Monday, February 05, 2007

Red Sea, Reed Sea, Jewish Sages with Greek and Persian names and Aristeas's letter

Hirhurim posts about the identification of the yam suph, which literally means something like reed sea but entered Western consciousness as the Red Sea, because that is what the Septuagint called it (ερυθραν θαλασσαν, erythra thalassa). Incidentally, from poking around a bit I learned that while erythra thalassa literally means "red" "sea", and there is a Red Sea, the Greeks also used that term for the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea or any combination (see). It's quite possible that any perplexity at this translation is entirely misplaced: the translators believed that yam suph was a mighty sea, the erythra thalassa.

Since we're on the topic of the Septuagint, I thought it might be interesting to note that the Letter of Aristeas, which is a pseudepigraphal work explaining the origin of the Septuagint--purportedly written by a Greek gentile named Aristeas, but probably written by a Jew in the Hellenistic period, names the 72 translators!*

47 The following are the names of the elders: Of the first tribe, Joseph, Ezekiah, Zachariah, John, Ezekiah, Elisha. Of the second tribe, Judas, Simon, Samuel, Adaeus, Mattathias, Eschlemias. Of 48 the third tribe, Nehemiah, Joseph, Theodosius, Baseas, Ornias, Dakis. Of the fourth tribe, Jonathan, Abraeus, Elisha, Ananias, Chabrias.... Of the fifth tribe, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, 49 Sabbataeus, Simon, Levi. Of the sixth tribe, Judas, Joseph, Simon, Zacharias, Samuel, Selemias. Of the seventh tribe, Sabbataeus, Zedekiah, Jacob, Isaac, Jesias, Natthaeus. Of the eighth tribe Theodosius, Jason, Jesus, Theodotus, John, Jonathan. Of the ninth tribe, Theophilus, Abraham 50 Arsamos, Jason, Endemias, Daniel. Of the tenth tribe, Jeremiah, Eleazar, Zachariah, Baneas, Elisha, Dathaeus. Of the eleventh tribe, Samuel, Joseph, Judas, Jonathes, Chabu, Dositheus. Of the twelfth tribe, Isaelus, John, Theodosius, Arsamos, Abietes, Ezekiel. They were seventy-two in all. Such was the answer which Eleazar and his friends gave to the king's letter.

The interesting thing about this list is---the names! It contains a mix of classical Hebrew, Persian, Aramaic and Greek names. As you can see, many of them are easy to identify, others less so. There are three elders named אלישע; three יוחנן; fully four named יוסף. Other popular names include שמואל, זכריה and שמעון. There are two each of יצחק ,יעקב and Jason. Perhaps surprising is that the name אברהם appears. Not only is אברהם entirely absent as a personal name in the Bible (apart from the obvious אברהם) it also does not occur as a personal name in Talmudic literature, unlike יעקב or יצחק. I took the liberty of alphabetizing the list.

There is an interesting article called by Naomi G. Cohen (Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period, 15 (1984) p.32-64) called The Names of the Translators in the Letter of Aristeas: A Study in the Dynamics of Cultural Transition which analyzes this onomasticon, which she notes is a list of "authentic names of the third century."**

She says that some 10-15% of this list is Persian in origin; some are "obvious," such as Arsames, which appears twice. While what I have called יצחק appears twice, once it is spelled Isakos and once Isaxos. She notes that the k-x transposition probably reflects an Iranian influence.

Turning to the Greek names, she notes that there is not a single instance of several of the extremely popular Greek names later used by Jews, like Aristobolos, Nikanor or Nikodemos (נקדימון)--and that there isn't any instance of Alexander. But at least one of the names, Chabrias (Xabpias), is a very 4th century Greek name.

She then discusses several names which seem to be Semitic rather than Jewish per se, such as Adaios, which she identifies as עדיה (see ii Kings 22:1, where it is given as the name of Josiah's maternal grandfather). There are Jewish and non-Jewish attestations of this name, such as an Aramaic inscription on a tablet representing a funeral scene from Memphis (two miles down the road from Graceland) dated 482 BCE.

She then contends that Simon doesn't represent שמעון, which was not a name in use at the time; the current equivalents were שמעי ,שמעיה. Thus, in her view, what this is is a "translation" of a name like שמעיה into its Greek equivalent, Simon (Eiuwv), and was probably done to invoke its biblical שמעון.

There is much more of interest in her article, but this post is long enough.

*I am not implying that this can be used as a real historical source per se--but it does nevertheless tell us things; for example, Kahle (pg. 135-137 in Cairo Geniza) was me-dayyek and showed that the Letter of Aristeas is not talking about the first translation of the Bible into Greek, but a revised translation, as evidenced by the fact that the letter says that the translation was presented to and acclaimed by the Jews before being presented to the king. Since it would hardly have been presented to the people before the king who ordered it, Kahle takes it as evidence that even though this letter is about the first and famous translation, purportedly ordered by the king, it seems to mix another occasion, a revision, in with the legend of the translation's origins.
**In Albright's words.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails