Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pardes Problem

The word pardes appears three times in the Hebrew bible, and is taken to mean something like an orchard, a park or a garden. According to linguists, pardes is a Persian loan-word which presents a few difficutlties, as follows:

1) Pardes appears in Song of Songs 4:13, Ecclesiastes 2:5, and Nehemiah 2:8. The instance of pardes in Nehemia, a book that was written during the Persian period, and features main characters who are both emigrants from Persia poses no problem. Its appearance in the other two books is not so simple. Both Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are held to have been written by King Solomon, who lived and composed his works centuries before the Jews came into contact with any Persians. In pre-Persian Hebrew an orchard is a carmel [Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33] and a park or garden is a gan [Numerous]. Why would King Solomon use a word that would not have been understood by the people of his time? His decision to do so is something like George Washington using the word "pizza" or "computer." Not only is it fair to wonder why Solomon would confuse his readers, its also hard to understand how he knew the word himself.

2) The word pardes is an acronym for pshat, remez, drash, sod - the four approaches to torah study. [For an explanation see Wikipedia.] If the scholars are right about the origins of the word pardes, the idea that there is something inherently and inevitably true about the acronym is defeated,  along with a mystical idea of  paradise/orchard created via Torah study. If it was a historical accident that pardes entered Hebrew, the  words and beliefs that later became associated  with the word could not have been anything but a contingent, man made development.

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