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

Moses And Goldschläger

This evening I had the pleasure of speaking at First Church Marlborough (who are celebrating their 350th (!) anniversary) on the topic of the theology of food.  I spent about half the talk going over uses of food in the Bible – a topic for another post – and then spoke about fasting practices in the Orthodox Church.  Today is, for us, the second day of Lent while our Western friends will have Holy Week next week – it is one of those years.  In going over food (and drink) in the Bible, I came across a point I had long forgotten.  In Exodus 32, the Israelites have fashioned an idol to worship – the Golden Calf.  Moses, in his anger over this, has the idol pulverized and makes the Israelites drink water mixed with the powder.  While I have not seen this anywhere, I figure this must be the origin of Goldschläger, a Swiss schnapps that has tiny flakes of gold in it.   The name of the liqueur – “gold-beaters” – refers to those who pound gold into thin leafs.  There is an urban myth that the gold cuts your digestive apparatuses and the alcohol goes straight into the blood stream.  I remember, though, a story from 20-odd years ago of someone who drank it regularly and ended up with a problem of too much gold in his bloodstream – internet searches have proved fruitless on this one.  In any case, if you have a friend drinking Goldschläger, you have an opportunity to talk about Biblical events.

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March 15th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

New Article Coming Soon

A new Our Faith article will soon be up on the church’s website.  Here is the first paragraph:

I have a fun fact book about the Bible called Why Are There No Cats In The Bible?.  It is a good read and contains many lists and short articles about the Good Book.  But think about it – aren’t there lions in the Bible, as in the story of Daniel in the lions’ den?  Lions appear in several places in scripture, and lions are indeed cats.  In the section of the book called Animals and Birds of the Bible, there is clarification – the author says there are no domestic cats in the Bible and in parenthesis says that the cats mentioned in Baruch 6:22 are thought to be wild cats rather than house ones.  I decided to look up the reference and opened my Bible (only Orthodox and Catholic Bibles have the book of Baruch; Protestant Bibles will not have it unless there is a section for “deuterocanonicals” or “apocrypha”).  I turned to the book of Baruch and was surprised to find that Baruch ends with chapter 5 verse 9.  There was no Baruch 6:22.  What was going on here – where was the missing chapter?

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February 24th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Look For The Lion

I have a new “Our Faith” article up on the church’s website.  Below is the first paragraph:

If you look at the iconography and artwork in Orthodox churches you will see a veritable menagerie of animals. Those depicted include both real and imaginary creatures – peacocks, dragons, horses, two-headed eagles, and many more. Often, if you look carefully enough, there is also, amidst all of this fauna, a lion.

Read the rest of it here.

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January 25th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Relief To Displaced People

Several months ago we passed a tray after church to benefit displaced Assyrian Christians in the Near East.  We ended up raising over $500!  Here is a thank you letter from ACERO, an excellent and very reputable charity:



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December 11th, 2014 by Fr. Greg