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Title: Lexical Studies in the Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Inscriptions: The Collected Essays of Hayim Tawil
Editors: Abraham Jacob Berkovitz, Stuart W. Halpern, and Alec Goldstein
Publisher: Ktav

This excellent, delightful and lucid collection represents some of the best in academic research. Philological, lexicographical, linguistic, epigraphical, cultural, mythological, ritualistic, and historical knowledge are informed by virtuosity in comparative ancient Semitic languages. These erudite studies by the high-powered academic scholarship of Hayim Tawil – a professor of Hebrew languages and literature at Yeshiva University – shed light on Biblical Hebrew, the whole field of Ancient Near Eastern studies, medieval exegetical traditions, and the reception history of the Biblical text from antiquity to the present day.


One rarely encounters such a great breadth, depth, multi-variegated, and diverse interdisciplinary knowledge applied to analysis of the Biblical text – especially from an Orthodox source. The collected essays exhibit precise close readings of the texts’ details, and is fully visionary to reveal the forest for the trees.

The book’s first section contains Tawil’s lexicographical notes, in which he uncovers linguistic nuances by employing comparative Semitic linguistics. The essays on the Hebrew Bible in the second section testify to Tawil’s broad interest in and expert mastery of topics such as the historicity of II Kings, chapter 19 and Isaiah chapter 37, Amos’ Oracles against the nations, citation of bathing in milk in Song of Songs, the many wives of Solomon and his daughter Taphat, the word appiryon in Song of Songs (3:10), metaphors of lions and birds in Isaiah 31:4-5 in light of Neo-Assyrian Royal inscriptions, and legal terminology of the case in Exodus 22:2 (“if the sun has risen upon him”) in light of Akkadian texts from Ugarit. The third section contains Tawil’s work on Northwest Semitic inscriptions that makes a unique contribution to the study of Aramaic idioms. The fourth section contains the Hebrew versions of two articles appearing in this volume.

An example of Tawil’s approach is illustrated in his examination in the context of Song of Songs 8:8-10: “ If she is a wall we will build on her a silver buttress/if she be a door we will close her with a cedar.” Tawil writes, “in order to better understand the author’s choice of metaphors (wall battlement; I am a wall – my breast are like migdalot) as well as their symbolic significance, one should study these architectural terms in the light of their ancient Near Eastern epigraphical and iconographical parallels” (128). While the wall metaphor as suggested by many commentators including Tawil is a metaphor for chastity, Rashi writes that the walls refer to the walls of the Beit HaMikdash and the doors refer to the doors of the synagogues in Yerushalayim. Rashi renders chalil as “a crown” in Shemot 9:6 referring to the French “couronne” (nezer) which is translated chalil by the Targum. Tawil demonstrates that “the author(s) of Song of Songs were indeed cognizant of the architectural symbolism that depicts the battlement which decorates the city wall as ‘a crown worn by queens (131).’ ” Tawil marshals drawings (p.137-142) of reliefs from the ancient Near East of denated crowns, crenellated crowns, and turreted crowns adorning the ramparts of walled cities. The architectural metaphor from Song of Songs is one of fortification in the sense of cloistered protection. Thus the chaste women is likened in architectural terms to an impregnable city.

There are very many other examples of Tawil’s broad scope and knowledge. I highly recommend that academic-minded readers pick up a copy and study them all.


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