Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hebrew hapax legomenon

Hebrew hapax legomena -- that is our topic in honor of H day at ABC Wednesday.

Hapax legomenon is Greek for "once said." It is a word that occurs only once in the written record of a language, in the works of an author, or in a single text.
It is a scholarly term much loved, used, and needed by Bible scholars.

In Hebrew literature a hapax is called either a milla bodedah, i.e. an "isolated word," or ʾen lo ah, ʾen lo ḥaver, ʾen lo reʿa ba-Miqraʾ, i.e. it has nothing alike, no brother, no fellow, no comrade in the Bible.
Depending on how broad your definition is, the Hebrew Bible has between 289 to 1,300 hapaxes.
My favorite is the Prophet Ezekiel's one-timer: hashmal (chashmal).
In Ezekiel 1:4 he tries to describe his mystical vision:
וָאֵרֶא וְהִנֵּה רוּחַ סְעָרָה בָּאָה מִן-הַצָּפוֹן, עָנָן גָּדוֹל וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת, וְנֹגַהּ לוֹ, סָבִיב; וּמִתּוֹכָהּ--כְּעֵין הַחַשְׁמַל, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.

Since no one knew what chashmal meant, the translations are very varied.
The RSV says "As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze."
NIV: "like glowing metal"
21st Century King James Version: "as the color of amber"
More versions here.
As you have guessed by now from the photos, modern Hebrew, when it needed to find a word for electricity, adopted Ezekiel's word chashmal!
And my favorite sign (well, except for this one) is ELECTRICITY DANGER, a translation by the Franciscans of sakana chashmal, posted at the scene of Pope Benedict's Mass in Jerusalem.


  1. Hi Dina. That is a beautiful presentation. Great photo that matches the text-shows the connectiveness of words.
    love and light.

  2. How fascinating!
    I always wonder how bible literalists miss the glorious complexity and depth of the words.
    Many think it was all written in King James English!

    Aloha my friend

    Comfort Spiral

  3. I must admit that I fell off after a short while :-(

    All I recognized was Lego, but I guess that was not what you meant. Oh well - so much to learn in the world.

  4. Did your hair stand on end, Dina?!

  5. Truly fascinating. I love how the word is used now in modern times on that sign.
    Very original post for the letter H.

  6. Fantastic perspective on the 1st shot!

  7. As always from you a really fascinating post - pylons make great photos but there is always the danger to be beheld.

  8. I always learn something I didn't know. That's why I come here.

    An Arkies Musings

  9. I was familiar w the Ezekiel story, but not the modern usage. Truly electrifying!

  10. Nice post and photos for the letter H, Dina.
    Reading of hapax I think of palindrome (absolutely nothing to do, of course!), which, as you know, is a word, sentence, or number that reads the same from left to right as from right to left. Words: Level, radar... Sentence: Was it a cat I saw?

  11. What a great post...and great pictures, Dina. I looked up that citation in the New American Bible and it says it "gleamed like electrum".

    I sure wish I knew Hebrew. I would love to study scripture in the original language. Most translations just don't do it justice and often enough does not convey the proper meaning.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  12. Always so interesting! Thank you...

  13. Thanks Dina for telling where the word Chashmal came from!

  14. it's really touching to find people how are familiar with ancient Greek language. wonderful captures too.

  15. Mirae, thanks. I considered using instead the hapax legomena for cheese, garlic, or ladder.

    Cloudia, it is so hard to appreciate the Bible without having reference to the original languages. I organized a class and teacher when I needed to know Greek in order to ever understand New Testament. In rural Arkansas! Unfortunately, the drop-out rate was high and we didn't last too long.

    Bennie and Patsy, thanks for reading!

    Rune, you fell off? Oi! Words ARE like Lego building blocks.

    Leif, I don't know, I was alone on that hike. It WAS kinda scary under the high tension pylon.

    Photowannabe, I think so too. :)

    JM, yeah, I had to climb a mountain to get that shot. hehe

    Ackworth born, there are so many high tension wires from down in our valley and up to the hills. Sometimes from the side of our hill on a quiet night you can hear them hum.

    Richie, well, I also learn something when writing most posts.

    Roger, good one, electrifying!

    Pietro, thanks for these palindromes. I must remember them to show my grandsons.

    FA, thanks for the new word electrum! I Googled and found that the first true coins were made of this alloy.
    Oh no, don't they teach holy languages anymore in seminary?
    I think it was Bialik, our national poet, who said that reading the Bible in translation is like kissing a woman through a handkerchief.

    Tumblewords, I love your name.

    Yaelian, bevakasha. Until yesterday I didn't know either.

    Vagellis, Yes, I love to learn the Greek words that have come into Hebrew and English. I can read the letters. Hope someday to continue with New Testament or modern Greek.
    You are so lucky to speak it everyday.

  16. This is awfully interesting, Dina. I'm just so amazed at how much you know.

  17. Kay, it's more like ... how much one can find out. Instant knowing via the Internet. Blogging is a great trigger. Usually I start with my photos and think, what kind of topic could this be?

  18. Yours is an original and thoughtful post for the day.

  19. What a fascinating post Dina! I loved reading this today. Very cool!

  20. Very interesting post, that turned very funny.

    Great thought - what does a word mean when it is only used once, in a book several thousand years old. I have a vision of these old guys whispering the meaning to each other over the years.

  21. Hi Dina, Yes, the seminary that I went to (and we still send our students to) teaches Hebrew, Greek and Latin. However, I choose to go the American academic degree route because I don't really have an aptitude for languages (and for the Pontifical degree one must take two of those languages). (I have managed to get a little spanish and latin under my belt, however.) My favorite teacher at the seminary, a scripture scholar, would tell us that she believes that Hebrew is the language that is spoken in heaven. So, I'm looking forward to learning it there.

  22. Thanks Dina, this was very interesting. I like Hebrew, although I don't know it. I know that doesn't make sense! But when I learn a word and what it means, I am always pleased.

  23. Very informative, Dina! I've never heard of a hapax before. The closest thing I can think of are some of the words that Shakespeare coined, but many of those are now a common part of the English language.


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