Sunday, May 28, 2006


Previously, we discussed the etymology of Europe, and how it gets its name from erev ערב - which means "to enter", based on the idea that the sun enters its "tent" in the evening. Well, the same concept may lead to the name of Asia as well.

According to Klein (and others) the name Asia derives from the Akkadian asu, which is cognate to the Hebrew yatza יצא, and means "to go out". So just as the sun enters its tent at sunset, it goes out of it at sunrise. And so Asia can mean "the Region of the Rising Sun".

Yatza is a very simple Hebrew root, and is one of the first verbs learned by children. Some of its derivatives include tzetza צאצא - descendant, and totza'ah תוצאה - result.

Unlike the connection between erev and maarav מערב - west, which is used until today, yatza is not associated with a word for east in either biblical or later Hebrew. The two terms used in the Bible are קדם kedem and מזרח mizrach.

Kedem, which is not used in Modern Hebrew, means forward or front. For those of us accustomed to seeing maps with north on top, it sounds strange to have east be in front. But as the English word "orient" attests, finding one's bearings was done when facing east.

Mizrach comes from זרח - "to shine, to rise", and of course is connected to the sun rising in the east. The Religious Zionist movement Mizrachi is actually an acronym for merkaz ruchani מרכז רוחני - Spiritual Center. However, certainly the name was also chosen for its association with the direction mizrach, which for centuries had been identified with the Land of Israel (even when most Eastern European Jews lived more north than west of it...)

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