"Kurban" in Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkic, and Greek

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Michael Carasik called this article to my attention:

"Battered but Resilient After China's Crackdown", NYT (1/18/20), by Chris Buckley, Steven Lee Myers, and Gilles Sabrié
An ancient Muslim town, Yarkand is a cultural cradle for the Uighurs, who have experienced mass detentions. A rare visit revealed how people there have endured the upheavals.

He asked about the following sentence:

"Amid the rubble of a demolished lot, residents bought sheep for Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, called Corban by Uighurs."

Pointing out that "Corban" is the Hebrew word for sacrifice, Michael wondered how it got connected with Eid al-Adha.  Thereby hangs a tale, which has captivated me for the last two days.

Let's start with the basic Islamic terminology:

Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى‎, romanizedʿīd al-ʾaḍḥā, lit. 'Feast of the Sacrifice', IPA: [ʕiːd ælˈʔɑdˤħæː]) or Eid Qurban (Persian: عيد قربان‎), also called the "Festival of the Sacrifice", is the second of two Islamic holidays celebrated worldwide each year (the other being Eid al-Fitr), and considered the holier of the two. It honours the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God's command. But, before Abraham could sacrifice his son, God provided a goat to sacrifice instead. In commemoration of this intervention, an animal is sacrificed ritually and divided into three parts. One share is given to the poor and needy, another is kept for home, and the third is given to relatives.

In languages other than Arabic, the name is often simply translated into the local language, such as English Feast of the Sacrifice, German Opferfest, Dutch Offerfeest, Romanian Sărbătoarea Sacrificiului, and Hungarian Áldozati ünnep. In Spanish it is known as Fiesta del Cordero or Fiesta del Borrego (both meaning "festival of the lamb"). In Kurdish it is known as (Cejna Qurbanê / جەژنی قوربان). It is also known as Eid Qurban (عید قربان) in Persian speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, Kurban Bayramı in Turkey, কোরবানীর ঈদ in Bangladesh, as عید الكبير the big Feast in the Maghreb, as Iduladha, Hari Raya Aiduladha, Hari Raya Haji or Qurban in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, as بکرا عید "Goat Eid" or بڑی عید "Greater Eid" in India and Pakistan, Bakara Eid in Trinidad and Tobago, as Tabaski or Tobaski in The Gambia, Guinea, and Senegal (most probably borrowed from the Serer language – and an ancient Serer religious festival), and as Odún Iléyá by the Yorúbà people of Nigeria

The following names are used as other names of Eid al-Adha:

    • عیدالاضحیٰ (transliterations of the Arabic name) is used in Urdu, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, and Austronesian languages such as Malay and Indonesian.
    • العيد الكبير meaning "Greater Eid" (the "Lesser Eid" being Eid al-Fitr) is used in Yemen, Syria, and North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt). Local language translations are used لوی اختر in Pashto, Kashmiri (Baed Eid), Urdu and Hindi (Baṛī Īd), বড় ঈদ in Bengali, Tamil (Peru Nāl, "Great Day") and Malayalam (Bali Perunnal, "Great Day of Sacrifice") as well as Manding varieties in West Africa such as Bambara, Maninka, Jula etc. (ߛߊߟߌߓߊ Seliba, "Big/great prayer").
    • عید البقرة (eid al-baqara) meaning "the Feast of Cows (also sheep or goats)" is used in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East. Although the word ‏بقرة‎ properly means a cow, it is also semantically extended to mean all livestock, especially sheep or goats. This extension is used in Hindi and Urdu as a very similar name ईद-उल-अज़हा (īd-ul-azhā, 'the Feast of goat') is used for the occasion.
    • The Feast of Sacrifice is used in Uzbekistan.
    • The Hajj Feast is used in Malaysian and Indonesian, in the Philippines.
    • Big Sallah in Nigeria, as it is considered to be holier than Eid al-Fitr (which is locally known as the "Small Sallah"). "Ram Sallah" is also used, as it refers to the rams that are being sacrificed on that day.

The word عيد (ʿīd) means 'festival', 'celebration', 'feast day', or 'holiday'. It itself is a triliteral rootعيد‎ with associated root meanings of "to go back, to rescind, to accrue, to be accustomed, habits, to repeat, to be experienced; appointed time or place, anniversary, feast day." Arthur Jeffery contests this etymology, and believes the term to have been borrowed into Arabic from Syriac, or less likely Targumic Aramaic.

The words أضحى (aḍḥā) and قربان (qurbān) are synonymous in meaning 'sacrifice' (animal sacrifice), 'offering' or 'oblation'. The first word comes from the triliteral root ضحى (ḍaḥḥā) with associated meanings of "immolate ; offer up ; sacrifice ; victimize." No occurrence of this root with a meaning related to sacrifice occurs in the Qur'an but in the Hadith literature. Arab Christians use the term to mean the Eucharistic host. The second word derives from the triliteral root ‏‏قرب‎‎ (qaraba) with associated meanings of "closeness, proximity… to moderate; kinship…; to hurry; …to seek, to seek water sources…; scabbard, sheath; small boat; sacrifice." Arthur Jeffery recognizes the same Semitic root, but believes the sense of the term to have entered Arabic through Aramaic. Compare Hebrew korban קָרבן (qorbān).


Peter Golden:

It’s a misspelling of qurban  < Arabic qurbān, in Uyghur this is Qurban Héyit (<Arab. ‘aid / عيد ‘īd,) in Turkish this is Kurban bayramı.

Martin Schwartz:

Cognate to the Heb. word is Arab. qurbân 'sacrifice', which entered the Turkic languages.

For the Turkic word having entered Greek Christianity, see the interesting Wikipedia article "Kourbania".  For kurban used as an exclamation (what sort, I'm not sure) in a Greek secular lowerclass-allusive song in the old Asia Minor Greek urban tradition, Google Antonis Diamantidis Dalgas, Barba Giannakakis (or Giannakis).  I have been very involved with this sort of music: Google  Martin Schwartz rebetica rembetica (rebetiko)

Brian Spooner:

Korban (qorban) is an Arabic word, used in Persian, and through Persian in pretty much all the Turkic languages of Central Asia, with a variety of idiomatic uses which have little to do with sacrifice.

Words wander across whole continents and beyond and, as they go from one language to another, their meanings and nuances change, and so do their pronunciations — sometimes quite radically.

For a comprehensive treatment of diverse aspects of "kurban" — linguistic, religious, ritualistic, historical, etc. see here.


  1. Wally said,

    January 20, 2020 @ 4:13 pm

    My kids hear “kurban olum “ all the time from their mother who is a native of Istanbul.

  2. martin schwartz said,

    January 20, 2020 @ 5:25 pm

    The Hebrew word is better transcribed qorbân (here ^ = macron).
    The Isreali and Ashenazic pronunciations have European k-
    for q-, but the latter sound is maintained by Jews from the Arab world.
    After I wrote Victor I realized that the Arabic is probably borrowed
    from Aramaic, as Jeffrey has it. Istanbul etc. Turkish has kurban,
    but the word is pronounced with q- dialectally.

  3. CuConnacht said,

    January 20, 2020 @ 5:40 pm

    Azhā may mean goat in Hindi and Urdu (for all I know) and Hindi and Urdu speakers may interpret īd-ul-azhā as meaning "feast of goats", but surely it actually derives from Arabic عيد الأضحى, Eid ul adha, feast of sacrifice.

    "Corban" meaning "dedicated to religious purposes" occurs in the seventh chapter of the gospel of Mark. In the Authorized

    10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:

    11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.

    12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;

    13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 20, 2020 @ 7:10 pm

    Those Christian traditions whose liturgical language was traditionally Syriac (ranging from the Levant to Kerala historically, and now worldwide) tend to refer to the principal Sunday service known in other traditions as Holy Communion or the Mass or the Divine LIturgy etc. as the Holy Qurbana or Qurbano, which is transparently the same word. I would imagine the Nestorian community in Tang-through-Mongol-era China used the word, although I don't know what if any linguistic traces it left. (This is not the same as the Greek "kourbania" referenced above – rather, the sacrificed Lamb is represented by what would appear to be the forms of bread and wine, as elsewhere in the Christian world.)

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 20, 2020 @ 9:16 pm

    From Chris Atwood:

    @J. W. Brewer:

    That's an interesting question; I've often wondered about it myself. However, as far as I know there is no surviving reflex of Qurban in any Mongolian language as far as I know. (The similarity to ghurban "three" is purely by chance — ghurban has a good Mongolian etymology, and derivatives of the root are attested long before the Tang.)

  6. martin schwartz said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 12:56 am

    @J.W. Brewer:
    All I meant was that Greek kourbani(a) etymologically is from Turkish kurban. On the first matter of your remarks, the Syriac word, via
    The Church of the East, entered Chrisitan texts in Sogdian and Old Turkish; google Sogdian qwrbn' for various attestations.
    Martin Schwartz

  7. martin schwartz said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 1:28 am

    @J.W. Brewer
    In fact ,the Syriac word, via the Church of the East
    ("Nestorianism'), entered Christian Sogdian and Old Turkish texts found in Turfan/Turpan, China;
    google Sogdian qwrbn' for various attestations. Re kourbania,
    all I meant to indicate was that the latter is ETYMOLOGICALLY
    from Turkish kurban/qurban.

  8. George said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 5:58 am

    Seeing the Kurdish Cejna Qurbanê referred to makes me wonder if cejna is related to the Latin cena, which persists in modern Latin-derived languages to refer to the Last Supper – a ritually significant meal with a sacrificial element – and not to evening meals in general.

  9. George said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 10:45 am

    Sorry, I really should do some basic Googling first. I see that cejna refers to festivals in general, so a link would seem unlikely.

  10. Erika H Gilson said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 11:51 am

    To Wally: what the children hear is probably 'kurban olayım' – let me be your sacrifice – usually uttered as a form of entreaty.

  11. Mahyar Goodarz said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 5:31 pm

    'meanings and nuances change'. Too right.

    In household Persian, 'qorban' means darling. 'Qorbanet' (literally 'your darling') means something like 'you're welcome' or 'no worries'.

  12. IA said,

    January 21, 2020 @ 8:26 pm

    Exonerated 'Nestorians' (ie Church of the East / new calendar faction) sing the Qurbana Qadiša (Holy Qurbana):

  13. martin schwartz said,

    January 22, 2020 @ 2:23 am

    @George: The Kurdish word cejna is pronounced jæshnâ,
    and is cognate with Persian jashn (jæshn) 'feast', Avestan yasna- and Sanskrit yajña- 'sacrifice, offering, ceremony'. Nothing to do with Latin cena.
    @Mahyar Goodarz: I think the meaning of the word kurban in the Greek song I mentioned is similar.

  14. martin schwartz said,

    January 22, 2020 @ 4:06 pm

    More accurately than what I wrote,
    the Kurdish word for celebration, feastday, etc. is
    cejn. It is pronounced jæzhn, the jæ- as in English jam,
    and the -zhn as in English (vi)sion. The -a od cejna links cejn
    to the following noun or adjective in various constructions.
    The Indo-Iranian source means 'sacrifice' and 'worship',
    and the Indo-European root also gives Greek hágios 'holy'.

  15. V said,

    January 22, 2020 @ 8:59 pm

    Kurban is a perfectly cromulent word in Bulgarian; it means a ritual sacrifice, usually of a lamb, for Saint George's day.

  16. V said,

    January 22, 2020 @ 9:06 pm

    OR the anniversary of something that has happened in your life that has endangered it.

  17. V said,

    January 22, 2020 @ 9:16 pm

    It does not have to involve any killing of animals at all, it can just be a completely vegetarian communal meal now.

  18. George said,

    January 23, 2020 @ 5:43 am

    @martin schwartz

    Thanks. It was just idle musing on my part and I realised pretty quickly that I was probably on a very wrong track. The link (albeit distant) with hágios is interesting.

  19. BZ said,

    January 23, 2020 @ 2:40 pm

    I find it unremarkable that a word associated with a Muslim ritual (therefore likely of Arabic origin) has a Hebrew cognate. Am I missing something?

  20. AbuMolly said,

    January 23, 2020 @ 4:19 pm

    "The Isreali and Ashenazic pronunciations have European k-
    for q-, but the latter sound is maintained by Jews from the Arab world."

    I think this is largely a myth as I have never heard a differentiation in that pronunciation ever except for with much older Yemenite Jews.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    January 23, 2020 @ 8:59 pm

    From Martin Schwartz:


    The Kurdish word is cejn and is actually pronounced (against what I said in a dozing moment) jæzhn, with jæ- as in Eng. jam and -zhn as in English (vi)sion; cejna is a suffixed form which indicates constructions with following nouns or adjectives. The Indo-iranian antecedent means 'act of worship' or 'sacrifice', and is from the same Indo-European root as Greek hágios 'holy'.

  22. Rodger C said,

    January 24, 2020 @ 7:46 am

    I suspect some people are being misled by the c in cejn, which is no doubt from Turkish spelling.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    January 25, 2020 @ 11:16 pm

    From Petya Andreeva:

    Very interesting article, thank you for sharing. I am from a city in Southeastern Bulgaria, quite close to the Turkish border, and we do perform a “kurban” or order somebody to do it for us even now. Usually people would slaughter a pig before a big life-changing event or test (getting into college, surgery etc.) and make a feast serving only dishes made from the meat of that animal. Alternatively, they would do kurban preventatively: if they have a bad premonition etc. it is fascinating that even the most intellectual urban elites would still do a kurban occasionally so it is definitely not a rural phenomenon. Most people do not even know it is part of Islamic culture as it is so integrally entwined into the fabrics of our culture. It is definitely a remnant from the Ottoman period, which is more heavily felt in South Bulgaria.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    February 1, 2020 @ 10:51 am

    By chance, while looking for something else, I came upon a wonderful entry for the triliteral root "qrb" in the appendix of Semitic roots in The American Heritage Dictionary of English (5th ed.), p. 2076a:


    To be(come) near, draw near. 1a. CORBAN, from Hebrew qorbān, offering, from hiqrîb, to bring near, present, offer….


  25. Brian Spooner said,

    February 1, 2020 @ 5:52 pm

    I am finding this very puzzling. Qorban is such an important word in the Persianate world. The root Q-R-B is Arabic, with other derivatives such as taqarrub and taqrib. But how did it get the form qorb with the an suffix (which is Persian), and its Persianate usage?

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