These past months, I’ve been introducing Arabic roots on the program that correspond to Hebrew terms that tie off with New Testament Greek via the secondary text of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint.
It’s secondary, of course, because consonantal Hebrew is primary.
As Fr. Paul has said many times, Semitic roots, including classical Arabic roots, are critical for our hearing of Scripture, but they can also be misleading. For example, in Hebrew, the term “isḥaq” means “he laughs.” However, in Arabic, “saḥaqa” means “to crush, to thrash, or to pound.” In this case, the triliteral connection does not work and does not shed light.
Still, among Semitic languages, Arabic is of special value for our hearing of biblical Hebrew because of the unique way in which its classical grammar has been fixed from as early as the seventh century.
I am not referring to Modern Standard Arabic, that strange occidental label—easily boiled down to an occidental acronym—MSA, ironically suitable for use by the MSM in their description of something they consider exotic and distant but not relevant—unless they want to scare you into their latest project.
I am referring to pre-classical and, more importantly, Classical Arabic.
The earliest and authoritative book on Classical Arabic grammar is a seventh-century work by the Persian scholar Amr ibn Uthman (Sibawayh) called—wait for it—“The Book,” Al-Kitab—a five-volume series on Classical Arabic grammar.
The grammarians of Basra (in modern-day Iraq) were among the earliest and most influential in the development of Arabic grammar. Al-Kitab is lengthy, analytical, and untranslatable in English. Like the Bible itself, it is neither modern nor standard. It is, however, canonical.
Some of the Arabic terms I have introduced on the podcast this past year might not be recognized by colloquial speakers. In a few cases, that’s because I have appealed to pre-classical Arabic roots that have fallen out of usage. In other examples, not every root is used everywhere or known to everyone. The funny thing about Semitic roots, as I have said repeatedly, is that they don’t mean anything in the first place. These groupings of consonants only come to life when they are grouped with other consonants.
They are not ontologies. There is no meaning, Habibi—only function.
Richard and I discuss Luke 5:17-18. (Episode 513)
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