The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Monday, July 25, 2016

How did the Ethiopians learn of the Queen of Sheba?

In Throne of Glass I had cited the Ethiopic book Kəbrä Nägäśt, in the context of sura 27. My footnote there considered that sura's antecedents, to Jews proselytising non-Jews into their religion; this note was more in the "by the way this is interesting" genre than an attempt at anything more conclusive. I couldn't find much about pre-Islamic Ethiopic literature. The KN was the best I could find and I didn't know its composition.

KN features two figures "Sheba" and her son "Men(y)elik" – in the text, Makeda and Ebna Hakim. KN further ends in a colophon, which colophon is fourteenth century or later; see Stuart Munro-Haysem, "A Sixth Century Kebra Nagast?", Annales d'Ethiopie 17.1 (2001), 43-58. But the rest of KN might be based on earlier material, now lost.

One problem Munro-Haysem pointed out is that the geography in it seems muddled. But geography can seem muddled in the Bible too. On the latter, there was this strange guy once upon a time, by name of Salibi, who believed that he could solve the Bible's problems by transporting its action to northwest Arabia. Every now and then some fringe scholar tries to revive Salibi. Now, we have one Bernard Leeman in Australia; today I have run across his poorly-proofed essay “The Sabaean Inscriptions at Adi Kaweh–Evidence Supporting the Narrative of the Sheba-Menelik Cycle of The Kebra Nagast” (2009).

In Leeman’s reading of KN, a "Sheba Menelik Cycle" – by then in an Arabic form – has been secondarily translated to Gə'əz and spliced with a “Caleb Cycle”, an Axsumite propagandum of the 520s AD. Leeman takes this from perhaps-dated scholarship; the latest scholar he cites for that is Enrico Cerulli, Storia della letteratura etiopica (Milan: 1956).

Within KN, Leeman deems ch 59 wholly interpolated (although his fig 1 counts it as blue, for SMC). This chapter's Alexandria mention is Hellenistic of course; “Cairo” may or may not be a mediaeval Arabic gloss for “Fustat” or “Heliopolis”. Elsewhere “Ebna Hakim” is clearly an Arabic circumlocution for the son of Solomon (see 1 Kings 3:16-28). Leeman’s take on Ch. 59 belongs to a paragraph of how “redactors” of KN stuck in “helpful points”, “believing [SMC’]s geography ridiculous”. (I do not see where Ch 59 serves to link SMC with CC, so perhaps this much was prior to the final conglomeration of SMC+CC = KN.) Again I concur with Munro-Haysem that KN’s final form cannot predate the Fatimi period.

I think it's worse than that for Leeman. Leeman notices that the core of the Cycle is the Holiness Code. But he dates the HC too early; this now tends to be dated to the Second Temple revival, which (as Leeman notes of angel Michael's cameo) dates after 586 BC. I am surprised that Leeman had not engaged with Israel Knohl, Sanctuary of Silence (1995).

As for the attempt to patch Salibi's thesis together and to get its corpse roaming the land again, ugh. Just quit it.

Anyway, Kəbrä Nägäśt is an interesting text, and I would love to read more scholarship on it. But I think scholars should start with the basics, and not do what Salibi did.


posted by Zimri on 18:22 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek sucks

I didn't watch the social-justice reboot for Star Trek, either. Even Takei - who is not on the right side - has spoken up to "out" Sulu, for what Sulu was meant to be.

A reboot of the series is coming. That's going to be partisan too. Once more the mere existence of people like me who don't approve of entropy is "disturbing" to Leftists, so here comes more Eat Your Vegetibbles messaging.

I know, I know; from the get-go the Star Trek franchise was preachy - the jargon is, "cerebral". But the sermons aren't what we remember from those screenings. We remember "Balance of Terror" for the submarine cat-and-mouse; we remember "Doomsday Machine" for the doomed captain's obsession. If we're to be force-fed #lovewins and #blacklivesmatter and #nooneisillegal, we're under no obligation to watch any of it.


posted by Zimri on 11:57 | link | 0 comments

Waskow's coup

A year or two back I read the bulk of Kevin MacDonald's work of sociology, The Culture of Critique. Its thesis is that Judaism in the West acts like a subversive cult. For MacDonald, the bailey of Judaism seems like a harmless if eccentric religion; the motte is hardcore Communism.

I am not here to argue with MacDonald. I intend instead to discuss to what degree the Jewish mainstream agrees with MacDonald. I believe we can even detect, here, why it does, and how it got here. As a test case, I bring you a selection of material that the University of Colorado has posted on its library, at least since I first visited it in 2000.

I want to point out here that this post has not been easy to write, nor to post. I have a family history here as you know. I couldn't bring myself even to take these pictures until 3 April this year. But now it's July and I'm done holding my pen.

First, Leah Novick:

This presentation links Novick with Orthodox(!) Judaism first, with various progressive causes second. One of those causes was to disarm the United States during the 1970s, the worst years of the Cold War. Another was Planned Parenthood, founded by Margaret Sanger as a eugenic movement for the rest of us. Novick's grandfather was her primary tutor in Judaism; it is not noted here what he would have thought of what Leah had made of it. Later, as you can see, Novick ventured close to Ashura worship - but somehow managed not to be kicked out of the synagogue. She actually became a rabbi herself.

Now, Arthur Waskow:

According to this Waskow had mounted a coup to take over the local Jewish institutions in the name of Martin Luther King Jr - this was the 1968 "social democrat" King, at that, not the "I have a dream" King of a decade prior. Waskow remains, at least as of a decade ago, one of Judaism's top fifty rabbis in the United States. This is like being a high-level bishop or archbishop in the Church. Waskow is not a climatologist but that hasn't stopped him from combatting "climate change". And again, the "LGBTQ inclusion" part should - especially nowadays - exclude him from Jewish orthodoxy entirely.

This brings us neatly to the modern era - #occupy and more climate:

The project is explicitly to "reshape" American Judaism. Homosexual propaganda is to become part of Judaism's central rite of memory, the Seder:

And here is Waskow's Judaism today:

Waskow's cult has taken over this university's space to spread a simple message. It is that his sect is the fulfillment of Judaism, in a way Jesus before him was not. The intent is to browbeat gentile opponents of Waskow's social-justice idealisms into silence, on pain of being labeled antisemites. It also intimidates Jews, and those of Jewish ancestry: if they speak out, they are "giving ammunition" to the enemies of Justice as a whole and implicitly are not good for the Jews, either.

I repeat, Waskow's vision is not the Judaism of the Bible. It is not to be found among the Judaisms of Ethiopia, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, nor even Spain and Holland. This is a tendency mostly specific to us, the (mixed-race) Ashkenaz. And even with us this was never taught in the shul, at least not until the nineteenth century of the Christians' calendar.

What has happened here in the United States was a hostile takeover. I take some heart in that Waskow has not yet entirely won, or else there would be no need to broadcast this divisive message to the universities.


posted by Zimri on 08:40 | link | 0 comments

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Patenting math

There's news about that game I wanna play. The news is not good.

Some math-minded botanist Johan Gielis published a "SUPERFORMULA" and some basic pseudocode (= an algorithm - ya'nî, meta-math) a decade ago. Then he filed a patent, on most implementations of that algorithm. These implementations didn't yet, interestingly, include game implementations. He founded a company around that patent too, "Genicap". Even that dubious patent, Gielis and Co. let expire in several countries.

Along comes Hello Games' No Man's Sky, in development for years and with screenshots available also for years. In 2015 Hello's lead programmer Sean Murray gave credit to SUPERFORMULA in an interview and showed off the current game status in a convention. Suddenly Genicap remembers it has a patent and starts saying nice game you got here, hate for it to be delayed again.

If there's a suit it probably won't fly in the US due to the Alice decision, which already says you cannot enforce a math-based patent here. It seems unlikely to fly in most of the (present) EU either. To many it all smells like a ploy for quick hush-money from a soon-to-be-popular game.


posted by Zimri on 17:38 | link | 0 comments

The many ways Rafael Cruz Junior messed up

I had endorsed Ted Cruz, and voted (mostly) accordingly at the state assemblies. But I never closed the door on Trump. The delegates for whom I voted would, if their Cruz votes didn't carry the day, switch to Trump or at least to a decent conservative alternative if it came to that. I did not want to send a collection of whiners who would just walk out. I doubt most Iowan Republicans did, either.

The delegates whom Cruz picked to represent him in Colorado included some of the worst scum in American politics, like that NAGR guy. I wasn't enamoured of the anti-Trump Senate candidates here, either (eventually we got Darryl Glenn, who - like me - didn't close the door). Now that I think of it, Cruz's campaign in Iowa did that weird stalkermail thing, and also insinuated that Carson was about to step out of the race. The Coloradans and Iowans at the convention were elected by shady means.

Cruz later refused to stand up for Trump supporters' right to assemble, but I accepted that as a mulligan given that Trump had done the same over that Garland mess. If Trump had been stronger for free speech earlier I would never have voted Cruz in the assemblies.

Last night Cruz made the convention all about him, which even his erstwhile "campaign chair" cannot abide. As far as I am concerned, Cruz is done. I've spoken too much on this topic already, so I'll leave to others to discuss why Cruz ran the sort of campaign he ran, and what the hell he thought he was out to accomplish. Personally I just don't care.


posted by Zimri on 17:18 | link | 0 comments

Monday, July 18, 2016

More space-exploration in development

I'm still looking into space-exploration games. Here are some more I've found.

The Long Journey Home. Looks much like Star Control 2 in its two-dimensional aesthetic and its exploration mechanic. People have also cited FTL (which I haven't played).

Star Shift. 'Tis unfortunately named, because there exists a tranny based cartoon with the same title. Seems to be developed by Italians, so they may need some help with English dialogue.

Rodina. This comes to us from a Bethesda dev on his own time - like Covert's character in Grandma's Boy. All the action takes place in one solar-system so, no hyperspace here. The game is sort-of finished already, and claims to be the first game to bring your avatar down from space to the surface of a digitally-rendered planet. But the developer is still tinkering: he wants to add indoor structures like caves and fortresses. Because he has been concentrating on gameplay, he hasn't done much with the graphics. Maybe if the game takes off, a bigger studio will drop in, buy the game off him, improve the graphics... and then, in sha llah, NOT make poo upon the story like EA did upon Bioware's Mass Effect. In the meantime I look forward to seeing what Elliptic makes of the game as it is.

Pulsar: Lost Colony. This is another one I found from the same clickbait page that sent me to Rodina. This one is Star Trek like, in that you command a crew of five. Multiplayer is supposed to be A Thing here.

Limit Theory. I think. I'm not sure it counts. From poking through the forum, I gather the developer is coding an engine and leaving any actual "game" to mods. Which is fine; we do need game engines too.


posted by Zimri on 22:20 | link | 0 comments

Game critics are outright crooked

If you go onto news.google.com and search for No Man's Sky - as one does, these days - one might run across the Tech Times. They ask the question that has occurred to nobody so far: Xbox Sci-Fi Explorer 'The Solus Project' Now Available: 'No Man's Sky' Competitor?

The better reviews up on MetaCritic actually have an answer to that rhetorical question. That would be, "only if NMS also rates about a 5/10".


posted by Zimri on 19:12 | link | 0 comments

The critic as HR director

The Left's replacement for Ghostbusters is out. Based on Milo's review - he called it a work of "spite" - I am unlikely to enjoy it. Its boxoffice suggests not many other people enjoyed it, either.

As with Wall-E and Fahrenheit 9-11, the critics flocked to recommend this one for the rest of us. I got a "webcomics worth wreading" vibe from those reviews, that the reviewer deep-down knew the piece was not up to snuff, but figured it was socially important. They recommend such movies for other people, namely for people the critic doesn't like. I cannot accept these thoroughly corrupted souls even as critics as such. They are off-duty diversity-officers.

So can we get a round of applause for the modern West's professional guild of critics? After all you certainly don't want to be seen not applauding.


posted by Zimri on 16:33 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Al-Hakim the Sane

Superficial cartoon histories claim that Fatimi caliph al-Hakim was a madman. He's the guy who promulgated a number of extreme pro-Islamic edicts, like tearing down churches (including one in Jerusalem) and banning the (nonalcoholic!) mulukhiya drink.

Jennifer Pruitt has a fascinating essay up, "Method in Madness". This argues that the al-Hakim was reacting to popular sentiment. In which case he wasn't mad at all.

God's caliph had to do what God wanted. The people of Islam had certain assumptions about God's will - namely, that God hated churches, and wanted them destroyed. As their leader, and especially as one from a minority sect, the caliph perceived no alternative. Vox populi, vox dei.


posted by Zimri on 08:10 | link | 0 comments

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Awzaʿite Spain

I need a separate post commenting on Daniel König's article. The Umayyads did restore order in Spain; and historically in Islam "order" has implied a legal infrastructure. The first coherent Spanish code just haven't survived very well.

The Christian chroniclers noted that when the Umayyads took over, suddenly there came an oppression against the Christians and also against the Jews. This is, as König notes, comprehensible as a religiously-motivated law for minorities that abrogates the old sulh pacts.

It happens that at roughly the same time in Spain, the Muslim jurists there had decided upon a legal madhhab: the Awzaʿiya, which like Sufyān al-Thawri's school in Basra maintained the jurisprudence of the dead Umayyad caliphs. This school does not survive (neither does Thawri's by the way) and is recorded only in fragments. König, for his part, notices that even in Spain not much direct record of Awzaʿism has survived. But the Awzaʿite school's law of war and jihad – which is what König's article cares about – proved practical and popular. So these fragments were often maintained by scholars from the schools that supplanted the Awzaʿiya. (For a summary of the legal fictions in Islam that have historically enabled warfare, see Bernard Lewis.)

Given all that, I cannot dismiss that the Umayyad Spaniards of the 760s and 770s did have time to formulate an Awzaʿite code of warfare and for Christian spies to pass that, or at least to pass a caricature of that, to the Franks. There was indeed nuance between amirs’ legal-systems but this could, perhaps, have been Awzaʿism being tested and failing. As for why Spain lacks record of Awzaʿism today, I would personally not blame the lack of legal sophistication (at this stage); neglect at the hands of the later (here, Malikite) schools would suffice.


posted by Zimri on 16:56 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Charlemagne's crusade

Among the questions debated among the so-called “counter jihad” is the extent to which Muhammad’s heresy, in turn, inspired similar movements in Christendom. Among these would be the holy war. More to the point, I’d like to look at “take the cross or this sword”.

I’d heard the Crusades called a Christian jihad before, back when I used to haunt Christian booksellers in the early 2000s. Probably independently of that confession's tracts, in 2006 one Yitzhak Hen observed the bloody verdict of Verden as religiously-tinged violence. This Jew looked for such atrocities before in Christian history, and despite having every motive to find some he failed. So he looked to classical Arabic accounts of Islamic maghazi instead and, as anyone might, found quite a lot of holy battles on their part. Hen concluded that since Islamic qital preceded Charlemagne's conquests, the one likely inspired the other. It seems anachronistic to consider the Saxon wars a proto-crusade, but then – I’ve done that already with Heraclius, before anyone had even heard of Muhammad.

A decade later, another scholar Daniel König has looked into Charlemagne's time and place. He finds that jihad had little to do with Verden.

König reasonably holds that for Frankish impressions of Islam, we have to start with Spain and the Maghreb. He points out that, over the long decades the Umayyad-commanded Arabs absorbed the Western Med, their invasions and “Islamicisations” were piecemeal and chaotic. Each city received its own terms based on whether the amir was in a good mood or not: viz., the amir was pleased when it surrendered, annoyed when he had to fight. (Such was exactly the way it had gone in Syria a century prior.) There was, in short, no Pact of ʿUmar. And the bulk of the Umayyad-era maghazi narratives are equally bogus.

Spain, when it was conquered, instantly became a backwater for Islam. It lay far from the Madina and Damascus, and even further from Iraq when the ʿAbbāsids massacred the Umayyads there and made it the caliphate's base. What mattered more to newly-conquered Spain was what the Berbers were up to. König notes by way of example that in the 740s, when the Berbers rebelled, Spain suffered what northwest Africa suffered. And the Muslims couldn't even take all of Spain. So early Islamic Spain was also a mess.

Until the 760s it was difficult to find an Arab there (much less a Berber) who even could tell you what Islam *was*. The senior judges could tell you, but these were few. Maybe Mūsā b. Nuṣayr the Lakhmi could have told you (and even here I wonder *what* he would have told you; e.g. did he accept sura 28?). Most Muslims here had other concerns, like staying alive. Only after the Umayyads had restored themselves as amirs in Spain was there a consistency at least in its governmental classes.

König also finds what it seems Hen could not find, on non-Islamic precedent among the Christian Germans and Latins for handling conquered peoples.

Given the knowledge of Islamic Spain I have, which isn't much, I am going to treat König's essay as the default stance on whether or not the Caroling mind had been infected by Islamic holy war. It has convinced me that Hen's essay had overreached. But I cannot call König's essay conclusive, yet, because there's a gap from 760 AD on - [update] which I'm to discuss later. Really we need more legal texts with a secure eighth-century provenance (wouldn't we all?). Perhaps some will turn up in an arid part of southern Spain.

UPDATE 7/14/16: Split this off from the above book-report: possible legal texts.


posted by Zimri on 17:41 | link | 0 comments

Monday, July 11, 2016

Joel M Hoffman's Biblical misinterpretations

On yesterday's book thread I was alerted to Joel M Hoffman. Not the rabbi. And not this guy either, G-d forbid. The other one, son of a rabbi.

Today I have found a summary of Hoffman's work on Biblical "mistranslations".

Hoffman assumes of the archetypal shepherd of (MT) Psalm 23 that most today will take him for a marginalized loner who spends more time with sheep than with people. That commandment lô taḥmôd shouldn't be "covet not", but "take not". He doesn't accept to translate that commandment against causing death as "kill not" or "murder not". Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, he says, is poor shorthand; in the reporter's summary, The first Hebrew word refers to all of the intangible aspects of life, including emotions and intellect, while the second connotes the physical flesh, blood, and breath.

If the word "shepherd" has taken on poor connotations, this will come as news to any player of Mass Effect; in which your character - saviour of the universe - is, indeed, named "Shepard". I am pretty sure that Hoffman stands alone among Semiticists and, indeed, among Bible students in his translation of taḥmôd; and besides, unlawful "taking" is already handled in the commandment against stealing. On the flip side, all Bible scholars accept the nuance around "thou shalt not kill" (so why bring it up?). Perhaps we should re-translate the Deuteronomist in terms of "soul and heart"; but again, it's so minor - why bring that up?

Add to that that Hoffman accepts the political-cant term "gay" as acceptable shorthand for "homosexual", and I cannot take the man seriously as a linguist. Nor, come to that, as an honest interpreter of Judaism.


posted by Zimri on 16:49 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nothing but lies

How far would you go to promote your book? If you're J.K. Sheindlin, you'll fake a video.

H/t, if you can call it that, to the dupe Howie at My Pet Jawa.


posted by Zimri on 15:24 | link | 0 comments

Tibetan uplift

I am here for Umayyad-era Islam. To that end I go seeking 'ilm on what other nations say about the Arabs and their beliefs, following the trail of their conquests (seek it even to China, as the Prophet said...). Once the Muslims got into Central Asia, among the nations they would have met was Tibet. But Tibetan isn't one of the languages used to document "Islam as others saw it".

One comment Valerie Hansen, in The Silk Road (2012), makes: the Tibetans (and Tangut) were illiterate until 617 AD. Until then they did their recordkeeping with knotted ropes. On reading this I thought... like quipu? Maybe there's something about them mountains. And then I wondered what the "uplift" process must have been like, because today Tibet is considered the great book-depository of Buddhist wisdom. For any people there comes a span of time between preliteracy and Classical Civilisation.

The Tibetan uplift didn't go quite the way of the Inca uplift. The seventh-century Tibetans appear to have got on the ball more quickly and decisively. Tibet went more like Meiji Japan.

Within a century the Yarlung, having united Tibet, were able to mount serious inroads on the Silk Road. When An Lushan (Roxhann the Pahlevi) rebelled, the Tang of China allied with the Yarlung and delegated their southwestern front to them. Predictably the allies kept what they took, and even indulged in a little prima-nocte action with the locals' wives. The Yarlung didn't relinquish Dunhuang until that whole dynasty collapsed. Then, depending on who's counting, China - or at least, people identifying as Chinese - retook Dunhuang 848 AD; some Tibetans did try to re-re-take it a few years later, but lost.

Hansen portrays a Tibetan people struggling with transliterating their language into Chinese characters, into the Sanskrit script, and into a syllabary (like the Japanese). It seems the first thing they did in Dunhuang (or second, after done boffing Chinese girls) was to copy and translate all the Buddhist stuff they could get their hands on.

If the Tibetans were still fine-tuning their script through to the 700s, and still figuring out what they wanted to write about with it: that would explain why we don't see Tibetan comments about their western frontier. Although perhaps later Tibetans made some comments later on. There's a book on that: Anna Akasoy, Charles Burnett, Ronit Yoeli­Tlalim, Islam and Tibet - Interactions along the Musk Routes (Ashgate, 2011).


posted by Zimri on 13:24 | link | 0 comments

The reviews are in

[7/9/2016] For those, like me, who don't want to pay for reviews - in my case, because I critique books for free - here is a roundup of reviews of Ostler's Passwords to Paradise on the inner tubes.

WSJ offers a substantive critique. This is so far the best review.

Sandra Collins calls it dry; this is more for the linguistic historian or the textual specialist than the general religion reader. She's right, but... if the book's not for her, why's she even trying to review it?

Kirkus offers a blurb. I gotta say, I don't trust its business-model. Last I looked, people paid Kirkus to review books. Those people paying for the review might be involved in publishing that very book. And it looks suspiciously like this is what has happened to Passwords; Kirkus's "review" here smells rotten to me. Also unsure about Publisher's Weekly; if Ostler was self-published would they be so kind? Would they review it at all?

So there's three (or four), a broad spectrum of review-types. Good, bad, and ugly.

7/10 8:30 AM BUMPED: The boulder terlit review. Most of it anyway. Scroll down for the rest of one paragraph.


posted by Zimri on 08:30 | link | 0 comments

Saturday, July 09, 2016

The FBI is corrupt

The FBI got nothin' on Hillary Clinton - never did - and they got nothin' on the guy who wants to kill Pamela Geller. So Geller's on her own. Which means I'm on my own too. And I gotta ask about more mainstream Islam-researchers like Gabriel Reynolds...

The FBI was, however, able to indict Dennis Hastert. And not for being a pervert, either; the actual charge was "structuring", which means nothing more or less than "withdrawing money from a bank".

The FBI is a gang of hired thugs. It serves the Democratic Party and not you.


posted by Zimri on 13:07 | link | 0 comments

The Torah, full of blessings

Ostler mentions Psalm 130 as an example of the Bible translation-debates in Europe (p. 247). I'm here to riff on this topic too, in this case to fill out that missing-chapter on Jewish translators into Greek.

For the Bible as a whole, the Anglophone Jews now own a literal translation that punts on every word that might be technical. Its Verse 4 reads, But there is forgiveness (ha-səlîkha) with Thee; therefore, Thou art feared (thiwarê). As a supplication-prayer, this makes some sense: the last verse mentions a sinner's knowledge of his sin, and Verse 3 hopes that the Lord is not taking notes. Note that the Jewish translator didn't see anything technical about thiwarê. He certainly did with səlîkha. On topic of fear his Muslim colleague, to give one other contrast, would have had lots to say about taqwâ.

In the Greek Bible, matters are much different for "Psalm 129" - here probably translated in Seleucid Palestine. Its translator(s) went with eneken tou nomou, and that's how it has ended up in Latin as well. Someone confused tôra(h) and thiwarê. Which you can do yourself, if you don't point the vowels, and you get an ignorant reader to dictate your fumble to a slavish scribe.

In the psalm as I read it, "Law" as such is too mechanical. Israel is not guilty of transgression, but of general sin against God - this is a Deuteronomical sin of para-idolatry, not a Levitical sin of breaking ordinances. Also I find difficult to see a Jew, especially, shifting "Torah" - were it there - to "fear". Gentiles, I think, wouldn't directly care.

Instead I could see the reverse, among the Jews of pre-Maccabean Palestine. I think the Vorlage of the Greek Psalm did read "torah" here. I wouldn't be surprised if the mistake lingered well into Roman days and got into Vetus Latina directly. It is a credit to the Pharisees, ancestors of Jews today, that they have arrested this mistake and preserved the correct reading to the days of Erasmus and beyond.


posted by Zimri on 12:15 | link | 0 comments

Language as barrier?

Ostler over chapter 10 (pp. 164) observes that post-Manzikert Slavic Christianity remained intellectually retarded compared with the rest of the world. (Before the 900s, which is when the Slavs converted, everyone was stunted relative to Constantinople and Baghdad.) Ostler floats a reason: the translation of scriptures into the Old Slavonic(s) kept the Slavs out of the Latin (and Greek) mainstream. The Slavs could relate only to other Slavs.

To me that smells like an excuse, not a reason. In Islam at the time, Muslims had their own common language: classical Arabic. In fact their educated class still does. Look at the world the Muslims have made today. I'd put the "parochial" Slavs up against the ecumenical Muslims any day of the week and twice on Friday.

The Slavs are, perhaps, some centuries behind the West in their development - although that might not even be bad, especially given the ongoing degeneracy of the West. I'll grant that Russia, especially, had some problems during what corresponds to Westerners' early modern era. But why blame their language? Protestant Germany had its own Bible. That didn't stop educated Germans from taking the time to learn French, Latin, and even Hebrew.

So I'm not buying it. The late-mediaeval Slavs had only themselves to blame. Well, and maybe the Mongols.


posted by Zimri on 11:31 | link | 0 comments

Who converted Ireland?

Ostler p. 131 thinks that it was the Welsh who converted Ireland to Christianity. This because Irish sacramental terms tend to voice the stops, as linguists put it; a "trinitas" becomes "trindod". Irish does not naturally force that change. But Welsh is not the only language that does this. It has also happened to Latin - at least to one dialect thereof, of which Texans and southwest Americans are very aware. I'd also bring into evidence that Irish "Trinity" is not literal "trindod" but "trindoid", suggesting metathesis from *trinidod.

I refer to Castilian Spanish, where we do see names like "Trinidad". On one thing Ostler and I agree: this particular shift cannot have been driven by the Phoenicians or Arabs, who knew enough to distinguish T from D (leaving aside the "emphatics"). I'll get to other possible shifts later.

At first Spain was under the Greek zone of influence. The Punics got to them, and then preclassical Latin held sway. But under new Latin management, the Greek trade-routes stayed the same. Which means the Spanish and the Irish still had contact.

So I'd not be so quick to assume that it was the Welsh (like Patrick) who came to Ireland first. Even Ostler (p. 129) knows that southern Ireland was Christian already. By tradition its first bishop was Palladius - Ostler asks: why establish an episcopacy before there is anyone there to oversee? And here's what I'd ask: exactly who's best getting to Ireland by its southern shore?

Perhaps it was vulgar-Latins from Spain who came to Ireland first, already speaking archaic Spanish. Maybe those Spanish sailors had also held to the Canaanite-shift from a>o...?


posted by Zimri on 09:28 | link | 0 comments

Ps and Qs

There's two forms of Celtic: Q- and P-. The division seems to be polyphyletic, in that Welsh and Celtiberian are both P-, with negligible direct contact; the same for the Q-s, Irish and Gaulish. How to account for that?

Over Iron Age Europe, this held true over lots of languages, not just Celtic. For a start we should consider Oscan as "P- Italic", and Latin as Q-. We can see Q- even now in (overcorrected) Latin words like quinque. As for Oscan, we see the P- words also in Latin, in its semantic-field of herding; the word that should be cognate to "cow" is "bovine", and the word that should be like Greek "lycos" is "lupus". They got those particular words from the non-Latin Italians living upon more marginal land. This process must have impinged Greek as well, where Mycenaean had "hiqqos" for horse like Latin and modern Greek has "hippos". As of 1200 BC was Doric already P-? I'll leave that much to the professionals...

In Indo-European studies Q- is considered the more antique form. This is in part because Greek has given to us the longest record - at least if we disregard Doric; in the Greek record we can watch Q fall off, and its words turn to P and K. Our departed sister and cousin, Tocharian and Anatolian, also were Q- tongues. And then there are the Satem languages which turned Q and K generally to S; they could not have done this from a P base.

That is a powerful tool to reconstruct the origins of words. But one must take care here. I've already mentioned quinque in Latin. The Hibernians, it seems, were so aware of being Q- Celts that they remembered Saint Patrick as "Cothriche" (Ostler, 129); "Padraig" came later, after the Irish had sobered up some.

The Q>P shift across western and southern Europe could be coincidence, that there is no "how it happened". That said, I propose that a vehicle does exist, during the Iron Age. In those Lelantine-War days, when the Greeks were subliterate but even then proficient sailors, their language remained, at least, Indo-European. They could talk to Italians and to Celts; which their rivals the Etruscans and the Phoenicians couldn't, as well. (The Semitic Phoenicians, for their part, might have held the advantage among the Berbers.) So perhaps the Q>P shift represents the old Greek zone of influence: Spain, coastal southern and eastern Italy, Cornwall. And Greece itself of course. Those languages which didn't take that shift were under foreign rule (Rome and the Faliscans, under the Etruria) or were far from the best trade-routes (inner Gaul and Ireland).


posted by Zimri on 09:07 | link | 0 comments

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