What I Learned from a Laotian Elephant

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Elephant Victory A few weeks ago I was bathing an elephant in northern Laos, when she suddenly decided to toss me headlong into the murky waters of the Mekong River. My encounter with Ms. Snuffleupagus got me thinking about the Hebrew word for elephant, which is PIL פיל. This word does not appear in the Tanakh, simply because the Hebrew Bible had no occasion to speak about elephants. However, the word did exist in ancient Hebrew and later appears in the Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Hebrew word PIL is probably the source (via Phoenician) behind the Greek word ELEPHAS, from which the English word “elephant” is itself derived (via French).

The switching of the letters PH פ and L ל is called “metathesis.” PIL became LIPH in Greek and eventually elephas. [Greek adds the -as ending to many words; the "e" at the beginning could have been added in certain Hebrew or Phoenician dialects through what linguists call "prosthetic aleph."] What all this means is that when you say “elephant” in English you are actually speaking Hebrew! This shouldn’t be such a surprise. Many animals unknown in ancient Europe have exotic names, such as Camel from the Hebrew Gamal גמל or Giraffe from some African language.

Believe it or not, the noble elephant can teach us something important about the name of Yehovah! Specifically, the rather silly claim that Yehovah יהוה comes from the Hebrew word HOVAH הוה meaning “disaster.” As I have explained in the past, this would be like saying that the word “assume” comes from the English words “ass,” “you,” and “me.” I call this “Hovah-logic,” which is defined as “knowing just enough Hebrew to be a disaster to yourself and others.”

In reality, Yehovah comes from the root HYH היה, meaning “to be,” whereas the word HOVAH (disaster) comes from the root HVH הוה. The two words only sound similar to someone blissfully ignorant of Hebrew grammar. For those who actually know Hebrew, Hoveh is a perfectly normal word meaning “he is” and Hovah is the feminine form meaning “she is” (both from HYH). Yehovah comes from Hoveh/ Hovah (“he/ she that is”). Neither has anything to do with the word “HOVAH” meaning “disaster” (from HVH).

My Laotian friend provides another example from Hebrew of how disastrous Hovah-logic can be. The Hebrew word for elephant, “PIL” פיל, sounds similar to “PILegesh” פילגש, meaning “concubine.” Using Hovah-logic, you could come up with some bizarre explanations. You might break down the word PILegesh into two words: PIL “elephant” and the verb GESH meaning “approach!” You could then say that ancient concubines were immensely fat and their paramours would shout at them, “Pil, Gesh!” “Approach, elephant!” As silly as this sounds, it’s actually more plausible than the name Yehovah having anything to do with the word for “disaster!”

So what is the source of the word PILegesh (concubine)? Anyone who knows Hebrew grammar immediately identifies PILegesh as a foreign loan-word. The dead giveaway is the fact that it has four (or possibly five) root-letters, rather than three. In reality, the Hebrew word PILegesh is most likely derived from the Greek word pallakis, meaning “young girl” (so according to Brown-Driver-Briggs).

Technically, the source of the word PILegesh might not be Greek, but some other related Indo-European language that no longer exists. Either way, it’s part of a handful of foreign loan-words in Hebrew that terminate with Indo-European “case-endings.” [Other examples include the names of the two Gittites Achish אכיש and Goliath גלית. Both of these names terminate with SH/ TH reflecting Indo-European case-endings. Another famous example is the word Apiryon אפריון ("chariot" in the KJV) in Song of Songs 3:9 containing the Indo-European case-ending "-on."]

If you don’t know what a case-ending is, don’t worry about it. It just means that there was trade, travel, and invasions across the eastern Mediterranean and as a result Hebrew and Greek swapped a few words with each other. The concept of a “concubine,” what we might call in English a “mistress,” was alien to the original Hebrew language. From the Garden of Eden, Hebrew had the concept of a “wife” ISHAH אשה, but it had to look to Greek to express the perverse idea of a “mistress.” That’s how the word PILegesh (concubine) came into the Hebrew language. On the other hand, the Greeks were unaware of camels and elephants and had to borrow words for these creatures from Hebrew. To translate all this into modern terms, the Greeks gave us Marilyn Monroe and Monica Lewinsky, whereas the Hebrews gave us Dumbo and Babar. It was worth getting thrown into a polluted river by a cantankerous pachyderm just to learn all this.

Moments before the beast cast me into the river, she started doing that weird thing with her trunk. I knew it wasn't going to end well!

Moments before the beast cast me into the river, she started doing that weird thing with her trunk. I knew it wasn’t going to end well!

We Don’t Need No Fat Country!

The Wall LyricsI hear all the time that the name of our Creator should be pronounced “Yahweh” based on this or that transcription in some foreign language. One of the most popular arguments points to ancient Akkadian sources. I could spend a great deal of time dissecting each one of these sources, but for argument’s sake let’s assume the Akkadian sources really do support the pronunciation “Yahweh.” I still don’t understand why someone would rely on a non-Hebrew source and ignore the Hebrew evidence.

As someone who reads several languages and speaks two fluently, I have seen how badly people butcher words in a language that is not their own. It is ludicrous to trust an Akkadian scribe to accurately represent the pronunciation of a Hebrew word. It makes even less sense to prefer an Akkadian source over a Hebrew one.

In the last few months I have been an English teacher in China and have seen countless examples of how difficult it is for people to HEAR a foreign language. Many of my students READ advanced English. However, when it comes to HEARING English, they have a very difficult time. For example, this past week I read the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s The Wall to my Chinese students (yeah, I’m a pretty cool teacher). I asked the students to write down what they heard. I read one word at a time, very slowly, and repeated each word several times. They had never seen the lyrics before, so they had to base what they wrote on what they thought they heard. No matter how clearly I pronounced the word or how slowly I said each word, most of the students simply could not figure out what I was saying. Here are some examples of what they thought they heard:

We don’t need no fat country
We don’t need no fart control
We don’t need no fort cometure
no dark sarcasion/ sokaseem/ sarcazen/ sourcastion in that classroom
Teacher, leaf zoos kids alone
Teacher, live through kids alone
Teacher, leave both those kids alone
All and all, it’s just another break in the walk
All and all, it’s just another break in the world
All and on, it’s just another break in that warm
All or no, it is just another break in the wall
Allow all allow, it’s just another break in the war
Along or and along, is just a break in the waste.
Along all the long, it’s just another break in the work
Alone all along, is just another break in that word
All along, it’s just another break in the one

These are smart kids who read English quite well. However, the sounds of spoken English are alien to them. To be fair, I would not do nearly as well transcribing the lyrics of a Chinese song. English is just so different from Chinese!

Now imagine you are an Akkadian scribe who does not read or speak Hebrew. Scripture refers to the Akkadian-speaking Assyrian invaders as “those people of an obscure speech, with their strange, incomprehensible tongue” (Isaiah 33:19). Now be one of those Akkadian speakers. Hebrew is just as obscure and incomprehensible to you as Akkadian is to the Hebrews. You hear these Israelite captives speaking about their God and you write down what you think you hear.

Actually, that never happened! What really happened (and where people are getting Yahweh) is some Akkadian scribes wrote down the names of individual Israelites that included part of the name of the Israelite God in them (like Yeho-shua, Yeho-natan, etc.). The pronunciation of “Yahweh” is based on an extrapolation from how the Akkadian scribes wrote down these personal names.

Now is where it gets really convoluted. No one today knows for sure how to pronounce ancient Akkadian! This was a dead language for thousands of years. In the 1800s someone discovered an inscription written in Old Persian and Aramaic on a mountainside at Behistun in Iran. He scaled the mountain and transcribed it. Eventually scholars were able to decipher the Old Persian based on the Aramaic. Even though Old Persian and Akkadian are like apples and oranges, they were able to extrapolate from Old Persian to decipher Akkadian. Both were written in a similar syllabic script called Cuneiform. Now for the fun question. How do we know how to pronounce Akkadian? Based on Old Persian! And how do we know how to pronounce Old Persian? Based on Modern Persian!

So when someone tells you that the name YHVH was pronounced Yahweh in some ancient Akkadian document, what they really mean is: The Modern Persian pronunciation of Old Persian used to decipher ancient Akkadian, records what some Akkadian scribe who didn’t know Hebrew thought he heard an Israelite say. Huh! And that’s supposed to be more trustworthy than a Hebrew source preserved by Jewish scribes? On what planet does that make sense?

I love it when they reply: “But those Hebrew sources are only from the 10th century AD!” And when is the Modern Persian source from? The 19th century AD!

As Bart Simpson would say: “¡Ay, caramba!” Which my Chinese students would no doubt transcribe: “Oil corn-flour!” Now let’s reconstruct the pronunciation of Medieval Spanish based on what my Chinese students think they heard from Bart Simpson! That’s about as reliable as using Akkadian to support the pronunciation of our Creator’s name as “Yahweh.”

I can't hear in the sense of I can't understand.

In Chinese “I can’t hear” often has the meaning of “I can’t understand what you are saying.” This is similar to the Hebrew meaning of “hear” as in the verse:
“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand [literally: "hear"] one another’s speech.” Gen. 11:7

Live from Seattle on Saturday and Sunday

This weekend I will be speaking at the “One God Conference” in Seattle, Washington:

  • Saturday June 8 4:00-5:15pm Pacific time “Pope Benedict XVI’s Theological Three-Card Monte”
  • Sunday June 9 2:30-3:30pm “The Hebrew Power of the Priestly Blessing Unleashed”

Everyone is invited to attend the conference. Attendance is free. There will be other fascinating topics throughout both days. The full schedule is posted here.

The conference will stream live video.

In the game “Three Card Monte,” the dealer moves around three cards very quickly to confuse the players. The cards are identical on the outside, but underneath only one is the sought-after queen. In his Papal directive from 2008, Pope Benedict XVI admits that it is advantageous for Catholic theology to avoid using the Tetragrammaton. The ambiguous term “Lord” makes it possible through exegetical sleight of hand to reinterpret Old Testament verses that speak about “Yehovah” (or “Yahweh”) as referring to Jesus.

I gave a brief preview of the Three-Card Monte topic on Truth2U Radio with Jono and Keith.

The conference is free at: Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle/Federal Way, 31720 Gateway Center Blvd S, Federal Way, WA 98003. You can contact Ken Westby for more details: Westby@godward.org or check out his website.

There is also an option of listening to the conference live by phone by calling 916-233-0562 and entering the code 0566# during the welcome message.

Check out the Pope’s ban on God’s holy name.

 

Nehemia Gordon
The Wandering Jew on the Way to Seattle

Time Will Tell on TV

Tonight Keith Johnson’s “Time Will Tell” television series will premiere the first of two special episodes on the Biblical Calendar. The program will be broadcast on the Church Channel at 10pm Eastern/ 7pm Pacific. You can also watch it online for free at:

http://bfainternational.com/timewilltelltv
(Apparently you need to sign up, but I have been guaranteed that it’s free with no hidden costs or charges.)

One of the episodes contains exclusive footage of the Aviv Search, never before seen on American television. In fact, this is the first time in history that the Aviv Search has been captured on film for broadcast outside of Israel! Don’t miss this historic world premiere tonight at 10pm Eastern/ 7pm Pacific.

Nehemia Gordon
The Wandering Jew in Huntsville, Alabama

When is Passover?

Passover (Pessach) will begin this Wednesday night March 27, 2013 at sunset… or wait… is that March 25? Or March 26? Maybe it’s in late April? If you are new to the Biblical feasts then your head must be spinning trying to keep track of it all. There are several issues that are confusing many people and I’m going to do my best to try and help sort it all out.

The first confusion has to do with how to begin the Hebrew month. In 359 CE (AD), the Romans abolished the Sanhedrin and a rabbi named Hillel II replaced the Biblical calendar with a calculated one. Up until 359, the Sanhedrin (actually a court of 3 appointed by them) would interview new moon witnesses who sighted the new moon every month. With the Sanhedrin abolished, Hillel II swapped out the visible new moon for conjunction also called the “dark moon”. In the 4th century, it was relatively easy to calculate conjunction but impossible to calculate visibility, so Hillel settled for what he could do with the state of technology at the time. However, rabbis ever since have proclaimed that when the Messiah comes and reestablishes the Sanhedrin, they will go back to sighting the new moon.

Today most Jews observe the calendar of Hillel II based on conjunction, while many Karaite Jews continue the pre-Hillel system of sighting the New Moon. Based on Hillel II’s calculation, Passover would be Monday night March 25, but based on the actual visible New Moon it should really be Wednesday night March 27. If Hillel II could travel in time to the 21st Century he would be doing his Passover seder on Monday night. If King David hopped in his “TARDIS” he would be observing it on Wednesday night. I prefer to celebrate according to what King David would do and not Hillel II, even if it means I’m two days off from 99.99% of my Jewish brothers and sisters.

If that wasn’t complicated enough, there is the issue of how to begin the new Hebrew year. Biblically, we are commanded in Deuteronomy 16:1 “Observe the month of the Aviv”. Hillel II replaced this with an approximate calculation, which just happened to get the month right this year (even if it’s two days off). However, some Christian and Messianic groups will be observing Passover in late April based on the vernal equinox. I wrote a piece about this last year, which you can read here.

I want to honor those who are observing Passover next month for at least striving for Biblical truth. They deserve credit for making an effort and not blindly following what others say, even if in my humble opinion they are in error. Anyway, if you read the newsletter on the equinox, please check out the follow-up which contextualizes it here.

If you aren’t confused yet, I need to throw in one more complication and that has to do with the definition of the word “Passover”. In every language, the meanings of words change over times. A great example in English is the word “computer”. In the 1910s the English word “computer” referred to a person (usually a woman) whose job it was to sit with a pen, paper, and a slide rule computing complex calculations for banks, astronomers, and the military. A hundred years later “computer” refers to an inanimate machine that does everything from taking photographs to running the word processor on which I am writing this message. In the Torah, Pessach or “Passover” refers to a sacrifice and the holiday is called Chag HaMatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread). However, in late Second Temple times the name “Passover” took on a new meaning and was used to refer not only to the sacrifice, but to the holiday that followed the sacrifice. If you said to King David you are “doing Pessach” he would know you are offering a sacrifice. If you said the same thing to a 1st century CE Jew, he might think you were observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread or maybe offering a sacrifice. He wouldn’t know and might have to ask you. If you said to most Jews today you are “doing Pessach” they would immediately know you meant the Feast of Unleavened Bread and not a sacrifice.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a 7-day holiday that begins on the 15th day of the First Hebrew Month and continues until sunset on the 21st day of the First Hebrew month. This year that coincides on the Biblical calendar with sunset March 27 through sunset April 3. On the Hillel II calendar observed by most Jews it starts and ends two days earlier: sunset March 25 through sunset April 1. The Torah says the Passover sacrifice itself was brought at the end of the 14th day of the First Hebrew month, which this year would be late afternoon on March 27 according to the Biblical calendar but March 25 according to the Hillel II calendar observed by most Jews. Of course, we don’t have a Temple today so according to Deuteronomy 16:5 we can’t bring the Passover sacrifice, we can only commemorate it. However, we still can observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The confusion comes from some 19th Century German Bible scholars headed by Julius Wellhausen who wanted to separate the Passover sacrifice from the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They claimed that the Passover was originally sacrificed at the beginning of the 14th day of the First Hebrew month rather than at the end. They didn’t have a shred of historical proof. No Jewish group ever observed the Passover sacrifice this way. However, it fit in with their beliefs about the Torah being a made up of four different “documents”. This was part of a larger Anti-Semitic doctrine aimed at separating “The Jews” from “Israel”. To do this, they picked out the parts of the Torah they liked and attributed them to “Israel” whereas the parts they didn’t like were assigned to “The Jews”. “Passover” was Israelite whereas “Feast of Unleavened Bread” was a later Jewish invention. The overall theory is sometimes referred to as the “Documentary Hypothesis”.

Unfortunately, this Anti-Semitic doctrine is the basis of so-called “Higher Criticism” of the Torah taught in most secular universities and liberal seminaries. I was even taught this at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where they admitted its Anti-Semitic origins but still taught it as truth! Decades ago Herbert Armstrong accepted this “scholarly” theory without understanding its origins and broader ramifications. As a result, he taught that Passover (or a commemoration of it) was to be observed as a separate event from the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is why some groups are “doing Passover” on March 24 or March 26, but then beginning the Feast of Unleavened Bread a day later. I prefer to stick with what King David did. He was both an Israelite and a Jew and if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

I know this is a lot to follow and may be confusing to some people who are new to all this and even to some who are old to it. Here’s the bottom line: If you want to follow the Biblical calendar, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread is sunset March 27 through sunset April 3. The Passover would have been brought if there were a Temple late in the afternoon on March 27, but today Jews don’t bring this sacrifice outside the Temple. They do commemorate it by telling over the story of the Exodus. I’ll be doing my telling-over on March 27 at sunset.

Whether you are keeping the Biblical calendar, the Hillel II calendar, or some made-up 21st Century Christian-Messianic calendar, I want to wish you a happy and healthy Chag HaMatzot!

Enjoy this music video from the Maccabeats who sing a Passover version of Les Miserables!
http://youtu.be/qmthKpnTHYQ

Nehemia Gordon
The Wandering Jew in Eilat

New Moon of the Aviv 2013

New Moon Report
Chodesh Ha-Aviv
New Moon of the Aviv

On Wednesday March 13, 2013 the new moon was sighted from Israel. The moon was first sighted:
*from Jerusalem by Devorah Burnett at 5:41pm and shortly thereafter by Devorah Daniel, Jono Vandor, Jeremy Childs, and Nehemia Gordon;
*from another location in Jerusalem by Willie Ondricek at 5:50pm;
*from Kefar Eldad by Yoel Halevi at 5:52pm;
*from Tel Aviv by David Cachicas, Daniela Cachicas, and Gabriel Cachicas at 6:30pm.

Wednesday’s sighting marked the beginning of the First Month of the Hebrew year. Chag HaMatzot, the Feast of Unleavened Bread will begin at sunset on March 27 and will continue until sunset on April 3, 2013.

I posted photos of the new moon from Jerusalem on Wednesday March 13, 2013 at:
https://www.facebook.com/NehemiaGordon

A photograph has been widely circulating around the internet, which some have claimed is the new moon from Jerusalem on Tuesday March 12, 2013. The new moon is clearly visible in the photo. I contacted the man who took the photo, William Sanford, and he clarified that he snapped this shot from Gulfport, Mississippi, not from Jerusalem! Of course, the moon was easily visible from many parts of the Western Hemisphere on March 12 where it was seen 7-10 hours after sunset in Israel.

I have received definitive confirmation that the new moon was not visible on Tuesday night March 12, 2013 from Israel. Dr. Roy Hoffman attempted to sight the moon from Givat Ram in Jerusalem with the naked eye and with binoculars but was unable to see it. However, he managed to capture an image of the moon in a photograph. The moon is visible in two of Dr. Hoffman’s photographs, but only using “strong contrast enhancement.” This proves that the moon was not visible to the naked eye on Tuesday March 12. Please note that Dr. Hoffman is an Orthodox Jew and a long-time activist in the Israeli New Moon Society. You can learn more about his organization and why they study the new moon here:
https://sites.google.com/site/moonsoc/

Shanah Tovah!
Happy New Year!

Nehemia Gordon
The Wandering Jew in Jerusalem

The Prodigal Jew Returns Home

I arrived in Israel yesterday and hit the ground running for the Aviv Search. Today (March 5) I examined fields in the Jordan Valley and to my surprise found some stalks that were already Aviv. There needs to be enough Aviv to be harvest-ripe during Chag HaMatzot in accordance with Deuteronomy 16:9, so a handful of stalks isn’t enough to declare the beginning of the new year. This means there’s a good chance the next new moon will be the beginning of the Hebrew year, but not a certainty. We will know for sure next week during the main Aviv Search on the last two days of the Hebrew month. Now the excitement begins!

Check out my video report, uploaded live from the barley fields in the Jordan Valley, here.

It’s not too late to support the Aviv Search by making a tax-deductible donation by clicking on the right of this page or by sending a check or money order to:
Makor Hebrew Foundation, POB 535579, Grand Prairie TX 76063

Learn more about the biblical calendar.

To receive real-time updates on the Aviv and New Moon, subscribe to my Twitter feed.

Nehemia Gordon
Jerusalem, Israel

Correct Holiday Dates and Radio Discussion

I guess sending out a newsletter while fighting jetlag is a bad idea. Anyway, the dates I posted in the previous email are wrong. Here are the correct possible dates for the upcoming Feast of Unleavened Bread:

If the barley is Aviv by March 12 and the new moon is sighted on March 12, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) will be from sunset March 26 through sunset April 2.

If the barley is Aviv by March 12 and the new moon is NOT sighted on March 12, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) will be from sunset March 27 through sunset April 3.

If the barley is NOT Aviv by March 12, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) will be from sunset April 25 through sunset May 2.

Actually I’m still jetlagged and can barely see straight, so if those dates are wrong too, please let me know ASAP. I am very encouraged that some readers caught the previous mistake within a few minutes of the initial letter being sent out. This means people are not blindly following what I say, but testing it against Scripture. Hallelu-Yah!

I spoke about the upcoming Aviv Search with Jono Vandor on Truth2U radio and that episode is now posted on his website at Truth2U.org.

I got the dates wrong and Jono mis-spelled my name. I guess no one is perfect, well, no one besides the Creator of the universe.

Nehemia Gordon
The Wandering Jew in Texas (or is that the Wondering Jew?)

Aviv Search in Kassam Alley

After a month in China, I continue to put my Sabbatical on hold to fly over to Israel and carry out the Aviv Search. The search will take place at the end of the 12th Hebrew month, on March 11-12, 2013. The Aviv Team will be examining barley all over the Land of Israel to determine whether it has reached the stage in its ripening known in Scripture as Aviv. This is in accordance with the
commandment in Scripture: “Observe the Month of the Aviv” (Dt 16:1).

If the barley is Aviv by March 12, this will put the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) in late March and early April. If the barley is not Aviv by March 12, the Feast of Unleavened Bread will fall out at the end of April and the beginning of May.

A slight complication this year is the timing of the new moon at the end of the 12th Hebrew month. This is one of those “borderline” sightings that cannot be predicted with any reliability. Specifically, the moon on March 12, 2013 will have 0.90% illumination and 47 minutes lagtime. Visibility might be possible although in my experience unlikely. This means there are three possible sets of dates for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover):

If the barley is Aviv by March 12 and the new moon is sighted on March 12, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) will be from sunset March 26 through sunset April 2.

If the barley is Aviv by March 12 and the new moon is NOT sighted on March 12, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) will be from sunset March 27 through sunset April 3.

If the barley is NOT Aviv by March 12, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) will be from sunset April 25 through sunset May 2.

Carrying out the Aviv Search and sighting the New Moon is vital for determining the true timing of the Biblical Festivals. To learn more about Aviv, please visit The Karaite Korner.

Please join us in this vital endeavor if you can by contributing to the effort. Each year we have seen costs rise especially in the area of flights, car rental, and fuel; fuel specifically, which is now about $9.39 a gallon in Israel. Israel has the 6th highest gasoline prices in the world.

Please make a tax-deductible donation using the button on the side of this page. You can also send a check or money order to: Makor Hebrew Foundation, POB 535579, Grand Prairie, TX 75053 or call Dev at 682-422-6007.

One of the key areas of the Aviv Search is the infamous “Kassam Alley” on the border of Gaza. The area is considered so dangerous, that the Israeli army recently started a program to plant trees along the side of the road to hide Israeli cars from being targeted by Arab rocket fire. This is an active war zone, so please pray for our safety.

Nehemia Gordon
The Wandering Jew in Texas

Triad of Tribulation

After a year in which I lost my father, my dog died, and my wedding was called off, I have decided to take a Sabbatical from my public ministry. Please join me in praying for healing, renewal, and discernment.

Keith Johnson will continue our speaking tour and I look forward to rejoining him in the future. The event in New Jersey has been postponed.

Nehemia Gordon