Dr Cohn’s New House

5 10 2006

After a brief hiatus (my thesis is due in four weeks!), I have decided to return with another post.
After having drawn an 18th century Hebrew medical manuscript to my attention, Conrad H. Roth was kind enough to ask me for my assistance in translating it. For a fuller review of the medical curio in question, I would encourage you to look at Varieties of Unreligious Experience where Conrad has dealt with the topic in a manner both engaging and informative. Under the assumption, however misguided, that somebody reading this blog may be interested in a fuller linguistic analysis, I have posted my translation and slim commentary to the text below.

Dr Cohn's New House

This is just a cursory overview, but it seems that everything can be explained (bar one exception) within a Semitic context. I used Jastrow’s dictionary¹ and Yardeni’s handbook of Hebrew orthography². According to the latter, this script is most similar to the script employed in a 15th century Sephardic manuscript: odd, seeing as this should appear chronologically and geographically 17th/18th Polish/Italian.

The following is my transcription into modern Hebrew script. Where a letter is of dubious reading I have employed a macron, or a slash if the reading is such that the word could be juxtaposed for another. My (brief) commentary follows.

a בית חדש קו
b דף קו
1a א גג הבית ועוד/ועיר
1b החכמה את הראש
2a בב קרנות הבית
2b והאזנים
3a גג חלוני דֿבית
3b והעינים
4a דד חלונים חטומ’
4b והחוטם
5a הה פתח העליה
5b והפה ושפתים
6a וו גג הבית
6b והכתפים
7a זז סריגי הבית
7b והריאה
8a חח תנור וכירים
8b והוא הכבד וכיס
8c המרה
9a טט המבשלה
9b והאסתומכא
10a י המרתף והטחול
11a לל מעברי הטינוף
12a ממ מעבֿחֿ השתן
13a ננ אוצר המים
14a סס הבריכה והמקוה
14b או כיס השתן
15a עע בסֿיסֿ צֿרֿה
15b או בית העששית
15c והלב וכל מפתחיו
16a פפ יסודי הבית
16b והרגלים
17a פפ יסודי הבית אדם מעפר יסודו פפ
18a כז ב 2 27 סורם

a A New House 106
b page 106
1a א The roof of the house and (the citadel of / furthermore the)
1b wisdom, is the head.

“Citadel of” seems to me to be a better reading, but “furthermore the” appears more likely orthographically so I have included both. I was also slightly unsure about “roof”, partly because it looks more like ננ than גג, but mainly because “roof” is also employed on line 6a. As for the possibility of it being ננ instead, this is not a valid word. The second נ would have to be a final ן, meaning that such a word could only be an abbreviation. Were that to be the case, the author would (should) have employed an apostrophe such as the one found on the end of line 4a to indicate that this is what it is. Even were that the case, I am at a loss to explain what it might stand for.
Finally, this line and line 10a are the only ones to employ a single letter at the start rather than two. I assumed at first that he was only putting in two letters for paired items, but this turns out not to be the case. On an off chance, I considered that this may be for religious reasons. א is often used in kabbalistic literature to refer to the singularity of the divine, and י is often employed as an abbreviation of God’s name (יהוה). According to Wikipedia³, Tobias Cohn was a fierce antagonist of the kabbalistic tradition. If that is true, that would rule out any possibility of the letters א and י being singular for any spiritual reason.

2a בב The horns [or, protrusions] of the house
2b and the ears.

The word for ‘ears’ appears to be spelled incorrectly: אוזים rather than אזנים. The former is not a word and the latter appears most probable so I am putting its appearance down to my unfamiliarity with the script.

3a גג The windows of the house
3b and the eyes.

This is most curious. The first line should read חלוני הבית but reads חלוני דבית instead. I cannot imagine that the ד is simply a faded ה, for the uppermost bar of it is more angular than the uppermost bars of any of the other הs that he employs, and matches the דs perfectly. Syntactically, this can only be explained as an Indo-Europeanism. In Hebreo-Aramaic, a preformative ד serves as a relative particle, but this is used as a definate article here. It is somewhat homophonous with the Germanic “der”.

4a דד Sealed windows
4b and the nostrils.

The word “sealed” is abbreviated. It is also of the same etymology as the word for “nostrils”.

5a הה The upper opening
5b and the mouth and lips.

6a וו The roof of the house
6b and the shoulders.

7a זז The lattice windows of the house
7b and the lungs.

The etymological root of the word for “lungs” is רוה which means to be moist, reflecting the Talmudic belief that the lungs were designed to absorb liquid.

8a חח An oven and stoves.
8b And that is the liver, and the container of
8c the bile.

The word employed for “stoves” is a Biblical word, used to refer to small, portable cooking instruments. The etymological root of the word for liver is “heaviness”. The word for “bile” literally means “bitterness”.

9a טט The cookery
9b and the stomach.

Jastrow explains the word for “stomach” as referring specifically to the lining around the heart or around the stomach. In our case, I would suggest that the word is probably being used to refer to the stomach itself. As for the word for “cookery”, this is my own estimate as I have not seen this form of the word before. The etymological root is בשל which means ‘cook’ (or ‘boil’, in particular) and, syntactically, is a participle with a nominalising ending.

10 י The storage room and the spleen.

The etymological root for the Hebrew word “spleen” is טוח, which means “to squeeze”.

11 לל Transporters of the waste-product.

12 ממ -?- of the urine.

I have thus far been unable to work out what the verb might be.

13 ננ The storage room of the water.

The word used here for “storage room” is different to the one in line 10, although largely synonymous in English. “Water” is probably a euphemism for urine, although I do not know why one is being employed, seeing as the word for “urine” is stated in lines 12 and 14b.

14a סס The pool and the tank
14b or the container of the urine.

15a עע The root of agony
15b or the stronghouse,
15c and the heart and all of its openings.

I am still rather unsure about line 15a, but cannot perceive an alternative meaning. Line 15b features a construction that is awkward in English – lit. “house of iron-strong”. As for the word for “heart”, this is most certainly what it says despite the fact that, orthographically, the author has employed a surprisingly archaic ל

16a פפ The foundations of the house
16b and the legs.

Under the two images, the following is written:
17 פפ The foundations of the house is – under the image of the house
Man; his foundation is of dust פפ – under the image of the man

The following is written along the bottom of the sheet:
18 Suram 27 2 27 2 (in Hebrew numerals)

I do not know what is meant by סורם (Suram).

A final note: the letters used to represent images on the two charts are Hebrew letters. They progress in order from א (aleph) to פ (pē), but without the letter כ (kaph). I cannot imagine why this one letter was skipped, between י (yodh) and ל (lamed), except for the possibility that, in the author’s script, it could very easily be confused for a ב, a ג, a נ or a פ. Judging by the manner in which the text is written, however, I do not think that such issues of orthographic disambiguation were on his mind.

¹ M. Jastrow, Dictionary of the Talmud (Jerusalem: Horeb, 1903?)
² A. Yardeni, The Book of Hebrew Script: History, Palaeography, Script Styles, Calligraphy & Design (London: The British Library, 2002).
³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobias_Cohn, as of 22/09/06.



3 responses

6 10 2006

A very scholarly piece of work. כל הכבוד.

16 07 2008

Interesting. Wisdom being associated with the head is not entirely consistent with earlier Hebrew thought. There seems to be a strange mix of visual and functional analogies here. Protrusions/ears, cookery/stomach, etc. What’s the text for? (I know I could look it up, but I’m lazy…:P)

5 02 2017

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