The Word “Palestine” in Hebrew and its Usage in Judaic Texts

وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه وسلم, ما بعد

What is the word for Palestine in Hebrew? Does it show it up in Hebrew texts? Let’s take a brief look.

Let’s use the Klein dictionary. It is described as: “A clear and concise work on the origins of the Hebrew words and their sense development. Each of the c. 32,000 entries is first given in its Hebrew form, then translated into English and analysed etymologically, using Latin transcription for all non-Latin scripts. An indispensable source of biblical, Jewish, modern Hebrew and Near Eastern studies.”

The entry:

Source: Sefaria

פַּלֶשְׂתִּינָה f.n. NH Palestine. [From Gk. palaistine, from Heb. פּֽלֶשֶׁת (q.v.). Already Herodotus (d. c. 425 BC) (and after him Ptolemy and Pliny) used the phrase Syrie e palaistine (= Palestinian Syria) to denote Judea and Palestine as well as the interior of the land down to the Arabian desert. Later the phrase ‘Palestinian Syria’ was shortened into ‘Palestine’, which was used already by Josephus and Philo. Since Vespasian the country was called officially ‘Palestine’. In 1948 the name was changed into ‘Israel’. Syr. פלסטינא and Arab. Falastīn go back to Gk. palaistine.]

פְּלֶשֶׁת f.n. Philistia, land of the Philistines.

So the “land of the Philistines” is where this word comes from. When we search this word through the Sefaria search, over 4,700 entries show up. The word “Palestine” in English shows up 882 times, though this may be the choice of a translator for a generic word in Hebrew. It seems like may translators in the 1900s before the Nakba were using the term Palestine in their translations, including the Sanhedrin and Mishneh Torah translations. It would be worth exploring all of the translations, what words in Hebrew they were translation as “Palestine,” and what words in Hebrew are used to describe that land in various Judaic texts. It is also worth exploring how Jews of the past talked about that land compared to today, especially right-wing Zionists.

This is a worthy topic to explore further and perhaps write a research paper on, especially considering the recent events around right-wing Zionism in the modern state of Israel. It may help usher in a greater semblance of tolerance and respect towards Palestinians.

والله أعلم


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