Q&A: What does the tattoo on Amos Burton’s left forearm in the series “The Expanse” (see Season 3 episode 8) mean? It looks like Hebrew.

This is a dog’s breakfast of an inscription, which requires a bit of sleuthing.

The tattooist clearly doesn’t know Hebrew (no surprise there—that’s usually the case), and appears to have worked off an inscription featuring the heavily-seriphed style of the Second Temple era (300 BCE–100 CE), rather than a conventional Square Script font.

My first guess was that this was an attempt at a clever Samson-related allusion, because one sense of the root of the second word רעותך (réutkha) is ‘grazing in foreign pastures’, i.e. mixing among the Gentiles and adopting their customs (as Samson did, with the Philistines). But if so, the allusion is obscure, and anyway the Hebrew lettering is a thousand years after Samson’s time, when they used Paleo-Hebrew writing, which is quite different.

So I then pursued a second theory, which is that רעותך (réutkha), which in Hebrew means ‘your companionship’, is best known from an Aramaic blessing called בריך שמיה (Brikh Shméh) that is said before one opens the Torah scroll for reading in a synagogue service, where it is pronounced réutakh and means ‘your favour’:

בְּרִיךְ שְׁמֵהּ דְּמָרֵא עָלְמָא, בְּרִיךְ כִּתְרָךְ וְאַתְרָךְ. יְהֵא רְעוּתָךְ עִם עַמָּךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְעָלַם

Brikh Shméh demaré alma, brikh kitrakh ve’atrakh. Yehé réutakh im amkha Yisrael lé’alam = ‘Blessed is the world’s Lord’s name, blessed is thy crown and place. May your favour be with your people Israel forever.

In Hebrew, the word ’ut is feminine, however, so the client, not knowing the blessing, and thinking that the verb should be Téhé, not Yehé (which is masculine), ‘corrected’ it before bringing it to the tattooist in Second Temple Hebrew lettering :

—and then the tattooist botched the rendition of the first word on the right.

If there’s a more plausible explanation, I’d be interested to hear it.


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