The Heart’s Guarantee
It is well known that commerce tends to dominate the transmission of culture across geographical divides and ethnic lines. It is the merchants, arriving from afar, who chiefly barter the achievements and accoutrements of diverse civilizations; it is businessmen who tie the world together.
Knowing this, we are hardly surprised to learn that history’s earliest examples of shared international vocabulary—words and phrases commonly adopted across deep linguistic divisions—derived from the lexicon of commerce. The traveling salesman, as he transported his commodities, transmitted also the terms of trade. When merchandise made its way across the world, mercantile expressions tagged along, if only in the sense of a price tag. As the products became common, so did the words.
A perfect illustration of this phenomenon is the ancient Semitic word ‘erabon, meaning “pledge” or “guarantee.” At the beginning of the second millennium b.c. the Akkadians in Mesopotamia were already using that term. Over the ensuing centuries it was adopted by the roving hordes who descended from the Caucasus. These, along with the fleeing Hebrews they drove before them, carried the word across to the western side of the Fertile Crescent, where the Phoenicians took it in hand and bore it to Carthage, whence it went to Spain. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, it was adopted by a new mercantile power called Rome. Earlier in that journey the word had already slipped further south, as well, wending its way into Arabic.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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