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Abstract–Compassion in the Making: Lexicographic Explorations in Judeo-Hellenistic Literature

Even compassion has a history. The Greek word συμπάθεια, originally a scientific term referring to an affinity between bodies, did not take on an emotional meaning before the second century BCE. Around the same time, in Jewish texts, terms constructed on the noun σπλάγχνα, the “inner parts” or “entrails,” were invested with a new meaning, similar to what we now call “compassion.” This paper constitutes the lexicographic side of a broader research, devoted to the origins of compassion, as a discourse, in the Jewish world. I examine here the use of two roots, συμπαθ- and σπλαγχν-, and trace the process by which they came to refer to “sympathy” and “compassion.” The research is based on the presupposition that discourses do not develop independently from words: lexical uses and discourses grow together, with mutual influence. In that sense, studying the other uses of the two roots may help us recover specific connotations of the ancient sympathy and compassion.

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