Rashi on Ballynia


The Book of Nahum is the seventh book of the 12 minor prophets (a portion of Nevi’im Aharonim) of the Hebrew Bible.  He wrote towards the end of the 7th century B.C.

Its chapter 1 begins as follows:

1 The harsh prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

א מַשָּׂ֖א נִֽינְוֵ֑ה סֵ֧פֶר חֲז֛וֹן נַח֖וּם הָֽאֶלְקֹשִֽׁי

This refers to Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire until its fall about the year 612 B.C. when, after a period of civil war, it was eventually destroyed by the Neo-Assyrians’ former subjects (Babylonians, Medes, Chaldeans, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians). The Neo-Assyrians (911-612 B.C.) were the successors to the Old Assyrian Empire (circa 2025-1378 B.C.) and the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1050 B.C.).  They spoke Akkadian but Aramaic was also in usage.  Anyway they conquered a lot of places and one of those was Israel. The Israelites (and others) did not like being taken over and one of them – Nahum – wrote of the downfall of Nineveh (though it is suspected that he wrote his “prophesy” after the actual downfall).

Now, this is what the Bible Gateway website has to say about the term “Elkoshite” mentioned to describe Nahum:

ELKOSH, ELKOSHITE ĕl’ kŏsh, īt (אֶלְקֹשִֽׁי). A term used to identify Nahum the prophet (Nah 1:1). It prob. refers to a place, but if so, the place is unknown. Several possible locations have been proposed: 1. A site in Galilee called Elcesi. Jerome thought this was the site. 2. A site in Mesopotamia N of Mosul near the Tigris River. Nestorius was the first to suggest this site. A so-called “tomb of Nahum” is found at Elqush N of Mosul. 3. A site in S Judah, prob. Beit Jibrin between Jerusalem and Gaza. This supposition has the merit of Nahum’s apparently having been from Judah. 4. The most apparent site, but one doubted by most scholars, is כְּפַר נַחוּם i.e. Capernaum, the village of Nahum. This is the village on the N shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught frequently in His earthly ministry. It must be emphasized that there is no real evidence for any of these sites. Perhaps the site is yet to be discovered, if indeed a geographical site is intended.”


Anyways… quite some time later you had Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040 – 1105) aka Rashi, a rabbi in France (born in Troyes, Champagne) write a commentary on (among other writings) Nahum the Elkoshite and his book.  Of course, he, like others,before and after him did not know where Elkosh was but he, like others, tried to interpret this name based on his own then current knowledge.  That knowledge apparently included knowledge of a kingdom in the East of Europe and a city in it – the Polish Olkusz.

The following comes from that commentary:

“Chapter 1

‘1 The harsh prophecy concerning Nineveh

Heb. מַשָׂא . The burden of the cup of the curse [which was] to be given Nineveh to drink.

‘The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite’

חזון is vowelized with a “kamatz” (חָזוֹן) since it is not in the construct state, and it is unlike “ חֲזוֹן יִשַׁעְיָהוּ ,” the vision of Isaiah, which is vowelized with a “hataf pattah.” This is its meaning: A book of vision has already been written concerning it [Nineveh], the prophecy of Jonah son of Amittai; and now, again, Nahum the Elkoshite prophesied this harsh prophecy over it. Elkosh is the name of his [Nahum’s] city. And so did Jonathan paraphrase: In early times, Jonah son of Amittai prophesied concerning it, and they repented of their sins, and when they continued to sin, Nahum of the house of Elkosh prophesied further concerning them.

‘the Elkoshite’

That city is in the province of Ballynia, which is in the state of Eretz Israel, although it is outside the Holy Land. Proof of the matter is that there is gold, silver, and salt dust near it because the Dead Sea, which is near Eretz Israel, goes there under the earth. In this state they do not crown a king the son of a king [i.e., the throne is not hereditary]; and they are of the seed of Judah. [Sod Mesharim]”


“Ballynia” refers to – probably – Poland.  What Rashi was doing was trying to figure out where Elkosh was and, knowing of Olkusz in “Ballynia”, he came up with that as the place for his ancient Nahum.

Now, Olkusz supposedly has a German etymology (it lies near Katowice) and its rise is tied to German colonization of Silesia.  Officially, the name appears first only in the 13th century (after the Mongol invasions when local rulers were trying to repopulate Silesia including by bringing German colonists in).  Its names are listed as: Lcuhs (1257), Hilcus (1262), Helcus (1301), Ylcus (1314), Elcus (1409), Olkusch (1462).

If Rashi was right then Olkusz’s place in history can be pushed up some 200 years back.  Moreover, we get a mention of Poland and the fantastic assertions that:

  • the Dead Sea extends – underground – all the way to Poland, and that
  • its nonhereditary rulers (which at that time was most certainly not the case – although perhaps Rashi meant that the crown was not hereditary – because the Empire was actively against that), and that
  • its rulers were from the tribe of Judah.

As to the last claim, what is interesting in this is that the Poles had a counterpart in the East – in Kiev and Ukraine there was a tribe of the “Eastern” Polanie.  They were tributary to the Jewish Khazars and then, after, perhaps, a brief period of independence became conquered by the Rus.  A half century later, the Polish state emerges.  While some have posited Mieszko or rather his ancestors as Vikings and others as refugees from Great Moravia, a more plausible scenario involves Poles (or people we today would call Ukrainians) fleeing the Vikings from the East and establishing their own state in the West, that is in Poland. Compare, for example, Gnezdovo in the lands conquered by the Rus with the Polish capital of Gniezno – both meaning “nest”.

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December 25, 2017

One thought on “Rashi on Ballynia

  1. Maciek P.

    With Gniezno it’s not so clear relating the meaning! It is more Knezno from “knez” where ruled the Knez!!!! And this makes sense, but not “nest”!!Additional by Gniezno we miss “d”, then Polish nest means GniazDo. And this D we have through 1000 years by Gnezdovo still today.


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