Sunday, November 21, 2004

Over the weekend

I read Hebrew Cognates in Amharic, by Wolf Leslau. The contents of the book match the title - a short discussion of Hebrew cognates in Amharic in general, followed by a listing and discussion of about 500 such words, and what they are in Geez and in Hebrew, first ordered by the Amharic, then by the Hebrew. Very interesting and useful stuff if you can take it.

The entry on בלס, which he rendered as "scratch the unripe sycamore fig," matching balas, "fig," in Amharic and Geez, brought back memories of Dr. Steiner's class in Amos, where we spent several weeks on Amos 7:14:
וַיַּעַן עָמוֹס, וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֲמַצְיָה, לֹא-נָבִיא אָנֹכִי, וְלֹא בֶן-נָבִיא אָנֹכִי: כִּי-בוֹקֵר אָנֹכִי, וּבוֹלֵס שִׁקְמִים.
"Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah: 'I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees;"
The rendition of בלס as scratcher comes from the Septaugint which translates it as epiknizon, scratcher of the surface. We looked into French botany journals, which explained how this was a practice to cause the sycamore figs to ripen more quickly, so that the eggs the sycamore wasp laid in the figs would not develop before the fruit ripened, spoiling it. Various commentaries gave other explanations for the word. In the end we came to conclusion that the word בלס just meant fig, based on the Geez, as so Amos was a figger of sycamores.

There are a bunch of other gems in this book I noticed, and may get around to mentioning sooner or later, perhaps when an appropriate parasha rolls along.

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