Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Living in an Aramaic World (also, where does “עבודה זרה” come from?)

I started out by proceeding from the better known Hebrew to the lesser known Aramaic. I used Hebrew to understand Aramaic, which was only natural. But, at a certain point, I realized that I could use Aramaic to understand Hebrew. I do not remember exactly when it was that I learned that Hebrew עבודה זרה “foreign, hateful worship” was a back translation of the Aramaic פולחנא נכראה, but when I did, I had effectively become aware of the cultural universe of Aramaic. Once again, I realized that Jews used Aramaic because they lived in an Aramaic world. In retrospect, it is all so obvious, and yet it took me some time to switch gears.

Baruch A. Levine reflecting on his youthful studies in the Epilogue to Semitic Papyrology in Context : A Climate of Creativity: Papers from a New York University Conference Marking the Retirement of Baruch A. Levine, ed. Lawrence Schiffman, pg. 272.

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