Maundy.

Lane Greene of The Economist has a “Johnson” column in which he discusses the “three rather strange names … ‘Maundy’ Thursday, ‘Good’ Friday and ‘Easter'”; the last two are pretty straightforward (good used to mean ‘holy, godly’ and Easter is after a dawn goddess Eostre), but the first is more confusing. Greene doesn’t care for the OED’s explanation (“< Anglo-Norman mandet, mandé (c1120), Old French, Middle French mandé (1223) < classical Latin mandātum mandate n., in phrase mandatum novum a new commandment (with reference to John 13:34…)”):

This is strange, though. Part of the reason is that the mandatum verse begins a well-known piece of Holy Thursday liturgy, but after listening to monks chanting it, it is hardly obvious that believers would pick out that first word, deform it to Maundy and so name the holiday. Some dictionaries note that it might have come from the Old French mande [i.e., mandé — LH]…. But all church services were in Latin in medieval Europe; why is it not Mandatum Thursday (or simply Mandate Thursday)? If French-speakers named it, it should be fully French: jeudi de mande. (And why don’t French-speakers on the Continent call it that?) The proposed Franco-English hybrid, Maundy Thursday, is odd in every way.

The other explanation is that the poor got alms from the king on Maundy Thursday (in which the poor are elevated to a special role, in keeping with Jesus’s humbly washing his disciples’ feet.) A maund is an old English word for a woven basket, out of which the king is said to have distributed alms—indeed the British monarch still gives out specially minted coins. Maund is Germanic originally, but may have made a round-trip through French before being adopted into English, which explains the French-looking spelling. Maundy Thursday remains a bit of a mystery, but this second explanation has a more intuitive appeal.

I’m pretty sure the OED is correct, but I’m glad to know about the word maund. (Thanks, Paul!)

Incidentally, I was reading a Guardian article by Natalie Nougayrède, and it struck me that I had no idea what kind of name Nougayrède might be. Anybody know? (I mean, she’s French, so it’s a French name, but you know what I mean.)

Comments

  1. Nougayrède/Nougarède/Nougaret/Nouharet/Nogaret, etc. are Occitan names meaning, I believe, a nut orchard: cf. nougat.

  2. Makes sense to me. Here’s the queen giving out those alms this year.

  3. Nougayrède/Nougarède/Nougaret/Nouharet/Nogaret, etc. are Occitan names meaning, I believe, a nut orchard: cf. nougat.

    Ah, merci! Perhaps marie-lucie will have more to say about it.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    Roughly speaking, Romance languages have versions of “Holy Thursday”, Slavic languages and Hungarian have “Great Thursday” and Germanic languages have different colorful names meaning “Bright/Fresh/Clean Thursday”. English really is an outlier.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    Nougayrède/Nougarède/Nougaret/Nouharet/Nogaret, etc. are Occitan names meaning, I believe, a nut orchard: cf. nougat.

    I guessed that the name had to be of Occitan origin (final -ède is a giveaway), but did not go any further. The link with nougat (a kind of hard halva with bits of almond inside) seems to be right.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    The word includes a suffix a(y)re which must be the equivalent of French -ier in tree names (eg pommier ‘apple tree”), just as ède is the equivalent of French -aie (both from Latin -ata]. The other names are less obvious dialectal forms.

    The three “holy” days before Easter are Jeudi Saint, Vendredi Saint, Samedi Saint. The sequence aun< in “Maundy” suggests an Anglo-Norman origin (as in aunt from “(t)ante”), but I have no idea why a form of the verb mander (an obsolete word meaning “to ask/send (a person to do something)” should be used in this context.

  7. I found the etymology in Jean Tosti’s site, under Nogarède. The Spanish name Noguera is from the same root.

    For geography, the Geopatronyme site says that the particular spelling Nougayrède is concentrated in the département of Tarn-et-Garonne; the other spellings are from similarly narrow areas further east. I’d like to know how much these actually reflect different pronunciations.

  8. Fred Saberhagen had a science fiction character modeled after King Phillip II of Spain who was named Felipe Nogarra. I wonder if he was thinking of a “nut orchard” joke.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Y : Nougayrède, etc

    This spelling reflects an Occitan-influenced Southern French pronunciation /nugajréd∂/ , reflected in the French-influenced spelling. In unstressed vowels within a word there is no phonemic difference between u and o, although there may be a dialectal one. Nogaret is another dialectal form, with a masculine rather than feminine form of the suffix. It is probable that the final t is still pronounced locally, or was recently (before the growing influence of Standard French on local pronunciations).

  10. For those who don’t know, Maundy Tuesday is only the standard term in some parts of the Anglosphere. Some us just say Holy Thursday. See Wikipedia for details.

  11. m.-l., what do you think of the form Noharet? It’s mostly recorded in Ardèche.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Y; Noharet : Perhaps there has been a regular g > h change in that dialect? (the reverse of Russian h > g at least in borrowings).. In most of Occitan, as in Spanish, intervocalic stops tend to be fricativized.

  13. Patrick says:

    I see no reason whatsoever to doubt the origin of Maundy in Old French and Anglo-Norman mandet, later mande, “washing of feet (as part of the Maundy Thursday ceremony),” itself from Latin mandātum, “command, instruction.” It is worthwhile to consult the citatations for mande at the Anglo-Norman Dictionary online, and also to follow the various hyperlinks to the other lexicographical resources found at the beginning of the entry there. In particular, the extensive citations given in the entry for mande (with final full vowel -ẹ̄) in the Middle English Dictionary make it clear that the original and central meaning of Middle English maunde, maundye was the foot-washing (John 13:14-15), as representative of the new commandment (John 13:34, mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos ut et vos diligatis invicem), and not the distribution of alms in baskets. Also, I am curious about what the origin of the final -y in Maundy would be, if the real etymon were the other word maund, maunde, “basket” (from Old English mand and Old French mande, in which the final -e is e caduc)? Would it be a putative Old French *mandée, “basketful”? Or would Maundy Thursday just be Baskety Thursday?

    And I also wouldn’t summarily dismiss any derivation involving plainsong. Consider the etymology of English dirge. And perhaps the pony in pony up even comes from Early Modern English legem pone, money down, cash payment, from the first two words of Psalms 118:33 in the Vulgate (Ps 119 in the Hebrew numbering): Legem pone mihi, domine, viam iustificationum tuarum, “Teach me, O Lord, the ways of thy statutes,” sung at Matins on March 25, a traditional quarter day when debts were paid…

  14. SFReader says:

    I believe Russian h > g in borrowings is just a 19th century literary tradition which has no real basis in Russian philology (it would make sense in Ukrainian, though).

    Russians are perfectly capable of hearing and pronouncing ‘h’ in foreign names and words.

  15. As for maund=basket, in mainland Norman, there’s a diton:

    Givre à Noué
    poumes à pllen maundelet

    (frost at Christmas, apples by the basketful)

    I can’t dig up an attestation of a putative maundé or maunde in any of the Norman dictionaries to hand (and it’s not known in Jèrriais)

  16. I thought Eostre wasn’t quite that clear-cut. Don’t we only have one late source for the claim of her existence?

  17. Patrick: Thanks very much! It’s always good to hear from a real live etymologist, and your discussion is clear and convincing.

  18. Trond Engen says:

    Even with little evidence for the goddess as such, the well-attested month name points to *austro:n- f. as the origin of the word ‘Easter’. The question, then, is rather if the word was taken up directly, took the byway through a little known goddess personifying “dawning, beginning of spring (?)”, or, in either case, if it was back-formed from the name of the month.

  19. I believe Russian h > g in borrowings is just a 19th century literary tradition which has no real basis in Russian philology (it would make sense in Ukrainian, though).

    I remember reading somewhere that the pronunciation of г as [h] was actually the more prestigious pronunciation in Russian in the 18th century, when the custom of rendering foreign “h” as г was introduced. I don’t remember the source, though, so it may be all just in my head.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    I used to have a Franco-Russian colleaque who spoke French like a Frenchman but English with a very strong Russian accent. He pronounced English h like Russian x.

    Nougaret, Noharet

    As I said earlier, in Occitan intervocalic voiced stops tend to be fricatized (as in Spanish). The fricative counterpart of g, if very light, could have been interpreted by a French or French-influenced scribe as h (at a time when this sound was still a phoneme in Standard French).

  21. I have heard Russian mathematicians (speaking English) pronounce the h in various words, such as “cohomology” and “Hilbert”, in a way that sounded much more like g to me than anything else.

  22. That’s because the corresponding words in Russian have g (когомология, Гильберт); it’s not an attempt to reproduce the English sound.

  23. Patrick says:

    Hat: It’s a pleasure to look into these little questions, and an even greater pleasure when you and your readers find my comments useful. Most cheering of all is to be called a “real, live etymologist,” although with the demise of dictionaries like DARE, I’m afraid we will soon be an endangered species.

    Geraint Jennings: Thank you for doing the spadework in Norman lexical sources about the possible existence of an Anglo-Norman *maundée, or the like, meaning “basketful”!

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    Quasimodo Sunday (as in Notre Dame de Paris) is another case of a day being named from a familiar Latin Bible reading for the day. Coming up soon, in fact.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octave_of_Easter

    It’s not so implausible. I’m pretty sure there are others too.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    Quasimodo, etc

    In France every New Year the Post Office distributes wall calendars to every household (for free, but it is the custom to reward the postperson with money as a New Year’s gift). These calendars (and similar items distributed by private businesses, charities, etc) follow the Catholic calendar: they include the names of an appropriate saint for weekdays (unless there is something else going on such as the July 14 national holiday) and of the appropriate liturgical abbreviation for Sundays and feast days. Hence for instance “Circoncision” (of baby Jesus), “Ascension” (of Jesus some time after resurrection), “Rameaux” (Palm Sunday, when boxwood branches are distributed to the faithful), and many others. The Latin name “Quasimodo” (actually two Latin words) seems to be an exception.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    a familiar Latin Bible reading for the day

    In France (and probably other traditionally Catholic countries) the word “Bible” brings to mind the Old Testament only, while readings in church are taken from the New Testament. Only Protestants read “la Bible”.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Patrick: Let me add my thanks for your elucidation of Maundy and of the words (unknown to me) mande and mandée.

    GJ, thank you for confirming the Norman link!

  28. Marie-Lucie, I am by no means an expert in the Catholic calendar, but all special “Sunday names” that you mentioned are among Great Feasts (12+5) of the Eastern/Orthodox Churches, which, as you can easily count, amount only to about 1/3 of the year. What do those calendars list for other weeks?

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    @marie-lucie:

    Quite right. I was careless in attributing the words to a Bible reading.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introit

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    From the Wiki link above:

    “So too, Gaudete Sunday is a name for the third Sunday in Advent, Laetare Sunday for the fourth Sunday in Lent, and Quasimodo Sunday for the Octave or Second Sunday of Easter, because of the incipit of the Entrance antiphons of those Sundays.”

    My vague memory that there were others like Quasimodo Sunday seems to be based on fact. And another one:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rorate%20sunday

  31. In France (and probably other traditionally Catholic countries) the word “Bible” brings to mind the Old Testament only, while readings in church are taken from the New Testament. Only Protestants read “la Bible”.

    The things I learn around here!

  32. @Y:

    The Spanish name Noguera is from the same root.

    noguera is straightforwardly Catalan, so it’s closely cognate, but not the same.

  33. In 19C English, Testament unmodified meant the New Testament, particular in the phrase to read your|his|her Testament. The OED’s quotations for sense 5b:

    1568 in W. T. Ritchie Bannatyne MS (1928) II. 148 So quhene, the psalme and testament to reid Wtin this land was nevir hard nor sene.

    1831 R. Shennan Tales 53 (E.D.D.) The Testament was his school-book.

    1834 Encycl. Brit. IX. 355 He [Erasmus] had for some time been..employed in preparing an edition of the Greek Testament.

    1843 G. Borrow Bible in Spain I. viii. 142, I had brought with me a certain quantity of Testaments.

    1869 M. MacLennan Peasant Life i. xvii. (E.D.D.), The Testament, and next ‘the Bible’, are regular class-books.

    1888 Mrs. H. Ward Robert Elsmere I. i. viii. 233 Her little well-worn Testament open on her knee.

  34. I think my experience with the word “Bible” is that it refers to the entire canon of the speakers particular religious affiliation. With most Christians, I think it is used to refer to both testaments (and Apocrypha for some). For Jews, it is what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. Then, both have subdivisions (testaments, writings, etc.)

  35. @GeorgeW: Many Jews seem to make a conscious effort not to use the work “bible” for their religious texts, instead using a Hebrew term (Torah, Tanakh, etc.) appropriate for a particular text.

  36. In France (and probably other traditionally Catholic countries) the word “Bible” brings to mind the Old Testament only, while readings in church are taken from the New Testament. Only Protestants read “la Bible”.

    What is the French word or term that refers to both the Old and New Testaments?

    French Wiki says:

    Les chrétiens considèrent que la Bible se compose de l’Ancien Testament (écrits antérieurs à Jésus) et du Nouveau Testament.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    Coming on five centuries after the switch to predominantly vernacular liturgies, traditional Lutheran calendars/lectionaries still refer to many of the Sundays of the church year (at least those in Advent/Lent/Eastertide) by the incipits of their traditional Latin introits. So, e.g., the Sunday after Quasimodo Geniti is Misericordias Domini.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    It does seem that that “traditional” pagan-goddess etymology for Easter is at least as questionable as the traditional etymology for “Maundy,” so it’s odd to repeat one uncritically while questioning the other. The german Wikipedia article on “Ostern” has a good etymology section saying more or less “who knows?” (One interesting speculation is that the word as applied to Pascha was perhaps not “indigenous” to Germany but imported by missionaries of Anglo-Saxon origin like St. Boniface.)

  39. Paul O: Note that Marie-Lucie said that the connotation of Bible was the Old Testament only, not that it was defined to mean the Old Testament only.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    Obv m-l’s childhood in France was pre-Vatican 2, and I daresay the local Roman Catholic authorities have probably been working in more recent decades to avoid confirming the old Protestant stereotype that “Catholics don’t read the Bible.”

  41. Nary a mention of the singer Claude Nougaro, the iconic son of the Occitan sud ouest.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmRgXOw1o3A&index=4&list=PLtxmUE3FZK7IKF738u3p_TIiNulhnOc_O

  42. GeorgeW says:

    Brett: “Many Jews seem to make a conscious effort not to use the work “bible” for their religious texts, instead using a Hebrew term (Torah, Tanakh, etc.) appropriate for a particular text.”

    I am sure that is absolutely true. However, a search for “Hebrew Bible” gets 791,000 ghits including a Wikipedia article as well as a JPS link. So, it is not an unusual term.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    I admit that my knowledge of French Christian customs (mostly Catholic ones) predates Vatican 2. I have not felt the need to keep up with them. Perhaps I should rewrite my previous comments in the past tense.

    At First Communion (a collective ceremony at about 11 years of age) Catholic children traditionally received a missel (a book that states the readings and other variable elements of the mass, that is needed to properly follow the mass on particular days), not a Bible or even Gospel book.

  44. I believe that the Jews often call the OT the “Bible” or the “Hebrew Bible”, and the NT the “Greek Bible”.

  45. Trond Engen says:

    JWB: The german Wikipedia article on “Ostern” has a good etymology section saying more or less “who knows?” (One interesting speculation is that the word as applied to Pascha was perhaps not “indigenous” to Germany but imported by missionaries of Anglo-Saxon origin like St. Boniface.)

    That’s a good point. I think most other early Christian missionary words spread north and east to Low Franconian and Scandinavian, but that doesn’t mean this can’t be one of the exceptions.

    Some other thoughts:
    – The purely West Germanic distrubition might also point to a Celtic origin, but I don’t think the word is any better attested there.
    – There’s really no need for the word to have been a theonym, but there might be some corroborative support for the idea in the fact that the ON name of the month from mid-April to mid-May was named Harpa, also assumed to be an otherwise unattested godess. That would presumably mean that Easter and Harpa were different names for roughly the same deity. Unfortunately the etymology of Harpa eludes me. Also May-June was named for an assumed godess of obscure etymology, Skerpla. But truth be told I find these godess theories rather unconvincing.

  46. In France (and probably other traditionally Catholic countries) the word “Bible” brings to mind the Old Testament only, while readings in church are taken from the New Testament. Only Protestants read “la Bible”

    Up until 1970, the Catholic mass normally had two scripture readings (called “the Epistle” and “the Gospel”) and they were almost always from the New Testament. After the Second Vatican Council called for an expanded selection of readings at mass, a new lectionary (book or listing of readings from scripture for a given church service) was promulgated for the mass in about 1969. Wheareas the previous cycle of readings covered a single year, the new lectionary provided a 3-year cycle for Sunday masses and a 2-year cycle for weekday masses. Weekday masses continue to have 2 readings but masses for Sundays and certain important holy days now have 3 readings: the first one normally from the Old Testament, the second one from the New Testament, and the last one always from one of the Gospels.

    In my experience Spanish-speakers use “la Biblia” to refer to both Old and New Testaments.

    Whan I made my First Holy Communion I received a children’s missal and a rosary as gifts.

  47. The purely West Germanic distrubition might also point to a Celtic origin, but I don’t think the word is any better attested there.

    For what it’s worth, Irish missionaries like St. Columbanus were active on the continent and founded monasteries like St. Gall in Switzerland.

  48. From which many Old Irish glosses come.

  49. However, a search for “Hebrew Bible” gets 791,000 ghits including a Wikipedia article as well as a JPS link. So, it is not an unusual term.

    The point (I believe) was not that it was an unusual term but that it was a term Jews tend to avoid. Many Christians talk about the “Hebrew Bible,” presumably on the internet as well.

  50. More Norman basketry: mâone is defined in the Dictionnaire Français-Normand (2013) as a round wicker two-handled basket carried on the back by fisherfolk for carrying fish; also a round basket in which lines are coiled ready for use. The Dictionnaire Normand Français (2012) gives further information and notes that attestations are from the Hague and Val de Saire areas of the Cotentin, and that nowadays mâones are more typically made of plastic or metal.

    There’s also the quantity word mâonaée: a basketful of mackerel or other fish in a mâone.

    The loss of -d- wouldn’t be a surprising development. (This doesn’t seem a common word – as I say, it’s unknown in Jèrriais and we can see La Hague across the water, but if I was writing it in standard Jèrriais orthography, I’d write maûne, maûnée, orthographies differ over whether the circumflex should be written over the first or second vowel in a sequence)

    Cherbourg writer Jean Tolvast (1870-1945) published a story “Maônet-Picot” – in which the character is being described as being so small he could fit into a mâone.

    None of this, of course, may have any bearing on the origin of Maundy.

  51. a term Jews tend to avoid

    Mostly because there’s no need for it in everyday discourse. If I’m talking to another Jew about, say, a story in Genesis, I’d just use the word Torah or maybe the name of the book in either English or Hebrew. When talking about a story in one of the later books, I’d mention the book by name. When talking about the Old Testament as a whole, I’d call it the Tanakh. It’s only when, in talking to someone of any or no religious persuasion, there’s a need to distinguish between the Jewish and the (several) Christian versions of the Old Testament (there are small but important differences), or to remove doubt that I might be including the New Testament in my thoughts, do I use the term Hebrew Bible.

    Until recently, Hebrew didn’t even have a word for the combined work of the Old and New Testaments. The word used by Hebrew Wiki is ביבליה Biblia, though it’s safe to say that most Israeli Jews never use the term because the need for it doesn’t arise. ברית החדשה Brit haXadasha (“new covenant”) is used to refer to the New Testament, though I suspect it’s a newish term. From what I recall, the Talmudic rabbis, in the few cases they referred to the New Testament, used the term עוונגליון Evangelion (with a hard G), which they took from Greek. The Hebrew spelling contains a punning twist, as the first letter is an ayin rather than the expected aleph, rendering the meaning as “iniquitous volume.”

  52. GeorgeW says:

    Paul Ogden: “. . . there’s a need to distinguish between the Jewish and the (several) Christian versions of the Old Testament (there are small but important differences),”

    Are you talking about the underlying sources or the English translations?

    I understand that the Hebrew text used by Jews is exclusively based on the Masoretic texts. Some Christian Bibles (in translation) such as the NRSV also include modifications from the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls.

  53. Are you talking about the underlying sources or the English translations?

    I was thinking more about the order of the books and their inclusion/exclusion in the canon(s). I hadn’t considered translations from Hebrew and Greek to other languages. (The English version of the Old Testament that I use is KJV as lightly modified by JPS.)

  54. David Marjanović says:

    Russians are perfectly capable of hearing and pronouncing ‘h’ in foreign names and words.

    …if by “pronounce” you mean “as [x]”, which is very noticeable in the few languages like German that have both [h] and [x].

    In France (and probably other traditionally Catholic countries) the word “Bible” brings to mind the Old Testament only

    Not in my decidedly post-Vatican II experience in Austria.

    (Incidentally, the first reading in Easter mass is Genesis 1.)

    Only Protestants read “la Bible”.

    Although Catholics nowadays tend to have a Bible at home, they still tend not to read it… 🙂

  55. Well, after all, that was one of the distinguishing features of Protestantism, the idea that every Christian could and should read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Catholics (and Orthodox) left that sort of thing to the experts.

  56. Paul Ogden: “The English version of the Old Testament that I use is KJV as lightly modified by JPS.”

    FWIW, the NRSV is considered the most academically authoritative translation. The JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh is probably the most faithful to the traditional Hebrew texts (Masoretic). But, I guess it depends on what one is looking for. The KJV, with it problematic translations, is more traditional The language, with its thees and thous, has a style that distinguishes it from modern speech and gives it a certain special quality.

    Discussions like this, always bring to mind the alleged comment by a Texas legislator, who, while debating an English-only education bill, said “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it is good enough for me.”

  57. J. W. Brewer says:

    On the “Easter” etymology, consider FWIW the parallel that the English word “Lent” is just adapted from a now-archaic word for “spring” (as in the season), although (so the internet claims) no other major European language does anything parallel for forming their name for “that specific ecclesiastical period of fasting etc. prior to Pascha.” So that would be at least consistent with the Anglo-Saxons using their pre-existing word for the month in which Pascha tended to fall as their translation for Pascha w/o any great concern for the etymology or connotations of that month-name, any more than the second half of “Maundy Thursday” carries any present connotation of the divinity or significance of Thor.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    LH: Well, after all, that was one of the distinguishing features of Protestantism, the idea that every Christian could and should read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Catholics (and Orthodox) left that sort of thing to the experts.

    I don’t know what the official Church position was, but the Old Testament seems to have been background information as well as the source of some historical (creation, kings, etc) or uplifting information, while there were many less than uplifting parts which only specially trained persons (priests) should have access to in order to place them in the proper context. Besides, for “Christians” the important thing was to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, which were all in the New Testament (which I understood to be the four gospels – Paul’s Epistles being in a separate category).

    Someone asked how the Old + New combination was called, if the Bible was just the OT: les Saintes Ecritures ‘Holy Scripture’ (which may have included the Epistles). (I am too lazy to consult Wikipedia.fr at this point).

  59. David: I believe that the Jews often call… the NT the “Greek Bible”.

    I have never heard this, and I have a hard time imagining a Jew saying it. It feels totally wrong.

  60. Rodger C says:

    Harold Bloom calls it “the Belated Testament.”

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    From a Jewish perspective, the New Testament is surely not “Bible” at all; and indeed the very name “New” Testament is polemical, implying a contrast with an Old Testament which is at best only preparatory and at worst, obsolete, which is hardly a position compatible with mainstream Judaism, I would have thought.

    On the other hand, the word “Bible” is opaque enough for most English speakers that they probably use it with no particular intention of actually implying “Sacred Books.”

  62. the NRSV is considered the most academically authoritative translation

    With respect to the OT, for the most part I don’t need a translation. The Hebrew original does fine. I use KJV/JPS because I like the majestic KJV style and because my edition of KJV/JPS has been with me for decades. I also have in print some of Robert Alter’s translations into English, a complete Chouraqui into French and a modern Greek version (“translated from the divine archetype”). Occasionally I look up a passage online in one of the other translations into English. There are, of course, corrupted bits whose Hebrew is impenetrable to me, as are the sections in Aramaic (near complete lack of which renders almost useless consulting the Talmud or even a transliterated Peshitta — though the latter can be fun). The NT interests me less, and there I’m happy enough to rely on KJV.

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    Christian theological scholars are the ones who talk about “the Greek Bible”; as opposed to the Hebrew (and a bit Aramaic) Bible. Though they’d be more likely to say “Greek Testament” (otherwise you could be talking about the Septuagint.)

  64. J. W. Brewer says:

    There are two basic approaches: a) all possible alternative names for a given text (or person, or whatever) viewed as authoritative/good by some but not others are inherently polemical, so use whichever suits your own polemical point of view; and b) the standard term in a given culture is the closest thing to a “neutral” option available, because its polemical background will have been at least partially bleached out of it by the fact of standard use. Believing that using the standard term reflects affirmative consent to a given position in some underlying controversy about the referent (and that dissenters from that position must thereby make themselves conspicuous by refusing to use the standard term) is a step toward madness. Or at least away from civility. It is, for example, possible to say “People’s Republic of China” instead of “Red China” (or “The Bandits Occupying the Mainland”) without thereby endorsing the legitimacy of the regime, much less conceding that the regime is based on republican principles and/or popular consent. Prof. Bloom himself is happy to use the fixed idiom “New Testament” while saying provocative things about it that are wildly inconsistent with traditional Christian veneration for the text.

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    Agree very much about civility, though with the caveat that it’s perhaps more incumbent on a powerful majority to concern itself with its own civility, rather than to suppose that a minority with understandable concerns about its cultural survival is necessarily being deliberately provocative if it insists on avoiding terms it interprets as loaded. It’s annoying when the particular avoidance seems poorly motivated or is even demonstrably based on misunderstanding; but that’s just where the civility comes in.

    Agree even more with your implication that most people are far too sensible (or good-natured) to get worked up about these things.

  66. It is, for example, possible to say “People’s Republic of China” instead of “Red China” (or “The Bandits Occupying the Mainland”) without thereby endorsing the legitimacy of the regime, much less conceding that the regime is based on republican principles and/or popular consent.

    True, and this is reinforced because (a) the name is the official English name of the country, and (b) it is a fairly close translation of the endonym 中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó. On the other hand, using a better name for something and ignoring protests of “But it’s standard!” is the only way to eventually dispose of a seriously misleading or insulting standard term. It’s just as well that Chinaman has been replaced by Chinese man, even though it’s a calque of 中國人 zhōnggúorén. See also my general comment on criticism of endonyms vs. exonyms.

  67. David Eddyshaw says:

    If I were Chinese, I’d be quite keen on describing myself as one of the Bandits Occupying the Mainland, but I concede that this sentiment is unlikely to appeal to the authorities of the PRC …

    On the subject of China and dispreferred locutions, I recall a fairly convincing article decrying the use *in English* of the term “Han” instead of “Chinese.” The author’s point was that this was actually a little propaganda victory for the PRC authorities, according to whom all citizens of the PRC, whether Tibetan or Uigur or whatever, are Chinese, though not, of course, always Han.

  68. I’ve always found it curious that “Chinaman” is so clearly derogatory. It’s clearly marked; (most) other nationalities don’t get terms of that form. However, it doesn’t seem that there’s anything intrinsically negative about it; it just inherits derogatory connotations from its association with past discrimination.

    On the other hand, “Chinaman” seems to be a rare example of a “-man” word where the reduction of the vowel is not merely standard, but required. An unreduced final vowel in “policeman” sounds unusual but acceptable; in “Chinaman” it strikes me as completely wrong.

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    LL has just been discussing this very issue of -man (but I expect you know that.)

    I had a very senior colleague about twenty-five years ago, who always used “Chinaman” for “Chinese man.” He was in no way racist and had evidently no intention at all of being offensive. He’d been instrumental in fact in setting up and maintaining vigorous links between our own department and similar organisations in Hong Kong and Singapore, and was much valued by our colleagues there. He’d be about 75-80 by now.

    He was an admirable man. I don’t think anybody ever had the heart to tell him.

  70. Ben Yagoda, Oh, Man.

  71. J. W. Brewer says:

    One can find scattered instances of “Norwayman” (or “Norway man”) as an archaic-sounding synonym for “Norwegian.” And there are perhaps others. Perhaps more to the point one can find other instances of “China” used adjectivally (e.g. “China tea” instead of “Chinese tea,” which sounds to my ear a bit old-fashioned but not bigoted). But when words get skunked enough, there’s not much to be done.

  72. GeorgeW says:

    Paul Ogden: “I like the majestic KJV style and because my edition of KJV/JPS has been with me for decades.”

    The English in my “JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh” (1999, Second Edition) is a translation by the Jewish Publication Society itself.

    When it comes to sacred texts, accuracy of source and/or translation are often not primary considerations. Authority, tradition, literary style, etc. are important factors, hence the staying power of the KJV. I think that, to many people, the language itself has taken on a sacred nature.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    to many people, the language itself has taken on a sacred nature.

    That’s why students often think that “thou/thee” imply reverence for the deity, and they are surprised when encountering these pronouns in Shakespeare where they have the opposite connotation.

  74. J. W. Brewer says:

    The 1917 JPS version which Paul O. is referring to was deliberately done in a very KJVish register. I’m not clear to what extent they actually just worked off the KJV text and changed it only when they had a different view of the sense of the Hebrew or worked more independently. And indeed until fairly recently (second half of 20th century?) it was quite common for English translations of Islamic/Buddhist/Hindu/what-have-you sacred texts (heck, even Also Sprach Zarathustra!) to be done in a KJVish register, presumably on the theory that it was stylistically appropriate for the genre. Had I but world enough and time, there would be a fascinating project to do on the rather wide variation among such translators in their fluency in the relevant style of English.

  75. David Eddyshaw says:

    The KJV doesn’t do at all badly on the accuracy front. In some ways its main problem, more specifically in the New Testament/Greek Bit, is that it’s based on not particularly reliable manuscript traditions, but the differences are mostly not very Earth-shattering.

    I love the Authorised Version myself, but as a somewhat guilty pleasure. Once too often I’ve discovered that I thought I understood the sixteenth-seventeenth century English perfectly well but in fact had been misunderstanding it, a much more insidious problem than the cases where you *know* you don’t understand.

    There’s also the stylistic problem. The originals are *not* in uniformly dignified respectable highfalutin language, especially not the Greek. The AV conceals this to a great extent and thus misrepresents the source significantly in this regard.

  76. Authority, tradition, literary style, etc. are important factors, hence the staying power of the KJV

    Excellent point. Another reason I use my KJV/JPS* is that left-hand pages are in English and right-hand pages are in Hebrew.

    * I erred. The title page says, “Carefully translated after the best Jewish authorities by Isaac Leeser.” This translation, clearly heavily dependent on KJV, was published in 1845. My copy, by Hebrew Publishing Company, is undated and was letterpress-printed, but I know it can’t be post 1960. I have an English-only JPS edition published in 1917 (1956 printing), apparently the first. It too is very heavily dependent on KJV.

    I refer to it so little that I neglected to mention it earlier: I also have “The New English Bible with the Apocrypha — Oxford Study Edition,” published in 1972. It also seems to be a modest reworking of KJV, but has useful footnotes.

  77. David Eddyshaw says:

    … to be fair to the AV translators (none of them stupid men) a good bit of this is due also to the fact that quite ordinary unpretentious seventeenth century English now seem to us to be elevated style, by association. Like the thee/thou business – although the actual usage of the AV was in some respects already archaic at that time, to complicate things yet further.

  78. a little propaganda victory for the PRC authorities

    Since the RoC authorities took exactly the same stance when they controlled the mainland, I don’t see it. Indeed, one of the early names for the RoC was 五族共和 ‘five nations in mutual harmony’, signifying the Han, Manchus, Mongols, Hui (at that time meaning the Turkic Muslims) and Tibetans. In a multi-national state, it’s a Good Thing to have separate names for ‘citizen of the country’ and ‘member of the dominant/largest nationality’: having only one name (as in Greece) blurs things.

    it doesn’t seem that there’s anything intrinsically negative about it; it just inherits derogatory connotations from its association with past discrimination

    This is true of most, though not all, slurs, down to and including the N-word in English. There was a time (early 19C?) when zhid was the normal Russian word for ‘Jew’ too. In China, the characters for many minorities were written with the ‘animal’ radical, making a written-only slur; the PRC government has abolished these.

  79. J. W. Brewer says:

    Which MS tradition for the NT (and ditto for the OT) is more “reliable” is (of course) itself a hotly contested issue, at least outside the echo chamber of the modern Western academy, although those whose views are out of tune with the current academic conventional wisdom do not have nearly as many translations to choose from. The problem of “flattening” (where the wide array of styles/registers in the original does not come through in translation) seems to me to be ubiquitous, rather than KJV-specific. Most modern translations that self-consciously try for a more colloquial/informal style tend to likewise do it across the board.

  80. I just read an excellent article on JSTOR: John D. Klier, Zhid: Biography of a Russian Epithet, The Slavonic and East European Review 60:1 (Jan. 1982).

  81. There’s also the stylistic problem. The originals are *not* in uniformly dignified respectable highfalutin language, especially not the Greek. The AV conceals this to a great extent and thus misrepresents the source significantly in this regard.

    For sure. The style and register of the Hebrew text and the KJV are poles apart. It’s even a stretch to call KJV a translation of the Hebrew; parallel rendering might be a better term. Too, the KJV was prepared over the course of a few decades with an assist by the earlier Tyndale. The Hebrew text spans something like a millennium and it shows: Chronicles, the last to be written, is super-easy to read. Pretty much throughout, and in contrast to KJV, the Hebrew text is laconic in the extreme. Some of this is due to the nature of Hebrew and some, I’m sure, to the expense of hand-copying.

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    I think the NT and OT are significantly different in this matter.

    At least as far as NT goes, there are perfectly good relatively objective principles for assessing manuscript traditions. They’re not infallible, naturally, but it’s far from the case that all is mere opinion in this area. The NT is overwhelmingly the best attested ancient book in terms of manuscript evidence so there’s at least no shortage of data.

    OT is different inasmuch as there is the Massoretic text for which we have only comparatively late manuscript evidence but evidently representing an astonishing tradition of carefulness in transmission; and deviating from the Massoretic text in favour of LXX or another early version or a Qumran text straight away leads into highly complicated undeniably ideological territory, and many unresolved questions about whether there were significantly different strands of transmission prior to the work of the Massoretes, and if so how it all related to the social dynamics of the Jewish world in those days.

    I take your point about the informal translations “flattening” in the opposite direction. Too true, alas. Though an argument for using more than one translation (or better yet, learning to read the originals, though I suspect frequenters of Language Hat are not a very representative group when it comes to willingness and ability in this area.)

    I think it’s a pity that some Christian groups end up relying almost exclusively on a single translation. No translation is good enough for that to be a good plan. Though admittedly English speakers are in a much better position than most language communities, who would no doubt love to be able to dispute the merits of various translations but have to make do with one. Or none.

  83. Or none.

    Hard, really hard, to imagine such a world. Would be terrific to see a book attempting to do so.

  84. I just read an excellent article on JSTOR

    Thanks, that is excellent. One quibble: it translates “Ne tot zhid, kto yevrey, a tot zhid, kto zhid” as “Being a yevrey does not make you a zhid, but it takes a zhid to make a zhid,” but the last phrase makes no sense — it should be “…but a zhid is a zhid” or “…but if you’re a zhid you’re a zhid.”

  85. Hard, really hard, to imagine such a world. Would be terrific to see a book attempting to do so.

    I don’t understand what this means; the “Or none” you were responding to is short for “Or language communities who have to make do with no translations at all.”

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Paul Ogden:

    You’re probably the best person to ask this (assuming I can explain what I mean lucidly):

    The New Testament is written in an abundantly attested language known from all kinds of extra-Biblical materials. Indeed, what was once confidently stated to be “Jewish Greek” has very often turned out in fact to be perfectly ordinary Koine Greek used by everybody, Jew and Gentile. So in principle it’s quite possible to look at the New Testament and make judgments about levels of formality and stylistic questions in general, because there is an abundance of other stuff in all kinds of genres to compare with.

    The Tanakh is written in a language which is hardly attested at all outside the Bible itself in contemporary writings. So there aren’t the comparanda we have with Greek. We haven’t got administrative letters in mind-numbing Hebrew officialese or bills to clients or letters home from bored conscripts on the frontiers who never learnt to spell properly. So our judgments about style are perforce going to lack the kind of external support we can adduce with Greek; moreover the status of the Bible will inevitably lead to the feeling that if it’s in Biblical Hebrew it’s in high style.

    How far do you think it’s actually possible to distinguish stylistic levels in the Hebrew of the Bible? (Presumably there is the further confounding issue that if you speak Modern Hebrew the Bible will seem to be in elevated style exactly because it’s Biblical Hebrew, parallel to the sometimes illusory effect of elevation that the sheer antiquity of the KJV has in English.)

    Obviously Hebrew poetry is very different from prose (I always know when I’ve come to poetry because I suddenly stop understanding …) But how easy is it to distinguish stylistic levels in the prose, would you say?

  87. I don’t understand what this means

    I was trying to imagine the world without the bible. Of course the non-Abrahamic world is just that, but I meant it more in the Western context in which dwell most if not all Hatterites. Even apart from the strictly religious aspect, so much of our culture is informed by the bible’s stories, personal names and figures of speech (in, I presume, all the Western languages) that our world would be almost unrecognizable without it.

  88. From Over My Dead Body by Rex Stout (1940); the speaker is Inspector Cramer, Stout’s Lestrade figure: “I don’t care if the [victim’s] background is wop or mick or kike or dago or yankee or squarehead or dutch colonial, so long as it’s American. Give me an American murder with an American motive and an American weapon, and I’ll deal with it.”

    There’s another lovely line, Wolfe’s, from this book: “When an international financier is confronted by a holdup man with a gun, he automatically hands over not only his money and jewelry but also his shirt and pants, because it doesn’t occur to him that a robber might draw the line somewhere.”

  89. Trond Engen says:

    JWB: On the “Easter” etymology, consider FWIW the parallel that the English word “Lent” is just adapted from a now-archaic word for “spring” (as in the season), although (so the internet claims) no other major European language does anything parallel for forming their name for “that specific ecclesiastical period of fasting etc. prior to Pascha.” So that would be at least consistent with the Anglo-Saxons using their pre-existing word for the month in which Pascha tended to fall as their translation for Pascha w/o any great concern for the etymology or connotations of that month-name, any more than the second half of “Maundy Thursday” carries any present connotation of the divinity or significance of Thor.

    Another excellent point. I had never noticed, but Wikipedia does say that Lenzinmānod was OHG for March. If you’re really into the goddess hypothesis, I don’t really think that does much damage, though, since you can just as well take Lent to be a deity when you’re at it. But then, a deity personifying a certain time of year is just that: A personification of the time of year. In that case the existence of the deity is etymologically irrelevant, since it’s the name of the time of year that explains the theonym, not the other way around.

  90. J. W. Brewer says:

    The normative Greek text of the New Testament is that which is so recognized by legitimate ecclesiastical authority. (This is the same principle by which we determine which “books” are included in the NT in the first place.) If you associate with ecclesiastical authorities who are willing to accept the majority judgment of the Herr Doktor Professors of the Higher Criticism (and are ok with the various presuppositions buried in their methodology), you don’t have a problem. But not all ecclesiastical authorities do, especially not those who speak (admittedly Modern) Greek natively.

    That said, the diversity of the MS tradition does tend to suggest that the consequences of preferring one textual variation to another are unlikely to be catastrophic. Probably the more bitter and uncharitable controversies have involved rival interpretations of identical text. Or rival English translations working from the same version of the Greek/Hebrew/etc.

  91. J. W. Brewer says:

    This reminds me that arguably the trickiest language to translate NT Greek into is Modern Greek, because of the risk of riots in the streets: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandros_Pallis.

  92. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Paul Ogden:

    Some science-fiction writer must surely have made the attempt, though I can’t think of one off-hand.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if John Cowan can, though …

    I suppose the natural way to develop the theme would be to imagine a sort of continuation of the Roman Empire with the polytheism and the philosophers …

    I think it would be hard to keep one’s personal views out of it; a big danger of churning out a religious tract or a Dawkinsite anti-tract. It would take a very good author to come up with a plausible world that wasn’t either a horrible warning or a God-free utopia but just fascinatingly different.

    You could cheat by imagining the Mongols conquering the worn-out Empire and imposing Buddhism across the world …
    (Chinggis Khan was well into Tantric Buddhism – could get a few scenes in the movie out of that …)

  93. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    Agreed: I think it’s true to say that no textual variant in the NT affects any significant doctrinal issue between mainstream Christian denominations. No “filioque” appears in my NT …

    Higher Criticism is not at all the same animal as textual criticism; you might argue that the one is a slippery slope inevitably leading to the other, but there seem to be a lot of counterexamples – even the occasional Herr Doktor Professor.

  94. GeorgeW says:

    J.W. Brewer: “until fairly recently (second half of 20th century?) it was quite common for English translations of Islamic/Buddhist/Hindu/what-have-you sacred texts (heck, even Also Sprach Zarathustra!) to be done in a KJVish register . . .”

    Yes, in fact, one of the better known English translations of the Qur’an is in such language. I opened randomly to a page and it reads: “Know they not that God doth accept . . . and that God is verily He . . . Never stand thou forth herein . . .” etc. (The Holy Qura’an, Translation and Commentary, A. Yusuf Ali, 1983). Holy language.

  95. George Gibbard says:

    Trond Engen said: “you can just as well take Lent to be a deity when you’re at it. But then, a deity personifying a certain time of year is just that: A personification of the time of year. In that case the EXISTENCE of the deity is etymologically irrelevant, since it’s the name of the time of year that explains the theonym, not the other way around.”

    But we do get Mensis Martius, Mensis Januarius and so forth. In the Zoroastrian calendar (http://avesta.org/zcal.html) everything is named for deities that generally have other primary meanings. So the first seven days of the month are the names of the 7 Amesha Spentas, Days 6 and 7 are “health” and “immortality”, of which “health” is also the third month (counting from roughly the spring equinox). “Fire” is both day 9 and month 9, while “waters” is both day 10 and month 8.

  96. GeorgeW says:

    Paul Ogden: “The Hebrew text spans something like a millennium and it shows: Chronicles, the last to be written, is super-easy to read.”

    And, this is something that gets lost in translation, at least any translation that I have encountered. In English, passages from Genesis sound the same as those from Chronicles.

    FWIW, some of the early Hebrew in the OT/Hebrew Scriptures in some respects seems to me to be closer to Classical Arabic than later Biblical Hebrew.

  97. George Gibbard says:

    Sorry, I should not have said “and so forth”.

  98. George Gibbard says:

    According to Gesenius, forms of the imperfect with final -n after a vowel suffix (as in Classical Arabic and Aramaic) occur only in Isaiah. I wonder why.

  99. GeorgeW says:

    Isaiah? Hmm. Professor Hiers (The Trinity Guide to the Bible) dates most of Isaiah to 742-690 BCE although he does say that the book contains traditions from several different periods (but, I think later).

  100. marie-lucie says:

    PO: Even apart from the strictly religious aspect, so much of our culture is informed by the bible’s stories, personal names and figures of speech (in, I presume, all the Western languages) that our world would be almost unrecognizable without it.

    For the Christian West that is true of countries with a mostly Protestant tradition where both Testaments are or were studied by the entire population, but not so much of countries with a Catholic tradition where only a few events and figures from the Old Testament are or were generally known, the majority coming from the New Testament.

    I remember a long time ago attending a lecture about cryptography and its use in intelligence gathering and communication. The speaker said that English-language cryptograpy was relatively easy for others to decode as long as they were very familiar with the Bible, since the encoding method which starts from a key sentence was used a lot in England, using quotations from the Old Testament.

    My maternal grandparents came from a small Occitan-speaking village in the mountains of Southern France where the population was almost evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants (theirs was a mixed marriage, which was sharply disapproved of at the time). Most of the Protestants (who were a slight majority) were descendants of the persecuted minority from the time of Louis XIV, who had been too poor to flee the country at the time of the “Huguenot” emigration. When I knew these relatives as a child you could usually tell a person’s religion (and therefore which side of our family they belonged to) from their first names. The Catholics of the older generation had names like Lucie, Virginie, Thérèse, Rose, Justin, Octave, Urbain, and such names of Latin or Greek origin, while the Protestants were more likely to be called Abel, Job, Zacharie, Maria, Eva, Rachel, etc. Only a few names, like Marie, Pierre and Louis, were common to both religions.

  101. There’s been so much written on the register of the Old Testament, of which I am entirely ignorant.
    The Lachish letters are military communiques written during the reign of Zedekiah, so no younger than Kings 2 and Jeremiah. While showing some formulas of communicating with one’s superior, they are clearly not crafted as carefully as a book meant for permanence. Their grammar fits closely within the range of Old Testament narrative. To my eye they are only slightly harder to understand than, say, Kings 2, but maybe if they were edited and had full nikkud they’d be equally legible.

  102. George Gibbard: Are you sure? There’s a bunch of them in Psalms 104:7, 9, 10, etc.

  103. David Eddyshaw wrote:

    You’re probably the best person to ask this (assuming I can explain what I mean lucidly)

    I assure you of the existence of thousands, if not tens of thousands, more qualified to answer your question. That said, I’ll take a stab anyway, though it will have to wait some hours (by the sweat of your brow, etc., if you get my drift).

  104. For the Christian West that is true of countries with a mostly Protestant tradition where both Testaments are or were studied by the entire population, but not so much of countries with a Catholic tradition where only a few events and figures from the Old Testament are or were generally known, the majority coming from the New Testament.

    Paul Ogden was trying to imagine the world without the Bible, not just the Old Testament.

  105. marie-lucie says:

    LH, That’s how I understood Paul’s post too, but I was trying to qualify his statement.

  106. @David Eddyshaw: I suppose the natural way to develop the theme would be to imagine a sort of continuation of the Roman Empire with the polytheism and the philosophers …

    Ex oriente lux. If not Christianity, Europe would be settled with Mithraism or Zoroastrianism or the like.

  107. Robert Silverberg’s fixup-novel Roma Eterna is set in a world in which the Hebrews never left Egypt. There are some funny passages where a native Egyptian and a Hebrew vehemently explain how their legendary pre-Roman history is The Truth and the other fellow’s are stinking lies. In any case, without Christianity or Islam, Roman rule (or at least hegemony) becomes worldwide, and the Western/Eastern split is eventually undone by the Western half, strengthened rather than weakened by its Romanized European barbarians. The Empire as such falls in the 19C, but only to be replaced by a Second Republic different mostly in name.

    In an LH-relevant move, Italian evolves on schedule (and possibly other Romance languages), though they are L languages to H Latin (and Greek) in a diglossia; the in-universe name for Italian is, of course, “Roman”.

  108. George Gibbard says:

    OK, I might have misremembered.

  109. Rodger C says:

    I imagine the religion of a Bible-less Rome to have probably been what I gather it was moving toward anyhow by the turn of the third century CE: an India-influenced Platonism with polytheism on the popular level and an intellectual elite believing that all that was fine for the masses, but all the gods were really manifestations of the One. There might even have been slots for Jesus and Buddha.

    But that’s if the power of the old elites had endured the crisis of that century , and IMO it’d have taken more than that for the western polity to weather the bigger systemic crisis of the fifth. All I know about Roma Eterna is from WiPe, and it says Silverberg was criticized for only depicting the Roman elite. I wonder if he’d absorbed their self-serving ideology too–“The Empire’d be fine if it wasn’t for these crazy Yahwites.”

    In either case, it’s fun to imagine Germanic religion in this context–Snorri meets Plotinus meets the Upanishads.

  110. GeorgeW says:

    I think the one thing we know is that a Christian-less Roman Empire would have had some kind of religion, probably monotheist as that was the direction history was going. Religion is a cultural universal.

  111. an India-influenced Platonism with polytheism on the popular level and an intellectual elite believing that all that was fine for the masses, but all the gods were really manifestations of the One

    I think Gibbon (from the Antonine chapter) pretty much nails religion in Roma Eterna: “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.”

    only depicting the Roman elite

    “In fact, if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe much SF [in the broad sense including fantasy, alternate history, etc.] as fantasies of political agency.” —Lois McMaster Bujold

    “The Empire’d be fine if it wasn’t for these crazy Yahwites.”

    I can assure you that Silverberg (aka Silverbob, aka Agberg) is no self-hating Hebrew either in real life or in his books, though whether he is a believing and/or practicing Yahwist is another question. Indeed, the book ends with yet another failed attempt at an Exodus, but with hope.

    it’s fun to imagine Germanic religion in this context

    It was a bit of a fad among 19C Germani to worship Thor instead of Jupiter Tonans (etc.)

    Silverberg on Ammianus Marcellinus.

  112. David Eddyshaw says:

    @GeorgeW:

    Certainly religion is a cultural universal; but in a way this is only so because religion can take many more diverse forms than people realise who have grown up in the shadow of the religions most prevalent in the world today, most of which are historically closely linked in just a handful of truly independent families. (I don’t at all mean by this that say Buddhism, which arose in a conceptual world with a basically Hindu outlook, is not substantially different from Hinduism: just that there is a lot of shared conceptual underpinning, just as there is – even more so – among the Abrahamic religions, which I certainly myself do not think are in any sense mere variations on a theme or at all equivalent.)

    For example, it’s easy to suppose that religion is intimately linked with morality, but this is far from universal. Even the Romans would have been mystified at the notion that you should ask a priest (of all people) “how should men live?” Such questions were the domain of philosophy.

    The local religious system where I lived in Ghana features a creator God, who does have a concern with right or wrong (according to proverbial wisdom, anyhow) but does not punish sin; there is no concept of worshipping God or indeed any other spiritual entity. There is no heaven or hell; there is a sort of concept of reincarnation but the understanding of the spiritual side of man is quite different from a Christian or Hindu one, so it is a major misrepresentation to speak of this as anything like transmigration; it’s more like a sort of folk understanding of heredity.
    People have a “soul” which makes the difference between a live person and a dead one, as do animals; they also have a different “soul” for which the same word is used as for the creator god (you can converse with your own, and people sitting alone are often supposed to be doing just that); and men have three other spiritual components which are a bit like guardian angels (women have four) though there are also “wild” ones which live in the bush and are often hostile to humanity. All this is basically just how things are; it has no particular bearing on how things ought to be or how people ought to act.

  113. How far do you think it’s actually possible to distinguish stylistic levels in the Hebrew of the Bible? (Presumably there is the further confounding issue that if you speak Modern Hebrew the Bible will seem to be in elevated style exactly because it’s Biblical Hebrew, parallel to the sometimes illusory effect of elevation that the sheer antiquity of the KJV has in English.)

    It seems to me that the books of the Pentateuch and Earlier Prophets (i.e., from Genesis through II Kings) are written in a similar style (save some very ancient songs). Of course anyone with a scanning electron microscope at hand will easily distinguish the sections attributed to the Jahwist, Priestly and other sources; mine being out for repair I could not readily make such a distinction. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah seem also to be written in this style, not surprising as scholarly consensus says Ezra was the work’s principal redactor, and that he and Nehemiah partnered in the post-exilic rehabilitation of the nation.

    The books of the Later Prophets and the Writings are quite different. Isaiah and Jeremiah are very difficult; the other prophets seem to be written in a style simpler than the Pentateuch and Earlier Prophets. Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations and so forth are each written in a different style, some a little more difficult to understand and some less so.

    I’m not sure that the term elevation applies here. Unless for dramatic effect, and for a short scribble only, nobody today would write in any of these styles. The language is not so much of high register as simply old.

  114. It’s interesting to me that Augustine was a Manichean before he became a Christian. The fourth-century Roman Empire was a complicated place.

  115. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m not sure how far it’s really the case that the Graeco-Roman intellectual elite felt that the traditional polytheism was OK for the masses but transcended by their own beliefs. I suspect a lot of this comes from Enlightenment rationalists like Gibbon projecting their own beliefs ahistorically onto a really very different state of affairs. I think an actual Graeco-Roman intellectual would have found it hard to see any real dichotomy, and would rather think that, though his own understanding of religion (as of everything else) was more sophisticated than a peasant’s, they were both understanding the same thing at base. Plato objects to what he thinks are foolish or misleading stories about the gods, but that’s almost the opposite of disbelieving in the gods themselves (why would you care, if it was all just fables?)

    I wonder if some of this is even the long-range result of early Christian polemic, representing traditional polytheism as basically intellectually untenable. History written by the victors …

    Robin Lane Fox wrote a book about this sort of thing (“Pagans and Christians”) the main thrust of which is that traditional paganism was by no means lumbering along confined only to those too ignorant to think things through, but was alive and well in all strata of society. I remember being not altogether persuaded, but it made me think …

  116. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Paul Ogden:

    Thanks!

    I’m sort of reassured that I’m not alone in finding it pretty hard to assess style as a feature of Biblical Hebrew. I also share your feeling that detecting the supposed difference between the famous Yahwists and Eloists and Priests requires equipment more sensitive than I possess, and the suspicion that it may require a level of acuity not actually attained by human beings to date …

    Learned people must have written extensively on this style issue, as you imply. Time for some searching.

    @Y:

    Thanks indeed for the pointer to the Lachish letters.

  117. GeorgeW says:

    “I’m not sure how far it’s really the case that the Graeco-Roman intellectual elite felt that the traditional polytheism was OK for the masses but transcended by their own beliefs.”

    If anyone is interested in the history of early Christianity, I highly recommend a couple of books by Rodney Stark, “The Rise of Christianity” and “Cities of God.” Stark is a sociologist who examined early Christian history from the perspective of a sociologist.

    Unlike the idea that Christianity was founded by slaves, servants and common people, he demonstrates that it was primarily elite women in Greco-Roman society who then brought their husbands and servants into the church. In “Cities of God,” he shows how Christianity first spread along the Mediterranean coast and took root among Jews and Isis worshipers who were already monotheists (or very close). For them, Christianity was not a huge leap.

  118. I’ve also read Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity” and can second the recommendation.

  119. fisheyed says:

    For example, it’s easy to suppose that religion is intimately linked with morality, but this is far from universal.

    James Kugel has some talks on Youtube on this topic, on how originally amoral etiological Biblical stories were later reinterpretated, with much effort, by the commentators as moral tales. (Well, he has some books as well, but I only listened to the Youtube talks).

    While I am afraid I am about to get a reputation, Hephzibah Israel has a really interesting essay on translations of the Bible into Tamil.

  120. Sorting J, E, and P is more a matter of content than style: it’s straightforward to do it using just a decent English translation.

  121. The fourth-century Roman Empire was a complicated place.

    Unlike the former lands of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 21st century, where all is absurdly simple . . .

  122. SFReader says:

    For some time I was thinking of getting this book

    http://www.amazon.com/Christianity-First-Three-Thousand-Years/dp/0143118692

    Especially interesting would be to learn about history of Christianity in its first thousand years…

  123. J. W. Brewer says:

    Way back when I was a mere stripling of a lad, in my first semester of college, I took a class called either “Paganism and Christianity” or “Christianity and Paganism” with the prominent Roman social historian Ramsay MacMullen, who, I am informed by the internet, is still alive at age 87. If you go over to Amazon you can see that he’s written four or five books on the subjects of the Christianization of the empire, the survival of paganism later than is sometimes thought, what exactly we know about paganism as actually practiced (surviving documentary sources not contained within Christian polemic are scantier than you might think, and one of his works is just a co-edited “sourcebook” of original texts otherwise hard to find in English translation), etc. His approach and prose style are probably less “popularizing” than some of the others mentioned – ymmv as to whether that’s a feature or a bug.

  124. Especially interesting would be to learn about history of Christianity in its first thousand years…

    I definitely recommend Peter Brown; I’m reading Through the Eye of a Needle now, but I’m sure everything he writes is worth reading.

    the prominent Roman social historian Ramsay MacMullen

    Thanks, sounds worth investigating.

  125. prominent Roman social historian Ramsay MacMullan

    I first read that as “prominent social historian from Rome” and was caught off-guard by the clash between his (supposed) origin and name.

  126. SFReader says:

    “prominent ancient Roman social historian” would sound even better!

  127. J. W. Brewer says:

    I avoided calling him an “ancient historian” in order to avoid precisely this misconstrual, although he seemed plenty ancient when I took his class (that’s when I was 18, and, doing the math, he would have been barely 5 years older than I am now). And enough time has gone by since I started college that I should be happy when my old teachers turn out to be merely emeritus rather than deceased.

  128. David Marjanović says:

    Religion, broadly understood, as a religious universal: well, almost. The Pirahã in the Brazilian rainforest famously deconverted the missionary that was sent to them, answering for example his question of who had made the landscape with “these things were not made”.

    And indeed until fairly recently (second half of 20th century?) it was quite common for English translations of Islamic/Buddhist/Hindu/what-have-you sacred texts (heck, even Also Sprach Zarathustra!) to be done in a KJVish register, presumably on the theory that it was stylistically appropriate for the genre.

    Also sprach Zarathustra, with also instead of plain so “thus” rather than in its modern meaning of “therefore”, is itself a deliberate imitation of 16th/17th-century Early New High German.

    Wikipedia does say that Lenzinmānod was OHG for March

    Simpler yet: Lenz (m.) is understood as poetic for “spring” even today. (All the sources that explained this, none of them scientific, claimed that it was from the name Lorenz, which of course makes no sense at all.)

  129. David Marjanović says:

    All the sources that explained this

    Oops – those that I’ve seen explaining this.

  130. GeorgeW says:

    David Marjanović: “Pirahã in the Brazilian rainforest famously deconverted the missionary that was sent to them, answering for example his question of who had made the landscape with “these things were not made”

    I don’t know enough about the Pirahã to make even a half-way informed comment. However, to be considered a religion, a belief system doesn’t depend on having a creator God. One of the criteria of religion from an anthropological perspective is belief in spirits. The Pirahã could have animist type spirits.

  131. Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes outlines how spirits for the Pirahã still deviate from what we normally think of as religion.

  132. David Marjanović says:

    They believe in ghosts – only when everyone sees them.

  133. gwenllian says:

    In France (and probably other traditionally Catholic countries) the word “Bible” brings to mind the Old Testament only, while readings in church are taken from the New Testament. Only Protestants read “la Bible”.

    Definitely not in Croatia or Slovenia, and I believe not in the Orthodox parts of former Yugoslavia either. Sveto pismo (“the Holy Scriptures”) is used, but only by priests and the very religious, and is completely synonymous with the Bible as a whole round these parts.

  134. marie-lucie says:

    gwenllian: Sveto pismo (“the Holy Scriptures”) is used, but only by priests and the very religious, and is completely synonymous with the Bible as a whole round these parts.

    This is exactly how les Saintes Ecritures is used in France too.

  135. gwenllian says:

    I guess the only difference then is the French usage of la Bible for the OT alone. I wonder if this is seen anywhere but in France.

  136. gwenllian says:

    Or, better, whether it was seen aywhere but in France, if the usage has indeed changed in France recently.

  137. I got the story of the East/West split in Roma Eterna wrong: the Western Empire is greatly weakened by its hopeless attempt to conquer the New World in the early 12C (internal dates are AUC, but I’m using CE dates here), and as a result is itself conquered by the Easterners about a century later. However, this only lasts about 250 years before the Westerners have turned the tables again, and they remain firmly in control thereafter. The Empire proper doesn’t exceed the bounds set by Hadrian, but it’s still the world hegemonic power right up through the end of the book in 1970, with every prospect of that continuing.

    There is a lot of linguistic diversity by the late 18C, though Latin is the H language everywhere in the West:

    The new languages, too: what has become of our pure and beautiful Latin, the backbone of our Empire? It has degenerated into a welter of local dialects. Every place now has its own babbling lingo. We Hispaniards speak Hispanian, and the long-nosed Gallians have the nasal honking thing called Gallian, and in the Teutonic provinces they have retreated from Latin altogether, reverting to some primitive sputtering tongue known as Germanisch, and so on and so on. Why even in Italia itself you find Latin giving way to a bastard child they call Roman, which at least is sweetly musical to the ear, but has thrown away all the profundity and grammatical versatility that makes Latin the master language of the world. And if Latin is discarded entirely (which has not been the fate of Greek in the East), how will a man of Hispania be understood by a man of Britannia, or a Teuton by a Gallian, or a Dalmatian by anyone at all?

    The Second Republic is, at least at first, an affirmative action empire. This is from 1897 Venia (Vienna):

    […] We threw up our arms in the old Roman salute and at the top of our lungs we shouted out to him: “Hail, Marcellus! Long live the Consul!”

    (We shouted it, by the way, not in Latin but in Germanisch. I was very surprised at that. My father explained afterward that it was by the First Consul’s own orders. He wanted to show his love for the people by encouraging all the regional languages, even at a public celebration like this one. The Gallians had hailed him in Gallian, the Britannians in Britannic, the Lusitanians in whatever they speak there, and as he traveled through the Teutonic provinces he wanted us to yell his praises in Germanisch. […])

  138. David Marjanović says:

    Venia

    Huh. What happened to Vindobona (later Vindovina)? The first medieval record is indeed ad Weniam (which may of course refer to the river rather than the town), but that was about three changes in population and language after the last Latin/Romance speakers there.

  139. The story is called “Tales from the Venia Woods”, but the city is said to be in Pannonia (the province, not the plain), so maybe that’s just a coincidence.

  140. I myself am a loyal subject of the Triune Monarchy of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania.

  141. David Marjanović says:

    but the city is said to be in Pannonia

    That’s actually correct. Pannonia extended all the way to the Wienerwald: 1, 2.

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