Philologastry

The doings of American philologasters are, in truth, a curious study.

Archive for the month “December, 2017”

On Parwān, the White Mountain

The 32nd chapter of the Mandaean Book of John, “The Spheres and the Chariot Trembled,” includes an anecdote about the naming and infancy of John the Baptist. Some unnamed Jews approach Zechariah and, without prompting, suggest a series of names for his newborn son. Elizabeth, his mother, rejects them all, claiming that she only wants to call him Yahyā Yuhānā, the name given to him by the Life. This infuriates the Jews, who then plot to kill the infant John.

Hearing this, Excellent Ennosh took him, / and brought him to Parwān, the white mountain,
On Mount Parwān, where infants and children  / are raised (metrabbin) on spring-water.

Where is this Parwān? Lidzbarski (Johannesbuch, 11, fn. 3) identifies this location with the Mount Tarwān of chapter 52, which he derives from Arabic θarwān “wealthy” (Ginzā, VII). This proposal not only introduces a spare and somewhat uncommon Arabic word into a chapter that otherwise lacks any obvious Arabic influence, but also assumes some sort of unconditioned textual corruption, both of which seem highly unlikely to me. Would it not follow that Mandaeans should therefore emend the name of their traditional holiday of Parwānāyā, the five intercalary days at the end of the calendar, to Tharwānāyā?

We may also fruitfully compare this Parwān with Mount Paran (the har Pāʾrān of Deut. 33: 2) or the wilderness of Paran (midbar Pāʾrān), which became Ishmael’s refuge after he and his mother Hagar were cast out of Abraham’s household (Gen. 21: 21). It might be significant here that, according to the traditional pronunciation of the name of the intercalary days, the w is silent. Drower (Mandaeans, 33 and again on 328) claims that in her days it was pronounced “paranoia,” and today the holiday is known in Iraq as عيد الخليقة or البرونايا, ʿīd al-khalīqa or al-brōnāyā. Paran is traditionally associated with the al-Tih desert and mountain in the Sinai peninsula, in a much closer proximity to Jerusalem than Media (where Drower situates it, in Haran Gawaita, 11). Ennosh’s flight into Parwān with the infant John also parallels the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13–23).

Macuch (Handbook, 14) gives some examples of silent ws in Mandaic orthography. Regardless of whether the w is silent or not (and in the received pronunciation of the text, it is pronounced), it still remains to be determined how Pāʾrān might have become Parwān. The shift from the former root, which is otherwise not attested in Mandaic, to the latter root, which means “to grow,” may have been motivated by the root of the following verb metrabbin “they are raised,” which is √r-b-w/y “to grow.” These two roots are frequently used in hendiadys, and in fact they are employed in this manner only a few pages earlier in chapter 30, in the phrase pāryā u-metrawrab “[the offspring] grows up and becomes big” (106, 4).

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