Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Aquila and the Formula ΙΣ = איש.

I was standing in a Half Price Book store yesterday with my wife after grabbing a quick lunch at Chipotle when I saw a scholarly book on the LXX for $24.  Of course, being a cheap bastard, I didn't want to pay even this much money for a book whose value lay in only a few pages.  I immediately turned to the pages on Aquila and saw something that caught my eye.  I have always thought that Aquila holds the key to the origin of the nomina sacrum ΙΣ if we are to take seriously the idea that it was a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word - and in particular איש. 

Aquila is famous for the literalness of his Greek translation, often transliterating Hebrew terminology into Greek.  One thing caught my eye when reading that book at Half Price Books - the idea that Aquila translated אל with 'power' or 'strength' is unusual. Yes to be certain, the main support of the argument that the basic meaning of the root is "strength, power" is in the expression yesh-le el yadi, Gen. 31:29, with variations in Dt. 28:32, Micah 2:1, Neh. 5:5, and Prov. 3:27. The meaning of the expression is clear , but the derivation has not been satisfactorily explained.

As Pope notes the expression certainly means "it is in my power", but it is doubtful whether the word 'el taken alone here means "power". Friedrich Delitzsch (Erklarung hebraischer Worter, AGG 26 (1880), p. 3 ff cf. "Obersicht iiber die in Aramaischen, Arabischen und Hebraischen ubliche Bildung der Nomina", AGG 35 (1888), pp. 159 ff., 170 f.) who, independently of Lagarde (cf. Baudissin, Kyrios, vol. 3, p. 17, n. 2), emphatically claimed the meaning "direction, goal" as proven for the word 'el explained le el in this expression as being precisely like the preposition lipne, "at one's disposal."
The translation "it is in the power of my hand", which takes 'el as being in construct with yadi, is against the Masoretic punctuation (Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 26 (1906), p. 30 ff.).

Of course it may be argued that Aquila has merely following a convention which identified אל with ἰσχυρόν.  But the fact that ἰσχυρόν itself is related by Hesychius to ἴς - the very letters of the nomen sacrum - is deeply significant.  Remember the words from the angelic איש of Genesis 32 -  for thou hast prevailed with God (ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ θεοῦ) and be mighty with men (μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατός).   As we mentioned previously ἐνίσχυσας (= to be strong) derives from ἰσχύω.  That ἰσχυρόν also just happens to appear exactly as the sacred nomen sacrum on the written page is critical to our understanding.

Not only is ΙΣ undoubtedly a transliteration of איש, the etymology was probably rooted in Aquila's equating of the root of this word with the archaic term ἴς. Already איש is brought back to the Akkadian ishanu = strong by Brown, Driver and Briggs by way of Genesius.  This cannot be accomplished with אל.  In other words, there is no Akkadian root meaning 'strength' or 'power.'  It might be worth taking a second look at Jerome's testimony about Aquila's translation of various Hebrew words - from the hitherto unpublished translation of his letter 25 to Marcella:

Reading the 90th psalm in that place where it is written: "who lives with the help of the most high, will dwell in the protection of the god of heaven," I said in Hebrew [among the Hebrews] saddai is put for "god of heaven," which Aquila translates ἱκανόν, which we can take as "robust/strong," "capable of doing everything," one of the ten names by which god is called among them. You then asked most eagerly that I draw up for you all the names with their translations. I shall do as you asked.
The first name of god is hel, which the Septuagint translates "god," Aquila ἐτυμολογίαν for ἰσχυρόν, that is "strong."
Then there is eloim and eloe, which are both "god."
The fourth is sabaoth, for which the Septuagint gives "strength/courage," Aquila "discipline/army."
The fifth elion, for which we say "high."
The sixth eser ieie, which is found in Exodus: who is, sent me.
The seventh adonai, which we generally call "lord."
The eighth ia, which is put for god and sounds the last syllables in alleluiae.
The ninth, tetragrammum, because they thought these letters were "anekfoneton" [Gk], that is "ineffable," io, he, uau, he, which some understood because of the similarity of their elements to what is found in Greek books, read as ΠΙΠΙ.
The tenth, which was mentioned and translated above, is saddai also in Ezechiel. We ought, however, to know that eloim is the common name which is used for one god and many. For its similarity to heaven, it is also called heaven, that is samaim, whence translations often vary, for example we can have in our language "Athens, Thebes, Salona."

Original letter:

1. Nonagesimum psalmum legens in eo loco, qui scribitur: qui habitat in adiutorio altissimi. in protectione dei caeli commorabitur, dixeram apud Hebraeos pro 'dei caeli' esse positum 'saddai', quod Aquila interpretatur ἱκανόν, quod nos 'robustum' et 'sufficientem ad omnia perpetranda' accipere possumus, unumque esse de decem nominibus quibus apud eos deus vocatur. ilico studiosissime postulasti, ut tibi universa nomina cum sua interpretatione dirigerem. faciam, quod petisti.
2. Primum dei nomen est hel, quod Septuaginta 'deum', Aquila ἐτυμολογίαν eius exprimens ἰσχυρόν, id est 'fortem', interpretatur.
Deinde eliom et eloe, quod et ipsum 'deus' dicitur.
Quartum sabaoth, quod Septuaginta 'virtutum', Aquila 'exercituum' transtulerunt.
Quintum elion, quem nos 'excelsum' dicimus.
Sextum esser ieie, quod in Exodo legitur: qui est, misit me.
Septimum adonai, quem nos 'dominum' generaliter appellamus.
Octavum ia, quod in deo tantum ponitur et in alleluiae quoque extrema syllaba sonat.
Nonum tetragrammum, quod [anekfoneton], id est ineffabile, putaverunt et his litteris scribitur: iod, he uau, he. quod quidam non intellegentes propter elementorum similitudinem, cum in Graecis libris repperint, ΠΙΠΙ legere consueverunt.
Decimum, quod superius dictum est, saddai et in Ezechiele ininterpretatum ponitur. scire autem debemus, quia eliom communis numeri sit, quod et unus deus sic vocetur et plures. ad quam similitudinem caeli quoque appellantur et caelum, id est samaim. unde et saepe interpretes variant, cuius rei exemplum nos in lingua nostra habere possumus 'Athenas, Thebas, Salonas'.

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