Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A linguistic analysis of the Antichrist

Despite the fact that I scour the internet daily for weird news, sometimes I miss good ones.   I try not to fret about these oversights, however -- because one characteristic of woo-woos is that they never, ever let a claim die.  So if I miss a crazy, outlandish story, no worries; it'll be back.

Again and again and again.

One such bizarre claim, that I missed on its first go-round but which is recently repeating its circuit of ultra-religious right wingers (I've seen it posted on Facebook twice in the last week), is a story that contends that Jesus actually revealed the name of the Antichrist in the bible.  Never mind that wackos who are way too fond of the Book of Revelation have tried before to pin that title on various world leaders; Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope Benedict XVI, the Emperor Nero, and Ronald Reagan, for example, all had their supporters as being Satan's Right-hand Man.  (As for Reagan, his candidacy came about when someone noticed that his first, middle, and last names all had six letters -- 666, get it?  But my vote goes for Pope Benedict, who looks just like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.  I mean, can't you just picture him throwing lightning from his fingertips, and vaporizing protesters who support marriage equality, all the while cackling maniacally?)

But they're not the ones that the End Times crowd are after these days.  The whole thing apparently started with a 2009 YouTube video that claimed that the biblical passage "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from the heavens" (Luke 10:18) was actually encoding the real name of the Antichrist.  Here's the excerpt that's been making the rounds recently:
When I started doing a little research, I found the Greek word for 'lightning' is 'astrape,' and the Hebrew equivalent is 'baraq.'  I thought that was fascinating...  And I wondered what the word 'heights’ is, and I looked it up in the dictionary, and it’s 'bamah...'  If spoken by a Jewish rabbi today, influenced by the poetry of Isaiah, he would say these words in Hebrew … 'I saw Satan as Baraq Ubamah.'
 Righty-o.  Obama is the Antichrist.  Not that we have any kind of political agenda here, of course.

The only problem is, don't use a linguistic argument when there are lots of linguists around who are smarter than you are.  An expert in Hebrew and Aramaic, Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, weighed in on the contention in an article in Salon, and he said that there are several problems with it.  First, Ehrenkrantz says, the Hebrew root "bamah" doesn't mean "heights" as in "heavens," it means "heights" as in "hills."  Sticking a "u-" prefix on the word is consistent with Hebrew morphology, but doing that alters stops to continuants -- in this case, changing the /b/ to a /v/.  So, it would be "uvamah," not "ubamah."  And even so, the "u-" doesn't mean "from," it means "and."  So "baraq uvamah" means "lightning and hills."

The actual phrase "from the heavens," Ehrenkrantz says, should be "min ha-shamayim."  So the passage "lightning from the heavens" would be "baraq min ha-shamayim."  Which doesn't sound like much of anything except Hebrew.

Couple that with the fact that Obama's first name, Barack, does come from an Aramaic root, but it isn't "baraq," it's "barak," which means "blessing."  It's a cognate to the more common name Baruch.  So, if you're really trying to pull some apocalyptic linguistic analysis on the president's name, you would probably be more justified in concluding that Obama was sent to Earth by god as a blessing, and is undoubtedly going to kick some satanic ass while he's here.

Because the problem with twiddling around with language is that two can always play that game.  Linguistic coincidences and peculiarities in word root structure abound.  So let's have some fun, okay?  Let's start with the Hebrew word "rosh," which means "head, chief, or leader."  ("Rosh Hashanah" means "head of the year.")  And we all know the Latin word "limbo," the ablative form of "limbus," meaning "the edge, or outer circle, of hell."  So:  "the chieftain of the outer reaches of hell" would be "Rosh Limbo."

Hey, maybe this stuff works, after all.

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