A letter from a לומד ירושלמי, slightly edited.
Dear Rabbi B,
Let me open by saying I’m a big fan of your shiur in Yerushalmi, and have learned much from listening.
I’m writing in English, although Hebrew would probably be a better platform, but so be it...
I’m writing with regards to two comments you made על הפני משה במסכת סוטה.
The first was his explanation that the word ארד in the Yerushalmi Sotah 10b meant עפר. Now, although the word ״ארד״ is completely cognate with the Yiddish word ערד, as you remarked in the shiur, you wondered why he would explain an apparently Aramaic word as if it was Yiddish.
However, a glance in ספר הערוך shows that the translation of the word from our Gemara (which the ערוך brings on the spot) apparently is derived from the Arabic, which is pronounced “erde.” This appears to be a cognate word, using the original language of the word to mean the same thing in another language.
The second point is not quite as straightforward, but is also a linguistic issue.
On 35a, the Gemara expounds a pasuk in Tehillim, and explains the word וגחלי as טרמנטן. The פני משה explains this as some type of cannon or rifle, sending projectiles through a tube by means of some sort of combustion. Gunpowder and projectile weapons of this sort had already been around for over 700 years in China, and about 200 years or more in Europe.
The bigger question in my mind is, if not invoking רוח הקודש, וכו׳, how did the Gemara know about this? One might answer simply that such weaponry was not completely unknown at that time... gunpowder is not difficult to make, and it’s not far fetched to imagine that the principles had been discovered and lost over time.
As the בבלי mentioned, one of the three methods of discovery is סוד ה׳ לראיו, and when dealing with that generation, nothing would surprise me. Moreover, one could even speculate that the account of the defeat of the five Kings in בראשית might have been vis some sort of projectile weaponry as hinted in מדרש.
Of course, this is all conjecture, but I’m still looking for earlier sources that might shed some light...
Thanks for listening...