Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mystery word solved in the Apostrophe to Zion?

IT'S NICE when philology gets some attention from the media: Baffling Dead Sea Scrolls text gets new interpretation. A single phrase in the Psalms Scroll bewildered scholars for decades. Then two students had an epiphany. (Ran Shapira, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The verse with the word titbaech appears in a poem called (in English at least) “Apostrophe to Zion” — which appears in the so-called “Psalms Scroll”, together with other poems very much like the biblical Psalms.

Most of the Psalms Scroll had been satisfactorily deciphered and published in distinguished scientific journals. But the mystery verse with titbaech remained obscure.

There were interpretations, to be sure. They just didn’t make much sense.

And then Hanan Ariel and Alexey Yuditsky, doctoral students working on a project at the Hebrew Language Academy, had an epiphany.


Meanwhile, Ariel and Yuditsky realized - in Arabic, which is as close to Hebrew as say French is to English – the root taph-bet-ayin means “to go after,” “follow,” “overtake.”

Aha, thought the students: what if the mystery verb titbaech bore a rare meaning, not commonly known – not “seek” or “demand,” but “follow,” overtake”?
It's an interesting proposal, but I have reservations about new meanings derived primarily from Arabic cognates. When you start looking for cognates for a Hebrew word in Lane's Arabic English Lexicon, you tend to find a lot of them, and with a wide range of meanings. I wouldn't bet too heavily on any one of them unless there is substantial additional supporting evidence. Perhaps there is here, but we should wait for a full peer-review publication to evaluate the argument fully.

Meanwhile though, as I said, it's nice to find a user-friendly media discussion of a technical philological proposal.