Seizing A Hem – Thrusting Away A Hand

The common Akkadian phrase sissiktaka abātu, “to seize your hem,” and its several variations is echoed in Zechariah 8:23, “In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold – they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak (והחזיקו בכנף) and say, ‘let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (JPS). The Hebrew and Akkadian expressions are semantic but not cognate equivalents. The equivalent phrase can also be found in Old Aramaic, אחז בכנף (KAI 215:11), and Ugaritic, tid mt bsin, “She (Anat) seized Mot by the hem . . .” (KTU 1.6 II:9-11). The Old Aramaic example is particularly interesting because it refers to grasping the hem of Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. As a metaphor the phrase means to submit to some authority, divine or human.
The Hebrew Bible appears to have a couple of other echoes of this metaphor. In 1 Samuel 15:27, Saul seizes the corner of Samuel’s cloak and it tears and, in 1 Samuel 24:5, David cuts off the corner of Saul‘s cloak. In both places, allegiance is broken. In Akkadian, a person may cutoff his own hem as an act of ritual humility.
Tawil suggests that there may be another Hebrew phrase that means something similar to cutting off/tearing off a hem as a symbol of broken allegiance. The phrase is נפץ יד from Daniel 12:7. This notoriously nasty phrase has been explained, unexplained, emended, unemended, and worried over for a very long time. Tawil equates נפץ יד with Akkadian qāta napāu. As Tawil tells us, the Akkadian expression, literally, “to thrust away the hand,” denotes “to refuse, to reject, to push back.” As such, he sees it as the idiomatic opposite of sissiktaka abātu. In the context of Daniel 12, Tawil sees נפץ יד as “covenantal rejection” and contrasts it with covenantal acceptance, והחזיקו בכנף, in Zechariah 8:23. Here’s Tawil’s, translation of Daniel 12:7. The parenthetical explanation is his.

For a time, times, and a half a time, and at the time of termination of thrusting the hand (i.e. of the covenantal rejection) of the holy people all these things will come to an end.

Note: Tawil does not address the tearing of the hem issue; I copped that from elsewhere.

Tawil, Hayim ben Yosef, “Hebrew נַפֵץ יַד = Akkadian Qāta Napāu: A Term of Non-Allegiance,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 122:1 (Jan. – Mar., 2002), 79-82. Tawil’s discussion of sissiktaka abātu and parallels is on pages 80-81 with the discussion of Zechariah 8:23 on 82.
Tawil, Hayim ben Yosef, An Akkadian Lexical Companion For Biblical Hebrew: Etymological-Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalents with Supplement on Biblical Aramaic, Jersey City, NJ: KTAV, 2009, 243-244. Here Tawil provides an abbreviated recap of his 2002 paper.

3 thoughts on “Seizing A Hem – Thrusting Away A Hand”

  1. I’m glad you’re thinking about this. The phrase occurs in one of my prayers but I just didn’t want to tackle it in the comparative notes. I hope that’s why you’ve posted it here (b/c it’s in one of your prayers). {{No, I haven’t looked at your drafts yet. I still have 35 papers to grade, which I didn’t look at this weekend, either!}}

  2. Yeah, seizing a hem is in one of my prayers and tearing one is in another. I try to cover both cases. Take your time. I still have lot work to do.

  3. Me too! I have eight prayers to work on and the introduction, alongside editing the other prayers! Busy, busy, busy. And I’m still grading, too!

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