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Re: Sefarad

Hi, Lori.

Sorry, but tying these Spanish place names, or "toponyms", to the Hebrew 
has been thoroughly debunked time and again. Meanwhile they provide a lot 
of fun for parlor games and mailing lists! A common Spanish one is "Toledo" 
deriving from "Toledoth", when in fact it comes from the Latin, Toletum.

We had a lengthy discussion on H-Judaic about this earlier this year. I 
thought you might be interested in some of the responses. But the best one 
I ever read asserted that the inhabitants of the British Isles were 
descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. "Brit"-"ish" - man of the 
covenant, get it? I couldn't make this up, BTW.



Here's my digest from various sources of early Jewish settlement in Spain:

Some legends place Spain's first Jewish residents at the time of the 
destruction of the first temple by Nebuchadnezzar, in the sixth century 
B.C.E. or still more improbably from Solomon's time, in the 10th century 
B.C.E. Jews had certainly been living in Spain since Roman times, typically 
in Mediterranean ports. The destruction of the Second Temple in the first 
century B.C.E. accelerated the influx. Since St. Paul desired to preach in 
Hispania in the first century (and since his missions were principally to 
Jews) we can assume a population significant enough to warrant his 
attention. After two hundred years of ferocious resistance, the Romans 
finally subdued the entire peninsula early in the first century. The first 
physical evidence of Jewish settlement was a gravestone from the 2nd 
century. Jewish communities were well established by the 4th century, and 
the oldest remains of a synagogue, dating from the 4th to the 6th century, 
are to be found in Elche in Valencia.

Here is an Editor's note from that H-Judaic mailing list:

Most scholars
today would certainly reject the Hebrew origins of Spanish toponyms.  At
the same time, however, these folk etymologies reflect the deep emotional
connection of Sephardim to Spain and their need to establish ancient
Jewish historical connections to that land.  Ashkenazim have similar
folk-etymologies for their lands of origin.  For example, "Poland" (in
Hebrew, "Polin,") is supposed to derive from "Po-lin," meaning in Hebrew,
"here you shall lodge."  I am familiar with another rendering of
"shevila"-the Hebrew word, "plain." I wonder if anyone has traced the
origins of these Sephardic toponymical myths.  The earliest occurrence of
such a myth I can recall reading is in late 19th century Sephardic
historiography, though I'm sure that medieval and early modern rabbinical
sources in Sefarad originated these myths.

And another reply, with more on the Brit-ish propensity:

Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 09:39:10 +0100
From: Murray Freedman <mpfreed (at) infinnet(dot)co(dot)uk>

This topic of the Hebrew origins of toponyms is most interesting.
One example, that I saw given many years ago (*London Jewish Chronicle*,
Sept 28 1860), concerns the county of Cornwall in England.  Some of its
place names are supposed to have an association with Jews, though this can
be discounted, but the name of the county itself is claimed to be derived
from the Hebrew words KEREN OVEL - the cape (or peninsula?) of grief or
mourning.  This is presumably indicative of its very rocky coast on which
many ships (including some from the Israelite seafaring tribe of Zevulun?)

         On a related subject, a book by John Philip Cohane (*The Key*,
Turnstone, London 1973) propounds the theory that there were global
dispersions of Semites in the past which have left their mark in place
names all over the world.  One of the many examples he gives is local to
where I live and refers to the city and the area of York.  The Roman name
for the latter is 'Eboracum' which Cohane claims is derived from the
tribes living in the district and originally comes from the name of Eber
from which Ivri or Hebrew is derived.  It would have been ironic indeed if
the mob which attacked and massacred the Jewish community of York in the
year 1190 was itself of Semitic origins !

Murray Freedman
Leeds, UK

At 08:48 AM 12/30/99 -0500, you wrote:

>  I'm reading a fascinating book called The Cross and the Pear Tree:  A
>sephardic Journey by Vector Perera.  London:  Andre Deutsch, 1995.  ISBN 0 233
>98887 4
>He says that, according to tradition, the first Jews came to Spain after the
>6th c. B.C.E. when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the 2nd temple and exiled the 
>and that many Spanish place names are from the Hebrew, according to a 
>number of
>Sephardic historians.  For example, Barcelona was Bar-Shelanu ("our
>countryside", in Hebrew), and its origins are linked with the Sephardic family
>Barchilon.  Sevilla was Shevil-Yah, "line of G-d", and Toledo was either from
>Hebrew for generations (toledot) or exile (toltel).  My question is about the
>term "Ibero" itself (as in Iberian Peninsula).  Doesn't that sound 
>like "Ivri", Hebrew?  I haven't heard enyone ever mention that.
>Whaddya think?

Joel Bresler
250 E. Emerson Rd.
Lexington, MA 02420 USA

Home:           781-862-2432
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Email:          jbresler (at) ma(dot)ultranet(dot)com

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