Pisgah
Posted: 10 June 2017 12:20 AM   [ Ignore ]
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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.)

Pisgah, n.

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).

I. Compounds.

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?

[ Edited: 10 June 2017 12:22 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 10 June 2017 01:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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yes, it is

It’s a very poetic allusion, and a very pathetic one too, in my opinion. Poor Moses spent most of his adult life busting a gut, trying to persuade the Children of Israel to do God’s bidding as he saw it (a thankless, hopeless task, as he says himself in Deuteronomy 31). And in the end, he was only allowed to gaze on the Land from afar, from the peak (pisgah) of mount Nevo.

[ Edited: 10 June 2017 02:06 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 10 June 2017 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I will always associate the word and title with Stephen Dedalus’s “I call it A Pisgah Sight of Palestine or The Parable of The Plums” (since Ulysses is where I first encountered them).

Edit: I must have encountered Pisgah as a young Sunday school student and churchgoer, but it didn’t stick until I read Joyce.

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Posted: 12 June 2017 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ll always associate it with its namesake in western North Carolina, but only because I used to live nearby.

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