I was checking on the origin of it’s always darkest before the dawn and discovered that it was the 17th century historian Thomas Fuller. A version of the phrase appears in A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650, “It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.”.
The reference to Pisgah in the title reminded me that although I had come across Pisgah sight I had never thought to ask its origin or, more likely, had once asked and completely forgotten the answer. Off to OED where I find a familiar author awaiting me. (Fuller is among the top 50 most-cited writers in OED, with over 5000 cites.)
Origin: From a proper name. Etymon: proper name Pisgah.
Etymology: < Pisgah (biblical Hebrew Piṣgāh), lit. ‘peak, height, cliff’, the name of the peak of Mount Nebo, from which Moses saw the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:27).
1. attrib. Designating a faint view or glimpse of something unobtainable or distant, esp. in Pisgah sight, Pisgah view.Used with allusion to Deuteronomy 3:27, in which Moses is allowed to view the Promised Land from the peak of Mount Nebo.
1647 T. Fuller Serm. Assurance 16 Their soules do steale a Glymps, Glance, or Pisgah-sight of heaven.
1997 19th-cent. Lit. 52 253 There is an exhilarating sense of seeing an extensive landscape illuminated from a new angle: Pisgah-sights with a promise of fertile ground to be turned over.
II. Simple uses.
2. A point affording an overview or glimpse of a current or future situation. Also in †Pisgah-hill.
1688 J. Barker Poet. Recreations i. 6 Here’s a Pisgah-Hill whereon to stand To take a prospect of Wit’s holy Land.
2001 Jrnl. Royal Anthropol. Inst. 7 475 By ceding the legal high ground the Developer gained a moral Pisgah.
I often think just how essential it is for anyone interested in etymology to have a deep and thorough knowledge of the Bible and regret that my own knowledge of it is superficial at best. For instance I was completely ignorant of the Deuteronomy verse, 3:27 Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan.
Lionello, or Rebbe if you’re around, is Pisgah then the common word in Hebrew for a peak or mountain-top as could be inferred from OED?