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[Xtalk] Re: Etymology. How free should it be?

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    David C. Hindley wrote: Sort of, then, like the controversy over the origin of the figure Metatron (Mem, Yowd, Teyth, Teyth, Reysh, Vav, Nuwn) in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 1999
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      "David C. Hindley" wrote:

      >
      > Sort of, then, like the controversy over the origin of the figure "Metatron"
      > (Mem, Yowd, Teyth, Teyth, Reysh, Vav, Nuwn) in the hekaloth literature.
      >
      > Is it from "Meta Thronos" (with throne), which J T Milik complains violates
      > the rule of transcription that makes Teyth derivative of Theta, not Tau, or
      > from Latin "Metator" (as Milik prefers), or some other derivation?
      >
      > I have to wonder: Just how hard and fast are these rules of transcription?
      >

      Rules of transcription apply only if the transcriber is working from a
      written text, which is highly unlikely in the case of MeYTaTRoWN. Anyone
      who has studied English of the Elizabethan era should know that one gets
      all sorts of orthography when the transcriber is putting down speech
      formulated for oral delivery. If the transcribed word is from a foreign
      language, then one also has to take into account the possibilty of
      mispronunciation or at least misapprehension of how the foreign word(s)
      were actually pronounced [e.g., English "bishop" for Gr/Lat
      "episcopus"]. After all, as an ex-spelling-bee runner-up I can attest
      that we all assign standard orthography to words we are familiar with in
      our own language & take a wild guess at how we think unfamiliar words
      are to be spelled.

      In the case of MeYTaTRoWN one also has to take into account the
      phenomonon of assimilation of one consonant to another as happens
      regularly in compound words. It would take a fine ear for a non-English
      speaker of Greek to distinguish the initial theta of "thronos" from the
      tau of a preceding "meta." And when the scribes who adopted this
      technical *nomen* were writing in Hebrew, which has no exact equivalent
      of theta in the first place, it would be only natural for them to
      duplicate the teth rather than write teth tav.

      Since the feature that distinguishes Metatron from all other angels (who
      stand in the divine presence) is that he alone is allowed to occupy a
      throne (which is a carbon copy of the Throne of Glory) it is perfectly
      understandable how Jews would choose to name him by this attribute. The
      Latin *metator* is an inferior etymological candidate for two reasons:
      (1) Either written or oral, MetaTOR, -ORIS is unable to account for the
      ending of the Hebrew MetaTRON.
      (2) The figure so-named in Jewish esoteric speculation never functions
      as "divider" or "measurer" or "fixer of boundaries," which is what the
      Latin *metator* means. On the contrary, he is the one who like the Logos
      mediates between the divine presence (as Sar Panim -- "prince of the
      Countenance") and all of creation.

      For a sampling of Metatron texts see Into His Own #275-277. URL:

      http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/apocalyp.html#taken

      As I understand it, the purpose of etymology is to recover the root
      meaning of a term that has become a rather flat label [e.g, Christ] by
      tracing it to a linguistic horizon in which it makes more sense. In
      cases of cross-linguistic migration this often means playing free with
      rules of transcription [e.g., Messiah from Moshiach, Moses for Moishe,
      Jesus for Yeshu, etc.].

      Shalom!

      Mahlon


      --

      *********************

      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mhsmith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion
      Rutgers University
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/

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