Monthly Archives: March 2016

What’s the Matter with Samaritan?

A lot! In many ways, the publication of A. Tal’s A Dictionary of Samaritan Aramaic (2 vols., Brill, 2000), based on the decades-long research and collection of lexical material by the late Z. Ben-Ḥayyim, may be said only to have muddied the waters of Aramaic lexicography. To be sure, it provides a long-missing guide to understanding Samaritan Aramaic texts of all periods. But the language there described, most of whose unique lexemes come from the very late “A” version of the Pentateuch, often bears little relation to normative Aramaic, being largely a combination of Hebrew and Arabic words and meanings, as well as the unique words of that text, many of which seem to have a distant relationship to Latin (q.v. e.g. אסולה p. 573!) but not Greek (i.e. those that are not based on Arabic, Hebrew, or a misunderstanding of the Hebrew)! Much of the vocabulary may with certainty be ascribed to the artifical late language first described by Ben-Ḥayyim as “Shomronit” and recently the subject of fine study by M. Florentin in Late Samaritan Hebrew: A Linguistic Analysis of its Different Types (Brill, 2005). In addition, the scholarship presented in Tal’s work is idiosyncratic to say the least: Each group of words is introduced by a presumed root, fully a quarter of which must be said to be imaginary. Infinitive forms of various structures are all given their own entry. Noun forms of the qātōl type, that serve as common participles in later Samaritan, are all given their own lemma. Some words are used in a distinctive way that is based on a misunderstanding of a Pentateuchal form. Definitions often leave much to be desired. Varied spellings of what are obviously all the same lemma are given separate entries. Many of the supposedly Aramaic cited passages are in fact in Hebrew. Scribal errors are included as headwords. There is no index of passages (or any real index at all for that matter). And the less said about etymologies the better.

To give an example of a typical problematic entry that is not included in the CAL, take the root משק, rendered “to rule” (p. 491), which occurs in the A targum. It is without parallel elsewhere in Aramaic, or in Semitic for that matter. It is, however, known from Florentin’s Shomronit Hebrew, where it has been derived from the poorly understood Hebrew text of Gen. 15:2: בן משק ביתי. We see no reason to include such a thing in a dictionary designed to reflect the Aramaic lexicon.

Thus it has been necessary to adopt a strategy for dealing with this material in the CAL in a way that truly reflects the contribution of Samaritan to the Aramaic lexicon: All the words in the clearly Aramaic portions of manifestly earliest texts are to be included; this includes Targum J, book one of Marqe, and the earliest liturgical poems. Infinitives and participles from those texts are listed under the verbal form. Multiple spellings of the same word are combined into a single lemma. Definitions are made to conform to standard Aramaic ones where the connection is obvious. Hebrew usages are included only where they also appear in Jewish Aramaic texts. Words that occur only in the late texts that are also in our database (e.g. Asatir and the later books of Marqe), will be included as they are encountered, for the sake of comprehensiveness and usefulness for students.

What’s the Matter with Babylonian Talmudic?

Those who have tried to use the CAL database for dealing with Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic (JBA) will undoubtedly have encountered many problems not generally encountered when dealing with, say, targumic texts. In light of the interest in our work of several new projects dealing with talmudic material, we are currently reviewing the database toward the twin goals of accuracy and consistency but feel that a detailed explanation of problematic nature of the material for our users is warranted.

The JBA material was prepared by Michael Sokoloff as the basis of his magisterial dictionary. How was it done? First, during a year-long stay at the CAL, he prepared an outline lexicon of entries, based largely on Jastrow. Then he had the chosen texts entered and processed via our algorithms. From him we then received the tagged data. Then the outline lexicon, the tagged files, and the printed dictionary were all incorporated into the CAL database.

All good, then? Not at all. Herewith the problems:

a) The CAL still contains here and there lemmata found only in Jastrow but either eliminated or spelled differently in DJBA.

b) DJBA contains entries from the Talmud not included in the textual database! As was the case with the Talmud Yerushalmi, Sokoloff omitted Hebrew material from the textbase. Where Hebrew appears within extended Aramaic contexts it is marked as Hebrew and not otherwise tagged in the text. But where an isolated Aramaic word occurs in a Hebrew context it is generally not found in the database but is included in DJBA. Similarly, many DJBA (and hence CAL) entries come from variant texts that are not those included in the textbase.

c) The headwords of DJBA are quite properly in Babylonian form, first and foremost, of course, the emphatic form of nouns, but also with extensive matres lectionis. The headwords of the CAL are in standard Aramaic, i.e. in the absolute and without extensive matres. Homograph numbers also may often differ between the CAL entry and that in DJBA. This means that we have to provide extensive data tables to provide the proper correspondences. As of this writing roughly 500 lemmata still remain without collated verification of this data.

d) Lastly and most importantly, Sokoloff simply did not do his otherwise valuable work with the needs of the CAL in mind. Simple typographical errors in the tagging were never corrected. Where the tagging of a specific lemma was correct and consistent, it does not necessarily match the original outline lexicon form that served as the basis of the CAL entry, nor does it necessarily match the form chosen as the headword in DJBA. Nor are all the examples of a single lemma tagged consistently across the database.

We hope to have all of these issues (except for (b) of course) corrected within a few months, but as always any assistance or corrections will be most welcome.