Saturday, August 25, 2007


Well, as you can see, my vacation - at least from blogging - took a little longer than I originally expected. But I did have a nice time, got to travel a bit, picked up some new books, and even made my computer a little easier to work with.

One new site that I have started to follow and highly recommend is Ethan Dor-Shav's The Hebrew-Wisdom Dictionary. Some deep thoughts and original insights - I hope to have some posts relating to his work in the future.

I did hope that my latest quiz would tide you over during my break. But I haven't even got one guess! So now that I'm back, you can give it a shot.

One book that I did finish reading during my vacation was the last installment of the Harry Potter series. Not much Hebrew in there, but we do find the killing spell "Avada Kedavra". J.K. Rowling herself believes that it comes from Aramaic:

Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means "let the thing be destroyed". Originally, it was used to cure illness and the "thing" was the illness, but I decided to make it the "thing" as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine.
While it is difficult to disagree with a talented and successful writer like Rowling, I don't quite buy it. First of all, she doesn't provide a source here. Secondly, it falls into a long list of theories that connect the word abracadabra with Hebrew or Aramaic:

  • אברא כדברא - avra k'davra - "I will create as I speak" (which is actually the opposite of Rowling's intent)
  • עברה כדברא - avra k'davra - "It will pass as I speak"
  • אברכה אדברה avarcha adabra - "I will bless, I will speak"
  • הברכה ודברה - habracha v'davra - "the blessing (perhaps a euphemism for a curse) and dever -disease"
  • אב, בן, רוח הקודש - av, ben, ruach hakodesh - "father, son, holy spirit"
Despite the temptation to connect the term to Hebrew or Aramaic, I'm inclined to follow Klein, who writes:

Late Latin, from Greek abracadabra, in which word the letter c (= s) was misread for k. It was originally written as a magical formula on abraxas stones, whence its name.
But don't give up Harry Potter fans! I've found two interesting coincidences to keep you going.

First of all, the Encyclopedia Judaica writes about "abracadabra" that:

It first appears in the writings of Severus Sammonicus, a gnostic physician of the 2nd century C.E.

(highlighting mine*)
And in Klein's Hebrew dictionary, the entry immediately before אברקדברא abracadabra is אברק avrek, which means nothing less than Sirius (the star)!

*Yes, I know that the name was probably Serenus, but we are dealing with fiction here, so I'm sticking with the more interesting option...

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