Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

So as the age old question goes, what does "sabachthani" mean? There is some perseption out there that the word is related to the line from Tehilim (Psalms) "lama azavtani?" (why have you left me?). The note in my NRSV Bible on this verse claims that the word, "is a citation from Ps 22:1, which the writers quote in Aramaic," but there doesn't seem to be a clear relationship between azavtani and sabachtani at all. Sokoloff does not list an entry for the word in his in Palestinian Aramaic dictionary, aside from an entry meaning "hair net" which advances the imagery of a network or lattice.

So Adam and I were bothered by this today during kiddush and took it up with one of the professors in shul. Benji's answer, which I like, is that the word is related to סבך (s.b.h) or entangled, complicated, interwoven (all alternate forms of the word with the same root). Benji thought that the word is related to the modern Hebrew מסובך (complicated) which can also indicate a sense of, "why did you get me caught up in this mess?" (or "on account of what," depending on the lema/lama transliteration) which is where the translation in Matthew "forsaken" may have come from. The coolest part of this is that in the episode of the Binding of Isaac the thicket in which the ram is caught is called a סבך (Gn 22:13). I am not going to say that Matthew was a bad translator (even though Benji's interpretation is way better), maybe it just didn't come over so well from the original Greek. Who knows?

And with that, I am off to slichot.

1 comment:

Josh M. said...

If Jesus slipped into his native Aramaic at the end of his life, sabachthani would not be an awful transliteration of shevaktani, especially given Greek's lack of a voiceless postalveolar fricative sound.