows the changes with more clarity. Neither is a perfect edition and both perpetuate errors. Other editions are available, given that Latter-day Saints never tire of publishing the same things over and again.

Gabla: the so-called "high mountains of Gabla" that spring up in verse 6 of the Targumic account of this story: Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis, tr. Michael Maher: 56 n. 19, a place name found elsewhere in the Targumic record and also known to Josephus as being in Edom." See also Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis, M. McNamara, 91 n. 9.

Vocalization of the stops b,g,d,k,p,t in archaic Hebrew: Speiser, Genesis, Anchor Bible Commentary.

The Samaritan Pentateuch: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed): O. Eisfeldt (ed), Genesis.

Debate over the etymological tie between Heb. navel and naval: is summarized in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, IX, in which also find discussion on the "notable cluster of catchwords," n-p-l, k-sh-l, and n-b-l (fall, stumble, wither) found in Jeremiah 8, versus 12 and thirteen.

Arabic verbal roots: Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, J. Milton Cowan (ed).

Geography of the Pentapolis: J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, 222-229; Neballat: Simons, p. 390.

Of Jebel Shihan: it "overlooks the Wadi al-Mujib (the Arnon) and the Dead Sea. It rises to 965 meters above sea level, and its summit is occupied by ruins and caves [a place of refuge]," Online Article: "The Karak District in the Madaba Map," by Fawzi Zayadine, part of the study, Jordan: the Madaba Mosaic Map, on the Franciscan Cyberspot.

Akkadian roots with nab-: nabu: to shine, be brilliant as in the personal names Shamash-Ne-bi-' or Ne-bi = Shamash-Nebi, a name that recalls Nephi or Ne-ph-i.

Joseph Smith Translation Psalms 14: There is a fine and useful article by Joseph F. McConkie.
















Saturday, June 19, 2010

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

Daedalus in Knossos framed
a dancing-floor for Ariadne
Above the threatening wave

She leapt and spun with outstretched limbs
Above the threatening wave

From Athens' shore a ship came leaping
Above the threatening wave

And Theseus brave joined in the dance
Above yon threatening wave

Daedalus in Knossos framed
a dancing-floor for Ariadne.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Defining "msxr" in the Egyptian Dreambook: A New Dictionary Entry

The Egyptian Dreambook, a New Kingdom classic on dream interpretation, divides its dreams into "good" and "evil." Among the evil we find the following (r.7.7):

Dreaming about going into a msxr 
Evil Dream.
It means a secret plot will be hatched against him.

hr shm.t hr msxr
DW
xpr bs pw nj md.t r=f

So what is a msxr? (Or mshr or mskhr: the x or kh or ch represents one of Egyptian's three h-phonemes. Books always say "pronounced as in Scottish Loch."). Rainer Hannig, the compiler of several large new hieroglyphic dictionaries (an unprecedented feat), takes msxr, which is attested in no other place, to be a scribal mistake for msxn. Because the prefixed m- signifies place (what Assyriologists call a mapras noun formative), we thus have the "place of sxn," a Ruheplatz, or place of rest, it being that place in the temple where the god comes to rest. The guess is a good one for a dream.

Yet while Hannig is right on the money in identifying msxr as a construction indicating place, I wonder why he disregarded the possibility of reading the word as m+sxr (place of sxr)?

Sxr is the verb of planning, of counsel. Might not m+sxr then signify place of counsel, meaning that secret court where plans are made (compare the German Rathaus)? Akkadian mapras, by the way, literally signifies place of prs, or place of separations, i.e., decisions. Egyptian msxr also conjures up the Arabic word majlis, the place of sitting, of counsel, another mapras noun. The dreamer has thus gone into (did he stumble upon it?) the very place where secrets are discussed and plans laid, a precarious ground to walk upon in a groundless dreamworld. (For John Bunyan dreams often have no sure ground: the dreamer is suspended above the earth, as if on a precarious crow's-nest.)

Indeed the interpretation of the dream all but insists on the reading of msxr as place of counsel, for we learn that a "secret word" will work against him: the dreamer has activated the secret against himself by entering into its own place, the secret council. The two noun phrases, msxr and bs nj md.t, or, properly, bs nj md.t r=f, fall perfectly into place:

Dreaming about going into the Place of Counsel.
Evil.
It means a secret plan will be hatched against him.

The wording in the Egyptian Dreambook also recalls an obscure place in the Doctrine and Covenants (a book which shows many parallels to Semitic and Egyptian usage):

And now I show unto you a mystery [bs], a thing [md.t = thing or word] which is had in secret chambers [msxr], to bring to pass [xpr] even your destruction in process of time [again xpr], and ye knew it not: But now I tell it unto you, and ye are blessed (38:13-4).

Although the reader is tellingly not told what Brother Joseph then saw or heard in vision or dream about the secret chambers, the outcome is much more blessed than what the Egyptian Dreambook unfolds. Joseph the Dreamer unravels the Egyptian dream unto favor: the plot against his life bursts with blessing on his head.


Notes

There are two editions of the Dreambook. Alan Gardiner prepared the first; an old school chum, Kasia Szpakowska, now Senior Lecturer in Egyptology at Swansea University, Wales, has recently published a new edition.

The Land of Jerusalem and the Land of Heliopolis (and the Book of Mormon)

I wish to affix a note to what attentive Latter-day Saints have already wonderfully said about the Book of Mormon phrase the land of Jerusalem, a phrase not found in the Bible.

It was Hugh Nibley, "with eagle eye," who first discovered "land(s) of Jerusalem" in the Amarna Tablets (correspondence in cuneiform script between New Kingdom Egypt and Canaan); now Gordon Thomasson again discovers "land" in a fragment from the Dead Sea. The Pseudo-Jeremiah scroll (4Q385, Fr.1, Col. 1), in speaking of Lehi's contemporaries taken captive in Jerusalem, shows as plain as day, and in plain Hebrew, that they were taken "me-eretz yerushalaim" ("from the land of Jerusalem"). And Daniel Peterson, Matthew Roper, and William J. Hamblin all duly note how the Dead Sea Scrolls also speak of "the land of Damascus," whatever that "land of Damascus" is supposed to represent.

Such findings establish that "land of such-and-such a city" is proper Semitic usage, something Joseph Smith could not have known.

A parallel to Jerusalem as land that shows not only a linguistic but also a theological or cosmological likeness appears in the "Erd"-Liste of the Egyptian onomasticon from Tebtynis. (An onomasticon is a lexical list, or kind of encyclopedia made by the Egyptians themselves as a help in navigating their own universe.)

In the list we find at least seven, and perhaps nine, lands, according to Professor Juergen Osing, which, properly speaking, are not lands at all, in any earthly sense of the word, but cities, temples, or otherworldly locales. Now, as observed by many, nothing approximates the temple-city of Jerusalem more than the Egyptian Heliopolis--yet what uncommon surprise to see Heliopolis and its temples described as lands!

"The Land of Heliopolis" comes at the beginning of the list in the Tanis papyrus: t3 nj [jwnw], for Heliopolis, like Jerusalem, is the navel of the universe, the first land created and, therefore, the center of all things. A second papyrus fragment begins with "the Land of the Great Temple" (t3 [nj?] hw.t '3.t), which signifies the same thing: Heliopolis, or the Temple with a capital T. A third list labels all the lands that fall within the compass of the House or Houses of Life, the Egyptian Temple as the construct of the universe itself (the holistic universal and, by necessity, plural Heliopolis). And we are specifically told here that the Houses of Life consist of lands or plots of ground (all of which calls to mind the plot made by the early brethren in Missouri showing the 24 designated "temples" planned for the Temple City of the New Jerusalem in Independence, Missouri):

1. [t3] hw.t '3.t [Land of = Plot of] the Great Temple
2. t3 dw3.t Land of the Duat, or Netherworld (!)
3. t3 hw.t bnbn The Land of the Benben House (the very Center place of the Center Place--and the very theme found on the rim of our Facsimile 2 in the Book of Abraham--what's going on here?),
and so on, including
7. t3 m3(?) qrj (or Old Coptic KHL), which the text identifies as jwnw, or Heliopolis (and which again recalls Facsimile 2: Kli-flos-isis, as it seemingly describes a shrine in Heliopolis. Hugh Nibley has read Kli- as "shrine.").

So what is the Land of the Benben Temple? It is both the center place and, as reflection of the whole, the whole storied cosmos itself. Jerusalem translates it well, as does Zion: all is Jerusalem and Jerusalem is all.

Telling are the words of 4 Ezra, chapter 14 (KJV):

28: Hear these words, O Israel.
29: Our fathers at the beginning were strangers in Egypt, from whence they were delivered:
30: And received the law of life, which they kept not, which ye also have transgressed after them.
31: Then was the land, even the land of Sion, parted among you by lot: but your fathers, and ye yourselves, have done unrighteousness, and have not kept the ways which the Highest commanded you.


Notes
Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 100-2.
For Heliopolis and Jerusalem, see Nibley, One Eternal Round.
Daniel Peterson, Matthew Roper, William J. Hamblin, "On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ," on Transcripts page of Neal A. Maxwell Institute Web page.
Robert Eisenmann and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, 57-8, for 4Q385, cited in Peterson, et al.
Jurgen Osing, Hieratische Papyri aus Tebtunis I, vol. I, 146ff.

Shoher Tov on Psalm 4:9, and Alma 33:4-11: Reflect in your heart

There is a time when the gates of prayer are open,
and there is also a time when the gates of prayer are shut--
but the gates of mercy are never shut
(Shoher Tov on Psalm 4: The Midrash on the Psalms, translated by William G. Braude [Providence, Rhode Island, Yale University Press, 1959], 67).


Few places in the Book of Mormon match the beauty found in its prayers. Consider the prayer of the Brother of Jared, the prayers over the sacramental bread and wine, Alma's baptismal prayer at the Waters of Mormon. Among these gems glistens the multi-faceted Psalm of Zenos, "the prophet of old," a psalm which, at every turn, reflects the light of the pre-exilic language of the Hebrews (Alma 33: 4-11). Sermons in the Book of Mormon show another type of self-contained discourse, but can we find anything Hebraic matching Alma and Amulek's long-winded preaching to the Zoramites (Alma 32-34)?

As every reader of the Book of Mormon observes, the beauty of Zenos's psalm lies in the sense of a turning in prayer from one scene to another, a movement in time, space, and intensity of feeling from an expanse of wilderness, to field, home, closet, followed by a return to multitudinous urban congregations; then, sadly, to empty wilderness once more. Yet in every place God may be found, when the devout pray to be heard of him, and not of men.

Thou art merciful, O God,
for thou hast heard my prayer,
even when I was in the wilderness;
yea, thou wast merciful when I prayed
concerning those who were mine enemies,
and thou didst turn them to me.

Yea, O God, and thou was merciful unto me
when I did cry unto thee in my field;
when I did cry unto thee in my prayer,
and thou didst hear me.

And, again, O God, when I did turn to my house
thou didst hear me in my prayer.

And when I did turn unto my closet, O Lord,
and prayed unto thee,
thou didst hear me.

Yea, thou art merciful unto thy children
when they cry unto thee,
to be heard of thee
and not of men,
and thou wilt hear them.

Yea, O God,
thou hast been merciful unto me,
and heard my cries in the midst of thy congregations.

Yea, and thou hast also heard me
when I have been cast out
and have been despised by mine enemies;
yea, thou didst hear my cries,
and wast angry with mine enemies,
and thou didst visit them in thine anger
with speedy destruction.

And thou didst hear me
because of mine afflictions
and my sincerity;
and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me,

therefore I will cry unto thee
in all mine afflictions,
for in thee is my joy;

for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me,
because of thy Son
(Alma 33:4-11, http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/33?lang=eng).

The unadorned beauty astonishes the reader: we sense no limit to what can be said about these words. To what may we, as seekers of beauty (shoherei tov, indeed!), compare all these things?

Consider the following midrash on Psalm 4:9 (verse 8 in the KJV), taken from the Shoher Tov (or Midrash Tehillim). Since that Midrash likely consists of material culled from old Jewish sermons, the homily on Psalms 4 duly reflects an original "full-length sermon" "concerning prayer or worship," exactly in the manner of Alma preaching to the Zoramites ("sermon," William G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 1:xx; "concerning prayer," Alma 33:3).

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the Jews:
I have said to you--
When you pray, pray in the synagogue in your city.
If you cannot pray in the synagogue, pray in your field.
If you cannot pray in your field, pray in your house.
And if you cannot pray on your bed, reflect in your heart (Braude, 1:73).

Amulek takes up Alma's burden:

Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. . .
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full,
drawn out in prayer unto him continually.
(Selections from Alma 34:20-27).

All resolves into peace in the inner chamber of the heart:

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
The Lord will hear when I call unto him.

Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.

Thou hast put gladness in my heart.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep:
for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
(Selections from Psalm 4: 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, http://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/ps/4?lang=eng)