Thursday, August 30, 2007

Voldemort at Qumran?

In one of the manuscripts of the Vision of Amram (4Q544), the title character has a vision of two angels; one of the angels is good, the other evil. According to Emile Puech in Discoveries in the Judean Desert 31, the bad one is described as having a "visage molting like a serpent" (Aramaic ‏חזוה חשׁל [כפ]תן‎). Which sounds a lot like Lord Voldemort — or at least some other follower of Salazar Slytherin.

But I have some problems with Puech's reading. For one thing, the root חשׁל doesn't mean "to molt," but "to crush" (unless you posit a connection with ‏שׁלח‎ II "to strip, flay"). For another, at this point in the scroll the text is ragged and only bits of the letters of this phrase are readable; I can't share Puech's certainty about his reading of this verb. Lastly, and somewhat subjectively, it just doesn't sound right; it's not something they would say.

J. T. Milik, the first editor of this scroll, read the phrase as ‏דחיל[ כפ]תן‎, "dreadful as a serpent." That sounds better, but is still not totally satisfying. Klaus Beyer's version, ‏דחיל[ כמו]תן‎, "dreadful as a plague" is no better, and is actually worse: what meaning can we attach to the idea that someone's face is as frightful as a plague? It might fit into a modern poem, but just doesn't sound right for the 1st century B.C.E.

My own suggestion is that the phrase should be restored as ‏דחיל [ואימ]תן‎, "dreadful and terrifying." It fits the readable traces as well as the other suggestions, and similar descriptions are known from other texts: Dan. 7:7, where the fourth beast is said to be "dreadful and terrifying" (‏דחילה ואימתני‎) and Targ. Hab. 1:7, where the Kittim are "terrifying and dreadful" (‏אימתנין ודחילין‎).

Not as much fun as having Lord Voldemort in the Scrolls, I admit. But still pretty terrifying.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New Targum Location

Kudos and major props are due to Chris Brady, who is refurbishing and renewing the website of the Newsletter for Targumic and Cognate Studies. (This, not incidentally, gives the Psalms Targum translation by yours truly a new address.)

Thanks, Chris!