Wednesday, October 20, 2021

  • Wednesday, October 20, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon
I saw this theory in Twitter and I traced it back to an article in Biblical Archaeology Review from 2001 by David Jacobson. He makes a convincing case that the Greek word "Palestine" does not come from the Philistines, as has been largely assumed, but from Palaistís, the Greek translation of "wrestler," a translation of Israel - which means "wrestles with God."

Most people assume that the name Palestine derives from “Land of the Philistines” (Peleshetin the Hebrew Bible; see Psalms 60-10; Isaiah 14-29, 31), via the Greek Palaistinê and the Latin Palaestina. But there is evidence, both philological and geographical, that questions this traditional attribution. The name Palestine, surprisingly, may have originated as a Greek pun on the translations of “Israel” and the “Land of the Philistines.”

Let us first consider the geographical problem. The Greek Palaistinê and the Latin Palaestina appear frequently in ancient literature, but for the most part, they appear to refer not to the Land of the Philistines, but to the Land of Israel!

As early as the Histories of Herodotus, written in the second half of the fifth century B.C.E., the term Palaistinê is used to describe not just the geographical area where the Philistines lived, but the entire area between Phoenicia and Egypt—in other words, the Land of Israel. Herodotus, who had traveled through the area, would have had firsthand knowledge of the land and its people. Yet he used Palaistinê to refer not to the Land of the Philistines, but to the Land of Israel. His understanding of the geographical extent of Palestine is reflected in his reference to the population of Palaistinê as being circumcised.2 However, the Philistines, as we know from the Bible, were uncircumcised. The Israelites, of course, were circumcised. 

...Now let us turn to the philological problem. The earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible, into Greek, is known as the Septuagint. The work was done in Alexandria beginning in the third century B.C.E. If the Greek Palaistinoi were derived from the Hebrew Peleshet (Land of the Philistines), we would have expected that Peleshet would appear in the Septuagint as Palaistinoi. The Septuagint translators clearly had this Greek word available- As we have seen, it was used as early as Herodotus. But the Septuagint translators did not make use of this word. Instead, they referred to the Pelishtim, the people we call Philistines, as the Philistieim, while the Hebrew Peleshet is rendered as Gê ton Philistieim (literally, the “Land of the Philistines”), rather than a word like Palaistinê.11

Another interesting point- The Septuagint translators tended to translate place-names rather than transliterate them, especially where familiar Greek names existed. (In the transliteration, Grecisms would be substituted where appropriate, as Paris becomes Parigi in Italian or Beijing once became Peking in English). Thus, for example, the Septuagint translates Yam Suf (the Red Sea) as Erythra Thalassa, Greek words meaning “Red Sea.” Likewise, Mitzraim (Egypt) is rendered not with a transliteration of the Hebrew but with the Greek Aigyptos. That the Septuagint school of translators did not do the same in the case of the Hebrew Peleshet (the land) and Pelishtim (the people) is indicated by the fact that the term they used, Philistieim, has a Semitic, rather than a Greek, ending. In other words, Philistieim is a transliterated term from the Hebrew for the Philistine people. Palaistinê and Palaistinoi must therefore signify something else.

Startling as it may sound, I would argue that “Palestine” is the Greek equivalent of “Israel.”
The word Palaistinê is remarkably similar to the Greek palaistês, meaning “wrestler,” “rival” or “adversary.”12 This similarity in spelling was noticed over 60 years ago by the German Bible scholar Martin Noth.13 He saw this as a reflection of a practice of transliterating oriental words into Greek words that were easy to pronounce, like referring to Beijing as Peking in English. Noth failed to develop his argument any further. But the similarity between Palaistinê and palaistês would seem to have a significance deeper than a mere transliteration.

The name Israel arose from the incident in which Jacob wrestled with an angel (Genesis 32-25–27). Jacob received the name Israel (Yisra’el in Hebrew) because he “wrestled (sarita’) with the Lord (El).” In the Septuagint, the Greek verb epalaien (he wrestled) is used to describe Jacob’s struggle with the stranger.14 The etymological similarity between epalaien and Palaistinê raises the possibility that Palaistinê may somehow be linked to the name Israel through this Biblical episode.

Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, which explained the origin of the name of the people and of the Land of Israel, would have struck a chord among Greeks who came into direct contact with Jews in the Near East at least as early as the sixth century B.C.E.15 Greeks, well versed in the epics of their heroes, would have been intrigued by the Biblical explanation of the name Israel, as transmitted to them by Jews, probably in anecdotal form and almost certainly in Aramaic, the most widely spoken tongue in the Near East during the early classical period.16 The central event of a wrestling contest by the ancestor of this Semitic people against a divine adversary is likely to have made a deep impression on them.

...The striking similarity between the Greek word for “wrestler” (palaistês) and the name Palaistinê—which share seven letters in a row, including a diphthong—is strong evidence of a connection between them. Adding to this the resemblance of Palaistinê to Peleshet, it would appear that the name Palestine was coined as a pun on Israel and the Land of the Philistines. In Greek eyes, the people of Israel were descendants of an eponymous hero who was a god wrestler (a palaistês); the name wrestler also puns on the name of a similar-sounding people of the area known locally as Peleshet.
Apparently, the Greeks made a habit of translating place names rather than transliterating them. So this is a very compelling theory.

And if true, it proves again that the only indigenous Palestinians are Jews.


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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