Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Artscroll on etymology, Paradise and the late dating of biblical books

Talmud Bavli Chagiga 14b

ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס

There were FOUR who ENTERED THE sublime ORCHARD[18]

[18]...[Accordingly one could also translate this sentence:
There were four who entered Paradise. Indeed, the English word "Paradise" derives from a Greek word meaning both orchard and Paradise which in turn derives from the Hebrew pardeis.]

The above translation and note are from Artscroll's Schottenstein Talmud.

Now, it is true that the Schottenstein edition does not claim to be a scientific text. It is for this reason that I wouldn't harp on all the specifics of the note. For example, I won't fault it for noting that the English word paradise come from Greek, even though English did not come from Greek and therefore did not borrow this word from Greek; most English words which ultimately have an ancient Greek origin received it via an intermediary language, like Old French, which in turn received the word from Latin, which in turn received it from Greek. Thus, Latin received the Greek παραδεισος, paradeisos, as paradisus, and Old French had it from Latin as paradis etc.

I also will not fault Artscroll for describing the Greek word to mean orchard and Paradise; it certainly did not mean the latter in ancient Greek (the Septuagint translators used the word in the sense of Paradise). Whether orchard is the best meaning of παραδεισος, paradeisos is questionable.

These sort of generalizations are understandable. What I do not understand is where Artscroll got the idea that the Greek received it from the Hebrew פרדס. In fact, the best explanation is that Greek received it via the Persians. The OED notes that the Greeks received the word from "the Old Iranian base of Avestan pairidaeza- enclosure."

Given its long history with the Persians, and the relatively later encounter with the Jews, how and why would Greek have gotten the word from Hebrew rather than the Old Iranian? And why doesn't Artscroll cite any source for this assertion?

It occurred to me that it might have something to do with the location of the three places in Tanakh that pardes occurs: Nehemia 2:8, Ecclesiastes 2:5 and Songs 4:13. The first book was obviously written after the exile. Jews could certainly then have received a loanword from Persian. The other two books are traditionally ascribed to Solomon, who lived 500 years earlier. While it is not impossible for an Old Iranian word to end up in the vocabulary of a Judean Israelite of 3000 years ago, it is certainly less comfortable to a traditionalist sensibility than the idea that it is a native Hebrew word after all, especially coupled with the non-traditionalist view of the dating of all three books as post-Exilic.

So, am I proposing that Artscroll simply made up the assertion in note 18? Lacking a source, either traditional or modern, that seems to be the inescapable conslusion. As to the why, my guess is only that: a guess.

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