My favorite O.T. translation – King James

When trying to portray the Old Testament in English, my go-to translation is always the King James Version.

Perhaps it is because it sounds so melodious: the words trip off the tongue like so many goats, cavorting down a mountainside. (Yes, that metaphor was intentional. Dear reader, do you not like goats dripping down the mountainside of your tongue?)

Perhaps because it is the point of departure for most English speakers, the one new translations need to break out of in order to come into the world.

Or perhaps because I like the process, which gave such honor and dignity to the act and practice of translation, while neither inflating nor deflating the individuals who worked on the project.

For whichever reason, I adore the King James translation, and find it almost as comforting to read as the original, whose words are engraved somewhere deep in my soul, not for any religious reason but because I was exposed to them young, and frequently.

Sleeping Demons Rising, Stretching

Back in 1926, when the Hebrew language was at the early stages of being renewed and adopted by the Zionist movement, Gershom Scholem, a renowned German research of Judaism mysticism, wrote a letter to his friend, Franz Rosenzweig. The letter, available online (in Hebrew) expresses a belief that languages have a life force, a personality of their own.

Scholem was concerned that by raising a generation of children as native speakers of an ancient language, now being revived, the life force of that language would revive, as well, bringing with it all the ancient demons. Writes Scholem:

A language is composed of nouns, the force of the language is enveloped in the noun, and its abyss is sealed therein. After we’ve conjured up the ancient nouns day after day, we can no longer push away their powers. We have awakened them, and they will appear, for we have conjured them up very forcefully. […]

Every word that was not just recreated but actually taken from the “good old” treasure-trove is chock full of explosives.

Hebrew source here, my translation.

The letter continues with the opinion that this is the road to an apocalypse.

In reading the Pentateuch, and again in reaching old myths like those of Gilgamesh and Atraharsis, I hear the rumbling of those ancient words. My interest is Sumerian, far more than Hebrew, and Akkadian and Aramaic. But these languages are powerfully laden with demons of their own.

Unlike Hebrew, they don’t seem to lead to an apocalypse, exactly. They lead, though, to an utter revolution in the way we live in the world. I hear the rumblings of Humbaba, unhappy in his grave for as many as six centuries, wanting to come out and walk the pathways of the world again. He was a reasonable forest guardian, willing to negotiate. I hear his footsteps coming closer, closer…

I have an overpowering sense of anticipation: the spirit of Sumer will rise again, in our time. What form will it take? I can’t wait to find out.

Toys and Tools

Within the realm of studying words about fiber, I end up spending a lot of time thinking about thread, and the making of thread.

In her wonderful history of thread making, Women’s Work, The First 20,000 Years, Elizabeth Wayland Barber quotes Judith Brown’s observation about the kind of activities women do. Brown (says Barber) notes that the work women do must be compatible “with the demands of child care.” Over to Barber:

From Empirical observation Brown gleans that “such activities have the following characteristics: they do not require rapt concentration and are relatively dull and repetitive; they are easily interruptible [I see a rueful smile on every care giver’s  face!] and easily resumed once interrupted; they do not place the child in potential danger; and they do not require the participant to range very far from home.”

Just such are the crafts of spinning, weaving, and sewing. […]

The bracketed note in the middle of the quote is Barber’s, not mine. She writes with the lightest of feathers and spins not just yarn but great yarns. However, that’s not why I’m quoting her here.

If childcare is done by the women who are also doing the spinning, weaving, and sewing, you have to assume that the kids get their hands on the supplies. “Here, play with this and let me finish this strip!” would be my candidate for one of the first sentences spoken by humans.

And what might “this” be? A spinning stick on a string, for example. That’s necessary for any cloth to get made.

Here’s a video of a random stranger on the Internet, doing exactly that.  Does it remind you of any toys you know?

If a prehistoric cat saw one of those being dragged around by a prehistoric toddler, wouldn’t they both learn the game of making a “staff” seem alive? I came across that in Exodus 4 – it’s a trick anyone regularly exposed to sticks on string would understand.

But pull- and push-toys are not the only playthings that work like this. Spinning tops? Just spindles with no string, or supported spindles. Toy vehicles, like chariots or carriages? A spindle with two whorls (the round thing around the shaft). Toy soldiers? Just the shafts, each given a name and personality. Pick up sticks? Shafts again. Board games like chess and checkers and go? Loom weights (broken old ones) and sand. Cat’s Cradle? Ok, that one’s obvious. Jump rope? Needs rope… Chinese jump rope? Same story.

Maybe not all, but the majority of toys I’ve seen kids play with seem to link back to fiber, or the tools women used for making fiber and keeping kids happy.

Last day to prepare Packet 1!

Today’s the final day of the 3-week packet-completion period.

This means that I’m putting all the pieces together, into the document, and getting them ready to send out to Baco.

I’ll send everything out tomorrow morning, but getting it ready is exciting: have I completed reflective and informative essays, learned more than I ever knew existed about MLA citations, and prepared the photograph of my piles and piles of German homework.

Almost done! Now just a cover letter, a list of resources for further study, a checklist for myself (making sure all the pieces get emailed) – and out it goes.


Learning lots of new words. Or second-hand ones, new to me

Despite my seeming eternity in content work, there are many, many words that I do not know. English seems to be full of the things! But this is not a problem, as I keep dictionaries around me at all times, and can look up words as they present themselves.

And, more to the point, I actually do this.

While reading the first 62 pages of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, here are the words I came across – and what they mean:

  • uraeus – a sacred asp on rulers’ headdress, symbols of sovereignty;
  • asp – cobra? a kind of snake, in any event, with a huge-big head. Naja haje in Egypt;
  • corselet – armor covering the trunk of the body;
  • sedge – a rushlike or grasslike plant that grows in wet places;
  • steatite – soapstone;
  • votive – item involved in making a vow;
  • epagomenal  days – the days tacked on to a year to make it match the calender year to the actual time it takes the earth go around the sun;
  • galena – bluish gray cubic mining material, a principal ore of lead. Pretty, with a blue/gray metallic luster.

Figuring these out was a great deal of fun.

Numbers, a most aptly named book

The read-through of Numbers was easier than the previous ones, perhaps because it was less full of detailed instructions on how to slaughter animals and where to spew their blood (not entirely devoid of that, just containing less of that sort of material) and rather stuffed with enumerated lists. I even found the source for the word used for percent in Modern Hebrew (אחוז – achuz – which comes from לאחוז – ” to grab hold of” – or אחד – “one”). The numbered lists had almost nothing to do with fiber, with the exception of one family, whose name was Weaver (more or less. OK, less: it was סֶ֗רֶד). But mostly, just numbers of Things-that-I-have-no-interest-in-at-allTM.

This made for easier reading.

There were only eleven entries from the entire Book of Numbers, but they were excellent ones, including this gem from Numbers 31:20 “And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood.” – which, in Hebrew, had the interesting words “מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ה עִזִּ֖ים” – or “goaty goods”.

The background is unappetizing (it’s what you have to purify after – oh, never mind. The context is beyond gory), but the goatswork goods are delightful, because they tell me that that was the nature of the spinning they did. No mention of sheep as wool-bearing animals is made anywhere, so far, although the hairiness of sheep skin is used in Genesis by Isaac, to make his arms feel more like Esau’s and steel is primogeniture.

But spinning and weaving? So far, all I see are goats.

I’ll compare this with Elizabeth W. Barber’s book about Prehistoric Textiles, to see if that’s borne out. I seem to recall that sheep used to be hairier (like deer) than fleecy, and that the change of hair came about due to some careful animal husbandry. That’s something I read about in passing, but it merits deeper searching.

Onward! Tomorrow: Deuteronomy, not the nice cat from T.S. Eliot, the book of horrors from the Old Testament. I should probably write about my emotional response to the detailed deaths and mayhem and general nastiness in the O.T. – but not yet. For now, I’ll just pick words out.

Next steps for my list of words

So, what will I do to these words, to make them ready for Packet 1, whose deadline is fast approaching?

Well, at the moment I have five columns:

  1. number;
  2. specific words;
  3. full verse;
  4. citation;
  5. notes about why the words strike me as interesting.

My next step is to add two additional columns:

  1. the King James translation of the verse in question;
  2. one additional translation of the verse in question.

There may be some more work to be done in the note column (because “woot! weavers!” sounds insufficiently academic). My plan is to do this work over two days – one for the quotes, one for the notes. When I’m done I’ll probably have some thirty pages of text.

Is that too much to send to Baco? Hmm. I hope not! The notes are probably the only really important pieces, the rest of the columns are more for corroboration. Perhaps I will typeset them accordingly? The final formatting is something I’m pondering a great deal – this has to carry my excitement and fascination, but also allow at least a porthole into the actual words fascinating me. Hmm. Perhaps a much smaller font size for the Hebrew? It is, after all, basically decorative.

Hmm. Much to decide about presentation.

Building a Tabernacle – Exodus Redux

Lots of neat things happen in Exodus, but the Biblical set of instructions for building the Tabernacle (a sort of mobile-home temple) has been on my mind since before I started studying.

The Tabernacle how-tos start in Exodus 25 and gone on until they actually get the whole thing built, basically by the end of the book. There are lots of very specific instructions, going into great detail, with lists of materials (kumaz in 35:23!)  and threads and complicated garments for the high priest and his sons.

At 35:25 we see women spinning! And they seem to be spinning the goats. (I hope the goats were shorn, and not spun in person but rather by way of a metonymy!)

At 36:17 the edge of the cloth is referred to as its “lip” – שְׂפַ֣ת הַיְרִיעָ֔ה – which does kind of  look like lips, if you’re folding it…

By the end of Exodus, I am up to fiber-entry number 142 – which probably means more like 160-170 words, not all of which will make it into the glossary.

The Fear Of Doing New Things

One of the issues that keeps cropping up in this study course is that I keep having to do things I’ve never done before.

And that. is. scary!

Not that I think bad things will happen to me if I do new things. Not that I am afraid of failing or of looking like a fool, both of which are things I’ve done often enough to be quite comfortable with them, if they turn up.

No, it’s something else: it’s that I do like to be prepared and competent at what I do, and to that end I massively overthink, overplan, and overpractice before I head out to center stage.

Case in point: getting these posts out of draft mode and into the light of day.

Case in point: getting to the library and finding and summoning books about the subjects I want to read about. I’ve never done that, and it feels scary – although, realistically, what could go wrong? (OK, mind, don’t answer that. Plenty could go wrong. What BAD THING could happen? NONE.)

I’ll practice that this coming week.

Learning German – ongoing effort

What can I say about my German studies? I listen to each podcast twice, once very intently while sitting with no screen before me, the other while knitting or crocheting.

The written homework is fairly easy, I think. The lessons tell a story around Munich, which is a city I want to visit someday (but not live in; at least, right now I am not inclined to want to live there). The routine is this: I print out the written work, skim it… …then listen to the episode, do the homework – and later in the day listen to the episode again, during a knitting break.

It feels unremarkable, like walking along a paved road. I’m not confident enough to initiate conversations in German with the in-house German-competent human. Probably because most of the vocabulary has to do with hotels (and I don’t live in one), kobolds (less than fully useful in my daily life), and fussy gentlemen who don’t want me to say “du” – whereas I think my dear German coach would be most offended if I were formal with him, suddenly, after nearly sixteen years of marriage.

So far, so good. At least I learned to apologize in German. That will surely come in very handy!