A Titled Post

After logging on tonight I noticed my last post – about the most common words in the Hebrew Old Testament – was untitled.  We will let that anomaly remain unedited.  Today we will finish with the 6-10th most common words in the Hebrew scriptures.  I would have posted yesterday but I left the flashcards which inspired this in my office.  So…

6) Min – from or out of – is the 6th most common word in the Hebrew OT and appears 7, 592 times.  In Semitic languages the words for from and who are pretty much the same with usually just the verb – which is flexible in Semitic languages – changing.  In Arabic min means from and men means who – in Hebrew we have min as from and mi-, with the weak n sound dropped, as who.  Young scholar Gabrielle Russo suggests that the sameness of the words comes from the fact that in ancient Near East society your identity was so tied into the area from where your family originated.

7) ‘al – on or upon – clocks in at number 7 with 5, 777 occurrences.  This otherwise unexciting preposition lives on in the name of the Biblical priest Eli as well as the common Islamic name Ali, meaning elevated.  All of these words begin not with an a sound but with the voiced pharyngeal fricative ‘ayin, a consonant that is very difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce.

8) Appearing 5,518 times is the preposition el, which means to or toward and is clearly a variant of le which we examined above.

9) ‘ashar appears 5,503 times and is an indeclinable relative pronoun.  There may be a connection with the word for happy, which shares the same tri-consonantal root, but again that is for another article.

10) Rounding out our top 10 occurring Hebrew words is kol, which means all or every and is common in Semitic languages.  If you come to liturgy at Sts. Anargyroi you will hear it during the Great Entrance, when after the Greek and before the English I proclaim “‘al ‘ana wa kulla ‘awanin” – literally now and all nows, meaning forever.

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March 23rd, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Tonight at the church is, as mentioned in the previous post, Bible Boot Camp.  In preparing for my presentation I brought out my Old Testament Hebrew vocab card set.  I’ve never actually used these – I bought them long after I took my last Hebrew class, but when you are into languages you tend to collect these things.  The cards are numbered from 1-1000 and on the back of each is a number saying how many times the word occurs in the Hebrew scriptures.  Cards 1-979 are every word that occurs 30 times or more except for proper names.  Cards 980-1000 are words occurring less than 30 times and select proper names.  So it doesn’t include every single word (and remember that many Hebrew words are built off of each other due to the root system – words meaning liver, heavy, and glory all come from the roots k-b-d, for example) as many proper names are left out and there are words that appear only a few times or once that aren’t included (such as the word for gopher wood – the wood of Noah’s ark).  This also explains the neat round number of 1000 cards.  So what are the top ten most frequently used words in the Hebrew Old Testament?

1) The most used word, at a count of 50,524, is we, a conjunction that primarily means and.  It is an enclitic, which means it never stands alone and always attaches to the following word.  Its appearance at the top of the list is a bit deceiving, though; in Semitic languages there is no concept of commas like we have when listing things.  It is proper in Semitic languages to say something like “I saw the bird and the dog and the cow and the eagle” and on and on.

2) Coming at number 2 is ha, the definite article (and also enclitic), with 24,058 appearances, less than half of the word for and.  In its primeval form, ha likely had a lamed at the end, making it hal.  This makes it easy to see how it is cognate with the Arabic definite article ‘al.

3) At third we have another enclitic – there will be more – with le, which appears 20,321 times.  Le is a preposition meaning to or for.  It is a very useful word, but that is about the extent of the story.

4) Be (and please note there are no capital or lowercase letters in Hebrew) -is much like le – a preposition, this time meaning in or at.  It can also mean with but in an instrument sense and its use in this form is very idiomatic. Be appears 15,559 times.

5) The fifth most common word in Biblical Hebrew…well, it isn’t actually a word.  Eth appears 10,978 times and it is used as a definite direct object marker and always left untranslated.  The reason such a thing exists is that in Hebrew sentence order is fluid and vowels are not written, so sometimes it can be confusing to know what is the direct object of a sentence.  The marker removes most all ambiguity.  Also, case markers do not exist in Biblical Hebrew, although the “u” in the name Samuel may signify a case marker from an older form that was left in the word – that is a subject for a future article.

Words 6-10 up next!

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March 21st, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Long Day/Yup, He’s Orthodox Part II

Today has been a long day – we had service in the morning with the traditional procession of icons for the Sunday of Orthodoxy – check out photos here – as well as our March 25 Greek School program during coffee hour.  This evening I joined all of the local Orthodox priests for a vespers service.  Among all of this, today was the feast of St. Cuthbert the Wonderworker – read his story here.

Cuthbert – the “bert” part of his name is cognate with “bright” – is, let’s just say, not a common Orthodox name, although it is well represented as an English last name – think of the popular Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert.  The saint’s commemoration today, though, reminds us that there are tons of saints that we don’t think of as part of our Orthodox tradition because they aren’t from the eastern Mediterranean or Russia.  There is much value in exploring the lives of saints such as Patrick, Brigid, Kenneth, and Cuthbert.

Onto tomorrow!  We will be having Bible Boot Camp at 19:00 hours.  Dismissed!

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March 20th, 2016 by Fr. Greg


In my article for next month’s Sofia – our parish’s monthly ‘zine, I give a mention to animals considered unclean in the Old Testament and mention the raven, which acted as God’s servant in feeding Elijah.  The word of the month in my article is on the etymology of raven.  Here is an excerpt:

The raven, mentioned above in the context of animals considered unclean to eat by the Israelites, is famous in our modern society for two reasons – Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven and the Baltimore professional football team, the relocated Cleveland Browns nicknamed the Ravens after Poe’s connection to Baltimore.  The origin of the word raven is intricately linked with that of the crow – the two birds are both taxonomically and etymologically related.  Crow in ancient Greek is koroni (whence crow), and the words for handle and curved in Greek come from the same root, probably due to the shape of the bird’s beak.  Koroni is related to korax, which is the word for raven.  In Latin this became corvus, in Anglo-Saxon hrafn, which became raven.  Another related word is the English hroc which became rook.  We think of a rook as a chess piece but it is also a word for an English yardbird.

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March 16th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Way Down South

There is an interesting dichotomy in Orthodoxy that would have been impossible to predict in the earliest days of the Church. With the spread of Christianity to lands in the southern hemisphere that were largely unknown at the time of Christ, we have feasts that we associate with spring – Easter – and winter – Christmas – celebrated at the same time in places like Australia where Easter takes place in late fall and Christmas in summer. Although seasons in the southern hemisphere are completely opposite our own, when you are near Antarctica, it is always cold and winterly. The southernmost Orthodox church in the world, and one of the southernmost churches period, is Trinity Church on King George Island about 75 miles off the coast of Antarctica. It was founded to service the local Russian research station, but it also has a missionary purpose and is staffed full-time by a priest who is also a hieromonk. The church has received converts and even conducts some services in Spanish for Latin American visitors. The priest is known to bless the local penguin population during Epiphany services. Weddings have been performed there, and new converts are baptized in the Southern Ocean, a very chilly and wintry proposition indeed.

King George Island, where the above-mentioned church is located, was named by the British after King George III, regnant during the Revolutionary War and thus the king who lost the 13 colonies. Argentina, which lays claim to this British Island, names it after the 25th of May, which is Argentine Independence Day. Chile also claims the island but merely calls it by the Spanish translation of the British name. The Russians, who do not claim it, call it Vaterloo – Waterloo. It has historically been known as Waterloo Island. I can find no reason why, but I suspect the fact that Waterloo, the battle where the Brits defeated Napoleon and the French, has become known as a synonym for the end, is the reason – the island is literally at the end of the earth. Waterloo comes from a Flemish -the Dutch language of Flanders – word meaning “wet forest clearing” – you can easily see the word water there. More interesting than the etymology of Waterloo is the role it played in Winston Churchill wreaking havoc from beyond the grave. Churchill stipulated in his will that his funeral would be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Traditionally, a British Prime Minister would be buried out of Westminster Abbey. Also, St. Paul’s was not Churchill’s parish. So why did he decide to have his funeral there? He knew that dignitaries from other countries would attend his funeral, and in fact at that point in history it was the biggest state funeral of all time. Churchill appreciated the friendly rivalry Britain had with France and knew French representatives would be at his funeral. By having it at St. Paul’s he knew the funeral procession would pass by Waterloo Station, and that the French in attendance would be forced to be reminded of their humiliating defeat at the hands of Britain.

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November 30th, 2015 by Fr. Greg

Day 24: Light

The province of Nuristan – land of light – in Afghanistan used to be known as Kafiristan – land of unbelievers – before the inhabitants were (forcibly) converted to Islam in 1895.  They formerly practiced a Vedic religion – basically a precursor of Hinduism.  The Nuristanis were among the last holdouts practicing an ancient religion in a place surrounded by Islam.  The Kalash of Pakistan are still holding out and practice a similar religion.  There are theories that they are descended from Alexander’s soldiers but genetic investigation says the Kalash are purely Indo-Iranian with no Greek admixture.

A great, fun, easy to read book about Nuristan is A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush by Eric Newby – check it out here.

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December 11th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Day 17: Sword

When studying Biblical languages, especially from the books I recommended in a previous post, be ready for some rather grim exercises and example sentences.  I say this not so much because of difficulty but rather the content – “the prophet commanded us to kill the enemy” or whatever – the material is rather violent.  Swords get mentioned a lot, and there are several different words in Hebrew and Greek that mean sword in English.  The Hebrew Herev is from the same  root as Mt. Horeb, which was where Moses received the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy – an interesting connection.  In Greek we get both machaira and romphaia.  Machaira – machairi in modern Greek, where it means knife, as in kitchen knife or any knife – is from the root machi, which means war.  Romphaia -a broadsword – may come from a root meaning strength – romos – but likely is of foreign origin, much like the broadsword itself.  The latin root rump means to break free or tear, so this could be the source.  The English word rump seems to come from this – the rump of the empire meaning the remnant – but it actually comes from a Scandinavian word meaning torso.

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December 3rd, 2014 by Fr. Greg