Monday, December 15, 2008

Introduction (4)

Part 4: Paradeisos: Why?

 It’s said that “The Septuagint Translation” was begun by seventy Jewish scholars in the 3rd century B.C.E., to the order of the Greek King of Egypt. If so, using a Greek word of Persian origin as the synonym for Eden could suggest an intention beyond mere linguistic considerations or exotic evocations. Elsewhere, the Jewish Bible, often cautious of other cultures, had openly paid gratitude to the era of Cyrus the Great, the man who had liberated the Jewish people from the tyranny of Babylon. In their view, the recent collapse of the Persian Empire in the hands of Alexander the Great was in effect perceived as the end of the freedom afforded them by the Achaemenid Dynasty. Introducing paradeisos into the beginning chapters of the Greek Genesis could have well been a tacit means to further commemorate an endeared, but by then, defeated empire.

Even the earlier appearance of pardess in the Hebrew Bible implies more than a natural lexicographic absorption by the contemporary writer(s); rather, it could well indicate another example of the Jewish admiration for the culture that had once given them back a rare taste of freedom.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Introduction (3)

Part 3: Pardess vs. Paradise

 As centuries passed, pairi-daēza evolved not only in form, but also in content. Over time, it grew farther away from the concrete reality of the Persian imperial gardens, and instead, it turned into the abstract fantasy of an intangible ideal, an eternal existence, an afterlife, The Heaven—The Paradise. This process began plausibly when “The Septuagint Translation” used the Greek version paradeisos as the synonym for the Biblical Garden of Eden, itself described to have been physically located somewhere in the Mesopotamia (Genesis, 2:8-14). On the other hand, the Hebrew pardess (“orchard” or “garden”) went on to preserve something close to the original sense of pairi-daēza and its material beauty for posterity, as this word had already entered directly into the lexicon of the Jewish Bible.

The emerging idea of a coming Paradise would allow the common man to find a place for his frustrated desires, so desperately out of his reach. Fantasies of exotic gardens, distant in time and space, could have naturally acted as the nucleus of such sweet dreams. Along with the spread of the Greco-Latin Bible, The Garden of Eden, i.e. paradeisos, gradually lost its earthly roots, and instead, it became relocated to a far-away place, equally unattainable to man. As such, the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible became the portal through which pairi-daēza began its long journey toward today’s pervasive, abstract notion of a Paradise. And yet, within the Hebrew text itself, pardess has continued to remind us of the origins of this Paradise, untouched by metaphysical transformations, somewhere on the earth, in our past, and in our dreams.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Introduction (2)

Part 2: Pardess, Origins and Import

Pardess is an ancient Hebrew word. It’s a pregnant word. Its sound is pleasant to the ear, even as its meaning recalls beautiful sights. Moreover, it carries within her the continuous trace of more than 2500 years of Jewish Diaspora and its widespread influence on world culture. Specifically, it stands glaringly at the intersection of multiple identities of the Iranian American Jewish people, secular and religious alike.

The Hebrew word pardess began life about 500 BC in the Old Persia as pairi-daēza, the “enclosed gardens” of the nobility of the Achaemenid (Hakhamaneshian) Empire. These were ancient predecessors of modern European gardens and parks, in which the shade of trees and the aroma of colorful flowers came together in harmonious arrangements around appeasing patterns of irrigation systems. The Persian word pairi-daēza was later transplanted into Greek by Xenophon as paradeisos, in which form it entered into the lexicon of the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the "Septuagint Translation". Eventually, it branched out through the Late Latin paradīsus into the Old French and English paradis, the Italian paradiso, and the Modern English Paradise.

Concurrently, pairi-daēza survived in later stages of Persian language itself, partly in a diminished form as pardiss, and centuries later, in its Arabic transformations as fardiss and ferdows. Thus, it seems that the Biblical pardess was an early Hebrew variation on the original form of the word, which was then absorbed by the contemporary writer(s) of Shir ha-Shirim, “The Song of Songs.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Introduction (1)

Part 1: Pardess Rimonim (פרדס רימונים)

Literally translated as “A Pomegranate Grove” or “An Orchard of Pomegranates” (Persian: "باغ انار"), this mellifluous expression appears as such in “The Song of Songs”, also known as “The Song of Solomon”, one of the thirteen books that form the third section of the Hebrew Bible, i.e. Ketuvim or “The Writings”. There [4:12-13], the male voice praises his beloved in the sweetest of words, in part describing her as “a locked garden” whose “shoots (or fields, depending on the translation) are like an orchard of pomegranates.”

[A list of referenced sources will be included with the last post of the Introduction.]