Il toponimo aramaico Gamlā’ e il bilinguismo di Flavio Giuseppe

Marco Mancini
Dipart. per lo Studio delle Lingue e delle Civiltà Classiche e Moderne - Università degli Studi della Tuscia - Via Santa Maria in Gradi 4 - 01100 Viterbo (Italy)

Pubblicato 2010-01-16


The paper concerns a difficult passage in Flavius Josephus’ Jewish War, a very accurate chronicle of the bloody conflict between the Roman troops, led by Vespasianus and his son Titus, and the Jewish rebels from 66 to 73 A.D. In J.W. 4, 1, 5 the author yields a curious explanation of the etymology of the Aramaic toponym Gamla’, a small town north of the Lake of Galilee, conquered after a long siege by the Roman legions. Flavius’ words seem paradoxically to contradict his well-known bilingualism, namely his almost perfect competence of both Aramaic (his mother tongue) and Greek Koinè. According to his opinion the inhabitants named the site Gamla’, because it was “like a camel in figure, […] although the people of the country do not pronounce it accurately” (ed. Whiston). The last sentence prima facie doesn’t make sense. The modern commentaries argue that Josephus is here referring to the Greek translation of aram. gamla’, gr. kámelos, and to the pronunciation of aram. /g/ instead of gr. /k/. This statement is absurdus from a linguistic point of view. Firstly, a close exploration of the Rabbinical sources written in Jewish Aramaic helps us to identify another meaning of gamla’, not only “camel” but also “yoke”. Secondly, on the ground of our knowledge of the archaeological site of Gamla’, recently discovered by Gutmann on a narrow ridge in northern Galilee, the meaning “yoke” seem perfectly adequate. Thirdly, the analysis of the Greek text in the Jewish War exclude any “phonetic” interpretation of the much disputed passage. Actually Flavius’ gloss simply remarks the difference between his own etymology (gamla’ “camel”) and the (folk)etymology of the inhabitants (gamla’ “yoke”), both of them motivated by different perspectives of the rocky site of the Jewish town.