[Xtalk] Re: Etymology. How free should it be?
- "David C. Hindley" wrote:
>Rules of transcription apply only if the transcriber is working from a
> 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?
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:
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.].
Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mhsmith.html
Department of Religion
New Brunswick NJ
Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
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