Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0014376, Wed, 13 Dec 2006 17:34:17 -0500

Philistine (lost in translation)
Sandy et alios

Alas, Philistine and Palestinian ARE cognates (with various related nouns
and adjectives) in biblical Hebrew. In 1 Sam 17:8 (the earliest surviving
occurrence in all literature), we find "pel-ish-tee" which Ruler James
(formerly the sexist King James!) translates as PHILISTINE (an inhabitant of
Pelesheth). In Joel 3:4 "ghel-ee-law Pel-eh'-sheth" is translated as "the
coasts of PALESTINE." Whether one is Hamas, Fatah, secular Zionist (like VN
and me?), Ultra-Orthodox, or neutral (like me and VN??), these are the
earliest known written clues to what has become a major geo-political

The real SEMANTIC shame is that the biblical inhabitants of Pelehsheth
(regardless of their origins [sea-people?] and shifting, fuzzy tribal
borders) should have attracted such a demeaning modern epithet as
"philistine" since BAR (Biblical Archaeological Review) regularly reports
advanced cultural Philistine finds matching those of their neighbours (no
area has been so dug up since digging-the-past started). We are finding,
too, that calling someone Neanderthal may not be the insult intended.

Of course, "the victors write the history" -- had any
Philistine writings survived, with the Pelishtee Golyath (Goliath) smiting
David, the word for uncouth might have emerged as Yis-reh-ay-lee

There's a long, fascinating trail of 'ethnic slur-words' based on false
stereotypes. It would be interesting to know if the Turks have a popular
equivalent for our derogatory 'philistine' -- who knows, ³Filistinli" might
well be a current Turkish IDIOM in some contexts! Or, for all I know, some
Turks might use the slur "kurdish?" Heaven help the poor subtitle translator
trying to capture ALL the nice & nasty nuances. Last night, we SAW Belmondo
say "Go away!" while HEARING "Fou'l'camp!"

Stan Kelly-Bootle

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