Monday, April 16, 2007


During Pesach we read Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs / Canticles), and I thought we'd look at some interesting words in this book.

Verse 3:9 reads as follows:

אַפִּרְיוֹן, עָשָׂה לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה--מֵעֲצֵי, הַלְּבָנוֹן

"King Shlomo made him an apiryon of wood from Levanon"

What is this apiryon? It appears only here, and is generally translated as a palanquin, a closed bed with poles, carried on the shoulders of four bearers.

Many scholars believe that the word apiryon was borrowed from Greek. Klein summarizes this approach:

Usually regarded as a loan word from Greek phoreion ( = litter), from which it was formed with prosthetic א. Greek phoreion is related to phora ( a carrying, bringing) from the stem of pherein ( = to bear, carry), which is cognate with Latin ferre (of same meaning).

From the Greek we get words like pheromone and phosphorus, and from the Latin the English words transfer and fertile.

In addition, the Greek Septuagint translated the word אפריון as phoreion, reinforcing the connection.

However, many disagree with the theory that apiryon comes from Greek. Here are some of their reasons:

a) Greek words did not enter Hebrew at the time of the composition of Shir HaShirim. (Of course there are those who use this word as proof of a late composition or editing of Shir HaShirim.)

b) The prosthetic alef in apiryon is "inorganic and therefore difficult to explain" (Klein)

c) A better translation would be "canopy", and phoreion never has that meaning in Greek.

d) Apiryon was used for a wedding, and phoreion did not have that specific connotation. (Encylcopedia Mikrait)

e) The only reason the Septuagint used that translation is "due to its habit of translating Greek words as resemble the Hebrew in sound, even though they are only remotely related in meaning."

f) There is an Akkadian word apparu (or aparu) meaning "a covering of reeds" (related to the Talmudic word afar אפר - "pasture saturated with water, swamp" and afer אפר - "bandage" - Melachim I 20:38) as well as apar shelipi - "a turtle's shell". From here we can see that the root אפר could mean "covering", which would explain apiryon as a covered canopy. (Tur-Sinai)

g) Perhaps apiryon is related to the Sanskrit word paryanka - the source of the word palanquin. (BDB). A borrowing from Sanksrit (perhaps via Persian?) is more likely than a Greek word.

In any case, the word also appears in Rabbinic Hebrew (Sotah 9:14, Sotah 12a) where it does share the same meaning as the Greek word. In fact, Steinsaltz on Sotah 12a says that apiryon derives from the Greek phoreion (I'm not sure whether he chose to ignore the Biblical debate intentionally or not.)

Amos Chacham in the Daat Mikra on Shir HaShirim feels that the Rabbinic use of the word was influenced by the Septuagint translation.

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