Stage fright.

Blog entries have been giving me stage-fright, and I have written all but published none in this packet period. Within the process of putting together this packet I have reviewed some of the drafts, and reluctantly assigned a date and pressed the “publish” button, to set them free into the world.

Absolutely all of the feedback I’ve received for my writing has been positive. My Twitter pals (I live on Twitter, right?) have been appreciative and supportive beyond any possible expectation.  There is no external reason for the bashfulness or stage fright. And yet, it is still there. I hope to have all fifteen entries up before I send out the next packet.

Wearing a tabernacle?

Can one wear a tabernacle? Certainly not in the English phrase, which is specifically an abode or dwelling.

For the Hebrew word, pronounced “mishkan” and related to the Akkadian “šakanu” and the Canaanite, Ugaritic and Arabic S.K.N. stem/root, and the Aramaic Skhein, means dwelling or home and implies a structure, not the decoration on a structure.

Thus, the English word “tabernacle” has listed in my dictionary, as its seventh meaning, “the human body, as the temporary abode of the soul.” So I would say that a tabernacle cannot be clothes – but can be clothed.

In fact, the process of dressing the Tabernacle seems to be the main task for the Exodus migrants, as they amble across the desert.

Relief, of sorts

Quoth author Cory Doctorow, on Twitter:

Amazing to think that I’m relieved at the victory of the pro-wiretapping, pro-extrajudicial-assassination, anti-whistleblower candidate

I think that sentiment explains the following, photo, shot on the afternoon of November 6th:


Worrying about Islamophobia

In the course of my first packet, something I wrote moved my Awesome Advisor to wonder if I might want to write a critical inquiry into the prospects of Egypt’s archeological treasures based on the goings on in Egypt (specifically) and North Africa (more generally).

I hesitate to write such a piece. While I am collecting information about possible changes to the way things are done there, it would be very hard to do any serious writing about it without entertaining the Orientalist, Islamophobic point of view that is so prevalent in the West today.

Islamophobia bothers me a lot. It seems that the required hatred is pointed at Muslims this decade. I’m glad it is no longer Russians or Germans, but unhappy about the Muslims being assigned the role of target of dehumanization. Any concerns I have about future decisions about archeology in Egypt could be played against Muslims, and I want to be quite sure that nothing I say or do is ever used in that way. Islam has its problems, much as every other religion does. But the favored position that hate-speech against Muslims and their religion is given in the U.S. and Europe today makes me quite ill.

So it is probably better that I just collect information, not write a full piece about this, for now.

What gets shed in the presence of so many books, in a second-hand bookshop?

On October 12th I mentioned that the doing of new things is scary, especially relating to this study course. I meant the phrase “study course” to encompass all of the things I’m doing within this first semester at Goddard.

The learning is the easy part. The communication challenges me a great deal. And every time I start doing a new thing – be it interacting with the library or arranging for someone to double check my progress in a field – I first have to overcome my dread of the unknown.

When I was in my late twenties, a single mom in Tel Aviv living a life far from the life I’d planned, I used to remind myself that I was the bravest woman in the WHOLE city. Everything was terrifying and new, and yet – I did it anyhow.

The situation with studying is not nearly that terrifying, but it does require that I muster every bit of courage that I have. I am not afraid to fail. I am not afraid to succeed, either. I think I am afraid to claim my rightful place in the world.

I’d better work on that.

It seems to me that in the presence of many previously-owned books, what I shed is inhibitions and fear. Maybe that is the answer? Maybe I need to surround myself with an environment that feels ultimately safe, like that in a bookstore?

Hmm. Filed under “requires more thought.”

Liberation Ain’t Square! (Except when it is, I guess)

This is about Tahrir – and the meaning of the word and the square.

It has been my great privilege to live through the Arab Spring with my eyes firmly on Twitter, which is one of the sites where the action was taking place.

I watched, with tears of joy running down my cheeks and streaming through my keyboard, as nation after nation rose up against the tyranny oppressing it. I watched Tunisia shake off its dictator first, and Libya try, and Egypt – oh, Egypt, Egypt, my heart leapt from my chest and messed up the screen something FIERCE when watching the reports from Tahrir Square.

Tahrir means liberation. It is the name of a square in downtown Cairo, where brave citizens went and sat, sat, sat for liberty. Mubarak sent his thugs, some on camel-back, and I watched the videos streaming, live, from Tahrir square. I watched Al Jazeera (a pretty good source of news, certainly better than anything I’ve seen in the U.S.) while the speeches were announced; I watched when Mubarak stepped down, and was arrested.

The whole while my heart sang Tahrir! Tahrir!

The modern Hebrew cognate is “herut” (liberty), which happens to be the core political party in the odious right-wing Likud. I know that pretty words can cover ugly truths. And yet, my heart sings:

Tahrir. Better Tahrir than a blood-spilling Thawra (revolution). Tahrir, for all.

A Most Favored Dictionary, And How It Came Into My Life

Sometime last summer, probably while Israel was attacking Gaza, because I find those times to be the hardest to bear (there are much-beloved people on both sides of the divide, but Israel’s decision to shell a heavily populated enclosure is so far beyond my ability to condone as to make any discussion of it impossible. But I digress.)

In any event, it was June 2011, and I was looking for something to distract myself from a shattering heart.

Someone on Twitter put up a modest link to a press release about an Assyrian Dictionary, and I followed, and got here.

You know how you’ll always remember the moment you fell in love? It was like that, for me.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago generously permits the downloading of its dictionaries, although buying them would set one back a few thousand dollars. I downloaded every one of them, and dove in.

Like the stories in Akkadian myth, splashing around in this dictionary was an exercise in revelation. Not of the mystical variety – etymological revelation. So many words that I’ve used regularly seem to have that Akkadian origin! So many verbs relate to the Akkadian!

I started using this dictionary to search for words that came up in my daily work (remember, I’m a Hebrew<>English translator.) Sometimes there are several translations that feel equivalent, and usually I give the one that feels best, using my native speaker’s sense of what works and what doesn’t. But now I started digging into etymology, and trying to use the words that not only fit well, but also had a longer history.

Not every phrase lends itself to this sort of research. Not every project allows me the luxury of research. I’ve resolved to start recording the insights that come to me when I do it.

Loops and Lips

Look at Exodus 36, with its rich description of the making of the tabernacle.

Do you see verse 11? “And he made loops of blue on the edge of one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling: likewise he made in the uttermost side of another curtain, in the coupling of the second.”

The Hebrew word refers to the “lip” of the cloth, rather than its edge. I was thinking about this today, while folding a blanket after yoga, and looking at the folded cloth could see where the image of a lip would come through.

I wonder what other words for fiber (and fiber tools) relate to the human anatomy. Did spindle whorls remind early fiber workers of any body part? How about the shaft? I don’t know what the word for just-the-shaft is in Biblical Hebrew, nor any of the other languages I’m looking at and for.

Annotation in my word lists

Progress continues on my list of fiber words in the Pentateuch. What I’ve been doing is adding the English translation (and sometimes, more than one translation, if an important word is disputed; and it often is) in its own column to my master data sheet.

I’ll publish the list here when I feel it’s done, but for now, it’s most definitely not done. There is a notes column, where I’ve indicated items that need more research (often with the phrase “more inquiry required” or a simple ??? notation.)

When I’m done with the list, it will have an additional set of columns documenting the Akkadian (if possible) etymological links to the words, and if I’m really adventurous, an early reference to the same word from a similar kind of text.

For now, it only has Hebrew word, verse, citation, note, and English translation. I’m beginning to wonder if I need wider paper for this!