Reviews of

Vom Bernstein zum Luchsstein

In Bryan Beeckman, Felix Albrecht, HB/OT, Septuagint, Universitätsverlag Winter on May 30, 2022 at 12:33 pm

2022.05.06 | Felix Albrecht. Vom Bernstein zum Luchsstein. Der im Hebraïschen mit lšm bezeichnete Stein und seine Äquivalente in Septuaginta und Vetus Latina. Indogermanische Bibliothek. 3. Reihe, Untersuchungen; Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2021. ISBN 978-3-8253-4799-4.

Review by Bryan Beeckman, KU Leuven/UCLouvain.

In Vom Bernstein zum Luchsstein, Felix Albrecht examines the meaning of לֶשֶׁם (lšm; Ex 28:19 // 39:12), one of the twelve stones which were placed on the breastplate made for Aaron, the high priest. In order to reconstruct the origin and transmission history of lšm, Albrecht examines this specific lexeme in the different textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible, i.e. the Masoretic Text (MT), the Septuagint (LXX) and the Vetus Latina (VL).

Albrecht begins by stating that there are no observable textual variants for lšm in MT and the Samaritan Pentateuch (SamP). Also the Targumim do not present a solution since the list of stones presented in these witnesses are influenced by Greek. Moreover, since the root of lšm cannot be related to an existing Hebrew root, its meaning is hard to discern. Nonetheless, some scholars have proposed several meanings for lšm, e.g., hyacinth, flint, tourmaline and amber. However, Albrecht argues that the different proposals made by scholars and lexica are not well-argued. Therefore, he provides a more profound explanation by arguing that lšm can be etymologically derived from the German-Baltic loanword gl(a)esum. This loanword denotes amber (stone) and occurs in the works of the Roman authors Plinius (Naturalis historiae) and Tactitus (Germania). Plinius uses the Germanic word glaesum, whereas Tacitus applies the Baltic word glesum. According to Albrecht, these two lexemes are derived from a (hypothetical) Proto-Germanic word, i.e. *ghlēsom. This hypothetical word has resemblances with the Hebrew lšm, and even more with its (also hypothetical postulate) variant form without the initial guttural, i.e. *lēsom. Since there were trade routes between the Balkan and Greece and between Greece and the Levant, Albrecht states that not only the amber stone itself was imported by Phoenicians into Israel but also its Proto-Germanic name, i.e. *ghlēsom. Consequently, this name, used by Phoenicians, might have been adopted in Hebrew to form lšm.

After a short excursus on amber in Akkadian (elmešu), which has been found on an Obelisk and in the Gilgameš- and Era-Epos, Albrecht continues with an examination of the relationship between the Hebrew lšm and the Egyptian nšm. He notes that several scholars have proposed that the Hebrew lšm is derived from the Egyptian nšm. However, based upon archaeological textual evidence, it is clear that the attestation of the Egyptian nšm has the same characteristics, i.e. resinous, wood-coloured and imported material, as the imported amber stone. Thus, the amber stone was known to Egyptians. Therefore, Albrecht argues the Egyptian nšm might also be derived from the Proto-Germanic lexeme *ghlēsom, as is the case for the Hebrew lšm.

Albrecht continues his search by looking at the LXX. In the LXX, the Hebrew word lšm is rendered by the neologism λιγύριον (cfr. Ex 28:19 // 36:19 [39:12 MT]). λιγύριον is also used in Ez 28:13 where it is a plus vis-à-vis MT. In Ez 28:13 LXX, the same list of stones as in Exodus is presented, thus the LXX translator of Ezekiel must have drawn this list of twelve stones from LXX Exodus and inserted it into his translation. As Albrecht notes, throughout the years, several scholars and lexicons have proposed the meaning of ‘(amber) stone of Liguria’ for λιγύριον. Indeed, as pointed out by Albrecht, authors such as Strabo and Theophrastus of Eresos as well as archaeological sources confirm that amber stone could be found in Liguria (Italy).

However, Albrecht observes that in Περὶ τῶν δώδεκα λίθων (De duodecim gemmis rationalis), Epiphanius of Salamis states that he does not find anything concerning the origin or finding place of a stone called λιγύριον. Nonetheless, Epiphanius did note two other variant names, i.e. λάγγουρος and λύγγουρος. The first one, λάγγουρος, occurs in Socrates and Dionysius’ Πϵρὶ λίθων and Damigeron-Evax’s De lapidibus where it is described with the same characteristics of the amber stone, i.a. containing animals and insects. Both books were probably influenced by the Lapidarium of Damigeron, a work of which we have no extant manuscript. The attestation of λάγγουρος in Epiphanius is probably influenced by these two works and more probably by their common, non-extant, source. The second one, λύγγουρος, is explained by Epiphanius as coming from an animal called λύγγιον and οὐρά (tail), thus meaning ‘tail of a λύγγιον’. This interpretation is also found in the works of, i.a., Plinius, Demostratus, Zenothemis and Sudines. Next to Epiphanius’ interpretation of λάγγουρος, Albrecht notes that the Cyranides present a diverging interpretation. According to Cyranides, λάγγουρος denotes a stone that is formed by lynx urine or poplar resin (Germ.: Pappelharz). At the end of his treatise on λιγύριον in the LXX, Epiphanes concludes that λιγύριον must have denoted the stone ὑάκινθος, a precious blue-coloured stone. However, reasons for this denotation are not given by Albrecht since ὑάκινθος falls beyond the scope of his study.

After his examination of λιγύριον, Albrecht examines the rendering of lšm by lyncurius in VL. This lexeme is an equivalent of the Greek λύγγουριον, which occurs in two major variant forms: λύγγουριον (lat. lyncurius) and λύγκουριον (lat. lyncurium). The former is older than the latter. The lexeme λύγγουριον, although probably originally denoting some sort of amber stone, has been etymologised in the writings of Theophrastus and the pharmacologist and physician Pedanius Dioscorides as lynx urine which transforms into a stone. The later form, λύγκουριον, confirms the etymological reading of lynx urine. Nonetheless, the characteristics of this ‘lynx stone’ (Germ.: Luchsstein), agree with the characteristics of the amber stone. Albrecht correctly states that in using the Latin lyncurius in the passages where MT reads lšm, the VL is imagining the Greek word for lynx stone. Moreover, he also observes that lyncurium found its way into the Physiologus and other bestiaries as well as several mystical authors (e.g. Jan van Ruusbroec and Hildegard von Bingen) which have allegorised the stone. Noteworthy, Albrecht provides the reader with two magnificent images from bestiaries where the lynx and the lynx stone are depicted together.

The author must be praised for his meticulous textual work and knowledge of a great variety of ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin sources. Albrecht provides the reader with a thorough examination and re-assessment of the origins of the variant readings lšm / λιγύριον / lyncurius between the different textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible. In doing so, the book might be helpful for those who are puzzled when reading the strange lšm in the book of Exodus. Furthermore, Albrecht’s book provides an exemplary study which might inspire others to trace back the different variant readings of certain Hebrew lexemes whose meaning is often obscure, e.g. hapax legomena, animal, plant, floral and herb names, through the textual transmission of the Hebrew Bible.

Bryan Beeckman
KU Leuven/UCLouvain

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