Frequented Used References FAQ

I often use phrases or references (which have nothing to do with color) which I realize may not be common knowledge to everyone. Unfortunately, part of my desire to over-explain things leads to very long newsletters.

This page will have brief overviews of things I mention in newsletters.

What are Semitic Languages?

I mention “Semitic languages” often. These include modern and ancient languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian, Syriac, Assyrian, Sabaic, Geez, other others. In general, the languages are constructed from conjugations of 3 letter roots (and very very very occasionally, people will make an argument for a 2 or 4 letter root). 

And if the two first letters are the same, chances are there is some relationship between the words. We see the same thing with English color words from Middle English starting with “bl-“ or “br-“, partially because the Middle English word for color was “blee”. Sight words like “glittering”, “glaring”, and “gleaming” start with “gl-“.

More often than not, roots which exist in one language will exist in others. I recently posted a list of a bunch of languages which refer to a specific root as a “cat”, and a single language that refers to it as a “wild animal”. That civilization didn’t last very long. 

Or the word for pearl (paz) is turned into the verb with the infinitive: to dance (le-fazaiz), which means that the understanding of dancing is “to glitter” or “to sparkle”. However, there is another more dominant way to say dancing in many languages, using the root word of r-k-d, which could also mean simply to move, which becomes “to leap” and “to dance”.

What exactly is the Talmud?

As I’ve mentioned various Jewish corpora from late antiquity in previous newsletters, I should probably give a really basic introduction to what these were. Circa 200 CE, the Mishnah was codified in, then Roman-occupied, Palestine containing the discussions the rabbis had over the previous century, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. 

Subsequently, the centers of Jewish study split. One part went north to the Roman-controlled Palestinia Syria in Galilee, where they created a much expanded commentary and elucidation of the Mishnah from discussions by generations of sages in Caesarea and Tiberius in circa 400-500 CE which is now called the Jerusalem Talmud or the Palestinian Talmud, in Palestinian Jewish Aramaic. 

Another part went to Babylonia (modern day Iran/Iraq), formed institutions and codified the Babylonian Talmud circa 600-700 CE. While Jews had been in Babylonia since the destruction of the first Temple, it grew in importance after 230 CE. During the Talmudic period, it was part of the Sasanian empire, and a location where the Jews trying to stay out of the newly Holy Roman Empire fled to, which provided them with a freedom of religion. Due to living in a completely different empire, Babylonian Jewish Aramaic reflects the local language, and introduces numerous words previously unknown in early generations. When some mentions the “Talmud” without clarifying which, it is usually referring to the Babylonian Talmud.

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