ELEM = young man

Why is it when you look up “elementary” they give you a Latin etymology, when “ELEM” is one of the Hebrew words for “young man”?


Original Word: עָ֫לֶם
Transliteration: elem
Phonetic Spelling: (eh’-lem)
Short Definition: young man

It’s also interesting how I Sam 20:18 refers to the “Ezel stone”, but “Ezel” is never explained.  This blog gives some explanation: http://www.uscj.org/israelcenter/haftarahEdit.php?id=354 or http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/E/EZEL/

Some sources suggest is means “Stone of Departure” – but no real explanation why.  However, the Jewish Study Bible (JSB, newer Jewish Publication Society) translates I Sam 23: 28 as “the Rock of Separation” instead of “Sela Hammahlekoth”.  The footnote says “Meaning of Hebrew is uncertain”.

There’s an interesting euphemism in I Sam 24:3:

KJV 1 Samuel 24:3 And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.

JSB and NIV – And Saul went in to relieve himself…

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Give Us a King

In the Bible class I’m taking, we were asked to compare translations of the I Samuel passage (chapters 8-12) where Saul is first anointed as king by Samuel.  The looked at the Jewish Study Bible (the newer Jewish Publication Society (JPS), along with Everett Fox’s translation of I and II Samuel (from “Give Us a King”) and Robert Alter’s (“The David Story”).

King Saul Postage Stamp - Photograph by Karen Horton

It’s a fairly spell-binding narrative that I haven’t read in a while.

1.  It reminded me of a pattern on saw on HBO’s “The Tutors”.  The king would promote someone to a duke or some high position, they would have a party, … then the king would say something like “Now I need a little favor from you…” – which could be almost anything – and typically not something pleasant for the new nobleman.   Saul, immediately on his kingship (or pseudo-kingship) is immediately faced with a challenge – Nahash (I like the way Fox says “Nahash/Snake” – even though I know Nahash means “snake”, it doesn’t always come to mind when reading English and people’s names).

2.  It struck me that Saul seems almost like a puppet in this passage.  Other than being tall (and goodly – whatever that might connote), he doesn’t show any heroic or great traits.   He is sent by his father on an errand, he can’t find the she-asses, even his servant has the idea to go see the “seer”, and then has to offer to pay the shekel to the prophet Samuel.  Then, boom, Saul gets a super-dose of God’s spirit, and now he is king, chasing out enemies and making wise decisions – overnight, with no training.  Even though he doesn’t have the woman difficulties of Samson, Saul reminds me of him, with “the Spirit of God” coming on each of them, to accomplish miraculous fetes.

3.  The end of the “Give us a King” passage really stresses how bad it was for the people to ask for a king, but never really explicitly says why, only implicitly.  We are told upon their first request all the things that a king will do (that the people probably won’t like).  But Samuel never seemed to came out and say that Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, or that it was God’s plan to work only through judges..  12:11 implies that the four rescue-ers were doing a fine job (despite the evil in Samuel’s children).

4.  11:11-14 seem to be pivotal verses – about the people wanting to put-to-death those that wanted a king.   It’s almost like they new what was coming in Chapter 12.  11:11 was a little confusing, I had to read it several times in several versions to actually see who won and who lost, because the way it connects to 11:12 might imply that Israel lost.  Vs 11 uses unclear antecedents – “they” were left – “they” were scattered.  Alter’s footnote helped.  [He says that the word “not” appears in some variant manuscripts, he translates as “Whoever said, “Saul shall not be king over us…”.  Alter says “The report of continuous dissidence about Saul’s claim to the throne, as at the end of the previous chapter, in fact sets the stage for much that will follow.”]

After posting the above to my online forum, two day’s later I read all of Alter’s translation.

If a new translation was published, I think there are several keywords that one would open to see how they handled it:
a) the rant/prophetic ecstacy (Fox in 10:5 says “and they will be ranting-in-prophecy”, Alter says “they will be speaking in ecstacy”).
b) what the spirit did to Saul – seized, surged, gripped (VA-TITZLACHAH – same root-word as “success” – HATZLICHAH)
c)  I like the way Alter said “he pretended to keep his peace” in  10:27.  It might be stretching or flavoring the text, but I think it gave it a good feel vs the rather bland “He was like a silent one.” (K’MACHARISH)
d) the “troublemakers”, scoundrels, children of Belial (KJV treated it as a proper noun?), certain-base-fellows (I Sam 10:27)
e) and what happened to Saul’s heart – Alter – “God gave him another heart”, Fox –

New Heart - Photograph by Monazza Talha

“Changed him another heart” (VA-YAHAFACH… LEV ACHER).  In more recent Hebrew, HAFACH can mean opposite, no? Maybe turn inside out or upside down?  In 10:6 Samuel prophesied that Saul would be “turned into another man” (same root verb).

f) the offerings in the final verse vary from “fellowship offerings” (JSB), “slaughter offerings of shalom” (Fox), and “communion sacrifices” (Alter).

I prefer the indentation used by Fox, but I really appreciated the footnotes (almost 2 to 1 ratio) that Alter included.

As a kid, I remember the story about Saul hiding in “the baggage”, which to me was associated with “luggage” and thus “suitcases” (I must have pictured sort of a train station with lots of suitcases piled up.)  Thus, I much prefer the translation to “gear” than to “baggage”.

Alter’s footnote on 12:21 caught my eye about “serve”/”LO TASURU” – he said it was a Deuteronomistic word.   My mind immediately jumped to the third paragraph of the SHEMA – “LO TASURU/TATURU ACHEREI L’VAVCHEM” (Numbers 15:39) – don’t explore/spy after your hearts (same word used as when the 12 spies went to “explore/spy” the land of Canaan).  But this is an undotted TAV (Sephardic say TATURU but Ashkenaz say “TASURU”), so it’s actually a different word [a Hebrew homophone, like “bear” and “bare” in English, pronounced the same, but different spelling and meanings] – but could have been another potential wordplay.  The word is translated “swerve” by Alter; it’s the word “TASURU” from the verb “SUR”, which starts with the Hebrew letter “Samech”, and means any of the following: turn-aside, go-away, leave, fall away, keep-far, avoid, stop, cease.  It indeed occurs 15 times in Deut, 3 in Numbers, 10 in Leviticus, and even 11 times in Genesis.

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That whole “Nazirite” thing

Samson the Nazirite

A quick word search on “Nazirite[s]” show only the following:
Num 6:2-21 – used at least 10 times
Judges 13:5,7 and 16:17 (Samson)
Amos 2:11-12

This made me wonder if Numbers 6 was created primarily to explain Judges 13.  I find it odd that it’s not mentioned more.

Even Numbers 6:2 implies familiarity with this vow “If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a nazirite’s vow…” then it goes on to explain what they shall and shall not do.  But it begins with the assumption that everybody knows what a nazirite vow is.  It doesn’t say that a person should take this vow, or even why a person should take this vow, it just assumes that some people do, and then there are rules to be followed. JSB footnote in Numbers describes Samson as a “lifetime Nazirite” (The Jewish Study Bible capitalizes the word in the side notes but not in scripture translation).

Amos 2:11-12 says this:
11 And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the LORD.  12 But ye gave the Nazirites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying: ‘Prophesy not.’

An entire tractate of the Talmud is dedicated to the topic of the Nazir:

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“The spirit of the LORD” motiff in the Tanach

David Playing Harp

Yes, I like word counts. In the Tanach, the phrase “the spirit of the LORD” occurs 23 times, 7 of those being in Judges, and 4 of those being just on Samson. Wikipedia lists 12 judges in the book of Judges (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_judges) . Other than Samson, the following “get the spirit”:
1) Otniel – 3:9-10
2) Gideon – 6:34 – this is the only time the spirit “clothed” vs “came upon”.
3) Jephthah – 11:29

Why do 4 of the judges have this spirit, and no mention is made in association with the others? Why does Samson seems to get it 4 times? Does he keep losing it? This would be easy to turn into a moral lesson, as twice he “goes down to … a woman…” (14:1,7). Perhaps God needed a vessel to perform certain deeds, but couldn’t stay in the vessel long term because of state of the vessel.

Saul prophecies when the spirit comes on him, I Sam 10:6, but is the only one that had it noted that it departed: I Sam 16:14 – and was further replaced by “an evil spirit from the LORD”. David gets it “from that day forward” I Sam 16:13, and II Sam 23:2 associates it with “His word was upon my tongue.”

“the spirit of God” also occurs 14 times, including creation Genesis 1:2 and came upon Balaam (Num 24:2).

Incidentally, I worked with a guy in Florida named Otniel – not Jewish, from Cuba (but pronounced it like Ot-Neal – easy to get mixed up with my name (Neal), and an Indian guy there named Anil).

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Was Rahab really a prostitute?

“RACHAV” is the Hebrew name for Rahab, in Joshua Chapter 2.

Targum [referring to the Aramaic translation] renders “ZONAH” as PUNDIQTA which literally means seller of foods. Rashi understands the Targum literally, but Radak argues that Targum translated euphemistically; just as a food merchant will sell his products to anyone, so will a harlot sell hers.  Abarbanel suggests that there is no contradiction between the two views.  Typically, a woman who sold food [in an inn] was a harlot… Malbim suggests that the spies purposely went to Rachav’s house in order to maintain a low profile.  Since the people in Canaan understood that harlotry was abhorrent to the Jews, they would never have suspected these two men of being from the Israelite camp.  Alshich explains that the spies chose Rachav’s house because she was the paramour of the thirty-one Canaanite kings (Zevachim 116b, which further suggests not one prince or ruler existed who had NOT visited her) and was therefore privy to their thoughts.  Arbarbanel, however, claims that the spies exercised poor judgment in visiting Rachav’s house; since their mission was to survey the Land, they should not have entered any houses.  He maintains that because of this mistake they were punished by being detected and pursued. … The Midrash teaches that when the expression “his name” follows a person’s proper name in Scripture, this indicates that he was an evil person (e.g. I Sam 25;25).  When the expression “his name” precedes a person’s name (e.g., his name was Elkanah I Sam 1:1).  Why, then does this verse state “and her name was Rachav,” which would imply that Rachav was righteous. The Sages explain that when the two spies came to her house that night, she abruptly repented of her sins and totally refashioned her entire being.  … and she even attained to the loft level of ruach hakodesh, a spiritual level close to prophecy, able to deduce this form the fact that Rachav was able to predict that the search party would return after three days.  According to Megillah 14b, Rachav later converted to Judaism and married Joshua.
[ArtScroll Tanach Series: Joshua p 114]

Meam Loez (a Sephardic commentary) says that Rachav was both an innkeeper and a prostitute.  It adds that she wanted to convert since she first heard of Israel, but the rulers of her city would not let her leave, and the visit of the spies was her long-awaited opportunity.

Meam Loez lists four reasons for going to Rachav:
1) The Jews visiting wouldn’t be suspected because they abhorred adultery.  The two spies are identified in Midrash as Caleb and Pinchas, who would be above temptation.
2) They knew they would find the greatest concentration of travelers there
3) They hoped to get information from Rachav, due to her relationships with Canaanite kings.
4) The name “Rachav” is a good sign, meaning wideness, openness and generosity.
[Meam Loez on Joshua, pages 51-53]

Now, what about the “crimson thread”?  In Joshua 2:15, she lets them down via a “CHEVEL”, a cord.  In vs 19, the spies tell her to “bind this scarlet thread in the window”, the language is now “TIQVAT CHUT HA-SHANI”.  Commentaries mention that “TIQVAT” is a cognate, or a least a remind of “TIQVAH” (hope, as in Israel’s national anthem – HA-TIQVAH).  KAVAH, I believe can mean “line”, as in a phone-line.  Rabbi Tatz, in his lectures, has described a “MIQVAH” as a “point of origin, when you emerge from the water” (the water standing for the medium, out of which the world was created, out of which came a differentiated world.)  Genesis 1:9 syas “YIQAVU HA-MAYIM” (“Let the waters be gathered”).  Apparently there are two root words QAF-VAV-HEI in Hebrew, one meaning “hope” and one meaning “gather”.

Meam Loez (page 65) says “Some say it was just a string, others say it was a piece of the hem of a garment, and others say it was the rope by which she let them down.  … Why then is it called a string in this verse, adn in the verse above it was called a rope?  Because it was as thin as a string, but by a miracle it became as strong as a rope…”  It is also called a “line” as a reminder that by tying it in the window she can “hope” to be saved.

Meam Loez also adds that “SHNI” (“scarlet”) the color of the thread, could be an acronym for “SHMONAH NVI’IM YATZU” – “eight prophets came from her”.  ArtScroll enumerates them: Nariah, Baruch, Serayah, Machsayah, Jeremiah, Chilkiah, Chanamel, and shalom (Megilla 14b)

Ruth ends with these verses:

Ruth 4:18-22  18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez begot Hezron;  19 and Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab;  20 and Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon;  21 and Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed;  22 and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.

Despite the Rashi reference, above, most sources say Rahab married Salmon, and was the mother of Boaz, and thus in the lineage of King David.   Wikipedia clarifies this confusion as follows:

Some Christian scholars have theorized that the Rahab described in Joshua is not the same person as the Rahab mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy. This is based on linguistic and textual evidence. Jewish legends claim that Rahab of Jericho married Joshua Bin Nun, a descendant of Joseph. For Christians, this can also be seen as an argument against her being the same Rahab in the Matthean genealogy – unless she married twice, to two different Israelite leaders of different tribes. This is possible, but not very likely (see Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews). Rahab who married Joshua was ancestress to Huldah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophetesses and prophets. Rahab (Ῥαχάβ – no Ῥαάβ with Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25) who married Salmon was ancestress to King David, all the kings of Judah, and Jesus.   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahab)

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From Professor Rodman:

How did we ever get to the term “helpmate,” which [a student] has picked up from some other translation? It’s a funny history.

The King James Version reads (in 2:18) “…let us make an help meet for him,” where “meet for” is the translation of _keneged_. But “meet” in that sense became an antiquated term that people didn’t understand. Someone apparently thought it was part of a noun phrase: “help meet … for him” or “helpmeet for him.” Since that didn’t make sense to people either, they pseudo-corrected it to “helpmate for him.” And thus was born a new word in English.

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Punctuation in Genesis 2:4 (favoring the documentary hypothesis)

Paragraph Mark

I’m currently taking “Bible – Text and Context’ and Hebrew College.  Part of the course involves looking at the documentary hypothesis, which typically claims that redactors combined four different sources to give us the Bible we read today.  For example, they see that Genesis contains two creation stories, the first ending in chapter 2 vs 11.

For a quick overview, Wikipedia says this:

Genesis 1 is by an author, or school of authors, called the P (for Priestly), while Genesis 2 is by a different author or group of authors called J (for Jahwist — sometimes called non-P). There are several competing theories as to when and how these two chapters originated — some scholars believe they each come from two originally complete but separate narratives spanning the entire biblical story from creation to the death of Moses, while others believe that J is not a complete narrative but rather a series of edits of the J material, which itself was not a single document so much as a collection of material. In either case, it is generally agreed that the J account (Genesis 2) is older than P (Genesis 1), that both were written during the 1st millennium BC, and that they reached the combined form in which we know them today about 450 BC.

So during my reading for the class, I was rather shocked by the punctuation in Genesis 2:4.  I love the expression that “All translation is commentary”.  But did you ever think of a part of translation as being the punctuation itself?

In a prior class, our professor told us this joke, which shows how important punctuation can be.

A hundred years ago, a Yid comes to America and works as a traveling peddler. One day in July he’s walking down a New England road when he finds a cool country lake. He takes off his clothes and takes a dip when the country sheriff arrests him and throws him in jail.
The next morning he appears before the local magistrate.
“Sir, you have been arrested for trespassing. Didn’t you read the sign?
It says, ‘Private Lake. No swimming allowed.'”
The Yid wouldn’t hear of it. “Meester, you read de sign your vay and I read it my vay.”
The sheriff was surprised. “Your way? How do you read the sign?”
The Jew answered. “It says: Private lake? Nooooo! Svimming allowed!”


In our class, we were asked to read the text as though we were “martians” reading it for the first time, using the 1985 “New” JPS translation (there is also an 1917 original JPS translation).  I was noticing that 2:4 looked “strange” (okay, I probably would not have noticed anything if I were truly a “martian”).  I also use Bibleworks on my PC, which has the “Old” 1917 JPS translation (and dozens of other versions and languages).   The new JPS puts a period and even a paragraph break in the middle of 2:4, like this:

“4) Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created.

When the Lord God made earth and heaven – 5) when no shrubs…”.

The blank line between the two halves of the verse is clearly visible, almost like a paragraph break.

Two other translations (from the 70s and 80s) go with the New JPS period here, where as many the older ones have commas.  Perhaps this shows the effect that this “modern scholarship” is having on the publishers, i.e. that bible version published in the last 20 years tend to be different in this verse than the ones from 80-100 years ago.

“Such is the story” instead of “these are the generations” [ELEH TOLDOT] or “this is the account” has a much strong note of finality and closure and thus separation between these two accounts.

Looks like the cantillation symbol “ETNACHTA” divides the verse in this location.  One of the purposes of the Masoretic ta’amim – or cantillation symbols – is to note punctuation, and where a verse should be divided.  If I remember an “ETNACHTA” a major break in the verse, but I don’t know if it’s ever treated as a period.   But to put “white space” or a paragraph break before the next words seems like taking a big liberty.  It would seem that this translation is definitely biased toward the documentary hypothesis.

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According to Research … Letter Order in English

Learning to read Hebrew without the vowel points may not be as hard as you think.  Here’s an example from English where the vowels are there, but not necessarily in the proper order, and it’s really not that hard to read.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Now, which is easier, the above, or the same below, without most of the vowels:


In Hebrew, the second paragraph would actually be easy to read, because it’s alphabet is an consonantal alphabet, or “abjad” (see full definition below).  English does rely quite heavily on vowels, and doesn’t have a tri-letter root (“shoresh”) like Hebrew does. Thus in the example above, note how many two and three letter words there are that depend on a vowel or two (to, is, it, the, be, can, but, you) and you can thing of many others (by, on, at, I, me, we, us, …).  In English “it” and “at” would be the same word if we eliminated the vowel.  But in Hebrew, each would be a prefix or a separate three letter consonantal word, which would make it more obvious.

Now, let’s learn a 10-cent word: “abjad”.  According to Wkipedia

An abjad is a type of writing system in which each symbol always or usually stands for a consonant; the reader must supply the appropriate vowel. It is a term suggested by Peter T. Daniels to replace the common terms consonantary or consonantal alphabet or syllabary to refer to the family of scripts called West Semitic. In popular usage, abjads often contain the word “alphabet” in their names, such as “Arabic alphabet” and “Phoenician alphabet”. The name abjad itself derives from the Arabic word for alphabet.
My Hebrew tutorial, “At Home with Hebrew“, allows you to display words with or without the vowels.  There are also a series of lessons that focus on teaching you to read without the vowels.  Newspapers and most printed materials in Israel do NOT include the vowel symbols.
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Arabic, a Sister Language of Hebrew?

I started studying Arabic via Pimsleur (in my car).  I’ve used Pimsleur before, and love the passive and easy way of learning.   I’ve studied several romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French) and some of them are very similar.  If you know Spanish or Portuguese, you can pretty much understand the other language, to a lesser degree between Spanish and French.

I was hoping that Arabic might be more similar to Hebrew than I’ve found.  So far, I’m only only Lesson 10 of 30.  The similarities I see are a lot of the “ach” – “ech” prefixes for “you”.   A short guttural sound “LA” means no, similar to “LO” in Hebrew; but they also have the words “MO” and “MU” for no and not.

Some of the numbers are similar.  May Arabic pronunication is still horrible – but ARBA for four, sounds about the same.  Five is “CHUMSEI” instead of “CHUMASH”, nine is “TMINAH” instead of “SHMONEH”, and seven is “SABA” instead of “SHEVA”.  So I see simlar patterns there, with sometimes just vowel substitutions, or an occasional consonant change.  But the other numbers can be quite different.

Verbs seem to also have a three character consonant roof.  BAREF = I understand, TARFI – you understand (feminine), and TAREF – you understand masculine.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

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