Friday, April 28, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- philology

If A.H. Sayce had studied SWLT and heeded its warnings, he would never have equated shabbatum from the time of Cambyses with the Jewish Shabbat referred to 3 or 4 centuries earlier in Amos and Hoshea, because he would have realized that philology had led him into a false friends situation.  Unfortunately for him, SWLT didn’t exist yet.
Philology, of course, is the science of words and it has thrown up a number of mistaken conclusions.  Even in the 21st century.
According to 2013 news reports, an academic paper used distribution of common words to claim that Indo-Europeans spread from middle Asia through the Kurgan culture, bringing with them wheeled vehicles and the horse.  However, linguistic and genetic studies now argue for an Indo-European origin in Anatolia (sound familiar?), and the distribution of the targeted words and histories of the cultures don’t agree.
The word for “horse” in Akkadian, sisu, dates to the Ur III dynasty, when Utu-Hengel chased out the Gutians (remember them?).  The Gutians were Indo-Europeans who came over the Zagros mountains from a place called Teukri in Anatolia.  It’s hard for me to escape the conclusion that the Gutians brought horses and horse-drawn chariots to Mesopotamia which, up to then, used foot soldiers.
The burial kurgans in Anatolia are few and limited to regions closest to central Asia where the kurgan culture was endemic.  The Hittites, who ruled much of Anatolia, used cremation not kurgans, and yet the Hittites were famous for having horses.  The Hittite word for “horse” is asva, and there has long been an urban legend classing them as Indo-Europeans.
Uh-oh.  The “u” word.  
The conclusion is a case of philology gone wrong.  The Hittite language has affinities with Avestan and Sanskrit that no Indo-European language has.  For one thing, they share a root for “night” which has become shab (“shab bekheyr”, “good night”) in modern Persian, an Indo-Iranian language.  Greek has a similar root for a word meaning “dark,” which night certainly is. 
But the word for night in the Greek language, and its cognate in all Indo-European languages, nyx/nox/notte/nuit/noche/noch’/nos/nacht, is Anatolian in origin. (It’s also feminine.)
The Hebrew word for horse is sus, a pretty close cognate to the Akkadian word, and both languages are Semitic, not Indo-European OR Indo-Iranian.  The word in ancient Egyptian is ss, which I have seen voweled as ses.  Egyptian is neither Indo-European or Indo-Iranian.
SWLT says that word usage is culture-based, and the uniting cultural feature that would have brought the same word for “horse” to distant Egypt, would have been trade of horses between Anatolia and Egypt, mediated as early as the 15th dynasty by the forebears of the Hyksos rulers of the 17th dynasty, and thus passing through the Holy Land. 
It’s the context, stupid!  And that includes history and culture as well as the actual look or sound of the words.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, April 27, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- all kinds of imperfect

Genesis 1:3
ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי־אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר:
Translation:     Gd said Let light exist and light existed.
The syntax you see in the above verse is typical for narrative imperfect.
Vav plus imperfect as one word, followed by the subject, is standard for narrative imperfect.
Never never forget this. Unless the subject is understood from the surrounding context, the subject will come after the narrative imperfect.
If there were no vav we would have a possible true future use of the imperfect, implying that the events have not yet occurred, but we can tell that this is not the case BECAUSE of the syntax.
A future use of the imperfect does not use vav, and the syntax is subject + verb, unless there is an adverb, and then the adverb comes first just like verse 1.
There’s a third possibility but we won’t see an example of that until chapter 2 which is who knows how far away.
But teacher, you’re saying, there are two more things in there that start with yod just like the imperfect. Are those peh yod verbs or are they imperfect?
The first one is jussive and the second one is a special verb form discussed by Dr. Cook.
The jussive is a form of imperative but it’s 3rd person.
I’m going to stop there because this leads to two important discussions.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Monday, April 24, 2017

Garden -- bearing fruit

You gardeners know how patient you have to be sometimes.

At other times...
This first picture is my 30 year old hydrangea. No lie. The people before me planted it. The brown things are leaves that got frosted recently but notice that the old wood is leafing  out again, so I should get flowers this year.

These lilies  of the valley came up on their own and I've preserved them since they seem to be quite happy growing through the bricks for the  last 25 years. Near them below this photo is a fern that migrated from a neighbor's yard. It is in the spore stage now.

Here is a frowsy little patch but if you  have good eyes you can see the leaves of the violets that bloomed last week. A neighbor who  doesn't like them (!) dug them out of her yard and I asked for them. Notice the lily of the valley to the right, which is the descendant of some that I DID transplant.

And here is what looks like a personal triumph. This is shady ground next to the hydrangea, where hosta were starting to take over. I'm no fan of hosta so I dug some of them out and ordered a couple of roots of wild ginger. That was two years ago and they bloomed for the first time last year; they bloomed again last week  and I apologize for not getting a picture then.  It's a native plant to my region so I doubt anybody is going to complain no matter how far they spread.

And that's an example of how sometimes gardeners don't have to wait all  that long.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Ambiguity

All right.  What kind of fallacies do academics use when dealing with languages and the problems created by translations and commentaries.
The one that probably makes most sense to you at this point is ambiguity.  An academic disagreed with SWLT because, he claimed, it made translation impossible.
Which is a funny thing to me, because I know that translation has gone on for centuries but SWLT is less than a century old.
I learned about one of the main problems of translation long before I ever heard of S and W.
In high school, the woman who taught us the French language did a lot of work to make us sensitive to “false friends.”
Those are words and phrases that look like English ones, deceptively so, because they absolutely cannot be translated into the English words they resemble and still preserve the same meaning as the French.
One of the best examples is demander.  It doesn’t mean make a demand on somebody, with more or less hostility.  It simply means to ask a question.
False friends don’t just happen between French and English.  They happen between Romance languages.  French entendre doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as Spanish entender.
They also happen between Russian and English.  In the Mendel Beilis translation I came across the term lombardny bilet.  At first I thought it meant the record of a promise to pay a loan, because the Lombards of Italy were brought into England to help finance the government, after the Jews were expelled from England.  As I worked, however, it turned out that lombardny bilet meant a record of a loan.  Two people said they had them for evidence, one of whom was probably telling the truth and the other of whom lied almost as often as she spoke. The term refers either to bonds taken out to pay back money, apparently secured on future income, or pawnbroker’s tickets.
“False friends” have been known at least ever since boys had to construe Latin and Classical Greek for their tutors or in preparatory and public schools.  So SWLT does not cause problems with translations, it only shows why a given translation has problems.
But one thing SWLT excels at is putting a governor on claims of the science of philology, and that is next week’s post.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, April 20, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- Vayomer ESSENTIAL

Genesis 1:3
ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי־אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר:
Transliteration: Va-yomer elohim y’hi or va-y’hi or.
Translation:     Gd said Let light exist and light existed.
Vocabulary in this lesson: 
he said
Let X exist
So let’s classify this bad boy.
Va-yomer is a peh alef verb and you know that alef is one of the four guttural letters, right?
It’s in the qal binyan.
As I said, it’s narrative imperfect.
It’s 3rd masculine singular.
You will see this verb scores if not hundreds of times in Torah so memorize the table and save yourself some lookup time.
In case you were wondering why there’s a dagesh in those tavs, it’s almost beyond the scope of this course.  If you catch an imperfect 2nd or a 3rd feminine  without dagesh, email me and we’ll look at it.
Now. The other thing you should be asking is why I didn’t put the vav in the conjugation table. That’s because this same form is the plain imperfect aspect, and without vav it often has a true future meaning. I’ll talk about that next week. Damn. That’s six things.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Monday, April 17, 2017



This blog has been running less than 4 years and you've viewed it 30K times!

I am both humbled and flattered.

Especially as so much of what I posted has been special interest stuff.

And your views have come from around the world.

There's more to come: the 4th part of the Fact-Checking blog is a couple of months ahead; the rest of the 21st century Bible Hebrew; more knitting; new garden stuff as I find it.


© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- immersion

Have you ever been involved in a great conversation and somebody comes into the room and asks, “What are you talking about?”  An extreme case is you are sharing a great joke and laughing hysterically, and the third person comes in and asks, “What’s so funny?”
You can never explain something like that to the satisfaction of the third party.  At some point you wind up saying “you had to be there.”
Or if it’s a tweet-fest, you have to tell them, “go back and read all the tweets.”  And even then, they won’t get it. 
They weren’t immersed in the situation and they will never understand all the nuances of what happened.
It’s the same thing with learning a language.  Immersion works better and faster than any class with discrete sessions and isolated lab work.  Language is often spontaneous, and programmatic learning sessions will never teach you some things that a native speaker will teach almost without thinking about it in an immersion course – body movements, voice tones, and so on.
The same is true with Torah and Talmud.  They are more comprehensible to people who live in the culture that now transmits them, than by external solitary study.  They are easier to learn and easier to retain through immersion than in bits and pieces among the moments of getting a living and running a household.
The issue isn’t the capability to learn, AKA intelligence.  The issue is mental and physical experience, not just with the information, but also with its practical consequences, AKA education.  (There’s a rant in there but I’ll let it go and move on.)
The rabbis say that study has to lead to practice, lilmod ulelamed, lishmor ve-laasot ul’qayem kol divrey Talmud toratekha be-ahavah.  But at one time fewer and fewer people were even doing the first part, studying.  That was one of the motivating forces in 1923 when R. Shapiro created the Daf Yomi program.  It asks that people set aside half an hour to an hour every day to study Talmud.  There are programs for both Talmuds.
My experience shows that if you jump straight into Daf Yomi you won’t make much progress.  You have to start with Torah the way you have to start with the alphabet when learning to read.  Then you have to learn Mishnah so that the Gemara doesn’t distract you from the basic principles.  Only after you understand the basic principles behind Jewish law and culture will you understand what Talmud is trying to teach you.  That means starting with the beginning of Jewish law and culture in Torah.  As a primary source, not in translation and not in commentary.
There is a sort of Cliffnotes version of Talmud on a website that has helped me out a lot.  But it’s only an outline, it’s not the real deal.  For that, you need to study the primary document.
You can’t say you know Talmud without that primary document, any more than you can honestly say you read War and Peace if you only read the plot description on Wikipedia.  The English Wikipedia site. 
And if you don’t know Talmud, you can’t produce a good argument for the claim that Talmud talks about Jesus. 

On to the fallacies!
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, April 13, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- narrative past

Genesis 1:3
ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי־אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר:
Transliteration: Va-yomer elohim y’hi or va-y’hi or.
Translation:     Gd said Let light exist and light existed.
Letters in this lesson:
Vocabulary in this lesson:
he said
Let X exist
I only have three items to discuss for this verse. You can breathe now.
The first one is probably the most important because it is all over Torah, and it has do both with that vav prefix, and what it is prefixed to.
OK I lied, four things. Maybe five.
Vav at the start of this verse does not mean “and”. It is a verbal prefix for a specific grammatical structure that Dr. Cook identified.
The structure is vav plus the imperfect aspect. You know that this is the third of the three aspects, and you might remember that it is for uncompleted action.
This story is set at the beginning of the universe. Does this imply that the universe is not finished yet?
Not at all. (There’s a midrash for that, or rather, a mishnah with aggadic overtones.)
What it means is that this is the inside of the narrative. Nothing is over until the narrative is over. The narrative itself is incomplete.
Dr. Cook calls this the narrative past but with the explanation I just gave, you could call it “the narrative imperfect.” You could potentially use this if you were, say, Walter Cronkite doing a live news report on, say, the battle with the Amalekites at the time it occurred.
Now if the perfect uses only suffixes for the verb root, do you suspect that the imperfect uses prefixes? DING DING DING, you’re right, and some books call imperfect the prefix aspect. Which isn’t strictly true because you saw that the piel progressive had a prefix so let’s call it imperfect aspect from here on out.  That will be utterly critical in a couple of lessons.

There is an essential verb in this verse and when you learn it, you will have conquered one of about 30 essential conjugations in Torah.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Garden -- JUST SAY NO

I read the newsletter of my co-op for April and went into a serious depression.

There on the front page it gave bad information that would tempt lots of my neighbors to waste money on grass seed, by saying that April was a good month for re-seeding.


And run an experiment.

Pick a tiny corner of your yard where you can claim you are growing ornamental grasses.

Let your grass go wild there.

You will find that it seeds out in July or August.

Let that be a clue to you.



Mike McGrath, my garden guru, has to counsel people more than once a year who ignore this basic fact about grass and then wonder why they get NOTHING.

Or they get gypped by Scott's into buying something with a growth accelerant, which produces spindly grass that quickly dies.


Or buy the seed, but don't sow until it's RIGHT FOR THE GRASS.

GENERATIONS have made this mistake before you, and they lost a lot of money and used a lot of swear words because of it.

If you're REALLY SMARTER than your parents or grandparents, learn from nature.


© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Friday, April 7, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Only if it's Oral

The final issue in oral communications has to do with its transmission person to person.
It’s easy to demonstrate from the Internet. Why did those little emojis come into being that you can attach to tweets and blogs and emails and that kind of thing?
Because there are things that don’t come through in writing.
Have you ever noticed how many blazing arguments consume Twitter or Facebook until at some point one person writes “I WAS BEING SARCASTIC.”
There are things that text cannot transmit. They require a performance. It can be as simple as the tone of a voice over the phone. It can be silent, as in a facial expression or other body language. It can be as complicated and stylized as Kabuki or a European opera or an anime.
You cannot perform on paper without special words describing an expression, a tone of voice. That is one of the things that makes writing characteristically lengthy: the need to describe. Such things are absent or minimalized in oral communications, something that will come up again, in the last part of this blog.
When you read Torah and Talmud, you are reading records of oral communication. It’s associational and allusive, and it avoids description because it didn’t need to describe things. The people who were communicating the information had each other’s performance to go by, a performance shaped by the culture they lived in.
A characteristic feature of oral transmission of Torah today is the chant, coded as marks called trop. Torah chant is complicated and not easily learned; immersion is better than isolated lessons, the same as for learning to speak a language. Using chant with Torah and Mishnah is noted in Talmud; one rabbi even says you really aren’t doing it right if you don’t chant it.
Talmud has its own characteristic chant. You can hear it in recordings of the Daf Yomi daily Talmud lesson by R. Dovid Grossman of LA, posted at Harvard.
This performance issue also exists for Quran and the Vedas of Hinduism, for both of which there is a characteristic chant. (There are at least 6 styles of Quran chant; there are 5 styles of Torah chant.) Reading the Iliad results in a kind of chant – although the Greek of the Iliad was a tonal language so that, automatically, it presented a performance and not just a text. Some Classics scholars believe the Iliad originated orally, and having read my archaeological posts, you may agree.
If Torah did not originate in oral transmission, then the chanting has to be ascribed to unique behavior compared to other cultures with oral traditions that are chanted; it requires a mountain of evidence about why Jews would behave in a unique way.
So the final clue, that Torah and Talmud are oral transmissions, has developed and survived into modern times, and that is the performance styles of trop and Talmudic chant.
One more little tweak and I’m ready to move on and discuss fallacies I’ve come across in academic papers about language.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Thursday, April 6, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- piel binyan pt 1

Genesis 1:2.
ב וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
Translation:     The earth was empty and chaotic and dark above the depths and a spirit of Gd was wafting back and forth above the water.
All right, m’rachefet is in the piel binyan and the progressive aspect, and the combination almost creates a cognitive dissonance.
First, let me explain piel because it’s crucial to Torah. If you look at other material on BH, it probably calls piel “intensive”.
That’s old-think, and I come not to use old-think but to bury it.
The main thing about piel that you care about right now it that sometimes it means repeating an action. But it always means a punctuated repetition, not a continuous one. (There’s another binyan that has the continuous connotation.)  Because repetition leads to skill, piel can mean being skilled at a given action. There are other meanings which I will get to when it’s important.
You can’t really speak of being “skilled” at wafting, so something else is going on here.
Because piel means interrupted repetition and progressive means continuous action, we have a cognitive dissonance. That is where I get the “back and forth”. While wafting, Gd’s spirit passed over the same place more than once.
Which created a cognitive dissonance for a rabbi about 2000 years ago. Gd’s spirit is infinite, but the idea of back and forth suggests a non-infinite body, like a cloud, moving over a surface such that it doesn’t cover some parts. So right there he started blowing his mind.
Then he realized that at this point, there’s no “above” the waters. It’s waters, then it’s heavens, the way there’s no distance between ocean water and atmosphere.  Yet Gd’s infinite spirit is somehow between them. That’s when he really blew his mind. “In a few days, he was taken from the world.” Another rabbi met him in the interim period and noticed that his behavior was abnormal. There’s more to the story and I’ll tell it later.
So remember this first part of the definition of piel and then remember one thing more.
The reason I translated the progressive aspect with an “ing” ending has to do with another important way it is used in Torah. It’s close to being a pure verb form that ignores timing and relates to another almost pure verb form.
BUT since this narrative took place in the past, I have to translate “was wafting”. Because it no longer does this. Or does it? That’s the puzzle of progressive.
Actually, that’s the problem of translating. No two languages have all the same concepts. English is a language that uses tenses, and tenses are always very concerned with establishing the relationship in time between what is being said and what is being talked about.
Semitic languages are different. There are ways of expressing time relationships, but they aren’t inherent in the verb. Even though perfect aspect reflects completed action, it’s not necessarily tied to the past.  This particularly comes out in the commandments all through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

New verse next time, I promise.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Men, pay attention. It's time to take back your invention.

That's right. Guys invented knitting and crochet.

When they were out pasturing sheep, they would pick the hair and wool that got pulled out by thorn bushes. They would roll it up and eventually it got spun out into woolen yarn.

Men would figure out things to do with the chunky or bulky or worsted yarn, and that includes knitting.

German sock peddlers were famous for working on their wares as they tramped the country; their rapid knitting is legendary.  Scotsmen knitted sweaters. Knitting guilds only accepted men. Injured soldiers were encouraged to knit for therapy in the world wars. Knitting is sometimes prescribed for people with high BP.

Check out this site.

Johnnie Vasquez has scores of videos showing separate stitches. In one, you watch him knit a Shetland eyelet lace edging using tiny needles and delicate yarn. He has knitting motifs from all over the world, shows multi-color work and cabling, and ways to use up leftover yarn.

LEFTIES RISE UP.  Johnnie shows left-handed versions of stitches too.

Go like him and then save the link.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved