Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Geshem and Geshem - Body or Rain ?

In my previous post I made the mistake of not paying attention to biblical Hebrew versus medieval Hebrew. I mistook the word Geshem used by R.Kafieh to translate the Arabic for rain as a metaphor for physicality. R.Shmuel Ibn Tibon, the medieval translator of the Moreh Nevuchim from the Arabic was confronted with a dearth of Hebrew words for a whole new philosophical vocabulary developed since the last time when Hebrew was a spoken living language - the time of the Mishna. He therefore coined a series of new words and composed a dictionary for them which is found in the editions of the Moreh with the Tibon translation. It is in itself a quite interesting work, especially the introductions, from a historical perspective, where he attacks R.Yehudah Al Harizi, the contemporary of his who published a competing translation. (That translation is used by Ramban and the Ritva ( Rabbi Yom Tov Al Ashbili) in his Sefer Hazikaron dismisses one of Ramban's arguments against Rambam because of his use of the AlHarizi translation which he considered erroneous).

Anyway Ibn Tibon coined the word Gashmut as a derivative of Geshem and used it to denote a physical body. I was wondering how he arrived at that until I looked up the concordancia which referred me to 4 verses in Daniel (the Aramaic section of the book) where the word is used to denote a body. One of those is in Daniel 3:27 :

כז וּמִתְכַּנְּשִׁין אֲחַשְׁדַּרְפְּנַיָּא סִגְנַיָּא וּפַחֲוָתָא, וְהַדָּבְרֵי מַלְכָּא--חָזַיִן לְגֻבְרַיָּא אִלֵּךְ דִּי לָא-שְׁלֵט נוּרָא בְּגֶשְׁמְהוֹן וּשְׂעַר רֵאשְׁהוֹן לָא הִתְחָרַךְ, וְסַרְבָּלֵיהוֹן לָא שְׁנוֹ; וְרֵיחַ נוּר, לָא עֲדָת בְּהוֹן.

27 And the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, and the king's ministers, being gathered together, saw these men, that the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed, neither were their cloaks changed, nor had the smell of fire passed on them.

I decided to see if this word was used anywhere in the Gemara so I turned to the Aruch who lists the word and refers to a targum on Mishlei 5:11 -

יא וְנָהַמְתָּ בְאַחֲרִיתֶךָ; בִּכְלוֹת בְּשָׂרְךָ, וּשְׁאֵרֶךָ.
11 And thou moan, when thine end cometh, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed

The targum translates "Ushe'erecha" as "Vegushmech". Apparently that is the way R. Shmuel Ibn Tibon came to using the word that denotes rain in classical Hebrew for body in his translations. Of course it has found its way into modern Hebrew and into Yiddish. Those Medieval Jewish philosophers certainly made their mark for the long term on the Hebrew language.


  1. That's quite an interesting philologic history: from Ibn Tibbon to the modern mussar shmuez about 'gashmius.'

  2. Joe, Do you think the mashgiach will continue using the term now that he knows it is from the "accursed philosophers"?

  3. jewishskeptic5/24/2006 10:43 AM

    Thanks for the research on the word "geshem"
    I have to find out whether there is a similar word in Arabic& whether this gave him the idea to use the word from Daniel,or it could be for both reasons.
    Most philosophical terms that Ibn Tibbon coined are based or adapted from the Arabic.
    Thanks anyway for the info.

  4. yes, جسم(jism) = body, جسميّ(jismii) = bodily, material