A Titled Post

After logging on tonight I noticed my last post – about the most common words in the Hebrew Old Testament – was untitled.  We will let that anomaly remain unedited.  Today we will finish with the 6-10th most common words in the Hebrew scriptures.  I would have posted yesterday but I left the flashcards which inspired this in my office.  So…

6) Min – from or out of – is the 6th most common word in the Hebrew OT and appears 7, 592 times.  In Semitic languages the words for from and who are pretty much the same with usually just the verb – which is flexible in Semitic languages – changing.  In Arabic min means from and men means who – in Hebrew we have min as from and mi-, with the weak n sound dropped, as who.  Young scholar Gabrielle Russo suggests that the sameness of the words comes from the fact that in ancient Near East society your identity was so tied into the area from where your family originated.

7) ‘al – on or upon – clocks in at number 7 with 5, 777 occurrences.  This otherwise unexciting preposition lives on in the name of the Biblical priest Eli as well as the common Islamic name Ali, meaning elevated.  All of these words begin not with an a sound but with the voiced pharyngeal fricative ‘ayin, a consonant that is very difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce.

8) Appearing 5,518 times is the preposition el, which means to or toward and is clearly a variant of le which we examined above.

9) ‘ashar appears 5,503 times and is an indeclinable relative pronoun.  There may be a connection with the word for happy, which shares the same tri-consonantal root, but again that is for another article.

10) Rounding out our top 10 occurring Hebrew words is kol, which means all or every and is common in Semitic languages.  If you come to liturgy at Sts. Anargyroi you will hear it during the Great Entrance, when after the Greek and before the English I proclaim “‘al ‘ana wa kulla ‘awanin” – literally now and all nows, meaning forever.

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March 23rd, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Tonight at the church is, as mentioned in the previous post, Bible Boot Camp.  In preparing for my presentation I brought out my Old Testament Hebrew vocab card set.  I’ve never actually used these – I bought them long after I took my last Hebrew class, but when you are into languages you tend to collect these things.  The cards are numbered from 1-1000 and on the back of each is a number saying how many times the word occurs in the Hebrew scriptures.  Cards 1-979 are every word that occurs 30 times or more except for proper names.  Cards 980-1000 are words occurring less than 30 times and select proper names.  So it doesn’t include every single word (and remember that many Hebrew words are built off of each other due to the root system – words meaning liver, heavy, and glory all come from the roots k-b-d, for example) as many proper names are left out and there are words that appear only a few times or once that aren’t included (such as the word for gopher wood – the wood of Noah’s ark).  This also explains the neat round number of 1000 cards.  So what are the top ten most frequently used words in the Hebrew Old Testament?

1) The most used word, at a count of 50,524, is we, a conjunction that primarily means and.  It is an enclitic, which means it never stands alone and always attaches to the following word.  Its appearance at the top of the list is a bit deceiving, though; in Semitic languages there is no concept of commas like we have when listing things.  It is proper in Semitic languages to say something like “I saw the bird and the dog and the cow and the eagle” and on and on.

2) Coming at number 2 is ha, the definite article (and also enclitic), with 24,058 appearances, less than half of the word for and.  In its primeval form, ha likely had a lamed at the end, making it hal.  This makes it easy to see how it is cognate with the Arabic definite article ‘al.

3) At third we have another enclitic – there will be more – with le, which appears 20,321 times.  Le is a preposition meaning to or for.  It is a very useful word, but that is about the extent of the story.

4) Be (and please note there are no capital or lowercase letters in Hebrew) -is much like le – a preposition, this time meaning in or at.  It can also mean with but in an instrument sense and its use in this form is very idiomatic. Be appears 15,559 times.

5) The fifth most common word in Biblical Hebrew…well, it isn’t actually a word.  Eth appears 10,978 times and it is used as a definite direct object marker and always left untranslated.  The reason such a thing exists is that in Hebrew sentence order is fluid and vowels are not written, so sometimes it can be confusing to know what is the direct object of a sentence.  The marker removes most all ambiguity.  Also, case markers do not exist in Biblical Hebrew, although the “u” in the name Samuel may signify a case marker from an older form that was left in the word – that is a subject for a future article.

Words 6-10 up next!

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March 21st, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Long Day/Yup, He’s Orthodox Part II

Today has been a long day – we had service in the morning with the traditional procession of icons for the Sunday of Orthodoxy – check out photos here – as well as our March 25 Greek School program during coffee hour.  This evening I joined all of the local Orthodox priests for a vespers service.  Among all of this, today was the feast of St. Cuthbert the Wonderworker – read his story here.

Cuthbert – the “bert” part of his name is cognate with “bright” – is, let’s just say, not a common Orthodox name, although it is well represented as an English last name – think of the popular Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert.  The saint’s commemoration today, though, reminds us that there are tons of saints that we don’t think of as part of our Orthodox tradition because they aren’t from the eastern Mediterranean or Russia.  There is much value in exploring the lives of saints such as Patrick, Brigid, Kenneth, and Cuthbert.

Onto tomorrow!  We will be having Bible Boot Camp at 19:00 hours.  Dismissed!

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March 20th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Raven

In my article for next month’s Sofia – our parish’s monthly ‘zine, I give a mention to animals considered unclean in the Old Testament and mention the raven, which acted as God’s servant in feeding Elijah.  The word of the month in my article is on the etymology of raven.  Here is an excerpt:

The raven, mentioned above in the context of animals considered unclean to eat by the Israelites, is famous in our modern society for two reasons – Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven and the Baltimore professional football team, the relocated Cleveland Browns nicknamed the Ravens after Poe’s connection to Baltimore.  The origin of the word raven is intricately linked with that of the crow – the two birds are both taxonomically and etymologically related.  Crow in ancient Greek is koroni (whence crow), and the words for handle and curved in Greek come from the same root, probably due to the shape of the bird’s beak.  Koroni is related to korax, which is the word for raven.  In Latin this became corvus, in Anglo-Saxon hrafn, which became raven.  Another related word is the English hroc which became rook.  We think of a rook as a chess piece but it is also a word for an English yardbird.

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March 16th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Moses And Goldschläger

This evening I had the pleasure of speaking at First Church Marlborough (who are celebrating their 350th (!) anniversary) on the topic of the theology of food.  I spent about half the talk going over uses of food in the Bible – a topic for another post – and then spoke about fasting practices in the Orthodox Church.  Today is, for us, the second day of Lent while our Western friends will have Holy Week next week – it is one of those years.  In going over food (and drink) in the Bible, I came across a point I had long forgotten.  In Exodus 32, the Israelites have fashioned an idol to worship – the Golden Calf.  Moses, in his anger over this, has the idol pulverized and makes the Israelites drink water mixed with the powder.  While I have not seen this anywhere, I figure this must be the origin of Goldschläger, a Swiss schnapps that has tiny flakes of gold in it.   The name of the liqueur – “gold-beaters” – refers to those who pound gold into thin leafs.  There is an urban myth that the gold cuts your digestive apparatuses and the alcohol goes straight into the blood stream.  I remember, though, a story from 20-odd years ago of someone who drank it regularly and ended up with a problem of too much gold in his bloodstream – internet searches have proved fruitless on this one.  In any case, if you have a friend drinking Goldschläger, you have an opportunity to talk about Biblical events.

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March 15th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Lent Begins/Readings

Today is Clean Monday – the beginning of Lent!  One of the cool features of Orthodox Lent is that the weekday daily readings change from a Gospel selection and a reading from the NT letters or Acts to readings from the three parts of the Old Testament – the Torah, the prophets, and the wisdom literature.  If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you need to check out the Daily Readings app from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese – find it here.  I have very few apps on my phone – the usual social media ones, some Indian music apps, a few scripture ones so I can read the Bible in the different languages, and this one.  It has the saints of the day, with bios, the readings, prayers for the appropriate time of the day, and more.  You can read the readings in three languages – English, Greek, or Arabic.  Don’t get the free app – pay the 99 cents for the regular version.  This one allows you to look up name days, find out when Easter is any year into eternity, and many more things.  Take the time to get this app – it is worth it.  And, for Lent, read the daily readings – it won’t take long at all.

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March 14th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Leap Day Thoughts

Happy leap day – February 29!  Here in New England it was a rare “warm” – 55-60 degrees in many places – February day.  Two thoughts about leap day/leap year:

-I was born in late February – I just celebrated my birthday – and ever since I can remember, when people find out my birthdate they most always say something like “you were almost a leap year baby!”.  The problem with this is I was born in an odd, not even, year – it could not have been a leap year.  Of course, if it had been a leap year, I would have indeed been a leap year baby whatever date I was born. I would have been a leap day baby if the day was right.

-How does the Orthodox Church calendar handle the leap day?  The main saint who is celebrated is St. John Cassian – more about him here.  Interestingly, when it is not a leap year his feast moves to February 28.  This has never made sense to me – if you are born on Feb. 29 you would, I imagine, celebrate your birthday during non-leap years on March 1, which is one exact year after  Feb. 29.  The wiki site has the other saints commemorated on this day, but there is nothing about how or if readings shift.  During the course of the calendar year, the entire New Testament, except for Revelation, is read.  Some days will have the same readings – very often martyrs have the same passage read, for example.  I would think the readings today are repeated from another day.

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February 29th, 2016 by Fr. Greg