Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Filosseno Luzzatto's explanation for the term Maccabee

There was an interesting post at Tradition Seforim (back when it was just Seforim) about The Name Machabee. Although the following suggestion is cited (and dismissed -- unjustly, in my view) in a work mentioned in Dan's post, the suggestion itself was not.

In Shadal's 1848 work Il Giudaismo Illustrato (Judaism Illustrated) there is an interesting conjecture by his son Filosseno (who was 18 years old at the time this was written):

Which means the following: "My son Filosseno suggests that the word maccabee was an inversion of the Greek biaiomachas, meaning valiant warrior."

Not knowing Greek, I consulted dictionaries and saw that βιαιομαχας is not itself a word, however it is a combination of two words, βια and μαχας. The first word has the meaning of force, power, bravery, violence (see here). The second has the range of meaning of sword, knife, authority, force of justice, and even mercenary (see here). Thus, the meaning of biaiomachas certainly does seem to be something like valiant warrior. What is being posited here is that the title biaiomachas was given to the Maccabees, but through some process, either the rigors of time and faulty copying, or some kind of natural linguistic process, the consonants βμχ became transposed as μχβ, eventually producing the familiar Maccabeus, or מכבי in Hebrew letters.

The book cited by Dan (here) rejects this derivation, arguing that "Mattathias and all his followers entertained a bitter hatred for every thing that was Grecian." The problem is that this is not true. Furthermore, linguistic penetration happens even when there is "hatred." This is only a guess, but I have a feeling that many of the mujahideen fighting the US and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq have adopted many an English term in their regular discourse. Also, I don't think there's any reason to assume that the term was used by the Maccabee's themselves. Either way, the real point of this post was to show the image below.

Filosseno Luzzatto (who published under the Latin name Philoxene) was actually named אוהב גר, for he was born around the time that his father produced his work on Targum Onqelos of the same name. A scholar of promise, who made his father exceedingly proud, he died at age 24.

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