September 15, 2021

On today’s date, the Vulcan blessing “Live long and prosper” became part of our Earthly language…

You don’t have to be a full-fledged Trekkie to be familiar with the “Vulcan blessing” from Star Trek “Live long and prosper” — or with the splay-fingered “Vulcan salute” that is generally used when that saying is spoken.

Actor Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) made both famous by using them in his portrayal of the famed half-human, half-Vulcan Trek character Spock.

If you’re a knowledgeable fan of the original Star Trek television series, you may know the episode that introduced the Vulcan blessing and salute.

It’s titled “Amok Time” and it was first aired on September 15, 1967 (as Episode 1 of Season 2).

I remember watching “Amok Time” that night in ‘67 as a teenager and working to make my fingers split apart in proper Vulcan fashion.

Many Trek fans, including me, consider it one of the best episodes of the original series.

The script for “Amok Time” was written by the legendary science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon.

It’s one of three scripts Sturgeon wrote for Star Trek.

He also penned the script for the humorous “Shore Leave” episode from Season 1 and a script titled “Joy Machine” that was never produced.

In addition to being the first Trek episode to feature the Vulcan blessing and salute, “Amok Time” is the only episode of the original Trek series that includes scenes set on Vulcan, Spock’s home planet.

The Vulcan blessing and salute, and several other key elements of Vulcan culture featured in this episode, were used throughout the rest of the original series — and in the following Trek spin-off TV series and movies.

The most memorable initial use of the blessing and salute in “Amok Time” comes near the end of the episode.

As Spock prepares to leave the planet, he says to the female Vulcan leader, T’Pau (played by actress Celia Lovsky): “Live long, T’Pau, and prosper.”

T’Pau responds: “Live long and prosper, Spock.”

As they speak, they give each other the Vulcan salute.

In his 1975 autobiography, I Am Not Spock, and in several later interviews, Nimoy said he invented the Vulcan salute hand gesture for the “Amok Time” episode.

He said he based it on a traditional hand gesture used by Orthodox Jewish priests called the “the Priestly Blessing.” In Hebrew, the term is Birkat Kohanim.

Nimoy, who was Jewish, recalled seeing the gesture performed by priests during Synagogue services when he was a child and it stuck in his memory.

Traditionally, the priests, called Kohanim in Hebrew, perform the gesture with both hands raised.

They splay their fingers like the Vulcan salute, but use both hands. They raise their hands and bring their two thumbs together.

The resulting two-handed formation represents the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), which has three upward strokes similar to the way the thumbs and fingers look in the gesture.

That letter appears in both the name El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty God” and in the well-known Hebrew word Shalom (peace).

The spoken blessing the priests say when using the blessing hand gesture is translated in English as “Yahweh bless you, and guard you.”

A version of the blessing is noted in several places in the Old Testament chapters of the Bible. The most cited source is in Numbers 6:23-24.

In those verses, God says to Moses (in the King James translation): “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, / The LORD bless thee, and keep thee.”

It’s somewhat ironic that the female Vulcan T’Pau uses the Vulcanized version of the Jewish Priestly Blessing in “Amok Time.” According to Jewish tradition, only male priests may perform the Birkat Kohanim benediction. But, of course, that’s an Earth custom, not Vulcan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to the readers who emailed me noting that, although the exact saying “Live long and prosper” was popularized by its use in Star Trek, there are several similar earlier lines in literature. For example, in William Shakespeare's 1594 play Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says to to his friend and servant Balthasar: “Live and be prosperous, and farewell, good fellow.” And, in the 1894 novel Trilby, author George Du Maurier has a character say of his friend “May he live long and prosper!”

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