The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, June 10, 2016

Li'l Joey fell down the well again

Guillaume Dye is reviewing Catherine Pennacchio, Les emprunts à l'hébreu et au judéo-araméen dans le Coran. He doesn't like it.

For the bias into which the A. falls repeatedly, I translate footnote 3:

Just one example (p. 170): ǧubb, "well" (Q 12:10, 15). The author notes that the parallel passage in the Bible (Genesis 37:24) employs bôr, "pit" where the Peshitta and the Targum have gubbâ, "cistern, well", and where Zimmern sees in ǧubb a old loan from Aramaic. Yet she provides (without giving any argument) "that there are many opportunities by which this use [of ǧubb] comes from the Targum."

But why the Targum, and not, for example, the Syriac literature? Perhaps, I am tempted to assume, because the author believes that the sources of sura 12 are to be found in the Jewish literature, or in the exchanges between Muhammad and Jews of Medina - even while the closest parallels are with the Syriac - cf. Joseph Witztum, "Joseph Among the Ishmaelites. Q 12 in Light of Syriac Sources" in Gabriel Said Reynolds (ed.), New Perspectives on the Qur'an. The Qur'ān in Its Historical Context 2 (London: Routledge, 2011), 423-446.

In fact, gôb / gubbâ is attested in almost all the varieties of Aramaic - Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project (CAL) (, sv. gwb, gwb', accessed 26/12/2014 - and we know also Akkadian gubbu, Ugaritic gb, Hebrew geb, Geez gǝbb - Wolf Leslau, Comparative Dictionary of Ge'ez (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1991), 176. The hypothesis of a Semitic common root is plausible. Note that the CAL and the Leslau - two more very valuable tools - are, inexplicably, ignored by the author.

I must rate this particular critique as weak, and I say this as one who accepts Witztum that a non-Jew reliant upon anti-Jewish Syriac sources composed sura 12.

Dye is correct that gbb is pan-Semitic - or may as well be. I know of no Aramaisms in Ugaritic. And even if it were a borrowing, then it likely became Hebrew before this part of Genesis entered the Torah.

In Genesis 37:24 the Israelites, for an oubliette, tossed Joseph into a bôr that expressly could not serve as a gôb. (Joseph is the North's patriarch, not the Jews'.) We all agree the composer already knew the word gôb. True, the verse hints - to some - that maybe water should have been there. But this is just a storyteller's move: to hint that Joseph could not survive in that hole, and even to imply that his brothers were considering his murder by thirst. So there was no well in the original. The Qur'an must have cast its bucket into some other source.

That source's move to making of that a "well", by elaborating on that offhand comment of no-water, isn't a translation. It is a midrash (one that is not found everywhere). And there is nothing specifically Christian about this particular midrash. It needn't even have been done in Aramaic. It may well first have been done in Hebrew.

To sum up, that's pourquoi le Targum: as far as any of us know, the Targum got to this midrash first. True, the Qur'an could have got it by way of the Peshitta. But we can't assume that for this pericope alone. We would need evidence of a more exactly Christian mediator. Witztum gives us that; Dye, here, really doesn't.

posted by Zimri on 17:06 | link | 0 comments

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