Original painting by Sarah Hagay

Genesis 25:2: a son of Av-Rraham by Keturah; an Arabian nation. See also 1 Chronicles 1:32. His siblings were Zimran (זִמְרָן), Yakshan (יָקְשָׁן), Medan (מְדָן), Midyan (מִדְיָן), Ishbak (יִשְׁבָּק), and Shu'ach (שׁוּחַ)

The meaning of the name is not clear; but only because this is one of the best examples that the Tanach has to offer of the ways in which words change and develop their meanings over time. 

Radically it is connected with Zimri (זמרי), the king of the northern kingdom of Yisra-El who slew Elah and succeeded him (1 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 9:31), and with the Zimri who was a Shimonite officer (see 1 Chronicles 2:6, 8:36 and 9:42). All three names come from Zamar (זמר), which we think of today as meaning "to sing" or "play a musical instrument", as in Kley Zemer, meaning "musical instruments", which provides the root for that glorious Yiddish jazz-folk music known as "kletzmer".

But it only came to mean the plucking of musical instruments because it already meant the plucking of fruit, and especially the vine, as in Leviticus 25:3.

And because it became associated with music, so it also became associated with dance, which itself gave rise to Zemer (זמר) = "to leap", which then became used of goats and lambs gambolling. And then, by the time of Deuteronomy 14:5 (a very late text, unless you are an orthodox Jew), a Zamer is a... and that too is a problem. Deuteronomy 14 is the chapter that lists all the tabu creatures, the ones that may not be eaten, and the truth is, we really don't know in more than generalities which names applied to which creatures; which is to say, we can do species (cats, birds of prey, etc), but distinguishing a cheetah from a leopard, or a merlin from a kite (they are both types of hawk), is speculation. 

Deuteronomy 14:5 gives the Ayal (אַיָּל), the Tsvi (צְבִי), the Yachmur (יַחְמוּר), the Ako (אַקּוֹ), the Dishon (דִישֹׁן), the Te'o (תְאוֹ) and the Zamer (זָמֶר). NIV translates the list as "the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep"; NLT prefers "the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the addax, the antelope, and the mountain sheep"; ESV has "the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep"; but TheBibleHub, which presents all these, in its own translation of the Hebrew rejects all three in favour of "The hart, the roebuck, the fallow deer, the wild goat, the pygarg, the wild ox and the chamois". Chabad's Machon-Mamre goes for "the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the antelope, and the mountain-sheep", while Navigating The Bible, the website of ORT, has "the gazelle, the deer, the antelope, the ibex, the chamois, the bison, and the giraffe". There are other translations too, but the point is made. Zamer is the last-named on all these lists. So we have a choice that takes us from mountain sheep to the giraffe by way of the chamois, and none of these accord with the philologists, who all seem to think the Zamer was an antelope.

Which then for Zimran: venison or Fiddler on the Roof? 

Jeremiah 25:25 has Zimri as a geographical region, associated with both Elam and Media, which are two of the ancient names for Persia. This is surprising, given that the Keturah tribes are normally associated with what is now Saudi Arabia; Jeremiah 25:24 speaks of those tribes, and he is clearly making a distinction between them and the Persian. On the other hand, he (Yirme-Yahu/Jeremiah) was among the captives in Babylon, so he is likely to be reliable on the geography of that region, especially as it was the Medes who conquered the Babylonians and liberated his own people.

Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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