Page:A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, Volume 1 (1903).djvu/7

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VII
PREFACE

(a) a recess, an alley adjoining the market place to which the merchants retire for the transaction of business, also the trader's stand under the colonnade, and (b) an abscess, a carbuncle. The Latin semita, which since Musafia has been adopted as the origin of simṭa, offers hardly more than an assonance of consonants: a footpath cannot, except by a great stretch, be forced into the meaning of a market stand; and what becomes of simṭa as abscess? But take the word as Semitic, and סמט, dialectically = שמט[1], offers itself readily, and as for the process of thought by which 'recess', 'nook', goes over into 'abscess' in medical language, we have a parallel in the Latin 'abscessus.' How much Latin medical nomenclature may have influenced the same association of ideas among the Jews is a theme of speculation for students of comparative philology or of the physiology of language.

A superficial glance at the vocabulary of this Dictionary will convince the reader that the example here given represents an extremely numerous class. The cases may not always be so plain, and the author is prepared for objections against his derivations in single instances, but the number of indisputable derivations from known Semitic roots remains large enough to justify the method pursued.

The problem becomes more complicated when both the meaning and the origin of words are unknown. Such is the case e. g. with the word אספירס in the phrase (Num. R. s. 4) הופך אספירס ומשוור, he turned the isperes and leaped. Levy, guided by Musafia, resorts to σφυρόν, ankle; others suspect in it the name of a garment, σπεῖρος, a rare form for σπεῖρον. But the phrase itself and the context in which it appears indicate a native word, and this is found in the stem פרס, of which אספרס is an 'Ispeel' noun, that is to say, a noun formed from the enlarged stem ספרס. As פֶ‏ּ‏רֶ‏ס or פַ‏ּ‏רְסָ‏ה is the cloven foot, the latter being also applied to the human foot (Sifré Deuteronomy 2), so אִסְפֶ‏ּ‏ירֶ‏ס is the front part of the foot, where the toes begin to separate. The phrase quoted is to be translated, 'he (David) inverted the front part of his foot', i. e. stood on tiptoe, 'and leaped' (danced).

We meet with the same stem in the Aramaic, אספירסא. Referring to Lamentations III, 12, 'he has bent his bow and set me (literally: made me to stand) as a mark for the arrow', one Amora is recorded in the Midrash (Lamentations Rabbah a. 1.) as having explained kammaṭṭara laḥets by כבורמא לאספירסא. Another is quoted as saying, 'like the pole of the archers (the Roman palus) at which all aim, but which remains standing.' What is בורמא? and what is אספירסא? The medieval Jewish commentators frankly admit their ignorance. Musafia, however, reads פרמא, maintaining that he had found it in some editions, and refers to Latin parma, explaining isp'risa as sparus, and translating, 'as the shield to the spear.' Ingenious, indeed! But on closer inspection this explanation is beset with intrinsic difficulties. To begin with, parma as shield does not appear in the Talmudic literature again, from which we may infer that it was not generally known to the Jews in their

  1. In fact where Pesahim 50b has תגרי סימטא, Tosefta Biccurim end, in Mss. Erfurt and Vienna, reads תגרי שמיטה, which is obviously a corruption of שימטה, the pure Hebrew form for the Aramaic סימטה.