Friday, December 30, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- wrapping it up

Some of you are saying, but Talmud was censored and so of course Jews don’t know this stuff about Jesus is in there. Class, if I bring it up, what is it? Yes, an urban legend!
In 1554 after a supposed examination of Talmud, the Pope ordered that the Talmud be censored to remove text which he thought spoke blasphemously about Jesus.
About 1600, in Amsterdam, an edition of Talmud was published which restored all the censored text. This is the ancestor of modern versions of Talmud and the text in it matches a manuscript produced in 1342, now in the Bavarian State Library in Germany. Images of the entire 1342 manuscript are available online for free and you can also download them as PDF; they are legible at the right zoom factor, once you get used to the handwriting.
I have compared the digitized copy of Talmud I own to the manuscript; there are bolded words in my digitized copy showing where the censorship was applied. The text of Talmud in those places is identical to the 1342 manuscript. My digitized copy was produced 2 decades ago.
If the Talmud had existed only in its censored state in the 1700s, Eisenmenger would have had nothing to copy from. Somehow he copied from all the places that the Pope had censored. And since he couldn’t read them for himself he had to get somebody to tell him how to copy the text into his book. I encourage you to figure the chances that he got hold of a Christian who knew all about them – or talked to Jews who had copies of the Amsterdam Talmud.
There was rather a funny bit about the Amsterdam Talmud at the Mendel Beilis trial. Pranaitis and the prosecution had made a big deal about how Pranaitis had read the Amsterdam Talmud, but could not bring it to court because it had to be accessed in specialized libraries. Defense attorney Zarudny got up and said he would bring a copy in for the court’s inspection. Literally people in the court laughed.
One day later, Zarudny showed up with the copy and announced that it was available for inspection. More laughter at Pranaitis’ expense. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt over a period of three days that he didn’t know anything about the contents of Talmud or about the Aramaic language in which so much of it is written.
Zarudny was not Jewish and he was not a member of the faculty of a religious academy. He did not have to access a specialized facility to get the copy of the Amsterdam Talmud that he produced in court.
If somebody claims that passage X was censored out of Talmud and referred to Jesus, the first thing to do is get the citation. If it’s one of the standard citations used by Eisenmenger and his heirs, you can stop there. “Somebody” has bought into the urban legend.
If it’s not one of the standard citations, where did “somebody” get it? He or she probably will not have an answer for that question but if I’m wrong about that, email me the citation. It’s probably untraceable. The modern way of citing to Talmud is based on the Vilno edition of the 1800s CE. Look at the dates: the Vilno edition is based on the text of the Amsterdam Talmud. In fact, some of the standard citations have this problem of being untraceable because the “pages” they refer to don’t exist in the Vilno edition. If they refer to Jerusalem Talmud, they also don’t conform to the modern way of citing to that.
The only way to trace that citation is to know what it said -- not in translation and not in interpretation. That’s the lesson of this whole section of the blog and of these last few posts in particular. And “somebody” probably can’t give that information, a sign of buying into an urban legend.
And the only way to explain what makes a good translation or commentary is...

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


See the Fact-Checking Resources  page.

I found my go-to version of the Mishnah, which I have in hardcopy but which is now out of print, online for free.

It  has an English translation and tons of notes and other references.

It helped my Hebrew because it also has all the vowels.

Study!  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Knitting -- box of tissues

Open a fresh one to wipe the drool off your chin.

Then see if you can find online videos from the British archaeology TV series "Time Team". 

What I'm drooling over is the sweaters the people were wearing -- Fair Isle, Aran, argyle, a few with Norwegian style yokes.  I'm ignoring all the modern stuff like Mick Aston's multi-colors, one with horizontal and the other with vertical stripes.  Although they could be hand-knit, come to think of it.

Archaeology is a very dirty pursuit.  Here are all these people who could afford to wear these lush classic sweaters while doing their job.  Maybe they took them off for the work and put them on for the filming.  Maybe they were made of synthetic yarns and could be machine washed.  I hope so because I could weep from jealousy thinking that these were real woolen hand-knits.  Another good reason to have a box of tissues around.

Anyway I have designed a Fair Isle sweater using 1920s motifs that Ann Keitelson published.  I'll try to get a photo of me in it to post but don't hold your breath because I have lots of other  projects to finish first. 

I'm also saving up to buy Mary MacGregor's reprint of Robert Williamson's collection which is where Keitelson got the motifs she  published.

I might go back over the  videos and try to capture some of the Fair Isle designs.  If you do, why not post them and send me a link!

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 23, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Sources

The fourth “horseman” is the granddaddy of them all.  He is Johann Eisenmenger, who wrote Entdecktes Judentum about 1700; an English translation I found online has the publication date of 1742.  Henrich Laible includes him as a source and thus he is also a source for Herford.
Eisenmenger was an anti-Semite and wrote his book as an attack on Judaism.  He didn’t read Talmud, but he includes all the standard quotations about Jesus in Talmud that you can find all over the Internet.  Nobody is quite sure where he got this nonsense.
He also didn’t know Jewish terminology.  He picked up the term begimatria somewhere, and believed it was a noun.  It is a prepositional phrase.  If you used my Hebrew lessons, you know that be is a Hebrew preposition meaning,“in”, among other things.  The phrase means “in gematria,” or Jewish numerology. 
I call out that example because Pranaitis repeated it in his thesis and on the witness stand at the Mendel Beilis trial.  What’s worse, he combined it with Russian prepositions to create even worse nonsense.
Why?  Because Pranaitis’ thesis was copied from Eisenmenger’s work.  Everything Pranaitis “knew” about Talmud, he got from Eisenmenger.  Who produced falsehoods where he didn’t produce nonsense.
How did Pranaitis get away with plagiarism?  Because Eisenmenger’s work had mostly been forgotten, except by Gustav Dalman, a Lutheran who wrote a biography of Eisenmenger in 1909 for a religious dictionary.  The dictionary is in the public domain and is posted on the CCEL website.  In the biography, Dalman said Eisenmenger’s work inaccurately portrayed Judaism.  Full stop.
Dalman comes into this another way.  Laible, who could not read Aramaic, turned to Dalman for copies of the citations in Eisenmenger that Laible wanted to use in his book.  They are printed in Laible’s appendix, credited to Dalman.  We don’t know how Dalman knew which material Laible wanted; Laible could have given him the citations in Eisenmenger. 
Dalman could have been completely oblivious to what Laible wanted with those citations – unless Dalman accepted Eisenmenger’s interpretation.  To rely on Eisenmenger for such an interpretation doesn’t coordinate with the biography Dalman wrote.  If he believed that interpretation, he got it from some source that he accepted as unquestionable authority.  Even the most well-meaning scholars can do it.  That’s the danger of not independently validating the claims in your sources.
Scholars sometimes copy from each other, with credit but without validating the information against the primary document. They sometimes become convinced of the inerrancy of a given authority and fail to research whether that authority produced inaccuracies.  This is the same sort of behavior that led Descartes to write his Discours, and how many times have I said that in the last couple of years?
I would like to say that this kind of thing died out after Dalman, but it’s not true.  A book published within the last 20 years by a well-known academic repeats the old canard, and it too fails to differentiate between interpretation and the actual wording of the primary document. If you have read it, or bought it, you know whose work I’m talking about.  And then you have to ask yourself why somebody would dredge up all these canards and publish them for money  when they’re available free off the internet.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- the, er, twins

The second and third of the “four horsemen” are Henrich Laible and Robert Travers Herford.  They have to be grouped together because Herford mostly copied from and admits his debt to Laible.
Laible copies from the same source as Pranaitis did, and cites to that source.  He commits the fallacy of presentism on the first page of his book.  He also makes one spectacular error that combines an ignorance of Greek, shameful in somebody pretending to be a scholar, with an admission that he can’t read his primary source and with ignorance of the Jewish literary corpus.
Laible claims that a Rabbi Pappos quoted in Mishnah and dozens of times in Talmud, is wrongly called a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva, the famous martyr, but was actually Jesus’ father.  He claims that “Pappos” comes from Greek meaning “father.”
The Greek for “father” is patir, as any first-year student of Classical Greek knows.  But pappos is also Greek – for grandfather.
What Laible ignored because, as he admitted, he could not read Aramaic, is that there is also a Rabbi Pappa who is quoted in almost every tractate of Talmud. There are 1700 references in both Talmuds to men named “bar Pappa”, and a number in Midrash Rabbah on Genesis.  If they are all the sons of one man, then he contributed almost as much to Talmud as rabbis whose names are known more widely, such as R. Akiva, Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Shammai, Rabbi Meir, and so on.
The reason Laible keys in on Rabbi Pappos, not Rabbi Pappa, is that Pappos was the husband of somebody named Miriam.  The “four horsemen” all associate this Miriam with Mary mother of Jesus.  That would be fine if they also proved that only one woman named Mary or Miriam lived during the entire period from 80 BCE to 132 CE.  But that is an extraordinary claim that would require mountains of evidence for proof, and the people making this claim don’t have that proof.
Why that period?  The upper limit applies because Rabbi Akiva was martyred by the Romans that year or the next.  As his contemporary, Rabbi Pappos had to be born in almost the same year, 50 CE.  Anybody who makes this claim has to prove that Mary mother of Jesus was still alive when Rabbi Pappos was old enough to marry.
The importance of this Miriam referred to in Talmud, is that she committed adultery after marriage and gave birth as a result.  So after proving that Mary mother of Jesus was alive, the claimants would have to prove she was capable of bearing children after 50 CE.  When she was over 50 and probably over 60.  Don’t cite stories about modern women giving birth at those ages.  That has the same problem of historical context as equating tahor with “germ free”, which I discussed to death long ago.
Besides, Christian scripture does not support the concept that Mary mother of Jesus committed adultery after marriage.  This is the situation I referred to a couple of weeks ago.  I’ll say it more distinctly. 
Anybody who accepts Christian scripture as true, cannot believe that a woman described in Talmud, who committed adultery after marriage, is Mary mother of Jesus.  That’s not a weak analogy, it’s a false equation.
Anybody who accepts Talmud as true, must believe that Miriam who was Rabbi Pappos’ wife was capable of childbirth after 50 CE, and therefore was less than 50 years old.  As a result, she cannot be Mary mother of Jesus, who was at least 50 years old in 50 CE.  Equating the two is not a weak analogy, it’s a false equation.
Anybody who thinks that both sets of literature are false should not be arguing that Talmud refers to Jesus. If both are false, then what they say is irrelevant.

And now...
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 11, 2016

DIY -- New Year's Part 2

Get ready, set, party!
A personality on a local radio station had the dream job of going to big parties and doing stories on the famous people there.
A situation made for putting on weight.
He also went through a family tragedy.
A situation that needs lots of comfort food.
He knew he was eating himself into health problems.
So he got with a doctor, whose name I forget.
She taught him a good lesson.

When you go to a party with great food, you don't need to eat until you have personally emptied every dish on the table.
You do a tour of the food and see what looks good.
Then you take just one piece to see how it tastes.

If they have something like lasagna or a pot pie or (fill in your favorite here), you don't fill a large dinner plate and eat through that.
You put one serving spoon full on a plate the size of a teacup saucer and eat that just to get a good taste.

You don't eat a slice of every kind of pizza on the table.
You cut one slice in half or thirds lengthwise and eat one strip.
Then you wait at least half an hour before you move on to the pizza with the different set of toppings.

And you don't get shit-faced.
You have 5 ounces of wine or 2 of hard liquor or cocktail.
Then you have a tumbler of WATER, sparkling or not.
Then you have a coffee or tea.
Then you can repeat.
The fluids and caffeine will keep you moving, so to speak.
And you have your cell with you to call a cab or Uber or Lyft to get home.
And when the morning comes you and lots of other people will still be alive since you didn't drive drunk.

And then you can go back to your healthy sleep and breakfast and exercise and all the behaviors that will get that next clothing size off your body.

Oh yeah, the radio personality?  By eating less and exercising more, he lost 50 pounds in a year.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 9, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Pranaitis

The most famous of the “four horsemen” is Justinas Bonaventur Pranaitis. Or the most infamous. Take your pick. He has two main claims to fame. For one thing, his testimony was the last nail in the coffin for the prosecution of the Mendel Beilis blood libel trial. Pranaitis was laughed out of court quite literally. Everything he said was proven to be false.
The reason the prosecution used him as a witness in that case was his second claim to fame, his 1892 thesis submitted to the Catholic academy (he was Catholic, not Russian Orthodox) in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was rejected because it misused scripture.
It was called Christianus im Talmude and it was supposed to prove that all Jews hate all Christians and believe it is a religious duty to kill them. Also Jews are required by Jewish law to obtain the blood of Christians to use in making Passover matso.
If you agree with Pranaitis about that, bluntly, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t try to convince me you’re right. Not until you convince me that you have read the primary sources, Torah and Talmud, not in translation and not in commentary.
Pranaitis also wrote that Talmud refers to Jesus. That, too, is false. More than one scholar has agreed with that claim, and all of them fail to comment on the primary source. They always cite to an interpretation of the primary source. That violates the ground rules I set last week. Don’t argue with me on this until you can convince me that you have read Talmud in Hebrew and Aramaic, not in translation and not in commentary.
You can’t get away with this by failing to cite your sources. There is a standard set of citations used in this claim; I know where every single one of them is, and I know what they really say in Hebrew or Aramaic, not in translation and not in commentary. So I will know from the phrasing you use that you are not reading the primary sources, you are reading somebody who copied from somebody else and so on, back to the original claimant, whom I will discuss later.
Anyway Pranaitis was wrong when he said that Talmud refers to Jesus and so is everybody else who says so.
And it comes down to all the same problems that Philo has: mistranslations; mistaken statements about Jewish law; mixing up different historical contexts; and false equations between Christian scripture and Talmud.
Reading between the lines of the Beilis transcript, I find that Pranaitis presented his arguments about Talmudic references to Jesus, in a closed-door meeting in the evening of the 28th day of the trial, and that he was refuted by two Christians who had also refuted, in open court, the material Pranaitis presented in open court. That happened over 100 years ago. For you to believe Pranaitis puts you so far behind the times you can’t even see the 21st century.
Be mad. Be very mad at the people who have lied to you about this. But if you get mad at me, it will be a case of Freudian transference of anger from the person who lied, to the person who told the truth.

But wait, there's more
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- digitizing your study

In the future, I recommend you set up your computer to write Hebrew; in Windows, this is in the Control Panel under “Clock, Language, and Region.” It will also work over the Internet. Then you will be able to go to and search for words in Tannakh online. That will let you find verses using the same word, and it will help you expand your understanding of all the ways that word is used in Jewish literature. That’s a free solution.
I’ve had a lot of success using DavkaWriter, which comes with Tannakh and Mishnah. It has a powerful function for searching across multiple files, as well as inside the open document, and you can search in files you create in DavkaWriter as well as the canned files it comes with. You can also copy from other sites, such as Mechon Mamre, paste into DavkaWriter files, and search on those. You have to pay for DavkaWriter but it’s not expensive.
You can also buy Judaica Classics from the Davka Corporation. Then you can search all of midrash, Mishneh Torah, Shulchan Arukh by Yosef Caro, and other Jewish literature as well as Tannakh and Mishnah. The library can be accessed for reading, copying and pasting (in limited lengths), and printing as well as for searching. That’s more expensive because it has more material. If you want to find Aramaic terms, you will have to know in advance how to spell them.
There are free books online for learning Aramaic. I say go to Internet Archive and download the book by Max Margolis. He was the terror of his students because, as Cyrus Gordon tells it, he used to throw Bible quotes at them and expect the student to come up with chapter and verse. But he was a brilliant teacher, and Gordon finally asked him how to survive his classes. Margolis said to read the Bible. When Gordon came back and said he was done, Margolis said, do it again. Seven times Margolis told Gordon to read the Bible through –in Hebrew – but Gordon survived the class without having a nervous breakdown.
The rabbis say “turn it over and over, you’ll never get to the end.” After 40 years of turning it over, I’m still learning new things about Biblical Hebrew. Like Dr. Cook’s material. You have it all in front of you – but nobody can tell what the future will bring.
I plan to reboot these lessons in Januay with a rewrite that takes advantage of everything I learned since I started writing them.  If you read them, you will get basically the grammar portion of Parshah Breshit in Narrating the Torah. You won’t get most of the Olrik stuff or archaeology.
If you would rather I rebooted in Yiddish, let me know.  I know where you can get Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories free in text and in audio for practice. I also know where you can get Yehoash’s Yiddish Tannakh free, but remember three things. What you know from reading my blog is a product of the 21st century; Yehoash did his translation early in the 20th century and didn’t know anything about modality.  Yiddish is an Indo-European language; Hebrew is a Semitic language so they won’t have all the same grammar. And it’s a translation which I’ve been trying to drag you away from. The Tevye stories will be much more suitable.
If you have strong preference, email me or comment.
Thank you for your attention. Don’t forget to pick your coats up in the lobby.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Turning the corner

Friday night we lit Shabbat candles at the earliest time in the year.

On the coming Friday night, we will light them at the same time.

Then the next week we'll push it back.
Only a couple of minutes, but it will be later.

That's why I like this time of year.
The days will start getting longer, not shorter.

Yes, it's getting cold.
The forecast tonight is possibly freezing rain in the mountains.
The forecast in a week is possibly snow showers closer to the Potomac.
Knowing how people drive around here, I need to get to my kosher store today.
Next Sunday might be a horrible snarl.

But we've turned the corner and spring is coming!

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Commentary Rules

Now that you have been warned about the weaknesses of both translations and commentaries, I get to the part I warned you about. I’m going to set some ground rules, most of which should not surprise you if you have read this page of the blog from the first post in it.
A commentary is only as good as its resemblance to the primary document.  That means if a commentary says something about a primary document, at a bare minimum it has to quote the primary document correctly.  It also has to fit in with the culture related to the primary document: the history of that culture, and how it uses the words of its language, not how the commentator translates those words.
Authorities are not to be relied on without firsthand comparison to their purported sources. That goes back to Descartes. Any “authority” making a claim that doesn’t match the primary document the claim relates to, cannot be relied on.  He also fails the test of Occam’s Razor  by not covering the facts accurately.
Extraordinary claims require extra footwork and more data that is reliable for backup, than a less spectacular claim, but all claims have to be compared to the data they supposedly relate to.
The more data you have matching a given situation, the better your analogy. Conversely, a weak analogy matches only part of the data, or only one data point. A false equation matches none of the data.
The simplest explanation that covers all the facts correctly is more likely to be correct than something based on a weak analogy, and it must not rely on a false equation.
Given two sources, both assumed to be true or valid, that disagree with each other on some objective facts, a claim that the two are equal must be false.
And now here is the statement of the urban legend I’m going to bust. The commentaries by the “four horsemen”, claiming that Talmud refers to Jesus, are wrong. All four of them. They mistranslate, misrepresent, draw weak analogies or false equations, provide non-existent citations, and take material out of verbal, historical, and cultural context.
If that raises your blood pressure, skip the next four weeks because you’re not going to be happy with what I post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- for more practice

And that’s my version of how Biblical Hebrew grammar works.
I know I probably didn’t discuss everything you will see in classical Hebrew literature.  Email me when you find something I didn’t cover.
If you want to check up on whether I can support what I say for more material, you want to read my book Narrating the Torah.  When I started it, I was simply trying to show all the ways in which Axel Olrik’s Principles for Oral Narrative Research showed up in Torah, hence the title.
When I discovered Dr. Cook’s dissertation over 10 years after studying Olrik, I immediately realized that they dovetailed, with respect to the certainty/evidentiary epistemic and Olrik’s localization.  So I started rewriting Narrating.  I just finished the second draft of this rewrite.
Narrating gives the entire Torah.  Then it has an English translation which reflects the issues I’ve discussed on this blog.  It’s not your grandfather’s translation.  So if you need to replace an old translation of Torah, buy a reprint of the same thing. 
If you want practice reading Torah in Hebrew, go to one of the sites listed in the Fact-Checking Resources page, where you will find the Torah with vowels and chant markings.  This is probably what you should do before you buy Narrating so that you don’t get overwhelmed by detail.
Narrating can be overwhelming because there is so much to comment on from a language point of view, as you have seen on this blog over the last eleven months.  Plus it analyzes the material based on Olrik’s principles, which can also run fairly long.  Finally, it repeats and sometimes expands on archaeological issues I raise on the Fact-Checking page of this blog. 
So use the free versions of Torah online and work up to reading one parshah a week, which you can do by reading one aliyah a day.  (The material is sectioned by aliyah, with square brackets that show which aliyah starts where.)  Try going to the Jewish calendar on, to find out on which day next autumn a new Torah reading cycle starts, and keep up with it. 
When you’re done, you can buy a copy of Narrating, which is only available from me, and start over again.  And when you’re done reading that for the first time, you will have learned so much that you will have new questions about what you read at the start.  So go back and start over.  The rabbis say, “Turn it over and over, you will never get to the end of it.”
Which is what I discovered, all over again, after reading Dr. Cook’s dissertation and then studying Arabic.

A little advice, and we're done.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 27, 2016

DIY -- New Year's

OK don't look at your scale like that.
And don't kick it either.
It wasn't your scale that put all that food in your mouth over the last five days.

And don't wait until New Year's to do something about it.
There are more foodie festivals coming and you know it.

So don't skip breakfast.
Beat up an egg.
Take some of those potatoes and mix them with the egg.
Cut up some turkey.
Get a couple of serving spoons of vegetables.
Put a little shortening in the frying pan.
Shape the potatoes into a hamburger and fry on one side.
Flip, put the turkey and veg in the pan.
Cover, turn the heat down, and let sit.
Start your coffee.
Pour your coffee, dish out your breakfast and eat.

Have a salad or other veggie dish for lunch, on a smallish plate.

Have a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts for afternoon snacks.
And one, count 'em, one cookie or piece of candy or scoop of ice cream or a small piece of cake or pie.

In between all these meals, you have things to do.
It was windy this weekend and I have leaves to rake.
Dishes to wash (I don't have a machine).
Clothes to wash, like hand-knit socks.
A new round of housecleaning to start.
Temps will be high enough for a walk to be comfortable, low enough for it to be refreshing.

Repeat every day to eat less and burn off what you do eat.
By New Year's, you will have made a habit of this.
By next New Year's, you will have lost a clothes size.
That's what I'm planning to do.
I did it last year and had to go looking through my closets for a new pair of reference pants.
I can get into them.
In twelve months I hope to be able to sit down in them without cutting off my circulation.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- bad commentaries

One urban legend about Philo, repeated in one Amazon review after another, is that his work about Torah is valuable for understanding Judaism of his period. 
OK, granted that not all the people reviewing books on Amazon are scholars of the Judaism of the period from 20 BCE to 50 CE when Philo lived.  And a sadly large number of reviewers on Amazon don’t know how to write a useful review.  But I digress.
The only thing that Philo’s work is good for is evaluating Philo.
Philo was a neo-Platonist.  He uses the catchphrases common to that group, theos logos and so on.  It would take an expert on the neo-Platonists, which I am not, to determine whether Philo goes with the flow of that stream of thought at all times.  It would take an expert on Plato, which I am not, to determine how far the neo-Platonists diverge from his ideas.
But the one thing Philo is not, is an expert on Judaism.  And the signs are the same as for Septuagint. 
He uses unsuitable words for concepts well understood in passages of Mishnah that date before his time.  He misinterprets phrases in Torah.  He lags behind rabbinical understanding of passages in Torah.  He over-specifies what Torah leaves vague. 
Philo contradicts Jewish law.  He misreports quantities of tithing.  He mis-describes sacrificial procedure.  He contradicts Torah on lending.  He misrepresents how Jewish law treats prostitutes.  He is one of the first, if not the first, to describe lo yirtsach as “thou shalt not kill,” which I discussed to death long ago.
Philo misrepresents historic context by claiming that the stones on the efod relate to the Zodiac.  First, Jews are prohibited by law from divining by the heavenly bodies.  Second, the Zodiac dates only a century before Philo’s own birth, to the work of Berosus the Astrologer (NOT Berosus the Historian, they were different people).  Philo must have known that the efod description is no younger than the time of Ezra.  Maybe he didn’t know the exact span of time, but he had the opportunity to know, if he studied Jewish history, that Ezra came before the Hasmoneans.  And in fact, tradition in Philo’s times said that the efod came from the time of the Exodus, long before Ezra.
I had a dustup on Twitter with somebody who objected to my rejection of Philo; he said that Judaism has to address contemporary issues.  I pointed out that “addressing” an issue is not the same as writing commentaries that pretend the primary document explicitly caters to an issue from an external culture that did not exist until centuries after Torah was put into writing.  The latter is what Philo did in his work, and he was wrong, and that’s why he’s irrelevant both with respect to Judaism, and with respect to the importance of Septuagint – which he disagrees with whenever it’s convenient for his program.
Which is a habit that will crop up again in the fourth part of this blog.

But that's not the only way a commentary can go wrong.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- through time

Now a lesson in diachronicity – the persistence (or not) of grammar over time. Unless you have read a large part of classical Jewish literature – or even if you have – you might not realize that one piece of Biblical Hebrew survived the Babylonian Captivity almost intact. The nun epistemic, in a slightly different format and meaning, persisted into Mishnah, Gemara, the middle ages, and later times.
I believe that’s because it was integral to the legal system, documented in over a millennium of material. The very first Mishnah has three examples. Each of them reflects some legal issue.
מֵאֵימָתַי קוֹרִין אֶת שְׁמַע בְּעַרְבִית. מִשָּׁעָה שֶׁהַכֹּהֲנִים נִכְנָסִים לֶאֱכֹל בִּתְרוּמָתָן, עַד סוֹף הָאַשְׁמוּרָה הָרִאשׁוֹנָה, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים, עַד חֲצוֹת. רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַד שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה עַמּוּד הַשָּׁחַר. מַעֲשֶׂה שֶׁבָּאוּ בָנָיו מִבֵּית הַמִּשְׁתֶּה, אָמְרוּ לוֹ, לֹא קָרִינוּ אֶת שְׁמַע. אָמַר לָהֶם, אִם לֹא עָלָה עַמּוּד הַשָּׁחַר, חַיָּבִין אַתֶּם לִקְרוֹת. וְלֹא זוֹ בִּלְבַד, אֶלָּא כָּל מַה שֶּׁאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים עַד חֲצוֹת, מִצְוָתָן עַד שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה עַמּוּד הַשָּׁחַר. הֶקְטֵר חֲלָבִים וְאֵבָרִים, מִצְוָתָן עַד שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה עַמּוּד הַשָּׁחַר. וְכָל הַנֶּאֱכָלִין לְיוֹם אֶחָד, מִצְוָתָן עַד שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה עַמּוּד הַשָּׁחַר. אִם כֵּן, לָמָּה אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים עַד חֲצוֹת, כְּדֵי לְהַרְחִיק אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעֲבֵירָה:
Qorin means that it’s halakhah to read the Shema. This mishnah is about the requirement to read it at night, not about an individual case that came before a Jewish court.
Chayavin means that the young men might be subject to the requirement for the nighttime reading. There’s a condition that applies – whether the dawn has begun – and the speaker (Rabban Gamliel, their father) can’t rule on the case. Why not?  There are no eligible witnesses.  He can’t do it, he’s a relative of the young  men so he couldn’t testify.  The young men can’t do it, they are parties to the case.  Also, the father can’t serve as a judge in the case, being a relative.  Supposing that dawn had not begun, the young men would be supposed to say the  Shema, but he can’t say chayavim.
Neechalin is nifal, meaning a legal ruling; a legal ruling exists that certain sacrifices have to be eaten in one day (it’s in Torah) but we’re not talking about an actual example of such a thing involved in the current case, we’re just talking about the class of things to which the legal ruling applies.
This grammar persists into the Kitsur Shulchan Arukh of the 1830s CE and appears in Midrash Halakhah (600-800 CE), Mishneh Torah (1100s CE), Caro’s Shulchan Arukh (1500s), and Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav (right about 1800).
Another example (this picks up on something I said a few weeks ago) is that, while there are ayin vav and ayin yod verb root classes in Biblical Hebrew, and peh yod, there is only one peh vav verb (viter, in only one binyan) and no lamed yod or lamed vav classes. Gelb’s grammar of Akkadian shows these forms.  Assyrian had all of these forms; Delitzsch, who wrote the basic grammar, shows that peh vav were dying out.  It’s easy to see why when you know that vav is the Hebrew version of a sound that was used at the start of verbs throughout the history of Semitic languages (whether it mean “and” or whatever). It’s easier to pronounce words if you change or suppress one of the vavs at the start.
Remember back when I discussed how some peh yod verbs drop the yod in part of their conjugation? If they drop it, they were originally peh vav verbs. You can tell by looking up their cognates in Akkadian or Assyrian (dictionaries  for these languages are available online). If they don’t drop it, they weren’t peh vav verbs (or they don’t have a cognate).
So yada, which drops the yod in imperfect, was a peh vav verb in Akkadian and Assyrian. So were yakhal, yaval, yalad, yashav, yarad, yaqar, yaraq, and yatsa. Not true of yatsar or yashar.
And no other Semitic language has the lamed heh verb root class, it’s only in Hebrew. Aramaic verbs that look like this have been adopted from Hebrew, as Jastrow’s dictionary shows, but non-borrowed verbs are lamed yod or lamed vav. In other Semitic languages, the cognate to a Hebrew lamed heh verb, is either lamed yod or lamed vav.
I let this post run on because it’s not crucial to understanding Torah, it’s just to expand your mind a little. Most of Hermann Strack’s Porta Linguarum Orientalium and Clavis Linguarum Semiticarum are available online for free and some are still useful. Use your search engine on the titles to find a list of them. Maybe you will discover your inner Assyriologist!

Almost there!
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Knitting -- pullover redux

After some searches on my own blog, I can't find the complete instructions.
This is for Wool of the Andes worsted.
Chest: 40 inches.
Arm length: 20 inches.
Wrist: 7 1/2 inches around.
Neck goes over a head which needs a 7 1/2 size hat.

Using US size 5 circular needles with 24 inch tether:
Put on a slip stitch with a 6-7 inch tail.
Cable on 200 stitches.
For 8 rows, k2/p2 rib.
Switch to US size 7 circular needles with 24 inch tether.
For 90 rows, knit in the round.
At each underarm, put 10 stitches on holders; I tend to use a doubled-over length of a thinner yarn and loop the free ends through.
I center the underarms on the starting slip stitch  on one side and then, of course, halfway around to the other side.
Replace those 10 stitches with 10 cast-ons (not cable ons).
For 55 rounds, knit the armholes BUT
For rounds 1-3
after the underarm, K1, K2TOG
knit to the other armhole minus 3 stitches
slip a stitch, knit 1, PSSO, knit 1
knit across the armhole

For rounds 4-55, knit and don't decrease at the armhole.
Turn inside out and knit together 23 stitches at one shoulder.
Turn right side out and knit to other shoulder.
Repeat the knitting together at the other  shoulder.
Turn right side out.
Change to US size 7 circular needle with 16 inch tether.
Start k2/2 rib for 4-6 rows.
Bind off in rib.
Cut a 6-7 inch tail and sew the neck edge even with a tapestry needle.
Sew the bottom hem even with a tapestry needle.
Use duplicate stitch to fill gaps  in where the shoulders join the neck ribbing.

Using US size 7 circular needles with a 16 inch tether, move stitches from the holder to one of the needles.
Put a slip stitch on the other  needle, knit the first stitch and pass the slip stitch over.
Now knit up the other 10 stitches of the under arm.
Cut up the middle of the armhole (the "steeking" to use a Fair Isle term).
Using a US size 4-6  crochet needle,
for every stitch around the armhole,
pick up yarn from the back to the front of the fabric and put it on your circular needle.
At the top of the shoulder pick one stitch through at the seam before continuing through the rest of the armhole.
Knit the first five stitches at the underarm.
Put a marker thread so you can do the decreases precisely in line.
Knit two rounds.
Knit 1, K2TOG, knit around to the underarm minus 3 stitches, slip stitch, K1, PSSO, K1.
Repeat the last two steps until you have knitted 84 rounds from the underarm.
Work your  marker thread in and out at the midpoint between the two K1s to keep track of where you put decreases.
Switch to US size 7 double point (sock) needles, at least 7 inches long, using 3 to hold stitches and knitting with  the 4th.
Knit 3 rounds and then decrease on the 4th round.
When you reach a total of 132 rounds from the underarm, count the stitches left on your needles.
You need 56 for your cuff.
If you have more than 59, do another 4 rounds and a decrease.
Then K2TOG as many times as needed for the 56 stitches of the cuff.
Do k2/p2 rib for 8 rounds on the cuff.
Bind off in rib.
Cut a 6-7 inch tail and sew the cuff edge even with a tapestry needle.

Wash, block and wear.
Working 6 hours a day, I can make a pullover in 2 weeks.

My back is about an inch shorter than normal, I learned that sewing tops for myself years ago.
The hem of this pullover sits a little below my hip bones when I stand and meets the back of my slacks when I sit.
I like  my sleeves a bit long; the cuffs get pushed over my wrists against my hands and I feel warmer.
YMMV; adjust the length accordingly.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- our first commentary

We still don’t know why it was important for Brenton to translate the Septuagint into English. You might think it was because Septuagint was important to Christianity – but Jerome realized in the 400s CE that the Septuagint was a bad translation from Hebrew.
Clement and Justin Martyr (100s CE) don’t quote from Septuagint. They say things that sound like Septuagint, but aren’t; as with Qumran, they are Greek versions of scriptural material, but they are not the version Brenton "translated".  Clement and Justin were trying to use Plato and other Greek writers to prove the value of Christianity to people who read classical Greek authors; the audience didn’t read Septuagint and quoting it would have meant nothing to them.
Then there’s Origen’s Hexapla. This collected six different Greek versions of Torah, with notes on the differences between them. Only the notes survive; in Field’s version (which is online), they are collated with the Septuagint to show what Origen was thinking about. Apparently the Hexapla wasn’t important enough to preserve intact.
Translators claimed to go back to Hebrew with both the English and French Geneva Bibles of the 1500s CE, and the King James Version, and so on. But since none of them had the faintest idea of modality or the other features of Biblical Hebrew known to 21st century linguistics, they actually translated in accordance with the received knowledge about Hebrew. That includes mistranslations like Ohozath in Genesis, as well as “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, and “and.”
As long as people read translations – of ANY work – they are vulnerable to the carelessness, ignorance, and even willful errors of translators. As long as people claim to be experts when all they know are translations, so long will these people generate urban legends or cling to them. These incorrect translations play a role in almost every urban legend documented on this blog.
So if translations, which pretend to come straight from the primary document, cannot give good results, what chance do commentaries have, especially if they take their stand on translations? That’s what we’re about to find out when we look at Philo.
The first urban legend about Philo says that he used Septuagint. That’s a bad thing. However, his relationship to Septuagint is not one of unqualified faithfulness to the Greek. In particular, in his essay On Dreams I, lines 216-218, he discusses Lavan’s bargain with Yaaqov over the colors of sheep and goats. Philo uses some terms Septuagint doesn’t have and uses other terms the opposite of how Septuagint uses them. So when his commentators claim that such and such a phrase in Philo comes from the Septuagint, it better be exact in text and meaning, and somebody would do the world a real service by totting up how often that happens. Then they ought to compare it to how often the commentators cite to Septuagint when Philo doesn’t really quote from it. I would not be surprised if Philo says things that sound like Septuagint but aren’t.
But that doesn’t mean Philo’s commentary is useful for anything else but understanding Philo, as I am about to show.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- aspect and law

When you have learned trop, you will learn how to punctuate Biblical Hebrew and the meaning of lots of verses will get clearer. Now I’m going to whip you back to aspect again and show you how the relationship between Torah and Mishnah, the basis of Talmud, gets clearer.

In Midrash Halakhah Sifre on Leviticus, the introduction gives 13 principles used in Jewish courts to help judges make decisions. They are attributed to Rabbi Yishmael who was martyred by Hadrian about 132 CE, but most of them were known to R. Hillel the Great over a century earlier.

One of them, qal va-chomer is called a fortiori in western legal systems. If somebody does X and gets punishment Y, then if somebody else does 2X the punishment ought to be 2Y.

Where aspect comes in is tort laws and rituals.

Most tort laws like Exodus 21:18 start with an imperfect aspect verb; this is an action which the law knows happens sometimes and has decided is worth paying attention to because it has had bad consequences enough times not to be accident or coincidence. In this case, it’s y’rivun which you also know is an uncertainty epistemic; we’re supposing that the fight is intense enough for the law to get involved.

Such an opener is usually followed by a perfect aspect verb, in this case hikah. As soon as hikah happens, the fighting men become subject to the law. When the hittee nafal (perfect aspect) onto his bed, the laws of damages for battery kick in.

In the 13 forensic principles, this is a k’lal u-prat, a generalization followed by details. There are also cases where the details come first and then the generalization. The details govern what happens, but the k’lal in imperfect aspect defines what area of torts we are talking about.

The same is true for sacrifices. Ki taqrivu using the imperfect is followed by things like zevach shlamim which distinguish the rules from those applying to a sin offering. Then follow perfect aspect verbs about what parts of this zevach belong to the owner or how long he has to consume them.

And finally, there is the k’lal u-prat u-k’lal, ein atah dan elah k’eyn ha-prat. This is in Deuteronomy 14:22 where a string of imperfect verbs in the k’lal identify that in general, the distance to the tabernacle might be so far that food would rot on the way. Verse 23 starts with a sequential natatah and then there are perfect verbs about what to do with the money. Verse 26 opens with another sequential natatah and includes a string of nouns detailing what to spend the money on and then there’s an imperfect aspect tishalkha, what your “soul” asks you for. That generalization seals off the list of permissible things. It is followed by a perfect aspect akhalta. In other words, this money has to be used for food and drink. If you use it for hotel bills, you’ve violated the law. You have to bring other money along for that.

When you can recognize the aspects, the aspectless, the agentless binyanim, the punctuation of trop, and the use of et, then you can see how these things play out in Mishnaic legal formulas. It shows that Jewish law, like other common law codes, is much less haphazard than you might think.

Jewish classical literature is comprehensible, but most people have to leave their comfort zone to understand it for what it is: the record of JEWISH ideas backed up by Torah and the rest of Tannakh, which are recorded in the ANCIENT Jewish language and not in something that westerners have mis-labeled and misdescribed for centuries.

Speaking of centuries...

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I'm just saying -- rating social media

So now I'm almost fully invested.

Blogger:  4 stars.  Google and Microsoft have settled some of their differences and now, as you have seen, I can post pictures, something I couldn't do after Nov. 2014.

Spotify: 4 stars.  Some of the functions are hard to figure out from the instructions but once you figure them out, they work.

Google+: 0 stars.  Our models of what we want social media to do are exactly opposite.  If you're following me on Google+, you'd be better off following me on Twitter or, since it appears to be merger bait, on Facebook or Blogger.

Pinterest: 0  stars.  Another "exactly opposite".  Clue for Pinterest users: when I google something, I  filter out or ignore every link from Pinterest.  It won't let you look at anything unless you have a Pinterest account.  There are enough websites that have non-Pinterest alternatives and offer info I want, that Pinterest has NO interest for me.

Facebook: 2 1/2 stars.  I'd be happier with Facebook if their help topic contents had kept up with how pages actually work. Everything I've used the Help function with, the instructions tell me to look for things that don't exist.  For example, when it tells you to right-click, fuhgeddaboudit.  You get the normal IE right-click menu. 

I'm also disturbed by the stupid stuff that FB expects its customers to suck up.   From bad security to an email dirty trick, and now being suckered into posting death messages for users who aren't dead, FB is behaving immaturely.

On FB I'm only posting links to Blogger, not full-up Blogger posts, because I can't find the Facebook instructions on how to control comments and I have no intention of feeding trolls and trash. 

The FB model of protecting copyright seems to force you to identify groups first.  I'm getting readership from all over the world, and I want it that way, so identifying groups is nonsense.

Twitter: 4 stars FWIW.  This helped me increase pageviews by putting out "ads" in a separate forum.  The text limitation hasn't hurt me; if I really want to let loose, usually on a news article, I go to the article.  They usually allow comments.  Twitter's biggest problem right now is fangirl bullies and trolls who need to be blocked until they grow out of it.  If ever.

Now that Blogger's photo links have been fixed, Blogger wins hands down.  I don't allow comments from anonymous readers, and I can turn moderation on and off at the flick of a button if the others get out of hand.  Then I have the function for deleting trash comments, which is legal for non-government bloggers to do. 

Lesson for using social media: know what you're after.  Social media can ruin your brand lickety split unless you know what you have to do to protect yourself and invest the time.

Case in point.  What was formerly the best news outlet with the widest interest and reach in the D.C. region, has slowly been turning into a victim of its own IT department.  The IT department loaded the articles with flashy trashy video nonsense that had nothing to do with the article.  The videos chewed up so much bandwidth that it was difficult to read the articles let alone comment.  Comments dropped off except for the dedicated crazy people who, having no lives, were the only ones with the time to waste. 

So the moderators were working overtime and there were still abusive, threatening posts, trolls and spam.  And the bean counters decided to put a stop to that.  They have switched completely over to Facebook with no moderation.  Instead of the moderators not being able to keep up with the crazy people, there will be nothing but crazy people. 

Another news outlet gets crazy people but there's a link to their help department.  In  recent attempts  of crazy people to eliminate comments they didn't like, it was possible to tell the help department what to watch for and the craziness was halted.  After that the discussion continued undisturbed. 

And finally there are still people, years after social media was invented, who don't realize that
a) they never know who their readers are distributing their info to  and
b) just  because they delete something so they can't see it, doesn't mean it automatically disappears everywhere. 
I have had to teach somebody I know that anything posted on FB can make its way to where it can ruin a career.  It never happens immediately; Murphy's Law says  it will always wait until it does the most damage. 

I'm just saying...

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- "how did they translate..."

Because you should be asking a question, one that I’ve heard before.
How do Jews translate that pesky vav?
Wrong question.  Biblical Hebrew was once a living language spoken on the street.  That ended about 500 BCE.
The people who spoke Biblical Hebrew didn’t translate it.  They understood the source of all the later translations, in the context of how they used the same words and grammar, in similar situations, when they spoke to family, friends, business associates, and courts.
They didn’t think of vav as “and”. “And” is an English word and they are not reading English.  English didn’t exist at the time.  English became an official language in England between 1362 when King Edward III decreed that legal proceedings should be written in that language instead of Latin or Anglo-Norman, and about 1413 when the Chancery Standard made it the language of official government.
The Septuagint translators never spoke Biblical Hebrew; the Septuagint dates after 300 BCE.  They probably didn’t know any Semitic language.  By their time, Alexander had made all the parts of his empire a commonalty that spoke koine Greek.  The Septuagint translators knew of “and” (kai) in their language, and since vav sometimes works as a conjunction, they translated it that way everywhere it appeared as a prefix.  This suggests that they didn’t even consult experts in Biblical Hebrew; Deissman makes a similar point, as I already said.   But remember that understanding Biblical Hebrew at the time did not rest on lessons in grammar analysis; the subject didn’t exist.  The oldest surviving (agh, that word again) book on the grammar of Greek itself was written in the 300s CE by a Roman.  And he  was trying to teach people who spoke Greek to read Latin; he only referred to Greek grammar as an analogy.  Nobody analyzed Biblical Hebrew while  it was the street language, and when analysis did take place, it was on the basis of comparison to Latin and using Latin terminology.
Things didn’t improve much for centuries, until the rediscovery  of ancient Semitic languages like Akkadian.  In the 20th century tools developed to provide absolute dates for the cultures that spoke them, and so did objective ways of examining the relationships between the languages.  In the 21st century we are starting to throw off the shackles of outmoded ways of analyzing languages by looking into how they function in relation to how people think, as opposed to slapping familiar labels onto them.
The label you slap on morphology doesn’t define its grammatical function.
The translation you use for a word doesn’t define its meaning.

So if translations are such a problem, what about commentaries?
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- "pausal forms"

And now that problem about trop. There’s an old concept called “pausal forms”.
Trop generally consist of disjunctive and conjunctive forms. The disjunctive ones divide verses. Etnach is one of them; so is sof pasuk, the trop at the end of a verse.
The conjunctive trop, conversely, mark sets of words that are included together as a subunit of a verse. Conjunctive trop, for example, are used with the words or phrases emphasized by et when it takes the vowel tseire.
The pausal forms concept says that disjunctive trop are associated with anomalous word forms. That is, the anomalous word forms in Torah appear where there are disjunctive trop.
Modern computerized tabulation shows this isn’t so. The so-called anomalous forms appear sometimes with conjunctive trop. It’s also true that not all occurrences of disjunctive trop are assigned to anomalous forms.
Now that you know more about Biblical Hebrew, you should be asking what words are called anomalous in Torah?
For example, Gesenius once categorized the word maen in Exodus 7:27 as a piel present tense that for some reason had been written without the usual prefix of mem. Surely that ought to qualify as an anomaly. Now that you know, however, that it’s an aspectless verb, used in a place which doesn’t suit an aspected verb, you know it’s not anomalous.
Likewise, since Gesenius said that the Jews didn’t know why they put nun sofit on the ends of some verbs, those ought to be anomalies. You know differently.
I’ve been going through Torah word by word for a couple of years now, digging into new concepts. I’ve kept track of words that really seemed to be anomalous. Out of about 80,000 words in Torah, I’ve come up with maybe 200 that are anomalous – not just “hapax legomena”, like mesheq used of Avraham’s servant, but grammatically different and impossible to analyze into any of the binyanim or other forms we use now, and with no clear pattern of use.
Now, it’s entirely possible that Torah has some words that are scribal errors, that the Masoretic scholars didn’t pick up on and include in their notes, but I doubt it.
Given that the ancestors of the Jews started developing Hebrew by 2000 BCE (which I will soon discuss on the Fact-Checking page), it’s more than likely that they had ways of saying things that were perfectly meaningful to them, not at all anomalous in the context of a millennium and a half of vernacular – but which turned up only once in the written record. It’s analogous to Axel Olrik’s recognition that in the history of any ethnic group, their narrators might have told any number of stories over their fires in caves and tents and huts – but a relatively small number survived the centuries to be put into writing.  (I’ll discuss that next year on the Fact-Checking page.)
With the apparent anomalies in Biblical Hebrew, we might be looking at something as rare in the spoken language as pual is in Torah, but with just as distinctive a function – and we can’t tell what that function is because we only have one example.
The source for the concept of “pausal forms” was probably Arabic, which does have pausal forms.  What have I been saying for 15 lessons, about westerners transferring terminology used for one language, to another where it turns out to be invalid? Well, this one got itself into a muddle and 200 years later, it is just now getting straightened out.
Bottom line: “pausal forms” is an antiquated notion based on an outdated understanding of Biblical Hebrew and invalid transfer of terminology. The seemingly anomalous forms in Torah might be examples of word forms that used to be well understood when the language was used every day on the street – but which we can’t understand now because all we have is the written record, and it doesn’t give us enough data to identify meaning.

One more point of actual grammar.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Watching history happen

No, not the US elections.   The Brexit thing.  A Yank's view.

So first, the polls were run the way polls have been run for decades and Britain found out that the theory behind polls is nonsense.  The results are shaped by how the questions are expressed and who is contacted, and if either one is skewed, the outcome of the vote will be the opposite of the answer in the polls. The voters vote on their concept of what the referendum says, not on the pollsters' concept.

Second, the government (Cameron) resigned.  This is not how things usually happen in Britain.  Usually a government resigns when it is defeated on a Parliamentary vote, or the margin of victory is so narrow that the future of the program depending on that vote is bad. 

General elections, not referenda, usually return a majority in a given party and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister.  Without a majority, it is possible to form a coalition to keep government operating, but that is a creaky way to go about things.  It takes a real disaster to make a British coalition government work well: WWI, the Depression, WWII.  Cameron ran a coalition  government and we all know how that ended.

No general election has been held since the referendum; the  next scheduled one is May 2020.  At the moment only one of the 650 Members of Parliament belongs to UKIP, the party that promoted Brexit.  86% of the  members belong to the Conservative and Labour parties. The Scottish National Party has 54 MPs; the majority in Scotland voted against Brexit, giving more fuel to the Scottish independence movement.  If all the parties with fewer members than SNP formed a coalition with UKIP, UKIP would still have fewer votes than SNP.    If there was a general election and the UKIP member lost his or her seat, there would be nobody in Parliament representing the May government.  That's not just unsatisfying, that's constitutionally questionable in Britain.

A new problem has cropped up.  A Conservative MP who was in favor of Brexit has resigned his seat.  He can no longer vote for Brexit or any other government program.  This doesn't just mean one less potential vote for Brexit in Parliament.  He might have been paired with a Labour or other MP who was against Brexit.  Pairing lets one or both of them be absent when a vote is taken; the one who is present abstains from voting.  Now the party whips have to find another pair for the remaining MP of the pair.  How many pro-Brexit MPs are not already paired off?  How much shuffling has to be done due to this resignation -- and many people will be displeased by the results of the shuffle?  And in any case, there's an even bigger problem.

The UK equivalent of SCOTUS has just said wait a minute.  Governments do not run on popular referenda.  They run on Parliamentary votes.  Parliament has never voted on this.  Until it does, Brexit is not a done deal. 

If the May government stands in the way of a Parliamentary vote or ignores adverse results, it goes against all of British history for the last 400 years.  The reason Charles I was executed was to make it clear that the monarch doesn't control taxes, Parliament does.  George V was forced to make so many peers early in his reign to make it clear that the Lords doesn't control government spending, the Commons does.  It is not possible for any British government to carry out its programs with only a single MP of its own party because there's only one vote guaranteed in favor.  (Vote against your party and you cut your political throat.) 

The High Court also pointed out that the Brexit referendum was never legally binding; it was always only advisory in nature.  This is the same situation as referenda in the US and also legislatural votes.  People get emotional about an issue or it might be politically useful to vote a certain way, but it might be an embarrassment to the country in the sight of the world and it also can be unconstitutional.  That's why SCOTUS was right to overturn DOMA just as it was right  to overturn Jim Crow laws.  For the May government to say that the High Court is wrong, shows that they are not capable of supporting the British constitution any more than they are capable of running British foreign policy or economics.  In fact May has appointed a racist to be Foreign Minister and hate crimes are increasing in Britain, formerly a model of toleration.  And we all know about the drop in value of the pound, as well as the recent tussle between the May government and "the  Old Lady of Threadneedle Street".   

So the May government using the referendum to argue that it has a right to act is useless.   The basis for representative democracy is that there is always somebody somewhere who wakes up only when personally impacted and says "I didn't vote for that."  Democracy is not about catering to every citizen.  Societies are not formed by catering to every member.  Every society defines its own norms and has a way of dealing with people and situations outside the norm.  The norm in British representative democracy is that, as the representatives of the British people, Parliament has to cast the deciding votes on government programs. 

The pro-Brexit organization failed to make that clear to their adherents -- or the  pro-Brexit voters ignored it -- or they forgot it -- or it was useful to bury this detail to get the votes.

Now the people who didn't get the memo are becoming violent against the judiciary.    The British are not yet used to having an independent justice system; it used to part of the Lords and therefore part of Parliament.  It is not a perfect system, but it does reinforce the constitution, even when the constitution was never written down as in Britain.  Under the old system, this violence would have been perpetrated against the Lords -- shades of Guy Fawkes!!!  (Yesterday was Guy Fawkes Day in Britain.)  Regardless of the target, it is terrorism, not democracy.  It is banana republic behavior, not worthy of Britain.

The May government is not entitled to act on the Brexit referendum; everything adds up to that.  They are not entitled to stay in position; there will come a day when the British voters throw them out as they have thrown out previous governments, even that of the famous Winston Churchill.  So any whining about  the High Court decision is just that: whining.  Whining should not be tolerated.

It ain't over until the Mother of Parliaments sings... or votes...

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Modal continuity

The other thing we discover by understanding 21st century grammar for Biblical Hebrew, is cultural continuity. One of the modals Dr. Cook discusses morphs for use in later writing of the same culture.
This nun-final modal appears in Torah in Avraham’s negotiation with Gd over the cities of the plain (Genesis 18:17ff), which happened about 2350 BCE. Five times he uses the nun-final form, which Dr. Cook defines as an uncertainty epistemic; it shows that Avraham isn’t claiming that he absolutely knows there are less than 50 righteous people on Sodom, he’s saying “just supposing?”
This form appears throughout Tannakh. It’s in the rest of Torah; it’s in Ruth and Samuel (in feminine gender!); it’s in Yeshayahu and Yermiyahu; it’s in Yehezqel.
After the Babylonian Captivity, a slightly different version of the nun-final form shows up over and over again in both Mishnah and Gemara. Why? The very first Mishnah is a perfect test case.
First, Mishnah Brakhot 1:1 says “From what time are they supposed to read the Shema.” “Read” is this nun-final version, qorin. This is not a commandment  to read the Shema (that it is required in Jewish law is a given here), qorin means something that is supposed to happen, along with the fact that it is supposed to happen at a specific time.
Second, a rabbi’s sons come to tell him they haven’t read the Shema yet; have they violated Jewish law? He says “maybe,” chayavin. Why does he use this morphology? Because, as the complete paragraph shows, he is only supposing they did wrong. He probably doesn’t have two colleagues with him so as to constitute a court that can rule on the subject for sure, leading to a penalty.  (And he’s a relative who can neither testify in nor judge the case.)
Third, the Mishnah continues with a reference to ha-neekhalin, things that are supposed to be eaten by priests from the sacrifices. Again, this might not happen, and  the rest of the statement gives a timing issue related to the timing of reading the Shema.
The nun-sofit form is used to report what the law says.  When Mishnah reports the facts of the  case, in the story about the rabbi’s sons, it uses what we think of as the “normal” masculine plural endings, for something that actually happened.
The nun-sofit form appears in Midrash Halakhah about the time of the Muslim conquest;
in Mishneh Torah by Maimonides during the Crusades;
in Shulchan Arukh by Caro in the Renaissance;
in R. Shneur Zalman of Liady’s Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav in the Enlightenment;
and in Shlomo Ganzfried’s Kitsur Shulchan Arukh in early Victorian times.
They all use it the same way Mishnah does, and they use it when they are not quoting from Mishnah.
This has consequences far beyond proving what a bad translation Septuagint is, but that goes in another part of the blog so for now, I will move on to something else.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bit at a Time Bible Hebrew -- punctuation

I’m almost done but I want to cover two more features. I mentioned the trop on et a few lessons ago; “trop” are marks guiding cantillation of the Tannakh.  To understand this section, get familiar with this page
and the table here
The important column in the table is named “Shape”.
You can see the text marked up with the trop here and also listen to it.
You can copy this text off and paste it into Word for study but you can’t download the audio.
It’s also on the Mechon Mamre site but it’s not as neat.
In the war against “and”, the important mark is the bottomless triangle called etnach.  It marks the main division inside a verse.  It’s not in every verse.
When I rewrote Narrating the Torah based on Dr. Cook’s dissertation and replaced all the “and”s that represent a vav of narrative past, oblique modality, and so on, with an accurate translation, I still had a lot of “and”s  in there, mostly inside the verse instead of at the start.
So I went back through it and found that a lot of the “and”s coincided with the etnach in that  verse, and usually were part of a narrative past.  In most of those places (maybe 70%) I replaced the “and” by semi-colon and not only did the verses still make sense, they made better sense.  (I used colon in some places with the same result.)
So then I checked the trop in other places, and behold! Punctuating in coordination with the trop, made better sense in English. 
I haven’t learned to sing it.  (You don’t want me to sing it.  You really don’t.)  What I’m saying is what that first link says; trop are a method of orally punctuating the material to mark changes in thought, separation of phrases, and important words.  Punctuation is just as important to the meaning of Biblical Hebrew as it is to English, and that’s what trop is – punctuation.  Looking at the trop is a last resort when you have tried everything and the verse still doesn’t make sense.
But if I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now.  There is no such thing as a perfect translation.  No two languages have words for all the same concepts because no two language record identical cultures.  Every culture has concepts that mark it off from all the others.  No two languages express the same features using the same grammatical structures – they don’t all have the same cultural nuances requiring special grammar. 
Translating is always tricky because it’s easy to make mistakes; it’s complicated because you can’t do a word-for-word substitution and get the idea across accurately.  That’s part of why I did this page on the blog.  I wanted people to understand that understanding Torah requires understanding it in Biblical Hebrew to avoid all the mistakes and complications of translations.  And as I hope I’ve suggested in the discussions, sometimes understanding requires understanding the entire culture,  not just isolated words.  Go to the Fact-Checking part of the blog and start reading at about post #130, called Lost  in Translation; it starts a section about translations and commentaries that makes this same point from a different perspective. 
It’s up to you.  How close to the meaning do you want to get?

One more thing about trop and we're almost done.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved