Philologos


A Yearly Conundrum

By Philologos

Readers Ze’ev Orzech and Seth Cohen have written separately to inquire about the names of the months in the Hebrew calendar. Mr. Orzech especially wants to know about the calendar of the “Qumran sect” —which, he writes, “used a completely different set of names for their months.” Mr. Cohen inquires how it can be that, while “current names of the Hebrew months are Babylonian or post-Exilic in origin, as opposed to the earlier names used in the Bible (Aviv, Ziv, Etanim and Bul),” the “Gezer calendar mentions the current Hebrew names of the months, yet is dated to 1000 BCE, which is very much pre-Exilic!”Read More


Questioning Virginity

By Philologos

Virgins or Grapes? The Koran Revisited” is the title of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s August 5 hopeful reflections on new scholarly readings of the Koran, which suggest that the famous “virgins” of the Muslim paradise, reputed to be one of the world-to-come’s rewards for faithful Muslims and (in some circles) suicide bombers, actually were “white grapes” for Muhammed. Since this subject was dealt with in these pages more than two years ago, in a March 15, 2002, column, I won’t return to it other than to point out that in terms of Islamic beliefs as opposed to Koranic intentions, it is quite irrelevant. Muslim commentators always have taken the passages in question to refer to virgins, not grapes, and this is how Muslims have understood them and will continue to do so.Read More


The Language of Crimes

By Philologos

The government of Mexico, you may have heard, has indicted former president Luis Echeverria Alvarez — who governed the country from 1970 to 1976 — along with two former aides and three army generals, for the crime of “genocide.” The six accused men are alleged to be responsible for killing 25 students who were beaten to deathRead More


Bogie Speaks Yiddish!

By Philologos

One never knows where one will find a Jewish linguistic question answered. It can even be in an old Humphrey Bogart movie.The movie I was watching on TV the other night was “The Big Sleep,” starring Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Made in 1946, it was directed by Howard Hawks and its highly entertaining screenplay has the distinction of havingRead More


Pursuing the ‘Rodef’

By Philologos

The rabbinic concept of din rodef is — unfortunately — back in the news. It last made the front pages at the time of the Yitzhak Rabin assassination. Two weeks ago it resurfaced — this time, in connection with the declaration of Avigdor Nebenzahl, the learned and respected rabbi of the Jewish QuarterRead More


Bendel Business

By Philologos

What do Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Britney Spears and Demi Moore have in common? Don’t tell me — yawn! — that all four are practicing kabbalists. That’s old news.No, all four have been spotted wearing bendels. The gossip columnists tell us that the latest to be seen with one is Moore, who has been appearing in public with a red bendel onRead More


No Sex With Buildings...

By Philologos

I had never heard of an Italian Renaissance book entitled “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,”a Greco-Latin title rendered into English by the its recent translator, Joscelyn Godwin, as “Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream,” until I read a front-page article about it in the New York Times.Read More


Questioning the Marks

By Philologos

Ordinarily the Hebrew vowel signs are not headline material, but they made the front page of the newspaper Ha’aretz on June 4. The subject was a proposed spelling reform put forth by Dr. Mordecai Mishor, a member of the Language Committee of the Hebrew Language Academy — and although Dr. Mishor’s proposal will not lead to rioting…Read More


‘Peoplehood’ From the Jews?

By Philologos

I was writing an article the other day that had in it the phrase “Jewish peoplehood,” when my computer underlined “peoplehood” in red. That’s its smart-alecky way of telling me that I’ve misspelled a word or that it doesn’t exist. Although I knew the computer was wrong (its internal word list is small, and it often thinks words…Read More


Another ‘Da Vinci’ Mystery

By Philologos

‘Have you read ‘The Da Vinci Code’?” a friend asked me recently about the runaway best seller.“No,” I said. “Is it any good?”“It’s only the worst novel I’ve ever read,” my friend said. “But you might get a language column out of it. There’s a chapter there about an ancient Hebrew code called Atbash.Read More


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