B. Distinctive Names of Species

Distinctive names for species of molluscs are seldom met with in the Talmud. Avoda Zara 28b משקדי חלזונא is an instance. What particular species is referred to would be hard to determine. The only clue afforded by the text is the indication of its being used for the cure of hemorrhoids. Our copies have משקדי with ד. The Aruch reads משקרי with ר. Lewysohn1 equates the word with nisuka (double shelled). This is at least dubious. Kohut accepting the reading of the Aruch and connecting משקרי with the Arabic שקר shaker (intense red) indentifies the species with the Porphyra-Purpura of Aristotle and Pliny: משקרי חלזונא would thus mean “of the intensely red molluscs,” that is of the molluscs yielding a red dye. It is rather doubtful whether this is the true identification.

have not been able to trace in ancient medicine the employment of Purpura in the treatment of hemorrhoids. But as I have not carried my investigations far enough I should lay no emphasis on the negative result of my researches in this direction. In modern pharmaceutics nothing is known of such a use of any species of the mollusca. I make this assertion on the authority of an eminent specialist:


“Faculty of Medicine, University of Paris Laboratory of Pharmacology and Medical Matters.


It is, to my great regret, impossible for me to provide you with useful information on the points on which you have done the honour of consulting me. Products of which you tell me are no longer used for a long time in current therapy and they have no value …

Dr. G. Tourbed.”

“Faculté de Medicine, Université de Paris Laboratoire de Pharmacologie et de Matière Medicale.


Il m’est, a mon grand regret, impossible de vous fournir d’utiles renseignements sur les

points relativement auxquels vous m’avez fait l’honneur de me consulter. Les produits

dont vous me parlez ne sont plus usités depuis longtemps dans la thérapeutique courante

et ils n’ont aucune valeur …

Dr. G. Tourbed.”


A more potent objection is offered by the circumstance that, at least so far as I know, שקר with ש is never used for red in the Talmudim and the Midrashim:סקרתא,סיקרא,שקר do occur as denoting red paint or ink. It would follow that either:

  • the particular designation is a loan-word from Arabic; or that
  • the whole prescription is derived from an Arabic source

is not very probable, there being little ground for supposing that the Palestinian Jews about the end of the 3rd Century were dependent upon the Arabs in matters of marine zoology.

Of (b) something might be said. There are a few allusions in the Talmud to remedies due to Arab travellers.2

I have not found any particular designation of species of molluscs in the Arabic lexicons which I have consulted. Professor Bartholemy, Arabic Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, informs me that neither has he.

Kohut further suggests that his explanation of משקרי חלזונא might throw light upon Midrash Rabbah Genesis 91

.קחו מזמרת הארץ … דברים שהם מזמרין בעולם חלזון חמר קטיף וכר

חמר is none too easy. (See the commentaries.) Kohut proposes to connect חמר with the preceding word, taking the two as a composite expression חמר חלזון the red hillazon (Arab: Ilamia = red), the Purpura of the ancients. The Phoenician purple is known to have been famous beyond all others.

This is not at all bad, but חמר is not the usual word for red in Talmudic and Midrashic literature. The passage, moreover, being in Hebrew, we should expect חלזון אדום rather than חלזון חמר. Is the appellation due to an Arabic source?

The doubt expressed in connection with משקרי also applies here. Or are we to suppose that חלזון חמר goes back to an early Semitic period when Hebrew usage still retained very close affinities with the Arabic, thus indicating that the Hebrews had become acquainted with the dyeing of red purple already in pre-Biblical times?

It is, however, possible to think of חלזון חמר in this instance as being connected with the Biblical חמר deep-red wine, wine of the best quality.3 Argaman of the best quality was conceived as a reproduction of the colour of black-red wine:4

בבס ביין לבושו ובדם ענבים סותה יהא ארגון טב לבושוה׳ וכו׳

The Purpura haemastoma which gives a dark-red purple was probably employed in the manufacture of the Tyrian dark-red purple. חלזון חמר would then be the Hebrew name for the species now called Purpura haemastoma. A very welcome light would thus be thrown upon the Midrashic pasage mentioning חלזון חמר as first among the products for which Canaan was anciently famed. The modern Arabs living about the Haifa coast call the purple snail .5 אלחלזון אחמר They do not however term it אלשקר חלזון as they should have done, if Kohut’s explanation of משקרי חלזון were correct. The Purpura haemastoma is largely represented among the purple-giving molluscs inhabiting that region. Professor Friedlaender has informed me that he is about to go to Haifa for the purpose of conducting researches into the chemical constitution of the dye furnished by that species. All lovers of science will wish him the greatest success. The appellation אחמר, by the way, may, I think, be due not to the colour of the pigment secreted by the Purpura haemastoma but rather to the bright orange red colour of the animal’s mouth. (Cf. Purpura haemastoma: blood mouthed Pourpre bouche à sang).



  1. Idem, p. 368, p. 283.
  2.  E.g. 82 שבתb 110b.
  3.  Deut. XXXII, 14; Is. XXVIII, 2.
  4.  Targum Onkelos, Gen. XLIX, 11.; Cf. Ovid, Faest. II, 316; Cf. Bluemner, Hugo, Die Farbenreichnungen bei den römischen Dichtern, Berlin (1892), p. 192.
  5. Schwartz. Yehoseph, A descriptive geography . . . of Palestine, Philadelphia (1850), p. 197.