Monday, April 8, 2019

Light and words related to light in the Hebrew Bible

One thing I have tried to do in my work is make the data clear for any claims I make about language patterns. If I am wrong, you will be able to see why. If I say certain words are used for certain things, then I support it with the raw data. You don't have to take my word for it. And you can critique my reasoning.

I read here (a free chapter from the publisher) that the 'one' word for light אור is dominant in prose and more varied in poetry. I hadn't noticed this. I wondered why.

There is a problem for me - I don't clearly distinguish prose from poetry except with regard to the 3 books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job) and the 21. But if the claim were true, I would expect that the difference would show up by examining the distribution of stems in this domain between the 3 and the 21.

So first - here are all the stems that occur in my domain of light. And I note one additional, debatable, brilliant, זהר, normally related to teaching rather than light. Its occurrences are in Daniel, so irrelevant to this distinction between Hebrew poetry and prose.

Hebrew stems in the domain of light
You can observe from this that אור is indeed dominant. It is not the only word to suggest the impact of light. There are a very large number of others to consider.

The reason for the large number is that I put all the colours in this domain and the opposites of light. So here are the glosses. (Excluding other obvious glosses for these stems outside the domain of light. Semantics is always a work in process. But better that than nothing, which is what we have so far from the scholars in this area.) I made a few adjustments based on the image and came up with this list:

אדם ruddy (21) dyed red (6) ruddy stuff (2)
אמץ bay (2)
ארגמן purple (42)
בהט marble (1)
דר mother-of-pearl (1)
חום brown (4)
חכליל flush (2)
חמר red (2) redden (1)
ירק yellow-green (4)
כירמל cinnabar (3)
לבן white (35) bleach (1) whiten (1)
טלא patchwork (9)
עין colour (4)
צהב yellow (4)
צחר tawny (2)
רענן green (15) luxuriant (6)
שׁחר black (8) blackest dawn (1)
שׁישׁ alabaster (3)
שׁני scarlet (41)
שׁרב mirage (2)
שׁשׁר vermilion (2)
תולע crimson (36)
תחשׁ dyed indigo (11) indigo dye (2)

Opposite of light (I usually put opposites in the same domain for efficiency).
אפל gloom (21) gloomy (1) unripe (1)
חשׁך darkness (93) darken (8) dark (5) dark place (5) sooty (1)
חשׁר inky (1)
עלטה dusk (4)
ערפל dark turbulence (12) murk (3)
קדר blackness (5) (A slight overlap in stems ...)
כהה lessen (11) dim (7)
צמר eclipse (1)
נשׁף twilight (11) barn owl (3) blew twilight (1) breeze (1) twilight hour (1)

ערה nakedness (47) expose (25) sheath (5) exposure (2) genital (2) upend (2) exposed place (1)
בהיר scar (12) glare (1)

Light and its impact
אור light (171) enlighten (9) reveal (8) give light (5) gives light (2) lit up (2) shine light (2) aperture (1) first light (1) light-give (1) lighten (1) pyre (1) show light (1) there first light (1)
בזק sudden epiphany (7)
ברק lightning (16) glitter (6) carbuncle (3) bolt (1)
יפע shine (10)
עשׁת gleam (5) think (1) thought (1)
קרן intensely bright (4) intense brightness (2)
רעם thunder (18) thunderous (2)
לפד torch (14)
נגה illumination (16) illuminate (7) luminous (4)
נהר radiance (3) radiant (1) sunbeam (1)
ניר lamp (53) fire (9) fiery (8) nigh lamp (1)

Now let's look at the distribution of these last words between the books of poetry and prose.

אור light 63 poetry 108 prose, enlighten 5 4,  reveal 4 4,  give light 0 5,  gives light 2 0,  lit up 0 2,  shine light 1 1 aperture 0 1 first light 0 1 light-give 1 0 lighten 1 0 pyre 1 0 show light 1 0 there first light 0 1
בזק sudden epiphany 0 7
ברק lightning 6 10 glitter 1 5 carbuncle 0 3 bolt 1 0
זהר brilliance 0 2 brilliant 0 1
יפע shine 7 3
לפד torch 2 12
נגה illumination 0 16 illuminate 4 3 luminous 1 3
נהר radiance 0 3 radiant 1 0 sunbeam 1 0
ניר lamp 13 40 fire 0 9 fiery 0 8 nigh lamp 1 0
עשׁת gleam 2 3 think 0 1 thought 0 1
צהל bright 1 5
קרן intensely bright 0 4 intense brightness 0 2
רעם thunder 13 5 thunderous 0 2

And here is a summary by stem. There is no significant difference that I can find with the possible exception of יפה (shine) where a word in the domain of light is slightly more prominently used in poetry over prose. Also if I include Isaiah and 2 Samuel 22 in the poetry, נגה could be added (which I have glossed from the Latin lumen).

Stem% poetryTotal
אור 38.35206
בזק 07
ברק 30.7726
זהר 03
יפע 70.0010
לפד 14.2914
נגה 18.5227
נהר 40.005
ניר 19.7271
עשׁת 28.577
צהל 16.676

I agree with Alter in so many ways, (syntax, recurring words, play, rhythm, concreteness, compactness, foreignness) but there are significant differences in our approach to translation: my music is literally music. I do not use the word as a metaphor. I work from a database using pattern recognition. I am quite happy with Latin words commonly used in English. I work from the standpoint of faithfulness within a religious tradition that I have plenty of reason to reject. I do not work from the point of view of literature though I seek to see and hear beauty.

Unfortunately with this claim on page 5 of the preview noted above, Alter does not reveal enough information to clarify his claim, admittedly a minor claim used as a springboard for his larger criticism, a criticism with which I have considerable agreement.

For how many years has the KJV been revised? If a translation catches on, it must have the basis in the raw data from which it can be critiqued and revised. 

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