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Image via wikimedia.org

Inscription de Narbonne

(H)ic requiescunt / in pace bene memori(ae) / tres fili(i) d(omi)ni Paragori / de filio (u)ondam d(omi)ni Sa/paudi id es Iusus Ma//trona et Dulciorella qui / vixserunt(!) Iustus annos / XXX Matrona ann(o)s XX Dulci/orela(!) annos VIIII // HEBR // obuerun anno secundo d(o)m(in)i Egicani // regis

Source: Inscription de Narbonne.

The phrase in English was not found on tombstones before the eighth century… it was a prayerful request that the soul should find peace in the afterlife. When the phrase became conventional, the absence of a reference to the soul led people to suppose that it was the physical body that was enjoined to lie peacefully in the grave.

I was aware that the expression R.I.P was commonly used as a benediction for the deceased. 

to satisfy a vogue for rhyming couplets on tombstones, the phrase had been parsed as “Requiescat in pace”

However, R.I.P has a very different etymology than I realized. Wikipedia provided these details:

The verse from Isaiah* has been found inscribed in Hebrew on gravestones dating from the 1st century BC, in the graveyard of Bet Shearim. A recapture of these words, read as “come and rest in peace,” has been transferred to the ancient Talmudic prayers…. Although commonly associated with Catholicism and Christianity, the phrase is used to this day in traditional Jewish ceremonies. The ancient Latin inscription [in the image above] begins with a Latin version of the phrase.

* Isaiah (57, 2)

Notice the menorah in the upper left corner and the calendar date in the lower right.

As I was reading about this, I found a reference to the “Palestine Oriental Society” and a link to a transcript of the first year of meetings from 1920 to 1921, in the Internet Archive. I provide the link with a warning that much of it is specious crud, written in uneven degrees of fluency in the English, French and German languages. Yet mixed in with the crud are some very interesting and well-written presentations. Not surprisingly those were attributed to members of the group who later established themselves as experts, although they were not necessarily luminaries at that time. Among them was a youthful William F.Albright Ph.D. (no relation to the former U.S. Secretary of State, I checked both their family trees), who is credited with validation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other achievements too numerous to list.

There were other surprises in store for me. Although orientalism has connotations of antiquated social belief systems, it was 

the study of the history, languages, and culture of the peoples of Asia… Unlike today’s scholarly world of specialization the orientalist was a polymath able to work with multiple ancient and modern languages and in a wide range of scholarly fields. While the idea of the orientalist took on negative overtones through the work of postmodern researchers in the late 1970s and 1980s, more objective approaches … have shown that orientalist scholars such as … Albright carried out their works more from a sense of humanism and a profound interest in history… rather than as cynical tools of imperial powers.

 Biography of W.F. Albright via National Academy of Sciences

I wonder what Noam Chomsky’s opinion is regarding orientalism?

In closing, and apropos of nothing, merely the trivial, I will mention that Noam Chomsky was a good student.

How do I know this? Noam Chomsky and my father attended Sunday school together, at a Sephardic synagogue in west Philadelphia. It was actually “Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday school”, sometimes referred to as Hebrew school. They were in a class of about ten students, learning modern and scriptural Hebrew.

The class instructor was Mrs. Chomsky, Noam’s mother. Noam was first in the class, my father was third. My father told me that Mrs. Chomsky was an excellent teacher, and a very intelligent person. Noam Chomsky is alive and still writing his own variety of commentary. (He is the founder of modern linguistics…. but somehow morphed, in his own and others’ perception, to a political expert).

My father passed away awhile ago. I miss him so very much.