Friday, May 26, 2006


In our discussion about erev, we discussed how one original meaning was "to enter", and the place where the sun enters in the evening is maarav - west. Not surprisingly, compass directions feature prominently in many place names - North Dakota, South Africa, East Timor and West Indies.

The Hebrew word for west מערב becomes magrib in Arabic. (The "g" switch for ayin is common in Semitic languages - e.g. Gaza for Aza, Gomorrah for Amora.) That is the source of the name of the region of Western Africa known as the Maghreb. The most Western of these countries is Morocco. Morocco gets its name from the city Marakesh. The native name "Al Maghreb al Aqsa", means "the Farthest West".

As we saw in the history of the names Gibraltar and Spain, the Phoenicians and other ancient Semitic peoples preceded the Arabs in giving Semitic place names in the Mediterranean area. Klein, along with many others, states that the name of the continent Europe derives from the Akkadian erebu, which is cognate to the Hebrew erev. Klein writes:

Accordingly Europe orig. meant 'the Region of the Setting Sun'. cp. Hesychius who renders Europe with the words chora tes duseos (=the Land of the Setting Sun.) cp. also Erbos (= place of nether darkness), which derives from Heb. ערב.

We'll take a look at the Semitic origins of the names of other continents in the posts to come.

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