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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

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By Jeff A. Benner


Were the Hebrews, according to Jeremiah 14:2, black in color? Answer

What is the mark placed on the foreheads in Ezekiel 9:4? Answer

Why are the years of Israel’s sojourning different in Genesis 15:13 and Exodus 12:40? Answer

What sources can be used to learn the original ancient meaning of Hebrew words? Answer

In the original King James Version of Exodus 25:31, the pronoun "his" is used five different times to describe the Menorah. Why was "his" changed to "its" in every other Bible version I could find? Answer

If Eve was taken from the bones of Adam why does it say "this is now bone of my bones? Answer

According to Exodus 23:13 we are not to speak the names of other gods. How do we observe this when the names of the days of the week are names of other gods? Answer

Where can I go to find and use resources that will help me with Hebrew prefixes and suffixes? Answer

Does the Hebrew word translated as “circle” in Isaiah 40:22 imply a flat or globe earth? Answer

Are the laws given to Moses by God at Mt. Sinai just a copy of the laws of Hammurabi (c. 1810 BC to c. 1750 BC)? Answer

What does Strong's Dictionary mean when it says, "from an unused root?" Answer

Is there a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 2? Answer

Is Strong's dictionary and concordance a good resource for studying Hebrew words? Answer

Should women wear tsiytsiyt (fringes)?" Answer






Were the Hebrews, according to Jeremiah 14:2, black in color?

There is a lot going on this verse. The word "gate" is a euphemism for "judges," the rulers of Judah and this is a parallelism. A parallelism is when one states one thing in two different ways, so "Judah" and "gates" are referring to the the same thing, the leaders of Judah. With that said, "black" is referring to "the leaders of Judah," but when Hebrew "describes" something, it is not meant to be a physical description, but a personal attribute (in most cases, unless a physical description is necessary for the narrative). I would interpret the use of this verb in this verse as "black with grief."

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What is the mark placed on the foreheads in Ezekiel 9:4?

The Hebrew for the phrase in question reads vehitvita tav al mitshhot ha'anashim. The word vehitvita means "and make a mark". The base word is the verb tavah meaning "to make a mark". The second word "tav" is a noun meaning a mark and comes from the same root as the previous verb tavah. The rest of the phrase al mitshhot ha'anashim means "upon the foreheads of the men".

There is two ways to interpret this phrase. The first is to translate this passage as "make a mark of a mark on the foreheads of the men" where the type or style of the mark is not indicated. Secondly, because the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called the "tav" it is possible that this passage is saying "make a mark of the letter tav on the foreheads of the men". If this is true then the mark was the letter tav. At the time of Ezekiel this letter would appear as + or x. But in ancient Hebrew it appeared more like the cross shape we are all familiar with, kind of like the letter t (without the tail at the bottom).

Personally I believe the second interpretation is the better translation.

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Why are the years of Israel’s sojourning different in Genesis 15:13 and Exodus 12:40?

The Hebrew text of Genesis 15:13 says "arba (4) me'ot (hundred) shanah (year)" - 400 years and Exodus 12:40 says "sheloshiym (30) shanah (year) v’arba (and 4) meot (hundred) shanah (year)" - 430 years. It is likely that at some point a scribe was copying the text of Genesis 15:13 and accidentally skipped over the words sheloshiym shanah v (30 years and). This is not uncommon. There are many mistakes in the Hebrew Bible where words, phrases even sentences are accidentally deleted or even duplicated. The 430 years is also confirmed in Galatians 3:17.

If the original number was 430 years, does this mean that Israel was in the land of Egypt for 430 years? This would not coincide with the genealogy provided in the Biblical text which indicates Israel was in Egypt for approximately 200 years (the only variable being the age of Kohath when he bore Amram and the age of Amram when he bore Moses). However, if we assume an age of 61 years for Kohath when he bore Amram and an age of 62 years for Amram when he bore Moses (this may sound like an old age but Abraham was 87 when he bore Ishmael, Isaac was 60 when he bore Jacob and Jacob was 87 when he bore Levi), then there would be 430 years from the birth of Isaac to when Israel entered the Promised Land. Genesis 15:13 does not say Israel would be in Egypt for 430 years (though this is how most interpret this passage) but that Abraham’s descendants (possibly meaning with the birth of Isaac) would sojourn in a land that did not belong to them.

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What sources can be used to learn the original ancient meaning of Hebrew words?

A Modern Hebrew dictionary has its obvious limitations when studying Ancient / Biblical Hebrew as it is composed for a Modern Hebrew language. However, I have found that Biblical Hebrew dictionaries and lexicons often duplicate what is found in Modern Hebrew dictionaries unless there is a contextual reason in the Biblical text to change that meaning or, there is a theological (bias) reason for changing that definition. I believe this is due to two factors. First, no ancient dictionary was written to provide us the meaning of Hebrew words therefore; we are left with the modern Hebrew dictionaries to define the words in the Bible. Secondly, modern Biblical Hebrew scholars are western thinkers and view the Hebrew language from that perspective matching the perspective of the modern Hebrew language and its dictionaries.

All scholars and students of the Hebrew bible are handicapped from the start for the reasons provided above. I was in this same dilemma until I heard a teaching by Dr. Fleming on how the Ancient Hebrew language really worked and how differently their way of thinking was from ours. Other resources I stumbled upon was a book titled How the Hebrew Language Grew by Edward Horowitz and Hebrew thought compared with Greek by Thorleif Boman. With this little bit of knowledge I started looking for these "ancient" definitions and the best place was within the words themselves. By studying the roots of words and words related to those roots the original concrete Hebraic definitions can be found.

Needless to say, there are only a small handful of people (today and in the past) working on the Hebrew language from this perspective and we are digging in virgin soil and each is approaching the problem from different angles. Hopefully one day the Academic world will grab a hold of this new perspective of an ancient language.

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In the original King James Version of Exodus 25:31, the pronoun "his" is used five different times to describe the Menorah. Why was "his" changed to "its" in every other Bible version I could find?

It is interesting that the KJV would use "his." Let me begin by explaining how pronouns work in Hebrew. All nouns in Hebrew are either masculine or feminine. For instance, father (av), light (or) and tree (ets) are masculine and mother (eym), faith (emunah) and soul (nephesh) are feminine. Pronouns used for these words would also be masculine or feminine. Below are some examples

hu av = he is a father
eym = she is a mother

These translations make sense in English but when working with nouns that have no gender in English it is a little different. For instance, the phrase hu ets would literally be translated as "he is a tree" but because this is poor English the translators would change it to "it’s a tree."

Now let's look at Exodus 25:31. The noun that the pronouns refer to is the Hebrew word menorah. Menorah is a feminine word. The KJV has "his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers." The Hebrew is yereykhah, veqanah, geviyeyah, kaphtoreyah, and uphraheyah." Notice that each of these words end with "ah" and is the pronoun suffix meaning "her." So, it should be translated as "her branches, her bowls, her knops, and her flowers" or "its branches, its bowls, its knops, and its flowers."

Why the KJV chose to use the masculine pronoun "his" is beyond me.

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If Eve was taken from the bones of Adam why does it say "this is now bone of my bones?

In Genesis 2:23 the phrase "this is now" is an attempt at a translation of the Hebrew phrase "zot hapa'am." The word "zot" does mean "this" but the word hapa'am is a little more difficult. This is the word pa'am prefixed by the "ha" meaning "the." The word pa'am is literally a repetitive beat such as from a drum. It can also mean a stroke of time or to repeat something such as seen in Genesis 33:3; "He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times (pa'am)." Using this understanding of the word, Genesis 2:23 could be translated as, "This time is bone from my bones" and is implying that the previous times were not "bone from my bones." Three verses prior to this it states "The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him." In this context we see that the "first times" were unsuccessful in finding a helper for Adam, but with Eve, this time it worked.

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According to Exodus 23:13 we are not to speak the names of other gods. How do we observe this when the names of the days of the week are names of other gods?

While many are not aware of this, each day of the week is named for a god: Sun’s day, Moon’s day, Teu’s day, Woden’s day, Thor’s day, Frea’s day, Saturn’s day. It would appear from Exodus 23:13, that we should not use these names of the week, as we would be “speaking” the names of other gods. The problem with taking Exodus 23:13 very literally, is that this would mean that YHWH is in violation of his own command as he often speaks the names of foreign gods. However, when we look at this verse from a Hebraic perspective it does not say “do not speak” or “ do not mention” their names, it actually says “do not remember” their names. In Hebrew thought “remembering” is not just a mental exercise, but an action of response. In addition, the word for “name” is “shem” which more literally means “character.” Therefore, this verse is not saying “do not speak the names of other gods,” but instead,” do not respond to the character of the other gods.”

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Where can I go to find and use resources that will help me with Hebrew prefixes and suffixes?

One of the best resources for breaking down the morphology of Hebrew words is Benjamin Davidson's Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, which is available as a free download in our bookstore. In this lexicon each Hebrew word in the Hebrew Bible is listed alphabetically. Below is the entry for the word in question above.

Analytical

At the far right is the root word שׁבר (Sh.B.R), which can be looked up in the lexicon for the definition "to break, break in pieces."

At the far left the lexicon identifies the letter ל (l) as a prefix, which as the person asking the question pointed out means "to." Then it identifies the verb as a niphil participle plural construct masculine. Verbs can be a little tricky, but after doing a number of these types of word studies you will soon learn the rules. Niphil verbs add a נ (n) prefix to the verb. Participles turn verbs into a noun (breaking). Masculine plural participles (breakings) add the suffix ים (iym), but because it is a construct (breakings of), the letterמ (m) is dropped. When this word is translated in combination with the prefix ל (l) and the word לב (lev, meaning heart), you have the translation "to the breakings of the heart."

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Does the Hebrew word translated as “circle” in Isaiah 40:22 imply a flat or globe earth?

Neither. The Hebrew word is הוג (hug, Strong’s #2329) does mean a “circle,” but it can also mean a “compass,” which is a tool for making a circle. While our Greco-Roman Western minds are comfortable with speculating about things that are unknown, the Hebraic Eastern mind is not and will only relate to things that can be seen or experienced. The author of Isaiah is not speaking about the planet “earth,” but the “land.” The Hebrew word ארץ (erets, Strong’s #776), while frequently translated as “earth” does not mean the “planet.” A better translation is “land” or “region.” If you were to stand on a large flat plain and look at the horizon all around you, you would notice that the horizon forms a “circle,” like a compass would make if the stationary point of the compass was at your position. The passage in question is speaking about the “land” contained within that “circle.”

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Are the laws given to Moses by God at Mt. Sinai just a copy of the laws of Hammurabi (c. 1810 BC to c. 1750 BC)?

There are many similarities to the commands given by God at Mt. Sinai and the Hammurabi codes and many have suspected that Moses was copying from the Hammurabi codes, but there is an alternative explanation. It is assumed by many that God first gave the Torah (a word meaning "teachings," but often translated as "law") to Moses on Mt. Sinai, but this is not the case. We know from Genesis 26:5 that Abraham obeyed God's Torah (translated as laws in that verse). It is apparent that God gave the Torah to Adam who passed it down to his children, who knew about such commands as murder and sacrifices, who passed it down to their children, and etc. Hammurabi would have been one of those descendants.

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Is there a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 2?

The idea of the "Gap theory" is derived from the Hebrew wording of the beginning of verse 2 which could be translated as "and the earth became empty." With this wording some have proposed that something happened between verse 1 and verse 2 - the gap. In other words, God created the heavens and the earth (verse 1) and then there was a long span of time and the heavens and earth slipped into chaos (verse 2). I however, do not agree with this interpretation as I translate verse 1 and 2 as "in the summit Elohiym fattened (filled) the sky and the land because the land was empty and unfilled." From this interpretation of the Hebrew Genesis 1:1 is not about the "creation" (A Greek abstract concept) but about God filling up the sky and the land (verse 1) because it was empty and in confusion (verse 2). Also recognize that this "filling" is what much of chapter one is about, filling the sky, water and land with the sun, moon, stars, fish, birds, plants, animals and man.

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What does Strong's Dictionary mean when it says, "from an unused root?"

All Hebrew words are derived from a root. For instance, the Hebrew word amen (so be it, meaning you "support" what is being said) comes from the root aman meaning "support." There are some words in the Bible where the root word is not used or found in the Bible. For instance, we have the word erets (land), but the root, which would be arats, is not found in the Hebrew Bible, so the dictionary or lexicon will say "from an unused root." It might also add, such as Strong's does for erets, "probably meaning to be firm." There are two possible ways this "probable" meaning is determined. It may be an educated guess based on the meaning of the words derived from that root or it may be determined by the use of that root in another Semitic language such as Aramaic, Akkadian, etc.

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Is Strong's dictionary and concordance a good resource for studying Hebrew words?

One of the best tools written to begin learning about Hebrew is Strong's dictionary. Many concordances and some Bibles are keyed to this resource. Using Psalm 51:1 as an example - Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me, the word "right" is listed in Strong's dictionary as number 3559 and we find that the Hebrew word is "kun" which means to be firm or stable. This provides a deeper understanding of the verse than from the English alone. However, it must be understood that Strong's dictionary has many limitations which, if not known, can cause some problems. In Deuteronomy 15:6 we find the words "lend" and "borrow" and when we look both of these words up in Strong's we find that they are both the same Hebrew word - avat. How can the same Hebrew word be translated as lend and as borrow? What cannot be determined through Strong's is some of the nuances of Hebrew words. The Hebrew word avat literally means "to give a pledge" and is translated as borrow but when written in the causative form it would literally be translated as "cause to give a pledge" or "to lend."

  Someone once told me that the Hebrew word for Savior is "yasha." I procededed to correct them and say that it was "moshia" but I was told that that is not what Strong's says. So I got out my concordance and looked up the word savior and found that this was listed in Strong's as #3467 which is the Hebrew word "yasha" but, what they did not know is that this was a verb meaning "to save" and when written in the piel participle form it becomes "moshia" and means "one who saves" or a "savior."

  Another problem with Strong's is that it was written over a hundred years ago and much about the Hebrew language has been learned since then. All this aside, it is still a great tool for investigating the Hebrew language behind the English translations.

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Should women wear tsiytsiyt (fringes)?"

The Hebrew text of Numbers 15:38 literally says the "sons of Israel" are to wear the tziytsiyt. However, in Hebrew, when you are speaking to a group of people of mixed gender, you always use the masculine form. So "sons of Israel" could mean "all male children of Israel" or it could mean "all male and female children of Israel." Usually the context will help to determine if the author meant one or the other, but in the case of the tziytziyt, there is nothing in the context to determine which is meant. So I advise people to follow the teachings of their leader and group, in order to maintain harmony, or if the person is not part of a congregation, or is part of a congregation that does not observes the wearing of tziytziyt, then this would be between them and God.

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