Persian > Pharisee

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by mojobadshah, Apr 19, 2013.

  1. mojobadshah Senior Member

    I've seen two theories about how the word Persian developed into the word Pharisee. The Pharisees were Zoroastrianized Jews. According to Mary Boyce the the epyonym Pharisee is derived from the Aramaic Pārsāh/*Parsāh “Persian” or “Persianiser.” According to another source the Hebrew Farooshiym "Persian" developed into Gk. Pharisee. Do these theories compliment eachother? "p" does change to "f" in Arabic, but does "p" also change to "f" in Aramaic or Hebrew?
  2. Treaty Senior Member

    Although their belief is closer to Zoroastrianism (particularly in the case of afterlife) it is unlikely that Pharisees had called their sect by a foreign name.
    In addition, it seems that the original Hebrew word had "sh" letter as perushim. However, the "s" in "Persia" is written as "s", not "sh", in Hebrew (paras). They are quite distinct letters in Hebrew alphabet.

    I'd like to stick with the mainstream etymology: from the root PRŠ = to separate. However, it's not a promising label for a sect (in my opinion). Unless it is a cognate of Arabic FRS (to think deeply) or Aramaic PRS (to contrive). Then they might have considered themselves as wise and thoughtful preachers.
  3. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    As you said, English got the word via Greek and Latin. It didn't contain an [f] sound; neither in Hebrew nor in Greek nor in Latin. The pronunciation of <φ> and its Latin transcription <ph> as [f] developed much later in Byzantine Greek. In Hebrew and Aramaic, [f] is not a separate phoneme but a final and intervocalic allophone of /p/.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2013
  4. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    פָּרוּשׁ pārūš, plural פְּרוּשִׁים prūšīm, is indeed from the root p-r-š, “to set apart”, and has nothing to do with Persia or the Persians. The representation of Hebrew or Aramaic /p/ by Greek φ /ph/ is the norm in the Septuagint and New Testament.
  5. Treaty Senior Member

    I wonder why someone should name themselves as "separatists", especially in religion. Normally, a new sect will call itself something like "the true" and will consider other sects as hypocrites, renegades, ... .

    Is "to set apart" the only meaning of p-r-š? Isn't it a cognate of Aramaic p-r-s and Arabic f-r-s فرس?
  6. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    I don't think she made this claim; rather, it appears she mentioned it as a compelling possibility along with the more widely accepted theory.
  7. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    I think the idea is that they rigorously upheld the laws of purity and thus "separated themselves" from impure people and things.
  8. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This etymology was suggested by T.W. Manson in 1938, and it is cited by Boyce in her History of Zoroastrianism III p. 410 (“a carefully argued case has also been made….”). This is not quite the same as accepting Manson’s etymology.
  9. mojobadshah Senior Member

    Boyce isn't denying the plausibility of it either. She took the time to mention it. If she didn't think there was a connection she wouldn't have mentioned it. So what's wrong with Manson's etymology?
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
  10. Lugubert Senior Member

    It makes sense if a majority applied the name to a minority as a pejorative.
  11. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    "Separatists" is probably not a very good translation of "prushim". Something like "the elect" or "the pure" is likely closer, as fdb suggested above. The latter has been a common self-designation in the history of religion.
  12. mojobadshah Senior Member

    Apparently Zaehner subscribes to the Pharisee "Persian" etymology. He doesn't even mention the other definition. And when I think about it words like Parsi "Persian" sound a lot closer to Pharisee that prushim. What is the source for the Pharisee "prushim" etymology? When was this connection made? I think Boyce's point by showing Zoroastrian influence in the Pharisee belief system was to support the Pharisee "Persian" etymology. Not only was the core belief system of the Pharisees influenced by Zoroastrianism, but the core belief system of the Essenes and the Saducees, though the Saducees less so.
  13. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    פָּרוּשׁ pārūš, plural פְּרוּשִׁים prūšīm, is the name used in Hebrew, in the Mishna, to designate the people who in the Greek New Testament and Josephus are called “Pharisees”. So there is nothing speculative about connecting the Greek and the Hebrew names. Of course, if you really want to believe that everything in Judaism, Christianity etc. etc. is taken from Zoroastrianism, then there is not very much we can say to convince you of the contrary.
  14. mojobadshah Senior Member

    The arguments against the Zoroastrian influence on the Jews is ridiculously weak: because our earliest manuscripts of the Avesta date to the 13th century Zoroastrianism must post date even Islam. The same could have been said about the Codex of Leningrad the earliest manuscripts of Hebrew Bible which date to the 10th century, but nobody would have bought that argument. Moreover even Jewish authors like Paul Kriwaczek subscribe to the idea that Zarathushtra influenced the Jews. According to this article >> both etymologies may have been used. But you have to understand that the Mishnah was written in Hebrew whereas Manson derives his etymology from Aramaic. Prushim may have actually been the most appealing etymology to Hebrew speakers so the resemblance could be coincidental. There also appears to be a discrepancy as to what the Heb. prushim actually meant. "Separatist" seems to be the more common etymology, but here we are saying "purist." Can anyone cite specifically where in the Mishanah the connection between Pharisee and Prushim is made?
  15. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The name of the sect is Prushim, not Pharesees. Pharesees is just the result of transliterating Prushim into Greek, into Latin and finally into English. The very question if Prushim is the etymology of Pharisees is conceptually confused. Prushim is the word we are seeking the etymology of. And that is what the source you cited discusses: It raises the question if the name Prushim is derived from the verb parash as most etymologists believe or if it may have another source. It nowhere doubts that Prushim is the actual name of the sect.

    PS: I found people who really do question if the Pharisaeoi of Josephus and the Prushim of the Rabbinic literature can be equated (click).
    Last edited: May 22, 2013
  16. mojobadshah Senior Member

    Yeah, and prushim "separatist" is what the Hebrews settled for as their etymology, but manson is saying no that was just an appealing Hebrew folk etymology, and that the Armaeans knew them as Parasah "Persians" which makes perfect sense because they themselves were Persianized Jews.
  17. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    That is quite possible. The Semitic system of triliteral roots practically always produces an apparent etymology. This is like an invitation for folk-etymology. I grant you that.
    Last edited: May 23, 2013
  18. mojobadshah Senior Member

    I kind of figured something like that. What also may be worth noting, though I'm not quite sure how to apply is that the original semantics behind the word Persian is "border people" which is semantically close to "separatist" though I'm not sure how current the original semantics was during the post-acheamenid period.
  19. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    The Greek word for Persia was Persis, not Pharis. If Pharisee was supposed to mean Persian, the name for the group should be derived from Persis. In addition, there is no evidence that the Aramaic Pārsāh was ever used for the name of the sect.
    Last edited: May 23, 2013
  20. mojobadshah Senior Member

    Because it wasn't the name of the Persians derived from Persian, but instead it was derived through Aramaic...

    The reason is very compelling. The Pharisees were no longer subscribing to the Jewish beliefs alone they were now subscribing to Zoroastrian beliefs too and key ones. They were Zoroastrian Jews. It may be worth noting that the epyonym essene was also derived from Aramaic and their belief system was very close to that of the Pharisees.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2013
  21. mojobadshah Senior Member

    What is your source for this? Did you get it from an etymology dictionary because I see that wikipedia's not using an etymology dictionary for their source, rather they are using Strong's Concordance. Is that a sound philological source?
  22. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    You can find it in Levy’s dictionary of Talmudic Hebrew. But you should realise that word formation in Semitic languages follows very clear-cut rules. p-r-š “separate” is pan-Semitic. qātūl is a regular pattern for passive participles in Hebrew. prūšīm is the expected Hebrew plural. You can find all this in any Hebrew grammar.
    Last edited: May 26, 2013
  23. mojobadshah Senior Member

    I found Manson's chapter on the origin of the name Pharisee. Its here if anyone would like to read it. <> Could someone help me understand exactly what his point is. If I'm not mistaken he's saying that the Hebrew p-r-sh "separate" was a folk etymology to explain the Greek pharisee. I think he's saying that Pharisee is derived from Aramaic and that the meaning had been forgotten and so it was explained by using Heb. p-r-sh. Does this mean that the Mishnah etymology was explained after the Greek pharisee was already being used? Could someone especially clarify the part where he's says there was no need to use Heb. פ-ָּר-ו-ּשׁ‬ pārûsh to explain the origin because the Heb. פ-ָּר-ָשׁ‬ p-r-sh was already in existence? Apparently ph was used in Greek instead of p because of Daniels and the writing on the wall "manu tekel farsic" where "farsic" is a pun on Persia and also "to separate." And how do we know that ש is shin and not sin?
  24. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    First of all he says that the Hebrew name is derived from the Greek name, which is, hmm, interesting.
    P-r-sh is an ordinary Hebrew verb. Pārûsh is then a regular verb form (the Qal passive participle). It is a bit like interpreting the town name Reading as a present participle of to read.
    Semitic unvoiced plosives are often aspirated although this is not phonemic. For a Greek the Hebrew/Aramaic Pe must have sounded sometimes like a Pi and sometimes like a Phi. Inversely, A Hebrew or Aramaic speaker probably didn't hear any noticeable difference between Greek Pi and Phi. Greek (from antiquity to this very day) does not distinguish between s and sh. It really doesn't matter with which of the two Hebrew sounds you identify the Greek Sigma.

    To avoid any misunderstandings: I just tried to help you understand what Manson meant. This doesn't mean I buy any of it. I am sitting on the fence on this.
  25. mojobadshah Senior Member

    Yes. Because that changes everything. The Hebrew comes from the Greek which comes from the Aramaic which comes from the Persian. The meaning had been lost so the Hebrew used folk etymology p-r-sh "separatist" because it sounded appealing.

    So if Manson is correct the Hebrew speakers used "sh" to transliterate Greek Sigma "s"?

    Does the Mishnah pre-date or post-date Josephus?
  26. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Let's say it means that p-r-s and p-r-sh would have been transliterated into Greek in the same way. A hypothetical folk-etymological back-formation could not have distinguished between p-r-s and p-r-sh and both roots exist. If Manson's theory is right then people would have chosen the root that made more sense to them semantically and that would have been p-r-sh.
    Yehuda haNasi lived about 100 years after Josephus.
  27. mojobadshah Senior Member

    Then this is one more reason to question the Hebrew etymology.

    p-r-s would have corresponded to the Aramaic form of Persian and p-r-sh would have corresponded to the Hebrew "separatist"?
  28. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I don't see the connection. The sect existed at least since the early Hasmonean times. There were Helenized Jewish communities already before that but I still doesn't sound plausible to assume that a Jewish sect would give itself a Greek name and only centuries later, early rabbinic scholars would derive a Hebrew "version" of the original Greek name. Sorry, I still don't buy this whole scenario.
    Separatist is a noun; roots are verbs. All Semitic languages work like that: the basic meaning of a root is verbal, adjectives and nouns are derived forms. P-r-s means to spread, to reach out in classical Hebrew and p-r-sh means to separate.
  29. Lugubert Senior Member

    A good general rule, but I think it would be quite a stretch to find the source for, for example, Arabic kalb 'dog' in a verb KLB. Because of the three consonant kernel (less commonly two, or more for e.g. adapted loan words), it's not that difficult to verb nouns or noun verbs.
  30. CitizenEmpty Senior Member

    English & Korean
    I always wonder how different Aramaic was from Hebrew very long time ago.
  31. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Not so much, maybe like German and Dutch, if this is a meaningful comparison to you.

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