Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


An Etymologist’s Take on Childbirth and Sabbath

From Rachel and Leah to Jesus and the Messiah

Print Email
Rachel, Moses, and Leah by Michaelangelo.(Flickr)

Today on Tablet, Allan Metcalf takes a look at etymologist Gerald Cohen’s work in deciphering the fascinating origins of some pretty important everyday words. (You’ll never guess where “hot dog” and “shyster” come from.)

As bonus material, Metcalf sent along an explanation of Cohen’s collaboration with Nathan Süsskind, in which the two looked into biblical texts and developed some fascinating ideas:

Genesis 30: “She Shall Bear On My Knees” and “I Will Be Built Up.”

When Sarah asks Abraham and later Rachel asks Jacob to beget a child by her slave-girl, which she will then raise as hers, the words are “I’ll be built up by her.” Rachel also says: “She shall bear (children) on my knees.”

Süsskind explains, “precious experiences of untold generations were preserved in a ritual where a barren woman would seek to become fertile by receiving a child directly as it came out of the womb into her lap ‘on her knees,’ and raise it from that moment on.” That action (birth + raising the child) would “build her up,” that is, make a barren woman fertile.

“Today many infertile women have become fertile after adopting a baby and caring for it,” Süsskind writes. “It is still not sufficiently known even by gynecologists and adoption agencies. It needs to be shouted from the roof-tops: Most infertile women would become fertile (they would be built up) if they would take full care of a very young infant. Their ovaries would begin to ovulate and their periods would return . . . their wombs would be opened. But not if the care of the baby would be left to a nurse-maid.”

Jesus, The Super-Pharisee

In Mark 13, Jesus describes the horrors preceding the coming of the Messiah. Such will be the severity of the affliction “as was not from the beginning of creation,” and he advises his disciples to “pray that your flight (to the mountains) be not in the winter.” Meanwhile, in Matthew (24: 20) Jesus urges, “Pray ye that your flight be not in winter neither on the Sabbath day.”

Susskind comments, “Now, one may debate whether or not the words ‘neither on the Sabbath day’ were deliberately ‘edited out’ of Mark, but there can be no doubt on the authenticity of Matthew’s tradition. He didn’t interpolate these words – in direct contradiction to his own stories of Jesus breaking the Sabbath!

“Jesus, therefore, is saying that the Sabbath would make the pre-Messianic horrors even more horrible, apparently because in his practice the Sabbath should prevent the sufferers from doing anything to get relief. But even the strictest Pharisee preached that ‘danger to life suspends the Sabbath restrictions.’ Therefore, for a Pharisee these sufferings would not have been worsened because of the Sabbath. Jesus must therefore have been even stricter in the prohibitions of Sabbath work than the strictest Pharisee.”

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Chaya says:

Susskind has been talking to Todd Akin? Or does he think sleep deprivation is the real actor here?


JESUS ONLN.ETYM.ENGL.COPY.TONY.STRD. 12c. (Old English used hælend “savior”),from Greek Iesous, which is an attempt to render into Greek the Aramaic proper name Jeshua (Hebrew Yeshua) “Jah is salvation,” a common Jewish personal name, the later form of Hebrew Yehoshua (see Joshua).
As an oath, attested from late 14c. For Jesus H. Christ (1924), see I.H.S.
First record of Jesus freak is from 1970. Jesu, common in Middle English, is from the Old French objective case.I.H.S.Old English, from Medieval Latin, representing
Greek abbreviation of IHSOUS “Jesus,” in which -H- is the capital of the Greek vowel eta. TheRoman form would be I.E.S. Mistaken for a Latin contraction in the Middle Ages, after its Greek origin was forgotten, and sometimes treated as short for Iesus Hominum Salvator “Jesus Savior of Men.” Alternative version I.H.C.
(terminal -s- often written in later Greek with a character resembling -c-) is found on vestments from 950 C.E., and may be the source of the H. in slang Jesus H. Christ.jeepers 1900, American English, euphemistic alteration of Jesus. Christ
(n.) title given to Jesus of Nazareth, Old English crist (by 830, perhaps 675), from Latin Christus, from Greek khristos “the anointed” (translation of Hebrew mashiah; see messiah), noun use of verbal adjective of khriein “to rub, anoint” (see chrism).
The Latin term drove out Old English Hæland “healer, savior,” as the preferred descriptive term for Jesus. A title, treated as a proper name in Old English, but not regularly capitalized until 17c. Pronunciation with long -i- is result of
Irish missionary work in England,7c.-8c. The ch- form, regular since c.1500 in
English, was rare before. Capitalization of the word begins 14c. but is not
fixed until 17c. The 17c. mystical sect of the Familists edged it toward a verb
with Christed “made one with Christ.” Jeez also jeeze, 1922, American English, euphemistic corruption Jesus.Joshua masc. proper name, biblical successor of
Moses, from Hebrew Yehoshua, literally “the Lord is salvation.” Joshua tree (1867) is perhaps so called because its shape compared to pictures of Joshua brandishing a spear (Josh. viii:18). In the top 10 list of names for boys in the U.S.
since 1979. Jason masc. proper name, from Greek Eason, from Hebrew Yehoshua, a common name among Hellenistic Jews (see Joshua).
In Greek mythology, son of Aeson, leader of the Argonauts, from Latin Jason, from Greek Iason, perhaps related to Iasthai “to heal” (see -iatric). The names were somewhat merged in Christian Greek.
Etymology of names.WIKIP.ENGL.”Jesus” is a Latin transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs) The Greek form is a hellenization of the Aramaic/Hebrew ישוע‎ (Yēšūă‘) which is a post-Exilic modification of the Hebrew יְהוֹשֻׁעַ‎ (Yĕhōšuă‘, Joshua) under influence from Aramaic. In the Quran, he is referred to as عيسى‎ (‘Īsa). The etymology of the name Jesus in the context of the New Testament is generally expressed as “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation”. The name Jesus appears to have been in use in Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus. The first century works of historian Flavius
Josephus refer to at least twenty different people with the name Jesus Philo’s reference (Mutatione Nominum item 121) indicates that the etymology of the name Joshua was known outside Judea at the time. In the Bible he is referred to as
“Jesus from Nazareth”,”Joseph’s son”, and “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth”. Paul the Apostle most often referred to Jesus as “Jesus Christ”, “Christ
Jesus”, or “Christ”. “Christ” (pron.: /ˈkraɪst/) is derived from the Greek Χριστός (Khrīstos), meaning “the anointed” or “the anointed one”, a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as “Messiah” (pron.: /mɨˈsaɪ.ə/) In the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible (written well over a century before the time of Jesus), the word “Christ” (Χριστός) was used to translate the Hebrew word “Messiah” (מָשִׁיחַ) into Greek In Matthew 16:16, the apostle Peter’s profession “You are the Christ” identifies Jesus as the MessiahIn
postbiblical usage, “Christ” became viewed as a name, one part of
“Jesus Christ”, but originally it was a title (“Jesus the Anointed”).
WIKIP.FRNC. Jésus-Christ ([ʒezykri] chez les catholiques ou [ʒezykrist] chez les protestants1), le Christ ou simplement Christ est le nom donné à Jésus de Nazareth par les chrétiens, qui le reconnaissent comme le Messie (χριστός / Christos en grec ancien), « l’oint du Seigneur » annoncé par l’Ancien
Testament du judaïsme, mort et ressuscité pour le salut des Hommes.Du fait de l’influence du christianisme dans la culture occidentale, Jésus-Christ est devenu un synonyme de Jésus de Nazareth dans le langage courant.Il est considéré par les chrétiens comme le Messie et le fils unique de Dieu. Il tient des rôles divers dans plusieurs courants chrétiens aux croyances diverses.
WIKIP.ESP. Jesús de Nazaret, también conocido como Jesús, Cristo o Jesucristo, es la figura central del cristianismo y una de las figuras más influyentes de la cultura occidental. Para la mayoría de las denominaciones cristianas, es el Hijo de
Dios y, por extensión, la encarnación de Dios mismo. Su importancia estriba asimismo en la creencia de que ―con su muerte y posterior resurrección― redimió al género humano. “ El Judaísmo” niega su divinidad, que es incompatible “con su concepción de Dios.” En el islam, donde se lo conoce como
Isa, es considerado uno de los profetas más importantes. Según la opinión mayoritariamente aceptada en medios académicos, basada en una lectura crítica de los textos sobre su figura,1 Jesús de Nazaret fue un predicador judío2
que vivió a comienzos del siglo I en las regiones de Galilea y Judea, y fue crucificado en Jerusalén en torno al año 30, bajo el gobierno de Poncio Pilato.
WIKIP.ITL. Gesù di Nazaret (Betlemme o Nazaret7-2 a.C. – Gerusalemme, 26-36) è il fondatore del Cristianesimo religioneche lo riconosce come il Cristo (Messia) atteso dalla tradizione ebraicae Dio fatto uomo.Alcune religioni non cristiane, tra cui l’Islam, lo riconoscono invece come profeta mentre altre hanno elaborato una specifica visione su di lui. Gesù ha svolto la sua attività di predicatore, guaritore ed esorcista negli ultimi anni della sua vita nella provincia romana della Giudea. Secondo la tradizione cristiana,le principali fonti testuali relative a Gesù sono i quattro vangeli canonici (Matteo,Marco,Luca e Giovanni). FINALES NOTES: ALL THE CONCEPT OF THE CHRISTIAN JESUS IS AN INVENTION COPY AND DEFORMATION OF EBREW…AN FINALY THE EUROPA CRISTIANA WANTED TO EXTERMINATETHE…EUROPEANS …JEWS

Melissa says:

“It is still not sufficiently known even by gynecologists and adoption agencies. It needs to be shouted from the roof-tops: Most infertile women would become fertile (they would be built up) if they would take full care of a very young infant. ”

Susskind is qualified to make this statement??? He knows what cures infertility But doctors don’t?

I stopped reading after this. Because it’s stupid.

Re “bear on my knees”… A metaphysical explanation is unnecessary. It was observed that among Bedouin a surrogate mother, such as was Leah’s maidservant, would when in labor actually sit on her mistress’s knees, who would be lying down, her knees raised up. The child would drop down to the crotch of the mistress, thus completing the formal and legal adoption procedure. In modern times, in a halachically accepted practice a surrogate mother’s eggs can be implanted in the wife, to be impregnated by the father. Lacking this technology, Leah just told her husband to impregnate her maidservant directly.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

An Etymologist’s Take on Childbirth and Sabbath

From Rachel and Leah to Jesus and the Messiah

More on Tablet:

Wolf Blitzer Explores His Jewish Roots

By David Meir Grossman — CNN host visits Yad Vashem and Auschwitz for the network’s ‘Roots’ series