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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You say blue, and they said ...

I just started reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's latest book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder Among other things, he mentions the fact that Homer never mentions the color blue in his works and refers to Gladstones's theory that the Greeks had no name for that color. Observations of this are in a Radiolab under the title "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?"   It begins as follows:
What is the color of honey, and "faces pale with fear"? If you're Homer--one of the most influential poets in human history--that color is green. And the sea is "wine-dark," just like oxen...though sheep are violet. Which all sounds...well, really off. Producer Tim Howardintroduces us to linguist Guy Deutscher, and the story of William Gladstone (a British Prime Minister back in the 1800s, and a huge Homer-ophile). Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! 
I confess I did not sit through the 21 minute audio file, but do feel free to do so yourself. Instead, I wondered about whether or not the color blue is mentioned in TaNaCh -- the Bible. To be certain, I looked up the word in a Concordance, and found an absence of the word kachol. (There is a related word in Ezekiel 23:40,  which includes the phrase "kichalta eynecha" [you shadowed your eyes].) But there is no mention of blue as the color itself. Some translations do include the color, but that is because they are using it for the translation of   techeileth, a blue dye derived from a sea creature that gave a distinctive shade to cloth and thread used in the Tabernacle.

Other colors do appear in the Bible, though, most notably, "red," which is mentioned fairly early on, particularly when Esau describes the dish of lentils for which he sells his using the word adom twice.

Curious about whether or not this has been discussed, I did what modern scholars do and turned to Google. Then I found  Joel M Hoffman's response to  What color is the “blue” of the Bible? He also distinguishes between techeileth and the general color blue.
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