NOTE: The following is essentially identical to the published version, minus revisions made in the course of final editing and proofreading.

In the following, } = aleph, x = het, H = Akkadian velar het, T = tet, { = ayin, c = tsadi, and $ = shin/sin.

JONAS CARL GREENFIELD (October 20, 1926-March 13, 1995)

 Jonas Carl (Chaim Yonah) Greenfield, one of the foremost semitists of the twentieth century, died in Jerusalem on March 13, 1995 at the age of 68.

 A statement in the Babylonian Talmud describes well the reaction to Jonas Greenfield's death: "When a scholar dies, all are his kin," all mourn for him. Jonas Greenfield's death has left  scholars feeling a sense of personal bereavement as well as a loss to scholarship. He was so easy to work with that virtually all of the seventeen books listed in his bibliography,1 and 28 of the 148 articles, were collaborative efforts. He was so highly regarded, and close to so many scholars, that sixty-four of those articles -- over 40 percent -- were in Festschriften, a genre for which articles are solicited from those regarded as associates of the honoree and whose participation honors and gratifies him.

 When I first met Jonas Greenfield, in 1972, I was a young scholar, some 15 years his junior. By the end of our first conversation I felt as if we were old friends who had known each other for years. This feeling is shared by many who knew Greenfield, including graduate students and young scholars, in whom he took a personal and supportive interest. He welcomed every person cheerfully. He was, in addition, a warm and devoted friend who not only offered scholarly assistance unstintingly, but who was sensitive to friends' needs and tastes and went out of his way to do favors that they hadn't even asked for. There were, of course, things that roused his ire. Like all good scholars, he had no patience for ignorance or posturing or for scholars who follow fads. The methodological flaw that most irritated him was compar-ative lexicography based on dictionaries. More than once he warned that meanings of words found in dictionaries might never have been used in the living language; as a translator he was critical of the New English Bible because of his feeling that its philology often seemed to be based on consulting Arabic dictionaries without studying word usage in actual texts.

 A brief biography of Jonas Greenfield appears in the introduction to his Festschrift.2 He was born in New York City and educated in its public schools and in the Yeshiva Torah VaDaas. He developed an early interest in Near Eastern languages; his grandfather encouraged what became Greenfield's lifelong interest in Aramaic by rewarding him for learning the targum to the weekly Torah portion. By his early teens Greenfield had begun teaching himself Arabic. While studying at the City College of New York, where he majored in English, Greenfield continued to study at the yeshiva and also took courses elsewhere in Arabic and Ethiopic. After receiving his B.A. in 1948 he went on to Yale where he received an M.A. in English in 1951. There, a requirement to study another early Indo-European language led Greenfield to Hittite and Albrecht Goetze, and this in turn led him to Akkadian and back to his early interest in Semitics. Transferring to the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Greenfield studied also with Harald Ingholt and Millar Burrows, whom he assisted in correcting the second, revised printing of The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark's Monastery (1950). He wrote his doctoral dissertation on "The Lexical Status of Mishna-ic Hebrew" (1956).3

Greenfield began his university teaching career at Brandeis University (1954-56). He went on to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles (1956-65), the University of California, Berkeley (1965-71), and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1971-1995), where he was named Caspar Levias Professor of Ancient Semitic Languages in 1990. He also held visiting professorships at Oxford, the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. He was awarded fellowships by the Fulbright Scholar Program, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies-Social Science Research Council, the Oxford Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew Studies, and the Annenberg Institute.

 Greenfield's broad interests led him to membership and offices in numerous scholarly societies in the United States, Europe, and Israel. Among his major services to the field were his membership on the Qumran Scrolls Advisory Committee of the Israel Antiquities Authority; on the Ketuvim (Hagiographa) Translation Committee of the Jewish Publication Society from 1966 until the translation was published in 1982; and his editorship of the Israel Exploration Journal from 1976 until his death. He was the first non-archaeologist to hold the latter post.

 Greenfield leaves behind an immense scholarly legacy. His bibliography lists seventeen books and 148 articles, as mentioned above, and over 100 book reviews and encyclopedia entries. Notably, although he began publishing in 1958, more than half of his articles -- 76 in all -- were published in the last decade of his life (since 1984), and 45 of them were published in the last five years. This pace was achieved at the same time that he was edit-ing IEJ and was involved in his most intensive project, preparing the documents of the Bar Kochba period. He was truly at the height of his scholarly powers, a fact that makes the untimeli-ness of his death all the more poignant.

 Greenfield's publications reveal a range of Semitic learning that has rarely been seen since the days of the great 19th century semitists, such as Theodore Noeldeke. The linguistic sweep of his publications encompasses Akkadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Phoenician, Nabataean, Palmyrene, Iranian loan-words, the languages of the Samaritans, Mandaic, and Arabic. The bodies of literature covered by his work include: various Akkadian texts, the Ugaritic myths and epics, Phoenician inscriptions, the Bible, the bilingual Akkadian-Aramaic inscription from Tell Fekherye, the Aramaic treaties from Sefire, coins with Aramaic inscrip-tions, the Deir Alla inscriptions, the Aramaic papyri from Ele-phantine, the Ahikar literature, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigra-pha, the Qumran and Bar Kochba texts, Nabataean tomb inscrip-tions, the Talmuds, the targums, Mandaic literature, and the Qur}an. His interests extended to history and archaeology. He wrote valuable articles on the Philistines and, as noted, he served nearly twenty years as editor of IEJ. In public lectures he ranged even further, covering such topics as "Safed: A Holy City of the Sixteenth Century."

 Greenfield's first scholarly love was lexicography, which he used for the obvious purpose of translation, but also as the key to understanding a wide range of subjects, such as poetry, inscriptions, treaties, scribes, scripts and archives, the institu-tion of asylum, religion, magic bowls, astrology, the marzeax institution, wedding contracts and other legal documents, women, daughters, and the elderly.

 Greenfield was a comparativist of the best kind: he had a broad, encyclopedic and integrated view of all the fields of Semitic learning and a judicious sense of the interrelationships between its various languages and literatures. Beautiful examples of his ability to integrate are his studies using  rabbinic literature to illuminate the literature of the Mandaeans.  One of his most interesting discoveries was in a hymn addressed to the Mandaean god Hayye. Scholars had realized that part of the hymn was a Mandaic "targum" of some verses from Ps. 114, reading:

The Jordan saw you and turned back...
The earth trembled and was shaken.
Jordan, whom did you see that you turned back?
The waves of the sea, why were you rolled back?...
Mountains, why were you shaken
and why did you prance like stags?

Greenfield noticed that in the Mandaic hymn, these lines are followed closely by three lines that resemble the Nishmat hymn in Jewish liturgy. The Mandaic lines read:

If our mouths would be like the sea
and our lips like the waves
and our tongues like steep mountains
we would not be able to praise, exalt, extol, and praise you.

As Greenfield observed, this combination of Psalm 114 followed by the Nishmat hymn is paralleled in the Passover Haggadah where the psalm, as part of the Hallel service, is followed by Nishmat. Greenfield assumed therefore that Jewish liturgical practice lies behind this Mandaean hymn and held that if this is correct, it would be another argument in favor of the "ultimately Jewish [by which he meant Jewish Christian]  origin of the core of Mandaean practices, and perhaps of the Mandaeans themselves."4

 Greenfield's contributions to scholarship may be illustrated by several examples relating to the Bible.

 1. Greenfield explained that the Semitic root {dn means moisten or fatten, cause luxuriance or lubricity by means of water, oil, etc. He showed this on the basis of (1) the bilingual Akkadian-Aramaic inscription from Tell Fekherye, in which Aramaic m{dn is used to translate Akkadian TuHHudu, "make moist or fat by means of water, oil, or honey, cause luxu-riance," and (2) rabbinic Hebrew, where {dn is used for lubricating the skin with oil and for rain moistening the ground. Hence Sarah's words in Gen. 18:12 mean, "Now that I am withered, am I to regain lubricity ({ednah?)" -- meaning, is my skin supposed to become smooth and unwrinkled again? and hence the Biblical understanding of Eden (if not its original meaning) as a well-watered place of luxuriant growth.5

 2. Greenfield showed the literary skill of the narratives about Jacob's flight from Aram in Genesis 31 by showing that in this Aramaean context the text uses an Aramaic-tinged Hebrew. This is apparent in three verses: "God has taken away (vayyaccel) your father's goods and given them to me" (v. 9; in Aramaic legal documents hncl = take back, and hncl wntn = transfer ownership); "catching up (vayyadbeq, as in Aramaic) with him" (v. 23); "You have not let (nT$, calque on Aramaic $bq) me kiss my sons and daughters" (v. 28).6

 3. The Hebrew verb zammer, "sing" (the verb underlying mizmor, "psalm") originally meant: ascribe might, attribute mighty deeds. Greenfield argued that it is a denominative verb from Proto-Semitic dhmr, "strength, might." He based this argument on the collocation of {z and dhmr in Ugaritic, and {z and zmr in Hebrew (as in Exod. 15:2, {ozzi vezimrat yah).7

 4. He explained the name Joshua as yeho-$ua{, "YHWH is Lord, Master, Noble." This explanation is based on Hebrew $oa{ // melekh, nedivim, sarim (Job 34:18-19; Isa. 32:5); the Ugaritic title th{ applied to Keret who is elsewhere called }dn and mlk. The meaning is confirmed by Akkadian dictionaries which define the Akkadian cognate $u and its feminine form $uetu  as, respectively,  "king" and "mistress."8

 5. In Ps. 97:11, }or zarua{ laccaddiq uleyi$rei lev simxah, "Light is sown for the righteous, simxah for the upright," the last word, simxah, does not have its usual meaning "joy" but means "radiance." This argument is supported by Ugaritic $mH, "light up, shine," Syriac cmx, "shine," and parallelism in other Biblical verses such as "The light of the righteous ysmx, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out" (Prov. 13:9).9

 6. In the Decalogue (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16), to kabbed ("honor") one's parents means to care for them when they are infirm. Greenfield reviewed ancient Near Eastern texts which show that housing, feeding, and dressing infirm parents were important filial duties, and he showed that the Akkadian verb kubbutu (cognate to Hebrew kabbed) is one of the terms used for this. He noted that this meaning was known to the Talmud, as shown by the talmudic remark: "What is kibbud [in the fifth commandment]? Providing food and drink, clothing and covering, taking in and out" (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 31b).10

 In the last year of his life, Jonas Greenfield was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, was honored with a Festschrift, and was nominated as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (he was elected one month after his death). Memorial services were held in Berkeley, Jerusalem, and Philadelphia. He is survived by his wife and soul mate Bella (nee Beer), whom he married in 1950, his daughters Abigail and Elisheva, their husbands and children, and a host of colleagues and friends who feel personally bereaved. His many publications provide a means for ongoing conversation with one of the most exemplary and fertile minds of modern Semitic scholarship.


 1. Published in Solving Riddles and Untying Knots. Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield, ed. Z. Zevit, S. Gitin, and M. Sokoloff (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraun's, 1995).

 2. See note 1. Most of the biographical information that follows is drawn from that introduction.

 3. Greenfield did not publish his dissertation, but some of his early articles were based on it.

 4. "A Mandaic 'Targum' of Psalm 114," in Studies in Aggadah, Targum and Jewish Liturgy in Memory of Joseph Heinemann, ed. E. Fleischer and J.J. Petuchowski  (Jerusalem: Magnes and Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1981), pp. 23-31.

 5. "A Touch of Eden," in Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin Emerito Oblata (Leiden: Brill, 1984), pp. 219-224.

 6. "Aramaic Studies and the Bible," Congress Volume, Vienna, 1980 (Leiden: Brill, 1981):129-130.

 7. "To Praise the Might of Hadad," La vie de la Parole, De l'Ancien ou Nouveau Testament, Etudes...P. Grelot (Paris: Desclee, 1987), pp. 10-12.

 8. "Some Glosses on the Keret Epic," Eretz-Israel 9 (1969):60-61.

 9. "Lexicographical Notes II," Hebrew Union College Annual 30 (1959):141-151.

 10. "Adi balTu -- Care for the Elderly and its Rewards," in AfO Beiheft 19 (1982):309-316.