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Heavens in Genesis
Posted: 25 August 2011 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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In Central Asia I believe they are called “serai” or “sarai”.

It even made it its way to the west as far as Sarajevo, which is how it was named by the Turks.

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Posted: 26 August 2011 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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That word always reminds me of Aravane Rezai.

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Posted: 26 August 2011 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Thinking about “mansion”, “khan” and “serai”, I remembered a story by Sax Rohmer called “The Zayat Kiss”, in which people who stayed in an overnight shelter (somewhere out East) would occasionally be found dead in the morning, with a mysterious red mark on their skin*. I checked out “Zayat” on Wikipedia, and there it was - zayat, an overnight shelter for travellers in Burma. Apparently quite an important social phenomenon, too. What made the discovery even more pleasurable, was the article’s mention of the story I’d remembered.
Once again - ain’t Wikipedia wonderful?

* The mark turns out to be the bite of a rare sort of centipede-like creepy-crawly, which the fiendish Dr Fu Manchu uses (let down the chimney on a long string) to dispose of his enemies. Inspector Nayland Smith eventually makes short work of the creature, using a mashie-niblick.

[edited for typo]

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Posted: 29 August 2011 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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languagehat - 25 August 2011 06:33 AM

The Hebrew is “shamayim”, which break down as “sham” (rhymes with ‘palm’) meaning “there” and “mayim” (rhymes with “buy’em") meaning “water”.

I presume this is a traditional rabbinical interpretation; it is certainly not an actual etymology (cf. Ugaritic shmm, Akkadian shamu ‘rain,’ plural ‘heaven’; there are also cognates in Aramaic, Arabic, and South Arabic).

LH, you are correct, as usual, but I believe that citing the cognates only removes the question by one step. E.g, the Assyrian word for “heavens” is “shammu”, but the word for water is “mu”.  Same with Aramaic: the word for heaven is “shamaya” and the word for water is “maya.” As far as I can detect from by BDB, “sham” in those languages means “there.” BDB also lists “sham” (there) at the end of its entry on “shamayim” pg. 1030, left column, at the bottom in what I think is the standard edition.

I would same the same to the other posts: we can translate “shamayim” conceptually as heaven(s) or lofty, but my admittedly limited exposure to Assyrian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, etc. ( I don’t read the alphabet, but look up the words in Hebrew or English transliteration), tells me that it is plausible beyond rabbinic Midrash that the etymology I offered is reasonable.

I should have offered it, however, it in more caution terms. 

On rakia: in the verbal forms in Hebrew, raka’ means to stretch out, and rike’a means more to hammer out, flatten out or make shallow.  Hirkiya’ does not add much to either of those meanings. The glass bowl image offered would come closest, in my opinion.

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Posted: 29 August 2011 02:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I see that Lionello covered what I just said—sorry bout that!

This is what I usually say at this point when I teach these passages to my seminary students (I teach Liturgy and Mysticism, but in both disciplines we inevitably come back to Genesis):

As Lionello says, the planets move across the spherical or concave plane of the firmament, but stars, too, were thought to embedded on a concave or spherical plan (e.g. Ptolemy), In ancient Jewish mystical thought (and other systems as well), the stars were thought to be apertures that allowed the light from the realm of the Divine to flow through (and direct the fate of our lives, as some would hold). The Hebrew (and ancient Semitic) root for “downward flow” is “nazal”, and the noun form is “mazal.” Mazal etymologically means “flow” i.e., flow of Divine light from the realm beyond the plane of the starts.

I mentioned this on the old board, but it seemed worthwhile to replay it here.

[ Edited: 29 August 2011 05:55 PM by Reb Wlm ]
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Posted: 30 August 2011 05:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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As far as I can detect from by BDB, “sham” in those languages means “there.”

But this is certainly a coincidence.  I have seen a lot of etymologies, and I think I have a fair grasp of how language change works, and the idea that a word for “sky, heavens” would be derived from “there” + “water” strikes me as so unlikely as to not be worth taking seriously.  It is, of course, a lovely coincidence, a preacher could well build a sermon around it or a poet a poem, but as an account of how the word came to be historically, I can’t accept it.

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