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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner
שֵׁם shem

The Hebrew word for a “name” is שם (shem, Strong's #8034). The Hebrew word נשמה (neshamah, Strong's #5397) is formed by adding the letters מ (m) and ה (h) to the word שם (shem). This word is used in Genesis 2:7 and means “breath.”

And the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and he blew in his nostrils the breath (נשמה) of life and the man became a living soul.

While the Western mind simply sees “breath” as the exchange of air within the lungs, the ancient Hebrew mind understood the “breath” in an entirely different way as can be seen in Job 32:8:

The wind within man and the breath (נשמה) of the Almighty teach them.

Our Western understanding of the breath does not easily grasp the concept that a breath can teach. While our Western understanding can easily associate thoughts and emotions as the function of the “mind”, the Easterner sees the same function in the “breath”. The “breath” of both men and God has the ability to carry thought and emotion.

A “name” is a person’s “breath,” his character.

A common mistake in Biblical interpretation is to make a distinction between a name and a title. For example, “King David”, is often understood as containing the “name” “David” (an identifier) and his “title,” “King”. The Hebrew word דויד (david) literally means; “beloved”, or “one who loves” and is descriptive of David's character. The Hebrew word מלך (melek) literally means “ruler” or “one who rules”, and is also descriptive of David's character. The Hebrews made no such distinction between a name and a title. The phrase “King David” is Hebraicly understood as “the one who rules is the one who loves”, a very fitting title for the great benevolent king of Israel and the friend of God.

Hebrew names have meanings that are lost when translated into English. The Hebrew word אדם (adam, Strong's #120), means “man” and is also the name of the first man, Adam.

“The LORD God formed the man אדם (adam, Strong's #120) from the dust of the ground”. (Genesis 2.7)

English translations completely erase the Hebraic connection between the “man” and his origin. When we place the original Hebrew words back into the text, we can see the connection between the words in the verse.

And the LORD formed the אדם (Adam, Strong's #120) from the dust of אדמה (adamah, Strong's #127 - ground) . (Genesis 2.7)

Below are a few other examples of the relationship between an individual's name and his function or role.

And she bore קין (Qayin/Cain, Strong's #7014) and she said I have קנה (Qanah, Strong's #7069 - acquired) a man. (Genesis 4:1)

And she bore a son and called his name שת (Sheyt/Seth, Strong's #8352) because God שית (Shiyt, Strong's #7896 - placed) a seed to replace Abel. (Genesis 4:25)

And he called his name נוח (No’ahh/Noah, Strong's #5146) saying he will נחם (Nahham, Strong's #5162 - comfort) us. (Genesis 5:29)

And to Eber were born two sons, the name of one is פלג (Peleg, Strong's #6389) because in his days the land was פלג (Palag, Strong's #6385- divided) . (Genesis 10.25)

Because Bible translations transliterate a name, such as נוח into “Noah,” the translation converts the meaning and essence of the name into simple “identifiers” and the connections between the name and his or her function or role is lost in the translation.

Strong's: #8034

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