Thursday, July 07, 2005

Casting a Lot

The book of Esther (3:7) tells us "הפיל פור הוא הגורל לפני המן," which the KJV translates as "they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman" and the NRSV as "they cast Pur--which means 'the lot'--before Haman."

What is this Pur and why does the Hebrew imply that it was thrown (הפיל)?

R. David Cohen, in his Sefer Esther Ha-Malkah (p. 12), quotes unnamed archaeologists who found numerical cubes in Persia that, apparently, were used for divining the future. They would throw these cubes and, based on the number that landed, would attempt to discern the future. Thus, it is perfectly understandable why a verb meaning "to throw" is used in reference to the Pur.

R. Amos Hakham, in the Da'as Mikra commentary to Esther 3:7, adds that Pur is an Akkadian word that means lottery (גורל), as the text itself indicates. Why does the book use this Akkadian word and then translate it into Hebrew, instead of just using the Hebrew translation? R. Hakham suggests that since the holiday was named Purim using the Akkadian word, the author of the text left in the original Akkadian.

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