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Exegetical Lectures on the Bible

By Rabbi Isidore Kalisch of Cleveland

No. I.

The Hebrew לשון קודש, or Jewish יהודית or more properly the speech of Canaan or Phoenicia שפת כנען, in which the books of the sacred Scriptures are composed, must be viewed as the original language, both from its internal structure, since it embraces many words which are imitations of natural sounds, and because there are found in nearly all known languages of the world some words evidently derived from it. To illustrate this, I will cite here several words.

 קבה (Kubbah) tent, chamber, is the Arabic alcaba; French, cabinet; English, cabin.

 בר (Bar) a child; one born; is similar to the bairn or barn, that which is born, or child, words in use, according to Ulphilas, among the Goths about the year 360, C. E. [or the Scottish bairn.]

 הגיד (Higgid) the Gothic (?) quithan. from which the English quoth is evidently derived, and is only not to be recognised through the method of the pronunciation. In the Sclavonian language there is  nowise the word goddai, to speak; which is also of Hebrew origin.

 ארץ (A’retz) is the airtha of the age of Ulphilas, the English earth, [the German erde]; the Chaldean ארעא, the Latin terra, and French terre.

  אכר (Ikkar) farmer, is the German acker, whence also the English and French acre is derived.

 אנכי (Ahnochi) I, is the Koptic anok; אתה (Attah) is the Sanscrit tua, Egyptian entok, fem. ento; the Persian tu; the Greek τύ the Latin tu, the English thou, and the German du. הוא (Hoo) is the Greek ο and the English.

 עד (’Ad) until, is the Latin ad. שש (Shesh) six, is the Sclavonian shesh. שבע (Sheva) is the English seven; the German sieben.

 שק (Sack) is the Greek σάχχος, the Latin saccus, the English and German sack, the French sac. תר (Tore) the turtledove, is the Latin turtur. קול (Kole) the voice, is the Greek χαλέω, the Latin calo, and the English call. מנע (Mana’) to withhold, in the Greek άμύιω. געה (Ga’ah) to moan, the Greek γοάω.

It is therefore with reason that we read in Bereshith Rabbah, chap. viii. “Rabbi Phineas and Rabbi Hesekiah say in the name of Rabbi Simon, Just as the law was given in the holy language, so was the world likewise created in the same;” meaning that it was the original language of mankind. To prove this it is shown there, that in all  known languages the word designating the female sex is different from that denoting the male, which is the case in Hebrew, since Adam called his wife אישה ishah, because she was taken from איש ish: whereas in Greek the words are γιυή and άυίς, in Latin femina and vir, in Chal­dean אתתא and גברא, &c., [the English woman from man is more accidental than designed,] whence it is argued that the Hebrew was the original language of the first man.

But the most cogent proof is drawn from the fact that the oldest names of persons, nations, towns, and coun­tries, are Hebrew, and more especially since the history of many indicate the causes of their nomenclature. For instance, אדם Adam, man from אדמה adamah, the ground; קין Kahyin, Cain, from קניתי kahneete, I have acquired; נח Noah, from ינוחמנו yenachamaynoo, he will comfort us; בבל Babel, from בלל bahlal, to mingle, &c., which causes are only applicable, and to be explained as bawd upon the Hebrew. If we are now told in Gen. xi. 1, “And all the earth was of one speech and one species of phrases,” the Hebrew language only can be meant here. But after the confusion of tongues at Babel the original language seems to have sustained itself only among the Phoenicians and our ancestors, even when the latter dwelt in Egypt. If it is now highly interesting to know this first and in consequence oldest language of the world, in order to trace the gradual development of the human mind, and I may say, to discover the secrets and the artificial laws of language in its primeval laboratory it is for us Israelites of still higher interest, because not only the occurrences and the remarkable fortunes of our forefathers, but also the holiest and most important doctrines have been communicated to us in this language; and it is accordingly undeniably useful to us, if we can read all those things in the original tongue.

The contents of the first book of Moses are, as is well known, of an historical character, and it embraces the narrative of the creation of the world and the memorable events of the life of our forefathers, the patriarchs of Israel; although the learned are divided in opinion respecting the motive of God in revealing to us the history of the creation, that is, that part which relates to the origin sad development of the earth. Rashi quotes the opinion of his father* that the Bible which ought to <<36>>have commenced with החודש הזה לכם, “This month shall be unto you,” &c, (Exod. xii. 2,) which is the first precept which was revealed to Israel, begins with the history of the creation, in order to justify thereby the occupation of the land of Canaan by the Israelites; for inasmuch as God invested all the earth, He could with propriety take away the country in question from those who had abused the gift, and bestow it on others, who would live more piously. Others think, that the belief in one God should be more firmly established by means of this narrative; for the idea, that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, with all imaginable beings therein contained, is sufficiently comprehensive to found thereon our system of religion and to direct thereby our course of conduct. Others again suppose, and this view is confirmed by Exod. xx. and xxiii. 12, that the history of the creation was to give us the reason why precisely the celebration of the seventh-day rest was ordained, and this opinion appears to me the most correct and important, for by adopting this we have the reason and object of the whole creation. God, accordingly, is represented to have been moved to create the world, that the search in the revelation of his perfections might become the means for the happiness and salvation of mankind. Therefore we read in Gen. ii. 2, “And God finished with the seventh day his work which he had made,” not, as usually rendered, on the, &c.; for since on the seventh day nothing additional was created, it should be said of right, “He finished on the sixth day;” but as indicated already, the seventh day itself was the completion of the whole work; and only then, when we reflect seriously on God and his creation, and learn to know his wondrous deeds, and thus enjoy the highest beatitude through a knowledge of God, can we attain the highest object of our existence.

* The greater number of commentators give it as their view that the Rabbi Yitschak (Isaac), cited by Rashi in his Comment on Gen. 1. 1, was his father, (from whom he bears the name Rabbi Shelomoh Yitzchaki, whence then the abbreviation of Rashi.)

The only thing which may seem strange to every deep thinker is the circumstance, that nowhere in the Bible is there any argument adduced in favour of the existence of God. But if we reflect that the Bible is the revealed word of God, it presupposes the existence of God, and deems it unnecessary to establish this by any course of argumentation, [in the same manner that it would be absurd in a speaker who addresses an audience to set out with a series of arguments to prove to them that he really existed and was not the effect of a wild fancy or heated imagination;] the more so, since the existence of God was believed in <<37>> by all nations, however erroneous their conceptions of Him may have been. It was accordingly not necessary to prove to man that God exists, but to show what God is; and we are therefore taught in innumerable passages in the Scriptures that God is the Creator and Preserver of the universe, and the Benefactor of all beings. The oldest, and I am privileged to say the patriarchal, appellation of the Deity is שדי Shadday, the Preserver. The Septuagint translate this name either with παντοχτωζ,* the All-governing, or ίχανός, the Self-sufficient. The first translation appears to me the most correct, because the word שדי shadday is probably derived from שד shahd the breast, meaning, that as the child draws its nourishment from its mother’s breast, thus does the whole universe obtain its food from the gift of God. This to my mind is also the reason that of all the names of God this one, Shadday, is that which is written in the Mezoozah; as it is intended to remind us when we go out or come in, that the Lord is the Sustainer and Pro­vider of the world, and that we should place our trust in Him alone.

* In our copy of the Septuagint, Glasgow edition, we find no such words; but in Gen. xvii. 1, it is thy God; in xxviii. 3, my God, and so in all cases; for instance, Exodus vi. 3, as their God. Will our correspondent indicate the passages to which he refers?

2. God is designated as אל Ale, the Almighty; in the earliest ages, it was combined with the word שדי, thus אל שדי Ale Shadday, the Almighty Preserver of all things.

3. אלוה Eloah, and with a plural termination אלהים Elohim. The singular form is only employed in poetical passages; the plural, however, is by far the most frequent. The real meaning of this word is similar to the Arabic Allah: the One to whom prayers should be offered, wherefore magistrates also are called Elohim. The signification of this word is also indicated through its external form; for the plural, which is expressed by the final syllable ים im, is only employed to denote the fulness of the majesty which is possessed by this only existing God. But that it conveys merely a single undivided Being, is proved without a possibility of doubt, because the verb which is connected with it, is always found in the singular; e. g. ברא אלהים, God has created, not בראו they have created. So also we find in Gen. xlii. 30, דבר האיש אדני הארץ “The man the lord of the land hath spoken,” literally “the man the lords,” not אדון “the lord,” where the plural is employed, on account of the majesty of the individual spoken of, just as rulers now-a-days write of themselves, thus, “We, Frederick William, <<38>>by the grace of God, King of Prussia, do ordain,” instead of I, &c.; and precisely this is the case with the expression אלהים.

4. אדון (Adone) Lord, which is however mostly found in the plural form אדני Adonay. This also is done to designate properly the Source of all dignities and glories.

5. אליון (Elyone) the Most High, i. e. He who rules the whole uni­verse.

6. צבעות (Zebaoth), which word is always connected with ה׳ or אלהי, signifies the Most Exalted, who is the Lord of all hosts, that is, of all the various constellations and their inhabitants.

7. ה׳ the Everbeing, the Eternal, Providence. This is the pro­per name of God, under which He is to be adored, but is not pronounced by any Israelite, out of reverence for its sanctity, but always אדני, Adonay.

8. יה (Yah) God, is probably an abbreviated form of the preceding appellation, and denotes the Supreme Ruler, as appears from Isaiah, cxxvi. is כי ביה ה׳ צור עולמים, “For in Yah the Eternal is the prop of the world.”

That such a supreme, only, perfect, and eternal Being exists is often asserted in the Bible, or predicated on the contemplation of outward nature. (See Ps. viii., &c.)

Genesis, Chap. I.

V. 1.—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The usual name ה׳ seems to me to have been here omitted and אלהים substituted, for the reason, that so long as nothing was created no Pro­vidence was required to be active. Under השמים the heavens, the universe must be understood; and it is therefore mentioned before “the earth,” because the constellations were created before our solar system, as also appears from Job xxxviii. 7 “When the stars of morning praised me together, and all the superior beings shouted for joy—who shut up the sea with doors, when it came forth as out of the womb?”

I shall explain farther down what is to be understood by שמים “heaven,” and רקיע “the firmament” or “expanse.” The reason why the phrase “in the beginning” is made use of and no period is given, is owing to the fact that eternity preceded the creation of our solar system, which is a necessary accompaniment of the idea of the existence of God, and the “When,” the “Period,” of the Eternal Being cannot be given. A period might have been stated referring to another previously created solar system; but as such a statement could have no <<39>>interest for us, (except to gratify mere curiosity,) it has been omitted.

V. 3.—“And God said, Let there be light, and it was light,” i. e. a substance which is luminous, material light.

Light was therefore created first of all, because without it nothing can come to perfection, it being in very truth the source of all life. V. 4. “And God observed the light that it was useful, and he divi­ded therefore the light from the darkness.”

The usual translation, “And God saw the light that it was good,” is incorrect; for should not God, the Omniscient, have already known be­forehand that the light would be good? The phrase “and God divided,” &c., asserts not that God separated the light from the darkness, for this would be an absurd assumption; but it means to say that a rotation of our solar system around the newly created light matter was then begun, through which means the mutations of day and night were produced. And since we know that day and night originate, because whilst the earth revolves around her axis, she is either turned to or away from the sun, which could at that period not be the case, because the relation of our earth to the sun was only established on the fourth day of the creation, the rotation of the earth round the light matter is proved, especially since we read in v. 5, “And it was evening and it was morning the first day.” It is impossible however to determine whether the period of the rotation of the earth around her axis then lasted twenty-four hours, or a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand years, (which latter idea is maintained by naturalists,) by means of any data within our reach. At all events we should not render יום with “day,” but “period,” in which sense it is often met with in the Bible. יום אחד does therefore not mean “one day,” or “the first day,” but the “first period,” the “first epoch.”

(To be continued.)