Davar and dever: Hebrew and the plague

It’s a bit off-topic from “Milhamah” stuff, but the coronavirus inspired some recent articles on Hebrew and plagues. The connection makes sense, as the word davar (for “word” or “thing”) shares the same ד-ב-ר root as dever (“plague”). The root already debuted in the “Milhamah” comic.

But David Curwin, author of the Balashon Hebrew blog, writes that the two words’ origins differ despite the common root:

More surprisingly, it is not cognate with the word hadbara – “extermination.” That word comes from a third Hebrew root, which meant “to follow behind” or “to push forward.” This meaning led to the word midbar – “desert,” which was a place where cattle were pushed forward to graze. In the more intense hifil form of the verb, hidbir, “pushing forward” became “subdue, overwhelm,” and from there came the meaning “to eliminate, exterminate.” (“Yadber sonenu,” we recite in the Prayer for the I.D.F., asking God to “subdue our enemies.”)

Meanwhile, Daniel Kennemer writes in The Times of Israel about the etymology behind the root ר-ש-ף. It can mean fire, plague, birds, demons and even a Canaanite god named Reshef or Rishpu:

“He spread epidemics and death. […] He is represented with a shield, a club and a lightning bolt,” according to one summary.

Lastly, author Jeremy Benstein writes about the linguistics of infection related to the root ד-ב-ק, tying it to Deut. 28:21. He also notes the root’s sexual and secular meanings, as well as spiritual ones such as “spiritual closeness with God” and the antithesis of:

when an evil spirit clings to a person, a sort of demonic possession, known as a דיבוק dybbuk, made popular in the play by S. An-sky of that name.

Whether our modern anxieties call to plagues, pagan gods or demons, the sickness of our age is obvious. It’s all the more reason why we need heroes armed with candor and dedication.

 

 

 

 

War, pestilence… and a famine of content

The year 2020 has been quite an apocalypse. So why not use some of that inspiration and stay-at-home time to work on “Milhamah: Fighting Words” projects and content?

I’ll begin with an apology for no recent content. In March, I moved up my wedding day and got married, less than 48 hours before a government-ordered lockdown began.  

But after a six-month hiatus from creating “Milhamah” characters, I’m feeling rested and ready to start new progress. Though upcoming comic cons may be canceled, this is a time to sow my talents for a harvest to come.

Here is what I plan to do:

  1. I’m finalizing the script for “Milhamah” Issue 3: The arc will begin after the Deli battle and introduce new characters like Em Qeriah, as well as the enemy Guf soldiers. Shem and Tiqwah will also explore a bit of life in the capital city of ‘Ir Reshumim, and meet a new, mysterious figure.
  2. I’m working on Shem and Tiqwah animations for some “Milhamah” arcade minigames. The games will include a twin-stick arcade game as well as a SkiFree game with a twist. Here is a sample running animation:
    A Tiqwah running animation
  3. I’m drafting a tabletop RPG/game in the “Milhamah” universe. This game will use special 12-sided dice that are based on Hebrew alphabet ciphers: Red is Atbash, blue is Albam, and green is Akhbi. By rolling dice, flipping them over or switching colors, players may maximize their roll results to form letter combos and improvise solutions to obstacles in the game.

Customized 12-sided Hebrew dice are used in an upcoming "Milhamah" RPG.

More about the dice

So how did I come up with the dice? Throughout the ages, biblical commentators and mystics have used all sorts of alphabet ciphers to interpret (and often misinterpret) Hebrew literature. For instance, some scholars believe that the Atbash cipher is used in the biblical book of Jeremiah, where Sheshakh is a hidden codeword for Bavel.

The cool part is that the three chosen ciphers are cyclical, so that by using all three of them, you return to the same Hebrew letter. For instance, א -> Atbash -> ת -> Albam -> כ -> Akhbi -> א.

For now I’ll be making my own dice with blank Chessex dice and custom labels on a desktop cutting machine — at least until I find a freedom-friendly supplier to mass manufacture them at a reasonable price. The goal will be to sell the RPG book and the dice in 2021. 

Expect more “Milhamah” comic art to come soon!