Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Literary Notices

The Book of the Tetragrammaton of Aben Ezra

ספר השם לאבן עזרא

(Communicated by the Rev. H. Hochheimer, of Baltimore)

One of the most important, and, at the same time, least known of the works of Abraham Aben Ezra is his ספר השם, or his book concerning the quadrilateral name of God, which remained in manuscript until very recently, and was left quite unnoticed, and so to say, buried in the dust of the Bavarian state library at Munich. It was only in the year 1834 (5594) that this precious little work attracted the attention of Dr. Lippmann, the well-known Jewish scholar, who made a copy of it, and had it printed after supplying it with a commentary.

The work itself, though it embraces but few sheets, still contains a real treasure of grammatical, philosophical, and more particularly mathematical investigations concerning the quadrilateral name of God, and gives us the means, moreover, of elucidating more fully many obscure passages of Aben Ezra’s Commentary on the Bible. It requires, therefore, no excuse, if we present the readers of the Occident with a brief epitome of this work, which is nearly totally unknown among us. It contains eight chapters.—We will now commence our extracts in order.

Chapter I.

Every proper name שם העצם designates the particular being to which it is applied from the remainder of its whole species, in order to predicate of it certain properties or actions. Since now the proper name of the being to which it refers, so to say, places it before us, the Hebrews denote the work name with שם Shaym, evidently derived from the root שם, Shahm, there. (See Job. Xxiii. 7, שם ישר נוכח עמו.)

From this same root they have derived שמים, Shamahayim “heaven,” comprehending thereby the two ends of the world’s axis, around which the whole globe of the heaven apparently revolves. These two poles are eternally immutable and immovable. It is now on account of this immobility, the constant standing still in one spot, that the poles, and taking the part for the whole heaven, are called שמים, as it were an everlasting there. As proof we may cite Ps. cxv. 16: השמים שמים לה׳, “the heavens are the heavens of the Lord,” where the second is equivalent to “place,” as though it were השמים מקום ה׳ “the heavens are the place of the Lord.”

This view will also justify the dual form (רבים הזוני) applied to heaven, which in Hebrew is always employed to denote objects which exist in pairs, as רגלים feet, אזנים ears, עינים eyes, &c., the same may be said of זהרים Zaharahyim “noon” or “midday,” which is used in the dual form, because noon is the moment in which the centre of the sun enters the meridian, whereby the arc which the sun describes in its diurnal course is intersected in its point of culmination by the meridian, and divided into two equal parts.—From the root שם is also derived שממה שמה a desert, desolation, because in a desolate, waste place there is nothing left beyond the mere there; i.e., an empty space. Now, although these latter words are derived from a root with a double second radical כפולים or, as some designate the same a ע״ע, whereas שם has the appearance of a verb ע״ו, the second radical a qui<<568>escent ו, they have nevertheless the same relative signification as שדד and שוד, or רמם and רום [and several other verbs found in various forms, in which two radicals are the same.] Another proof that שם there is derived from a double second radical root פעלי הכפל verba duplicata, can be found in the fact that when ה is added thereto the מ receives dahgesh forte, which evidently supplies the defective מ thus שמה for שממה thither.

Chapter II.

The noun proper שם העצם is is distinguished in four ways from the noun common שם התאר.

1. The noun common is derived from a verb; e. g., חכם the wise man for חכם to be wise; which is not the case with proper nouns; for if even some such names are derived from other words as יצחק from צחק (Gen. xxi. 6) and יעקב from עקב (Ib. xxv. 26), it is not allowable to derive verbs from such nouns; you can therefore not make therefrom a past tense as יצחקתי “I was an Isaac,” nor a future אצחק “I will be an Isaac,” so you can form חכם the past tense חכמתי “I was wise,” &c.; for the formative Yod has become a radical, and cannot be dropped therefor. As a proof we refer to (Esther viii. 17) מתיהדים which does not mean to say that they became Jews, but that they for the moment professed to belong to the Jews; [like התחלה “he feigned himself sick.”]

2. The nouns common can be used in the plural; for instance, from חכם we can make חכמים “wise man;” but not so with nouns proper, since it is inadmissible to say יצחקים “Isaacs,” &c. The forms in plural ישראלים “Israelites” ישמעאלים “Ishmaelites,” do not mean persons called ישראל “Israel,” or ישמעאל “Ishmael,” but they express names of families, of course composed of many who are called ישראלי “Israelite,” &c. The proper spelling of the plural should therefore be with two Yods ישראליים, but the form Yisraeliyim was abridged for euphony’s sake to Yisraelim.

3. Every common noun can be designated by an article, not so a proper one. For the article serves to mark the word particularly; but if I employ the proper name which designates the object particularly in itself, no farther and closer definition can be admissible. The apparent exception המנשה in Deut. iii. 13, can be justified on the ground that the final ה stands for Yod; since the quiescents אהוי are as well-known often interchanged; the word in question is therefore a generic name instead of המנשי “derived from Menasseh.” Or it is possible that the <<569>>generic Yod has been omitted, as in הימנה of Numb. xxvi. 44.—The article in the word היצהר of Zechariah iv. 14, is regular because it is not referring to the noun proper Yizhar, but signifies olive oil, a noun common, which of course admits the article.

4. The noun common can be put in the construct state, or united to suffixes as חכם לב Exod. xxxi. 6, “the wise of heart,” מלכי (Psalm ii. 6), “my king;” which is not admissible with proper nouns. Wherefore the author of the book היצחקי has trespassed against the rules of grammar, in so calling his book, probably after his own name. Names of places, however, form an exception to these last two rules, since they can be put in the construct state, and receive the article; as in מבית לחם יהודה (Ruth i. 1), “From Beth-Lehem of Judah;” בקרקר for בהקרקר (Judg. viii. 10), “in the Karkar,” [may it not be elliptical “in the place מקום called Karkar?”]

After these prefatory remarks the author proceeds with the proper object of his work.

In Holy Writ we find three designations of the Most High Being as proper nouns: אהיה יהו׳ יה of which the second the holiest of them all is not to be uttered everywhere and by every one. We pronounce it אדני Adonay, which is in form of a pluralis excellentiae, similar to אלהים and must therefore not be confounded with אדני with suffix singular proper to the noun אדון Lord. If it stands with אדני however, it rece4ives the vowels of Elohim, and is so pronounced.

The other names of God which are read with the vowels with which they are written are common or rather adjective nouns; e. g. אלהים God, אדון Lord, שדי Almighty; wherefore they can take the plural form, though only a pl. majestaticus;—construct state;—definite article and suffices, as the case may be; e. g. אלהי ישראל (Gen. xxiii. 20) “the God of Israel;” האלהים הגדול (Nehemiah viii. 8) “the great God.” And since the holy name יהו׳ is also found, as in 1 Sam. i. 11, in connexion with צבאות, it is maintained by some that the word צבאות Zebaoth is also a proper noun; and the combination of the words would then be similar to the phrase in Isaiah xii. 2, עזי וזמרת יה ה׳.—But it seems more correct to regard the quadrilateral name sometimes as a proper, at others as a common or adjective4 noun; and we could then render ה׳ צבאות “The Lord who dwells in the midst of the heavenly armies.” (See 1 Kings xxii. 19.) So also we read in Exod. xxiii. 21 כי שמי בקרבו “for my name is in the midst of him.” In order to prove that proper nounds are occasionally used as adjectives, we may cite the word משה usually meaning Moses; we read in Isaiah lxiii. 11 ויזכר ימי עולם משה עמו which should <<570>>be translated: “And it remembered the ancient days, of the drawing forth of his people,” משה being here the active participle of the verb Mashoh, “to draw forth.” That this construction is correct appears from the4 succeeding verse, which says איה המעלם מים “Where is he who led them up from the sea?”

In the phrase אלהים צבאות where the first noun is irregularly in the absolute state, we must supply an elliptical construct case, and consider it equal to אלהים אלהי צבאות “the God, who is the God of the armies.” So also we find in 2 Chron. xv. 18 והנבואה עדד הנביא equal to והנבואה נבואת “the prophecy which was the prophecy of Oded the Prophet; so likewise Josh. iii. 14 הארון הברית instead of הארון ארון “The ark which was the ark of the covenant;” and in Gen. xxiv. 67 האהלה שרה אמו for האהלה אהל “to the tent which was the tent of Sarah his mother;” and many other similar phrases.

(To be continued.)