Biblical Hebrew

Biblical Hebrew
How to Understand the Ancient Language - Without Having to Learn Hebrew
Choice Words
from the Story of
The Sale of
Biblical Hebrew
Study Book
Yigal Tzadka
[email protected]
Content Advisor
David Smith
Cover Photo:
Brothers Sell Joseph into Slavery.
Konstantin Flavitsky, 1855.
The story of the sale of Joseph is
one of the most dramatic stories in
the Bible. This is not a simple topic
and many commentators have tried
to deal with it over the years.
Also, many artists have focused on
this topic, like in this painting by
Konstantin Flavitsky.
English Editor
Tiki Krakowski
Hebrew Editor
Orly Kihaly
Graphic Design
Nechama Levine
Good Times Ltd.
52 Hechalutz Street Jerusalem 96269
Liora Tzadka
[email protected]
Dear Readers,
© All rights reserved.
Copying material from this publication without
written permission is strictly forbidden.
If you have any questions, or if you’d
like us to focus on a specific Biblical
word or paragraph, please let us know.
Write to us at [email protected]
com and we’ll try to address your
questions, either by email or in the next
issue of our Biblical Hebrew Study
Important Note
The study book you are holding is
sanctified due to the holy texts printed in
its pages. Please take care of the study
book accordingly, and treat it with respect.
The Source (Genesis 37:23-26)
‫אשׁ�ר בָּא יוֹסֵף‬
ֲ ַ‫ ו�י�הִי כּ‬.23
Vayehi ka’asher ba Yosef
ֶ ‫אֶל‬
And it came to pass, when Joseph
was come unto his brethren,
el echav
‫ו�יּ�פְשׁ�יטוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף‬
that they stripped Joseph
vayafshitu et Yosef
‫תּנ ְתּוֹ‬
ָ ֻ ‫אֶת כּ‬
of his coat,
et kutanto
‫אֶת כְּתֹנ ֶת ַהפַּסִּים‬
the coat of many colours
et ktonet hapasim
.‫אשׁ�ר עָל ָיו‬
that was on him;
asher alav.
‫ ו�יּ�קָּח ֻהוּ‬.24
;‫ו�יּ�שׁ�ל ִכוּ אֹתוֹ ַהבֹּ�ה‬
and they took him,
and cast him into the pit
vayashlichu oto haborah
,‫ו�הַבּוֹר �ק‬
and the pit was empty,
vehabor rek
.‫אֵין בּוֹ ָמי�ם‬
there was no water in it.
en bo mayim.
‫אכָל לֶחֶם‬
ֱ ֶ ‫ ו�יּ�שׁ�בוּ ל‬.25
Vayeshvu le’echol lechem
And they sat down to eat bread;
‫ו�יּ�שׂ�אוּ עֵינ ֵיהֶם ו�יּ��אוּ‬
and they lifted up their eyes and looked,
vayis’u eineyhem vayir’u
‫ו� ִהנּ ֵה אֹ�חַת י�שׁ� ְמעֵאל ִים‬
and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites
vehineh orchat Yishme’elim
;‫ָבּאָה ִמגִּלְעָד‬
came from Gilead,
ba’ah miGil’ad
‫וּג ְ ַמלּ ֵיהֶם נֹשׂ�אִים‬
with their camels bearing
ugemalehem nos’im
‫ט‬�‫נְכֹאת וּצְ�י ו‬
spicery and balm and ladanum,
.‫הוֹלְכִים ל ְהוֹ�יד ִמצְ�י�מָה‬
going to carry it down to Egypt.
nechot utsri valot
holchim lehorid Mitsraymah.
ֶ ‫ ו�יּ�אמֶר י�הוּד ָה אֶל‬.26
And Judah said unto his brethren:
Vayomer Yehudah el echav
‫מַה ֶבּצַע‬
‘What profit is it
mah betsa
ָ ‫כִּי נַהֲ�ג אֶת‬
if we slay our brother
ki naharog et achinu
.‫ו�כִסִּינוּ אֶת דּ ָמוֹ‬
and conceal his blood?
vechisinu et damo.
Selected Words from the Source
‫( כְּתֺנֶת ַה ַפּסִּים‬ktonet hapasim) coat
of many colours (37:23)
The word ‫( כְּתֺנֶת‬ktonet) coat comes from
the word ‫( ֻכּ ְתנָה‬kutna) cotton.
This indicates to us what material
Joseph’s coat was made from. This is the
same coat that Jacob gave to Joseph in
verse 3.
Incidentally, the word ‫ כְּתֺנֶת‬has all but
Striped tunic in Egytpian art
disappeared from the Hebrew language,
though there are some who use it to describe pajamas.
In the English translation, the phrase “of many colours” is used to
describe ‫ ַפּסִּים‬, however, it is not an exact translation. The correct
translation is “stripes.” But what were these stripes that were on the coat
and why did Jacob need them?
Obviously, this was a more tailored piece of clothing, and it showed that
Jacob favored Joseph over the rest of the brothers. However, the stripes
showed something else. During Biblical times, members of royalty wore
clothing with stripes. We can see this in the story of Amnon and Tamar,
the children of King David. In Samuel II, 13:18, the text describes the
clothing that Tamar wore:
‫ת‬‫ ַהבְּתוּ‬ֶ ‫תּל ְ ַבּשׁ�ן� בְנוֹת ַה ֶמּל‬
ִ ‫ו�עָל ֶי ָה כְּתֹנ ֶת פַּסִּים כִּי כֵן‬
ve’aleha ktonet pasim ki chen tilbashna vnot hamelech habetulot
Now she had a garment of many colours upon her; for with such robes were the
king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled
Did Jacob know that he was dressing a future prince? Is this how he
showed the rest of the brothers that he took Joseph’s dreams (that he
would rule over his brothers) seriously?
‫( אְֺרחַת‬orchat) caravan (of) (37:25)
This word comes from the
word ‫( אוֹרַח‬orach) which
means a way, path.
In other words, this is
describing a caravan, a group
of people traveling on a
certain path. In this case,
they happen to be
Caravan of camels. Sculpture: David Gerstein.
Photo: Dr. Avishai Teichner
‫ִשׁ ְמעֵאלִים‬
ְ ‫( י‬Yishme’elim) Ishmaelites (37:25)
This word obviously comes from the name Ishmael - the son of Hagar,
Abraham’s Egyptian maidservant. This name is composed of two words:
ְ ‫( י‬yishma) he will hear
‫( אֵל‬el) God
As you may recall, when Hagar fled from Abraham’s house, an angel of
God revealed itself to her and told her that she was pregnant and that she
would give birth to a son. He established the name of the child before it
was born, and said that God heared her troubles (Genesis 16:11).
‫ט‬ָ‫( נְכֺאת וּ ְצרִי ו‬nechot utsri valot) spicery and balm and
ladanum (37:25)
Throughout history, the area around the Land of Israel produced spices,
medical incense and other similar things. For thousands of years,
caravans traveled to
Egypt, and later to Rome,
laden with this precious
and unique merchandise.
So, what did the
Ishmaelites carry on their
‫ נְכֺאת‬- spicery
Different spices
The various interpreters
have not been able to identify what ‫ נְכֺאת‬is exactly. Some botanists think
that is a carob product, such as carob powder or carob honey. In various
historical descriptions carob honey is described as one of the expensive
products that were exported from the area around Egypt to Europe.
Other scholars think that ‫ נְכֺאת‬is a type of wax, which was rare at the time
and was used in a certain type of drawing technique in ancient Egypt.
However, the most common interpretation of the word is that ‫ נְכֺאת‬is a
general word for spices, just as the translation has it - spicery.
‫ ְצרִי‬- balm
These are various medicinal herbs that were used in the ancient Near
East. As Jeremiah said to the daughters of Egypt:
;‫עֲל ִי גִלְעָד וּקְחִי צֳ�י בְּתוּל ַת בַּת ִמצְ�י�ם‬
ָ ‫תּעָל ָה אֵין ל‬
ְ ‫לַשּׁ�ו�א הִ�בֵּית �פ ֻאוֹת‬
ali Gil’ad ukchi tsori betulat bat Mitsra’yim lashav hirbet refu’ot te’ala ein lach
Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt;
in vain dost thou use many medicines; there is no cure for thee (Jeremiah 46:11)
The prophet mentions the provenance of the balm - the Hills of Gilead,
which are east of the Jordan River - which fits in with our story, since it
says that the caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead.
It is interesting to read medical sources from the Land of Israel that
describes balm. The Muslim scholar al-Muqaddasi (945-1000) described
balm as a medical product made of many ingredients. He said that
some of the ingredients were derived from poisonous animals such as
snakes and scorpions. He even notes that those animals were caught near
Jericho, where they would milk their poison, or make a powder out of
their dried bodies, in order to mix it with the powder of plants, which
were harvested near Jerusalem.
There were scholars who understood the balm to be a plant that was used
in the making of incense. In ancient Jewish literature, the balm is listed as
an ingredient in the incense that was used by the High Priest in the Holy
Various botanists think that
the balm was made out of the
legendary balsam tree that grew
near Ein Gedi (near the Dead
sea). In an exhibit on King
Herod the Great in Jerusalem,
a small jar with the word balsam,
is displayed. The archaeologists Small jar of balsam perfume found at the Herodion
think that this is the last remnant of this perfume.
‫ט‬ - ladanum
It is not clear what ladanum is. There are those who think that it is a
type of pitch that was used in healing. Other think that it is a mixture or
powder made of inedible fruits and trees, such as oak trees. In any case,
it seems that in Biblical times, ladanum was expensive and important.
Indeed, Jacob would later send Joseph, who was then a prince of Egypt,
ladanum balm (Genesis 43:11). These two products have been called “the
song of the earth”- i.e. the choicest products of the land.
During the Second Temple period, it was thought that ladanum was a
type of medical potion that needed to be taken in small doses.
‫( ֶבּצַע‬betsa) profit (37:26)
Judah, who was also trying to help Joseph, wanted to delay the inevitable
and asked: “What do we gain by killing our brother?” He uses the word
‫ ֶבּצַע‬which is translated as “profit.” This is a neutral translation, which
does not convey the meaning of ‫ ֶבּצַע‬. It does not indicate whether this
is a positive or negative thing. However, in Biblical Hebrew, the word
‫ ֶבּצַע‬has a negative connotation and it is generally translated that way.
Here too, in the case of Judah, the text wanted to steer us toward the
understanding that something bad is happening here - and the use of the
word ‫ ֶבּצַע‬emphasizes that.
This word also means a part of a whole. When someone takes a part of a
whole for himself, he takes a part for himself. When a person embezzles
money, he takes for himself part of the whole, but in a ‘non-kosher’ way.
Here is an example of the word ‫ ֶבּצַע‬:
;‫טנּ ָם ו�עַד גּ ְדוֹל ָם כּ ֻלּוֹ בּוֹ ֵצעַ ָבּצַע‬
ַ ְ‫כִּי ִמקּ‬
‫וּ ִמנָּבִיא ו�עַד כֹּהֵן כּ ֻלּוֹ עֹשׂ�ה שּׁ�קֶר‬
ki miktanam ve’ad gdolam kulo botse’a batsa uminavi ve’ad kohen kulo oseh shaker
For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is greedy
for gain; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely
(Jeremiah 6:13)
Good Times Publishing Ltd. is a publication house which started its
journey in 1984 as a family-owned business, publishing educational
material for the Israeli school system. The founder and Editor-in-Chief,
Yigal Tzadka, graduated with a degree in Archeology in the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem after having completed his military service in
the Israel Defense Forces. For the last 30 years, he has been writing and
editing publications both in Israel and abroad.
With a collaboration of Hebrew Scholars and Christian Pastors, Good
Times created multiple products to help individuals of any level
understand Biblical Hebrew. Today, Good Times is based in Jerusalem
and ships its publications to private, as well as organizational subscribers,
in over 50 countries around the world. The publications are recognized
by the Israeli Ministry of Education and recommended by the Jewish
Agency for Israel.
In 2009, The Biblical Hebrew Study Book was created to provide a way
for non-Hebrew speaking Christians to understand the true meaning
of the original Biblical words, and to provide a personal and exciting
learning experience.
The Biblical Hebrew Study Book is a monthly
publication that goes through the Tanakh (Biblical
Canon) giving our readers special insights into the
root of certain Biblical Hebrew words, original
meaning, Biblical occurrences, and implication
in English. There is no need to know Hebrew in
order to understand our Study Books. Each month we highlight important
Biblical Hebrew words in a selected section of the Bible and offer
interpretations to illuminate your understanding of the text.
Thank you for taking the time to go through our sample and learn a bit
of history on us. My passion is to provide material for those who want
to learn more about the Bible. The Biblical Hebrew Study Book helps
strengthen your skills for inductive Bible study, and enhances your
teaching and preaching abilities.
Subscribe now to become part of our Biblical Hebrew family, and join
the thousands of people around the world that are deepening their faith.
Yigal Tzadka