By Pat Mercer Hutchens, Ph.d
Everyone knows Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die.” Right? And that the Bible says, “Thou shalt not murder – so the death penalty should be abolished.” Right? Does anyone remember hearing the allegation that all black people (Africans) were cursed because of Ham’s sin? What if you knew for sure that the Bible does not say any of these things? “Leave that to theologians,” one might say. There is just one problem. Sometimes it is theologians who teach these things, mainly because they cannot read the original languages. What if you as a layman, clergy person, housewife, truck driver, teenager, doctor or lawyer knew you could search the Bible and find answers to many of your questions without leaving your job and going to seminary. Hebrew for the Goyim is just the book for you.
First you will learn basic origins of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, discovering most modern languages came from the same origins. You will learn that most of the letters were first a picture with a purpose, a drawing with a meaning called a “hieroglyph” (holy writing). Yes, there are codes in the Bible – in the letters. Then you will learn how letters were joined together into syllables and compound words, and how each letter affects the other. Originally everyday people knew the connection between the image and the meaning of the letter. In time these meanings were lost but in fact, each letter started as an image. After almost forty years studying Hebrew in Israel, the United States, in college and seminaries, and after combining that knowledge with the study of art theory and practice in graduate schools, this author found a gold mine which not only revolutionized personal study of the Bible, but answered any troubling questions. For the seeker with a hungry heart, there is a very exciting world waiting for you.
The Alpha-Bet of the BibleFor people of “The Book,” every word is revered and believed to be inspired by God. The Apostle Paul used this very term when writing to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for 7 reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man (or woman) of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Definition of Inspiration The English word inspire derives from the Latin work inspirare and has the meaning “to take air into the lungs in breathing; inhale; to infuse life, breath, etc. to breathe into or upon.”1 Job 32:8 indicates there is a “spirit (jur) in mankind; and the in-spiration (nismat – nab)) of the Almighty (hsa) gives understanding.” This activity of the Spirit is of the feminine gender, as is the word breath (vnab-neshemah) found in inspire. Further, both the noun and verb in Genesis 1:2 which refer to the Spirit breathing, brooding or “moving” over the waters are in the feminine gender. The Bible is not speaking here about boys and girls, but of the abstract concept of gender which is prevalent in Hebrew. Later English translations completely dismiss this aspect since English does not incorporate gender distinctions. Yet, inspiration (root is nab) indicates the Almighty is breathing and the nun indicates the recipient is passive or receiving. The nun (b) indicates feminine activity. Whatever neshemah means, it is translated, “soul, pant, breathe, blow, gently breathe (of wind), and pant, of the deep and strong breathing of a woman in travail.”2
So, then, the Words of God were breathed out and the spirit of man received them – that is called inspiration. Then they were written down for all to read. Even those who fudge on verbal inspiration still recognize the power of a single sound, word, phrase or passage from the Bible. Preachers and politicians alike know it is possible to move congregations and constituents with a
single Bible quote. I recall my own mother moved to tears when a future governor of Louisiana quoted the verse, “He who controls his spirit is better than he who takes a city.” I am not sure which applied to the governor, but at any rate he won that particular race. Even people who don’t care at all what the Bible says still use real or imagined quotes to shore up their own views. A humorous example is, “Judas went out and hanged himself….go thou and do likewise,” verses totally taken out of context and sandwiched together. Who has not heard, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” used for dozens of unrelated purposes. Even some well-versed clerics get it wrong. It was reported that Billy Graham said in one of his earlier sermons, “The Bible says, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness.’” Most listeners probably said, “Amen,” since few people question whether that quote is from the Bible. Not only is it not a Bible verse, but when Helen Keller’s parents were willing to settle for cleanliness and little else, they quoted that verse to her teacher. Ann Sullivan scolded them, “Cleanliness is next to nothing.”
Bad Bible Quotes
Let’s look at a good example of a bad Bible quote, one I saw recently on a small church in Northern Virginia. A50-foot sign in front of a church read, “Thou shalt not kill – abolish the death penalty.”
Kill or Murder?
My brother Max Mercer, a brilliant and successful Louisiana lawyer, once asked me, “How on earth can I work to put anyone on death row if the Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not kill?’” He was quite amazed and frankly relieved to know that the Bible does not say “Thou shalt not kill.” It actually says, “Thou shalt not murder” (jmr, – Exodus 20:13). In fact, that particular passage in the Bible continues with God’s instructions concerning this matter:
• One who kills someone unintentionally (not hating his neighbor, nor premeditating to kill by “lying in wait”), or
• One who accidentally (strikes – makay vfn) and kills another person. In both cases, the perpetrator is not to be put to death. Cities of refuge were established for these people.
• However, a murderer, or one who premeditates or “lays in wait” and strikes another so that he dies – that person himself must die.
The Hebrew words for murder (ratzach – jmr) and kill (mot – ,un – execute) are completely different words. The correct translation of the 6th Commandment is “Lo tirtzach” (jmr, tk) which means “Do not murder.” As an aside, does this mean that every single person who planned ahead to carry out a murder must be put to death? I don’t think so. Is there no mercy? 9 Many other verses should be weighed in and in my view, each case should be judged on its own merits. According to that same hard line view of the Torah (Hebrew law), a woman who was caught in adultery, one who struck or cursed his mother or father and even anyone who worked on the Sabbath was also to be killed.
What Would Jesus Do?
Jesus, whom we believe to have been without sin, did not stone the woman taken in adultery. He also picked corn and even healed a man on the Sabbath. Did he break God’s laws? No, he fulfilled and transcended them. He opened up a whole new potential for righteous judgment. Therefore, in applying God’s laws today we must not only meditate, pray and carefully study exactly what the original Hebrew says, but also weigh in everything with New Testament Scriptures. The writer has personally heard Bible verses misquoted to teach such things as segregation, slavery, inferior status of various ethnic groups as well as women (in Messiah there is no Jew or Greek, male or female), Henry Kissinger being the Antichrist, the Pope being the great beast of revelation, all black people being under the “curse” of Ham (it was only Canaan who was cursed, pointing to the effect of the father’s sin on the son), the theory that only men are created in the image of God (God created mankind “male and female”) and racial intermarriage as sin (clear examples: Moses married a Cushite (Ethopian) woman and at least one of Solomon’s 1000 wives and concubines said, “I am black” (1:5). How many times through the centuries have false prophets convinced gullible groups of a specific date for the end of the world? The Bible has been quoted to forbid dancing (King David and others danced before the Lord), drink wine (Jesus turned water into wine), go to movies, watch TV, wear makeup and jewelry, play cards and drink coffee, tea and colas. Verses have been given as “proof” that Russia will invade Israel, that John was a Baptist (he was a Jew who immersed people) and that only 144,000 people in all history will be saved. Regarding this last number, not only was Abraham promised descendents that “could not be numbered,” but the book of Revelation speaks of “countless” people praising God. A current genomic research scientist estimates that the total population of humans in history is 81 billion,3 leaving the 144,000 theory ridiculous. Further, when these theological views are established, they are often derived from quotes of a translation of a translation of a translation of the original language.10
Learning f,rom the Original
So what’s a person to do? If one believes God does speak in the Bible but wants to search for answers, where can he or she go? I was taught to question everything. “Never assume that something is true just because someone said it,” my mother warned and then added, “yes, Patty, even from the pulpit or from politicians. In fact – especially from the pulpit and from politicians.” She encouraged her children to study and respectfully listen carefully to everyone – BUT, then to study the Good Book to see if they were “telling it right.” The “synagogue of the Jews” in Berea did just that and the Bible records that they “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore [as a result of searching the Scriptures] many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks” (Acts 17:10-12.) But how can one adequately study and understand the Bible without knowing the original language? Must everyone sign up for Hebrew and Greek courses? Beyond having to speak and read Hebrew proficiently, can knowledge and understanding come from knowing the original alphabet and applying it to word studies? The answer is, “Yes!”
Language of the Levant
Here’s where Hebrew comes in. Call it the “language of the Levant,” which includes the lands bordering the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Call it the Egyptian/ Chaldean/ Phoenician/ Proto-Canaanite/ Canaanite/ Aramaic/ Proto-Sinaitic/ Hebrew Language.” Certainly the language of the Bible’s first five books and all the Hebrew Scriptures are closely linked in sound and meaning to early Middle Eastern languages. Who knows but what the original spoken language was Hebrew? Or one similar, such as Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian or Aramaic? Perhaps archaeologists one day will unearth a copy of the Ten Commandments written by Moses in hieroglyphics. No doubt more cuneiform writings will surface. However, for now
We will search understanding of God’s inspired messages – which were at some point written in the Hebrew language. I was introduced to the origins and meanings of the letters of the alphabet 11 after several years of studying spoken and Biblical Hebrew. While working on an MFA in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, I came in the back door to the Hebrew letters by studying each one as a sign or symbol – as a little art work or “painting.”
In fact, human beings first communicated with what people later called art works – marks, signs, symbols and hieroglyphic drawings. Art museums all over the world house pottery, tools, daggers, ossuaries, statues, scrolls, and dozens of other objects we now call “art.” These drawings became the alphabet. One of the best summaries of alphabetic writing is found in a book by Johanna Drucker, a renowned language scholar. “The basic principle of alphabetic writing is to represent a single sound of a spoken language by a single letter. This phonetic writing system is at best an approximation….But while written forms are continually changing and evolving, never more rapidly than under the influence of computers, the tenacity of the alphabet bespeaks its important place within human culture. While there are many examples of the invention of written signs used to mark ownership, record agricultural cycles, make accounts and chart astronomical events, it is the phonetic principle which is the unique characteristic of the alphabet. No other written system has the capacity to represent the sound of spoken language with such efficient and adaptable means. In addition to serving as the means to record speech or ideas in writing, the letters of the alphabet also constitute a set of visual symbols. These shapes and features have played a part in the decipherment of their history and transmission and have inspired imaginative interpretations of their apparent or hidden meanings.”4
Pictures with a Purpose
These “art” signs and symbols with apparent or hidden meanings evolved into cursive and abstract letters. A former mentor taught me some codes and mysteries found in the Hebrew letters, contingent on my promise never to divulge his name or anything else about his life. Thus I began my search. However, years of prayer and private study coupled with even more years spent searching out and studying what others have written, have brought new truths I never dreamed could be found in the alphabetic letters and in the Bible. I am aware I have only scratched the surface. Here is a summary of what I have discovered thus far:
• Each individual letter of the alphabet was originally a drawing, a hieroglyph, something like a road sign – a picture-letter with a purpose.
• There appear to be at least three levels of meaning in each letter.5
1. A simple physical or normal meaning;
2. A symbolic meaning or sign of some idea or concept;
3. A deeper spiritual, hieroglyphic and often hidden meaning.
These individual picture-letters, rich in individual meanings, were joined to form syllables, and each letter affected the meaning of the other. Different meanings occur when:
• a letter is prefixed (placed on the right side) of another letter,
• a letter is suffixed (the left side), or
• a letter is placed between two other letters.
Also, syllables were combined to make increasingly more complex words and sometimes letters are dropped when syllables are combined. Each addition or combination influenced, shifted, altered, enhanced or entirely changed the meaning. • As with all languages, contact with other languages altered the first one. When studying Hebrew in a Jerusalem Ulpan (intensive language study program), I often struggled for minutes before realizing that words like “Chicago” and “marshmallow” were foreign words written in Hebrew letters. To search for the irreducible minimum in meaning, it is best to study early writings such as Genesis and Job, and to research marks found on ancient archaeological finds. No one can be sure of finding the absolute first human marks unless archaeologists dig up the entire world, so linguists draw all conclusions on what has been found so far.
• In time, connections to original meanings were lost to almost everyone, although without a doubt there have been some scribes and scholars who knew and passed down these meanings within a very select group through the ages.
• Hopefully, this study will make investigating the original letters an attractive and desired goal, with the purpose of digging deeper and deeper into God’s Words.
So then, by first studying each individual letter, each syllable and then combinations, treasures will emerge that cannot be found in translations. There are codes in the Bible, not codes plucked out by geniuses with computer programs, (although there may be value in these) or by foretelling the future by examining words made, for example, with every 4th or 10th letter of the Torah.13 The more I study, the more I realize that anyone interested in studying the Bible in the original language can benefit from this information if it is simplified and made accessible – to students, pastors, lay people, study leaders, children, those who know Hebrew well and those who do not.
Certainly a good theological library at home helped. A chunk of the family budget was set aside to purchase books and many long days were spent in the stacks of libraries like Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C. I even found some relevant material in a genealogical library in Scotland.
However, with a basic knowledge of the origin and meanings of each letter, plus guides showing how to apply this knowledge, anyone can take a word from the Hebrew Bible and find exciting information and insight. It is with this purpose that I offer these pages.
Hebrew for the Goyim
I have titled this work Hebrew for the Goyim for a reason. I am aware of being like a person who scooped up a glass of water from the ocean, put it through every test possible, studied it for years from every angle and then said, “Now let me tell you about The Ocean.” Although I have studied the Hebrew letters for over thirty years and speak enough Hebrew to be dangerous, I do not consider myself a scholar. I basically started out as a tinkerer and fell in love with what I was doing. There are eminent gaons and incredibly gifted scholars who have spent their entire lifetime studying Hebrew and the Scriptures. Some have spent decades delving into a single question presented by one Scripture verse, and others have examined large sections of the Ocean. I discovered that some of my forbearers in the Mercer line taught Hebrew in Scotland. All would all agree on two points:
• There is enough Ocean to go around, and
• No one but the Almighty knows all.
As for me, coupled with the enormous personal joy and satisfaction God has given me through the inspired Scriptures, if only a few hungry souls are goaded to go a little further, it is enough of a reward. And, to those countless, unknown and humanly unrewarded students and lovers of God’s Word – thank you.
My Multi-step Method to Study Any Letter of the Alphabet.
Some of these steps may take weeks, months or even years.
• Pray. First, ask God for wisdom, understanding and insight into His Word. 14 Naturally, the longer and more consistently one is involved in this step, the better.
• Study a letter’s origins – the meaning as a little drawing or letter standing alone. Then study as many sources as possible to find how it started out and how it evolved as a sign or symbol.
• Study the letter in as many other ancient languages as possible, going to seminary and university libraries, on-line, at book stores and wherever else possible.
• Study the letter combined with each letter of the alphabet, as the first letter in a syllable, second letter in a syllable, etc.
• Study the letter in words found the first chapters of Genesis, Job and other early books of the Bible. It is helpful to go through every verse, say in Genesis, Chapters 1 – 12, and make a list of every single time the letter is found, marking whether it began the word, was the second letter, third, etc.
• Study the letter and words within the context of the customs and culture of the times. This will require access to a good library. Sometimes synagogues and churches have libraries and allow students to read and take notes. Universities and seminaries have been excellent sources for master or doctoral dissertations dealing with very specific words in Middle Eastern languages.
• Endeavor to put into practice insights you get. God reveals little understanding to one who will not obey. Amazing treasures are hidden in the Word of God.
• Don’t be discouraged if others aren’t interested in your work. Don’t criticize them either, because each one has his own gifts and interests. Just continue digging for hidden treasures the Bible has for patient seekers, just as archaeologists spend an entire life time and rejoice over one major “find.”
Historical Debate on Roots
One issue needs to be dealt with at the beginning. Scholars have debated for centuries as to whether the Hebrew language is made up of uniliteral, biliteral, triliteral or even quinqueliteral roots.6 That is to say, are there one, two, three or even five letters in the basic word roots of Hebrew? The great Jehuda ben David Hayyug disregarded the doubts of his predecessors and “first laid down the principle that Hebrew roots are invariably triliteral.”7 [emphasis mine] Yet, the Semitic scholar Solomon Theodore Halevy Hurwitz insists, “It is evident, first of all, that the Semitic root was originally biliteral, although whether it was also monosyllabic is a question which, in the present state of knowledge, cannot definitely be answered15 …When in the course of time, analogy cast all roots into a triliteral mold, the original functions of the various stem-formatives were forgotten…”8 [italics mine].
With such great minds disagreeing on the basic foundations of the Hebrew language, the writer simply makes these observations not from the standpoint of a Semitic scholar but from the standpoint of a dogged student and a visual artist. One might even say from a woman’s point of view. Occasionally scholars get bogged down in the zillions of leaves on the trees and fail not only to study individual leaves, but back way off and look at the trees to get an overall view of the forest. I wanted to start at the beginning. While sitting in the middle of the floor and pretending not to know a word of any language, I made every sound I could make with my mouth, drew a picture of each sound or of something it brought to mind and then drew the letter of the alphabet that best matched it. Of course, that was cheating since I had paper and pencil and already knew the alphabet. Yet, I tried to combine basic hearing, spoken sounds and drawing as a child would do. I took this exercise to an art class I was teaching at the Corcoran College of Art in Washington, DC, and together we tried to communicate with each other. The exercise only lasted one class, but it opened up new ideas in approaching the Hebrew letters.
Further, I meditated on how a mother spends years raising a little bundle of newborn flesh. That little human being goes from a gurgling, humming, sound-making stage, to a syllable stage, to combining syllables like “Mama, Dada.” Recently one of my grandchildren, two-year-old Faith, said to her mother, “Me Ganny.” What she meant was, “I want to go see Granny at her house.” Faith knew what she meant and her mother Sarah knew what she meant. Eventually, when the little one was able to speak two, three, four and five word sentences, the glorious gift of communication was off to a strong start. So, in considering the development of language in general and specifically the Hebrew language (and languages of the Lavant) from a new point of view, the first steps were similar to those of a little child. First, they made sounds and gestures. Somewhere in the process, people got the idea of drawing signs, first in the sand and later on stone or papyrus. To locate a certain position, they drew a circle to represent the sheep pen or village, because it was surrounded by stone walls and set up in a circle. Just as it is today, a circle with rays stood for the sun, and wavy lines not only looked like, but represented water.16
Kap Abba Cave
One of the most heart-rending visuals ever made on earth is found in Kap Abba Cave in Darembang, New Guinea. It is called the “Sanctuary of the Hands,” a place where hand shapes cover the wall:
“Most of these hands have been mutilated. In some only the three middle fingers remain, in others only the middle finger itself remains. There is no trace of any animal or other configuration in connection with these hands. Almost all are deformed. Their appearance has been likened to the ritual self-mutilation ceremonies of certain primitive peoples existing today in which one or more of the finger segments are cut off. This self-mutilation always betokens a sacrifice to ward off some evil, whatever the reason – averting an accident, preventing the dead from seeking vengeance, an initiation pledge, a hostage for the success of some action; sometimes there is a requirement to which a joint has to be cut off in connection with certain events. This sacrifice has always signified a request for protection. The cloud of mutilated hands at Gargas stands there like a tragic chorus, eternally crying out for help and mercy.”9
Perhaps these “signs” or “symbols” were the very earliest sources of the Hebrew letter yod (h – hand), as argued in Chapter Ten. No one will ever know all the deep levels of meaning in any letter; however, this book seeks to go back as far as possible to search for meanings found in each one of the letters of the alphabet, then to apply those meanings to a study of the Bible.
Note: The references can be found in the book, Hebrew of the Goyim, Xulon Press or Amazon.com.