Hebrew Word Meanings
By Jeff A. Benner

As it has been mentioned, Hebrew words are commonly defined from a western perspective. How is the original meaning of words from an Hebraic perspective determined?

1. Determining the concrete meaning of the word. A Hebrew word that is often translated in an abstract manner will many times be used in a concrete manner somewhere in the text (most often in the book of Job, the oldest book of the Bible and therefore using the most ancient meanings of words). An example of this is the word (hhay). This word is usually translated as life but in one place, Job 38:39, this word is best translated as "stomach"; "Can you hunt the prey of the lion or fill the stomach of the young lion?". From this we see that life to the Ancient Hebrew is related to a full stomach.

2. How scholars define a word. While most scholars approach the Hebrew langauge from a very Western perspective, their insights are always useful.

3. Relationship to related roots and words. By comparing the word in question with other words derived from the same or related roots the original meaning can be determined. The word (kohen) meaning "priest" is related to other words meaning base, foundation and level. From this we discover that the priests of the community are the foundation or the firm base of that community.

4. How the word is used in various contexts. One hebrew word is often translated many different ways based on the context but there is onely one meaning behind the word which can be applied in all instances of its use.

5. Compare with antonyms and synonyms. Compare the use of a given word with synonyms and antonyms in poetical passages (especially Psalms and Proverbs).

6. Cognates in other Semitic languages. Most Hebrew words of the Bible are also used in other Semitic languages, such as Akkadian, Eblaite, Aramaic, etc., and will usually have the same or similar meaning.

7. How the was word translated in the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was written by Jews 2,000 years ago it is insight into how they defined any given word 2,000 years ago.

8. The pictographs used in a word. These pictographs supply some information into the meaning of a word. an example is the Hebrew word for "mother", (eym). The is a picture of an ox representing strength and the is a picture of water. Combined these mean "strong water" or glue. The mother is understood by the ancient Hebrews as one who binds the family together.

AHRC Home > Vocabulary > Mechanics > Meanings