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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

ne-hel'-a-mit, (ha-necheldmi): The designation of Shemaiah, a false prophet who opposed Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:24, 31, 32). The word means "dweller of Nehelam," but no such place-name is found in the Old Testament. Its etymology, however, suggests a connection with the Hebrew chalam, "to dream," and this has given rise to the rendering of the King James Version margin "dreamer."




1. Members of Semitic Family

2. The Name Hebrew

3. Old Hebrew Literature


1. Oldest Form of Language

2. The Hebrew of the Old Testament

3. Its Uniformity

4. The Cause Thereof

5. Differences Due to Age

6. Differences of Style

7. Foreign Influences

8. Poetry and Prose

9. Home of the Hebrew Language

10. Its Antiquity

11. When Hebrew Became a Dead Language


1. Characteristic Sounds

2. Letters Representing Two Sounds

3. Consonants Representing Vowels

4. The Syllable

5. Three-Letter Roots

6. Conjugations or Derived Stems

7. Absence of Tenses

8. The Pronouns

9. Formation of Nouns

10. Internal Inflexion

11. Syntax of the Verb

12. Syntax of the Noun

13. Poverty of Adjectives


1. Aramaic Portions of the Old Testament

2. Phonology

3. Grammar

4. Syntax

5. Aramaic More Decadent than Hebrew


1. Concrete and Abstract

2. View of Nature

3. Pictorial Imagination

4. Prose and Poetry

5. Hebrew Easy of Translation


There were only two languages employed in the archetypes of the Old Testament books (apart from an Egyptian or Persian or Greek word here and there), namely, Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic, both of which belong to the great family of languages known as Semitic.

I. The Semitic Languages.

The languages spoken in Southwestern Asia during the historical period dealt with in the Bible have been named Shemitic, after the son of Noah from whom the majority of peoples speaking these languages-Arabs, Hebrews, Arameans and Assyrians (Genesis 10:21)-were descended. To show, however, that the description does not fit exactly the thing described-the Elamites and Lydians having probably not spoken a Shemitic language, and the Canaanites, including Phoenicians, with the colonists descended from those at Carthage and elsewhere in the Mediterranean coast lands, as well as the Abyssinians (Ethiopians), who did, being reckoned descendants of Ham (Genesis 9:18; Genesis 10:6)-the word is now generally written "Semitic," a term introduced by Eichhorn (1787). These languages were spoken from the Caspian Sea to the South of Arabia, and from the Mediterranean to the valley of the Tigris.

1. Members of Semitic Family:

The following list shows the chief members of this family:

(1) South Semitic or Arabic:

Including the language of the Sabean (Himyaritic) inscriptions, as well as Ge'ez or Ethiopic. Arabic is now spoken from the Caucasus to Zanzibar, and from the East Indies to the Atlantic.

(2) Middle Semitic or Canaanitish:

Including Hebrew, old and new, Phoenician, with Punic, and Moabite (language of MS).

(3) North Semitic or Aramaic:


(a) East Aramaic or Syrian (language of Syrian Christians), language of Babylonian Talmud, Mandean;

(b) West or Palestinian Aramaic of the Targums, Palestinian Talmud (Gemara), Biblical Aramaic ("Chaldee"), Samaritan, language of Nabatean inscriptions.

(4) East Semitic:

Language of Assyria-Babylonian inscriptions.

2. The Name Hebrew:

With the exception of a few chapters and fragments mentioned below, the Old Testament is written entirely in Hebrew. In the Old Testament itself this language is called "the Jews' " (2 Kings 18:26, 28). In Isaiah 19:18 it is called poetically, what in fact it was, "the language (Hebrew `lip') of Canaan." In the appendix to the Septuagint of Job it is called Syriac; and in the introduction to Ecclesiasticus it is for the first time-that is, in 130 B.C.-named Hebrew. The term Hebrew in the New Testament denotes the language of the Old Testament in Revelation 9:11, but in John 5:2; John 19:13, 17 this term means the vernacular Aramaic. In other passages it is doubtful which is meant. Josephus uses the same name for both. From the time of the Targums, Hebrew is called "the sacred tongue" in contrast to the Aramaic of everyday use. The language of the Old Testament is called Old Hebrew in contrast to the New Hebrew of the Mishna, the rabbinic, the Spanish poetry, etc.

3. Old Hebrew Literature: Of Old Hebrew the remains are contained almost entirely in the Old Testament. A few inscriptions have been recovered, i.e., the Siloam Inscriptions, a Hebrew calendar, a large number of ostraka from Samaria, a score of pre-exilic seals, and coins of the Maccabees and of the time of Vespasian and Hadrian.


E. Renan, Histoire generale et systeme compare des langues semitiques; F. Hommel, Die semit. Volker u. Sprachen; the comparative grammars of Wright and Brockelmann; CIS; article "Semitic Languages" in Encyclopedia Brit, and Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

II. History of the Hebrew Language.

Hebrew as it appears to us in the Old Testament is in a state of decadence corresponding to the present position of spoken Arabic. In the earliest period it no doubt resembled the classical Arabic of the 7th and following centuries. The variations found between the various strata of the language occurring in the Old Testament are slight compared with the difference between modern and ancient Arabic.

1. Oldest Form of Language:

Hebrew was no doubt originally a highly inflected language, like classical Arabic. The noun had three cases, nominative, genitive, and accusative, ending in -um', -im, -am, respectively, as in the Sabean inscriptions. Both verbs and nouns had three numbers (singular, dual and plural) and two genders, masculine and feminine In the noun the dual and plural had two cases. The dual and 2nd and 3rd person plural and 2nd person singular feminine of the imperfect of the verb ended in nun. In certain positions the "m" of the endings -um, -im, -am in the noun was dropped. The verb had three moods, indicative, subjunctive, and jussive, ending in -u, -a, and -, respectively; as well as many forms or stems, each of which had an active and passive voice.

2. The Hebrew of the Old Testament:

In the Hebrew of the Old Testament most of these inflexions have disappeared. Of the three cases of the noun only the accusative -am has survived in a few adverbial forms, such as 'omnam, "truly." The dual has entirely disappeared from the verb, and also from the noun, with the exception of things that occur in pairs, such as hand, eye, which have no plural. The nom. case of the dual and plural of the noun has disappeared, and the oblique case is used for both. Except in cases of poetic archaism the final nun of the verb has been lost, and, as the final vowels have fallen away in verbs, as well as in nouns, the result is that the jussive forms serve for indicative and subjunctive also. Many of the forms or stems have fallen into desuetude, and the passive forms of two alone are used.

3. Its Uniformity:

One of the most remarkable facts connected with the Hebrew of the Old Testament is that although that literature extends through a period of over 1,000 years, there is almost no difference between the language of the oldest parts and that of the latest. This phenomenon is susceptible of several explanations. In the first place, nearly the whole of the Old Testament literature is religious in character, and as such the earliest writings would become the model for the later, just as the Koran-the first prose work composed in Arabic which has survived-has become the pattern for all future compositions. The same was true for many centuries of the influence of Aristophanes and Euripides upon the language of educated Greeks, and, it is said, of the influence of Confucius upon that of the learned Chinese.

4. The Cause Thereof:

But a chief cause is probably the fact that the Semitic languages do not vary with time, but with place. The Arabic vocabulary used in Morocco differs from that of Egypt, but the Arabic words used in each of these countries have remained the same for centuries-in fact, since Arabic began to be spoken in them. Similarly, the slight differences which are found in the various parts of the Old Testament are to be ascribed, not to a difference of date, but to the fact that some writers belonged to the Southern Kingdom, some to the Northern, some wrote in Palestine, some in Babylonia (compare Nehemiah 13:23, 24 Judges 12:6; Judges 18:3).

5. Differences Due to Age:

The Old Testament literature falls into two main periods: that composed before and during the Babylonian exile, and that which falls after the exile. But even between these two periods the differences of language are comparatively slight, so that it is often difficult or impossible to say on linguistic grounds alone whether a particular chapter is pre-exilic or post-exilic, and scholars of the first rank often hold the most contrary opinions on these points. For instance, Dillmann places the so-called Document P (Priestly Code) before Document D (Deuteronomic Code) in the regal period, whereas most critics date D about 621 and P about 444 B.C.

6. Differences of Style:

It is needless to add that the various writers differ from one another in point of style, but these variations are infinitesimal compared with those of Greek and Latin authors, and are due, as has been said above, largely to locality and environment. Thus the style of Hosea is quite different from that of his contemporary Amos, and that of Deutero-Isaiah shows very distinctly the mark of its place of composition.

7. Foreign Influences:

A much more potent factor in modifying the language was the influence of foreign languages upon Hebrew, especially in respect to vocabulary. The earliest of these was probably Egyptian but of much greater importance was Assyrian, from which Hebrew gained a large number of loan words. It is well known that the Babylonian script was used for commercial purposes throughout Southwestern Asia, even before the Hebrews entered Canaan (see TEXT AND MANUSCRIPTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT), but the influence of Babylon upon Palestine seems to have been greatly exaggerated. The main point of contact is in the mythology, which may have been common to both peoples. In the later, especially post-exilic stages of the language, many Aramaisms are found in respect to syntax as well as vocabulary; and in later phases still, Persian and even Greek words are found.

8. Poetry and Prose:

As in other languages, so in Hebrew, the vocabulary of the poetical literature differs from that of the prose writers. In Hebrew, however, there is not the hard-and-fast distinction between these two which obtains in the classics. Whenever prose becomes elevated by the importation of feeling, it falls into a natural rhythm which in Hebrew constitutes poetry. Thus most of the so-called prophetical books are poetical in form. Another mark of poetry is a return to archaic grammatical forms, especially the restoration of the final nun in the verb.

9. Home of the Hebrew Language:

The form of Semitic which was indigenous in the land of Canaan is sometimes called Middle Semitic. Before the Israelites entered the country, it was the language of the Canaanites from whom the Hebrews took it over. That Hebrew was not the language of Abraham before his migration appears from the fact that he is called an Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5), and that Laban's native language was Aramaic (Genesis 31:47). A further point is that the word "Sea" is used for the West and "Negeb" for the South, indicating Palestine as the home of the language (so Isaiah 19:18).

10. Its Antiquity:

As the aboriginal inhabitants of the land of Canaan were not Semites, we cannot infer the existence of the Hebrew language any earlier than the first immigrations of Semites into Palestine, that is, during the third millennium B.C. It would thus be a much younger member of the Semitic family than Assyrian-Babylonian, which exhibits all the marks of great antiquity long before the Hebrew language is met with.

11. When Hebrew Became a Dead Language:

The Babylonian exile sounded the death-knell of the Hebrew language. The educated classes were deported to Babylon or fled to Egypt, and those who remained were not slow to adopt the language used by their conquerors. The old Hebrew became a literary and sacred tongue, the language of everyday life being probably Aramaic. Whatever may be the exact meaning of Nehemiah 8:8, it proves that the people of that time had extreme difficulty in understanding classical Hebrew when it was read to them. Yet for the purpose of religion, the old language continued to be employed for several centuries. For patriotic reasons it was used by the Maccabees, and by Bar Cochba (135 A.D.).


Gesenius, Geschichte der hebr. Sprache und Schrift; Bertheau, "Hebr. Sprache" in RE, 2nd edition; see also "Literature" in the following section.

III. Chief Characteristics of Hebrew.

The special marks which particularly distinguish a language may be found in its alphabet, in its mode of inflection, or in its syntax.

1. Characteristic Sounds:

The Hebrew alphabet is characterized by the large number of guttural sounds which it contains, and these are not mere palatals like the Scotch or German chapter, but true throat sounds, such as are not found in the Aryan languages. Hence, when the Phoenician alphabet passed over into Greece, these unpronounceable sounds, " ` " (`ayin), "ch" (cheth), "h" (he), " ' " ('aleph) were changed into vowels, A, E, H, O. In Hebrew the guttural letters predominate. "In the Hebrew dictionaries the four gutturals occupy considerably more than a fourth part of the volume; the remaining eighteen letters occupying considerably less than three-fourths." Besides the guttural, there are three strong consonants "m" (mem), "q" (qoph), and "ts" (tsade), which are sounded with compression of the larynx, and are quite different from our "t," "k" and "s." In Greek, the first was softened into a "th" (theta), the other two were dropped as letters but retained as numerals.

2. Letters Representing Two Sounds:

Though the Hebrew alphabet comprises no more than 22 letters, these represent some 30 different sounds, for the 6 letters b, g, d, k, p and t, when they fall immediately after a vowel, are pronounced bh(v), gh, dh, kh, ph (f) and th. Moreover, the gutturals "ch" (cheth) and " ` " (`ayin) each represent two distinct sounds, which are still in use in Arabic. The letter "h" is sometimes sounded at the end of a word as at the beginning.

3. Consonants Representing Vowels:

A peculiarity of the Hebrew alphabet is that the letters are all consonants. Four of these, however, were very early used to represent vowel and diphthong sounds, namely, " ' ", "h", "w" and "y". So long as Hebrew was a spoken language no other symbols than these 22 letters were used. It was not until the 7th century A.D. at the earliest that the well-known elaborate system of signs to represent the vowels and other sounds was invented (see TEXT AND MANUSCRIPTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT).

4. The Syllable:

A feature of the Hebrew language is that no word or syllable may begin with a vowel: every syllable begins with a consonant. This is also true of the other Semitic languages, except Assyrian-Babylonian. When in the course of word-formation a syllable would begin with a vowel, the slight consonant ' ('aleph) is prefixed. Moreover, more than two consonants may not stand without vowels intervening, as in the English word "strength." At most, two consonants may begin a syllable, and even so a slight vowel is sounded between them, as qero'. A word may end in two consonants without vowels, as 'amart, but no word or syllable ends in more than two.

5. Three-Letter Roots:

The outstanding feature of the Semitic family of languages is the root, consisting of three consonants. Practically, the triliteral root is universal. There are a few roots with more than three letters, but many of the quadriliteral roots are formed by reduplication, as kabkab in Arabic. Many attempts have been made to reduce three-letter stems to two-letter by taking the factors common to several roots of identical meaning. Thus duwm, damah, damam, "to be still," seem all to come from a root d-m. It is more probable, however, that the root is always triliteral, but may appear in various forms.

6. Conjugations or Derived Stems:

From these triliteral roots all parts of the verbs are formed. The root, which, it ought to be stated, is not the infinitive, but the 3rd singular masculine perfect active, expresses the simple idea without qualification, as shabhar, "he broke." The idea of intensity is obtained by doubling the middle stem letter, as shibber, "he broke in fragments"; the passive is expressed by the u-vowel in the first place and the a-vowel in the last, as shubbar, "it was broken in fragments." The reflexive sense prefixes an "n" to the simple root, or a "t" (taw) to the intensive, but the former of these is often used as a passive, as nishbar, "it was broken," hithqaddesh, "he sanctified himself." The causative meaning is given by prefixing the letter "h", as malakh, "he was king," himlikh, "he caused (one) to be king." A somewhat similar method of verb building is found outside the Semitic language, for example, in Turkish. In some of these Semitic languages the number of formations is very numerous. In Hebrew also there are traces of stems other than those generally in use.

7. Absence of Tenses:

There are no tenses in Hebrew, in our sense of the word. There are two states, usually called tenses, the perfect and the imperfect. In the first the action is regarded as accomplished, whether in the past or future, as shabhar, "he broke," "he has broken," "he will have broken," or (in prophetic narrative) "he will break"; in the second, the action is regarded as uncompleted, "he will break," "he was breaking," "he is breaking," etc. The present is often expressed by the participle.

8. The Pronouns:

The different persons, singular and plural, are expressed by affixing to the perfect, and by prefixing to the imperfect, fragments of the personal pronouns, as shabharti, "I broke," shabharnu, "we broke," nishbor, "we will break," and so on. The fragments which are added to the perfect to express the nominative of the pronouns are, with some modification, especially the change of "t" into "k", added to the verb to express the accusative, and to the noun to express the genitive; for example, shabharta, "you broke," shebharekha, "he broke you," bethekha, "your house"; capharnu, "we counted," cepharanu, "he counted us," ciphrenu, "our book."

9. Formation of Nouns:

The same principles are followed in regard to the noun as to the verb. Many nouns consist solely of the three stem-letters articulated with one or with two vowels, except that monosyllables generally become dissyllabic, owing to the difficulty of pronouncing two vowelless consonants together: thus, melekh, "king," cepher, "book," goren, "threshingfloor" (instead of malk, ciphr, gorn), dabhar, "a word or thing," qarobh, "near." Nouns denoting place, instrument, etc., are often formed by prefixing the letter "m" to the root, as mishpat, "justice" from shaphat, "he judged," mazlegh, "a fork." Intensity is, given to the root idea, as in the verb, by doubling the middle consonant: thus, choresh "working," charash (for charrash), "workman"; gonebh, "stealing," gannabh, "a thief." Similarly, words denoting incurable physical defects, 'illem, "dumb," `iwwer, "blind," cheresh (for chirresh), "deaf and dumb." The feminine of nouns, as of the 3rd person of verbs, is formed by adding the letter "t", which when final is softened to "h", gebhirah, "queen-mother," "mistress," but gebhirtekh, "your mistress."

10. Internal Inflexion:

The inflexion of both verbs and nouns is accompanied by a constant lengthening or shortening of the vowels of the word, and this according to two opposite lines. In verbs with vowel-affixes the penultimate vowel disappears, as halakh, "he went," halekhu, "they went"; in the noun the ante-penultimate vowel disappears, as dabhar, "a word," plural debharim. As the vowel system, as stated above, is very late, the vocalization cannot be accepted as that of the living tongue. It represents rather the cantillation of the synagogue; and for this purpose, accents, which had a musical as well as an interpunctional value, have been added.

11. Syntax of the Verb:

Hebrew syntax is remarkable for its simplicity. Simple sentences predominate and are usually connected by the conjunction "and." Subordinate sentences are comparatively rare, but descriptive and temporal clauses are not uncommon. In the main narrative, the predicates are placed at the beginning of the sentence, first simply in the root form (3rd singular masculine), and then only when the subject has been mentioned does the predicate agree with it. Descriptive and temporal clauses may be recognized by their having the subject at the beginning (e.g. Genesis 1:2). A curious turn is given to the narrative by the fact that in the main sentences, if the first verb is perfect, those which follow are imperfect, and vice versa, the conjunction which coordinates them receiving a peculiar vocalization-that of the definite article. In the English Bible, descriptive and temporal clauses are often rendered as if they were parts of the main sentence, for example, in the first verses of Genesis of which the literal translation is somewhat as follows: "At the beginning of God's creating heaven and earth, when the earth was without form and void, and God's spirit (or, a great wind) moved upon the face of the water, God said, Let there be light." It will thus be seen that the structure of Hebrew narrative is not so simple as it appears.

12. Syntax of the Noun:

In the Semitic languages, compound words do not occur, but this deficiency is made up by what is called the construct state. The old rule, that the second of two nouns which depend on one another is put in the genitive, becomes, in Hebrew, the first of two such nouns is put in the construct state. The noun in the construct state loses the definite article, and all its vowels are made as short as possible, just as if it were the beginning of a long word: for example, ha-bayith, "the house," but beth ha-melekh, "the house of the king," "the palace"; dabhar, "a word," but dibhere ruach, "words of wind," "windy words."

13. Poverty of Adjectives:

The Hebrew language is very poor in adjectives, but this is made up for by a special use of the construct state just mentioned. Thus to express magnitude the word "God" is added in the gen. case, as in the example above (Genesis 1:2), "a mighty wind" = a wind of God; Psalm 36:6, "the lofty mountains" = the mountains of God (so 68:15); 80:10, "goodly cedars" = cedars of God; so "a holy man" = a man of God; "the sacred box" = the ark of God, and so on; compare in the New Testament, Matthew 27:54, "the son of God" = Luke 23:47, "a righteous (man)." Matthew was thinking in Aramaic, Luke in Greek. A similar use is made of other words, e.g. "stubborn" = hard of neck; "impudent" = hard of face; "extensive" = broad of hands; "miserable" = bitter of soul.


The articles on the Hebrew Language in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexikon, 1875, by Noldeke; in Encyclopedia Brit, 9th edition, by Robertson Smith; 11th edition by Noldeke; in the Imperial Bible Dict., 1866, by T. H. Weir; also those in HDB, EB.


A. B. Davidson's Elementary Hebrew Grammar and Syntax; Gesenius, Hebrew Grammar, English translation by Cowley, 2nd edition.


Brown, Briggs and Driver, Hebrew and English Lexicon; Gesenius, Handworterbuch, 15th edition; Feyerabend, Hebrew-English Pocket Dictionary; Breslau, English and Hebrew Dictionary.

IV. Biblical Aramaic.

1. Aramaic Portions of the Old Testament:

The Aramaic portions of the Old Testament are the following: Ezra 4:8-6:18; Ezra 7:11-26 Daniel 2:4-7:28 Genesis 31:47 (two words); Jeremiah 10:11. The language in which they are written used to be called Chaldee, but is now generally known simply as Biblical Aramaic. It represents a further declension from classical Semitic as compared with the Hebrew. The following are the principal points in which Biblical Aramaic differs from Hebrew.

2. Phonology:

The accent is placed on the last syllable, the first vowel disappearing, e.g. `abhadh for Hebrew `abhadh. It is curious that the same feature is found in Algerene and Moroccan Arabic: thus qacr becomes qcar. Dentals take the place of sibilants: dehabh for zahabh; telath for shalosh. The strong Hebrew "ts" (tsade) frequently becomes " ` " (`ayin), and Hebrew " ` " (`ayin) becomes " ' " ('aleph): thus, 'ar`a' for 'erets; `uq for tsuq.

3. Grammar:

In Hebrew the definite article is the prefix hal (ha-); in Aramaic the affix a'; the latter, however, has almost lost its force. The dual is even more sparingly used than in Hebrew. The passive forms of verbs and those beginning with nun ("n") are practically wanting; the passive or reflexive forms are made by prefixing the letter "t" to the corresponding active forms, and that much more regularly than in Hebrew, there being three active and three passive forms.

4. Syntax:

In regard to syntax there is to be noted the frequent use of the participle instead of a finite verb, as in Hebrew; the disuse of the conjunction "and" with the vocalization of the article; and the disuse of the construct state in nouns, instead of which a circumlocution with the relative di is employed, e.g. tselem di dhehabh, "an image of gold." The same periphrasis is found also in West African Arabic.

5. Aramaic More Decadent than Hebrew:

It will thus be seen that if Hebrew represents a decadent form of an original classical language which was very similar to classical Arabic, Biblical Arabic stands on a still lower level. It is not to be supposed that Hebrew passed into Aramaic, though on the analogy of Arabic that view is not untenable. Rather, the different Semitic languages became fixed at different epochs. Arabic as a literary language crystallized almost at the source; Hebrew and the spoken Arabic of the East far down the stream; and Aramaic and Moroccan Arabic farthest down of all.


Kautzsch, Grammatik; Strack, Abriss des bibl. Aramaisch; Marti, Bibl. aram. Sprache; the articles on "Aramaic" or "Chaldee" in the Biblical Dicts. cited under III, and article ARAMAIC LANGUAGE in this Encyclopedia; the Hebrew text of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, edition by Baer. Hebrew Dictionaries. generally include Biblical Aramaic.

V. Literary Characteristics of the Semites.

1. Concrete and Abstract:

The thinking of the Hebrews, like that of other Semites, was done, not in the abstract, but in the concrete. Thus, we find the material put for the immaterial, the expression for the thought, the instrument for the action, the action for the feeling. This mode of expression frequently gives rise to striking anthropomorphisms. Thus we have the eye for watchfulness or care (Psalm 33:18); the long hand for far-reaching powers (Isaiah 59:1); broken teeth for defeated malice (Psalm 3:7); the sword for slaughter (Psalm 78:62); haughty eyes for superciliousness (Proverbs 6:17); to say in the heart for to think (Psalm 10:6). It would be an interesting study to examine to what extent these expressions have been taken over from Hebrew into English.

2. View of Nature:

The Hebrew does not know the distinction between animate and inanimate Nature. All Nature is animate (Psalm 104:29). The little hills rejoice (Psalm 65:12); the mountains skip (Psalm 114:4); the trees clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12); even the stones may cry out (Luke 19:40). Such expressions are not to be taken as mere poetical figures of speech; they are meant quite literally. All Nature is one: man is merely a part of Nature (Psalm 104:23), even if he be the highest part (Psalm 8:5). Hence, perhaps, it arises that there is no neuter gender in the Semitic languages.

3. Pictorial Imagination:

The highly imaginative nature of the Hebrew comes into play when he is recounting past events or writing history. To his mind's eye all past events are present. He sees history taking place before his eyes as in a picture. Thus the perfect may generally be translated by the English past tense with "have," the imperfect by the English present tense with "is" or "is going to." In livelier style the participle is used: "They are entering the city, and behold Samuel is coming out to meet them" (1 Samuel 9:14). Hence, the oratio recta is always used in preference to the oratio obliqua. Moreover, the historian writes exactly as the professional story-teller narrates. Hence, he is always repeating himself and returning upon his own words (1 Samuel 5:1, 2).

4. Prose and Poetry:

A result of the above facts is that there is no hard-and-fast distinction in Hebrew between prose and poetry. Neither is there in Hebrew, or in the Semitic language generally, epic or dramatic poetry, because their prose possesses these qualities in a greater degree than does the poetry of other races. All Hebrew poetry is lyric or didactic. In it there is no rhyme nor meter. The nearest approach to meter is what is called the qinah strophe, in which each verse consists of two parallel members, each member having five words divided into three and then two. The best example of this is to be found in Psalm 19:7-9, and also in the Book of LAMENTATIONS (which see), from which the verse has received its name.

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" 1. The Motive of Translation

2. Multiplicity of Latin Translations in the 4th Century

3. The Latin Bible before Jerome

4. First Used in North Africa

5. Cyprian's Bible

6. Tertullian's Bible

7. Possible Eastern Origin of Old Latin

8. Classification of Old Latin Manuscripts

9. Individual Characteristics

10. Value of Old Latin for Textual Criticism


1. The Motive of Translation:

The claim of Christianity to be the one true religion has carried with it from the beginning the obligation to make its Holy Scriptures, containing the Divine message of salvation and life eternal, known to all mankind. Accordingly, wherever the first Christian evangelists carried the gospel beyond the limits of the Greek-speaking world, one of the first requirements of their work was to give the newly evangelized peoples the record of God's revelation of Himself in their mother tongue. It was through the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament that the great truths of revelation first became known to the Greek and Roman world. It is generally agreed that, as Christianity spread, the Syriac and the Latin versions were the first to be produced; and translations of the Gospels, and of other books of the Old and New Testament in Greek, were in all probability to be found in these languages before the close of the 2nd century.

2. Multiplicity of Latin Translations in the 4th Century:

Of the earliest translators of the Bible into Latin no record has survived. Notwithstanding the careful investigations of scholars in recent years, there are still many questions relating to the origin of the Latin Bible to which only tentative and provisional answers can be given. It is therefore more convenient to begin a study of its history with Jerome toward the close of the 4th century and the commission entrusted to him by Pope Damasus to produce a standard Latin version, the execution of which gave to Christendom the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) (see VULGATE). The need for such a version was clamant. There existed by this time a multiplicity of translations differing from one another, and there was none possessed of commanding authority to which appeal might be made in case of necessity. It was the consideration of the chaotic condition of the existing translations, with their divergences and variations, which moved Damasus to commission Jerome to his task and Jerome to undertake it. We learn particulars from the letter of Jerome in 383 transmitting to his patron the first installment of his revision, the Gospels. "Thou compellest me," he writes, "to make a new work out of an old so that after so many copies of the Scriptures have been dispersed throughout the whole world I am as it were to occupy the post of arbiter, and seeing they differ from one another am to determine which of them are in agreement with the original Greek." Anticipating attacks from critics, he says, further: "If they maintain that confidence is to be reposed in the Latin exemplars, let them answer which, for there are almost as many copies of translations as manuscripts. But if the truth is to be sought from the majority, why not rather go back to the Greek original, and correct the blunders which have been made by incompetent translators, made worse rather than better by the presumption of unskillful correctors, and added to or altered by careless scribes?" Accordingly, he hands to the Pontiff the four Gospels to begin with after a careful comparison of old Greek manuscripts.

From Jerome's contemporary, Augustine, we obtain a similar picture. "Translators from Hebrew into Greek," he says (De Doctrina Christiana, ii.11), "can be numbered, but Latin translators by no means. For whenever, in the first ages of the faith, a Greek manuscript came into the hands of anyone who had also a little skill in both languages, he made bold to translate it forthwith." In the same context he mentions "an innumerable variety of Latin translators," "a crowd of translators." His advice to readers is to give a preference to the Itala, "which is more faithful in its renderings and more intelligible in its sense." What the Itala is, has been greatly discussed. Formerly it was taken to be a summary designation of all the versions before Jerome's time. But Professor Burkitt (Texts and Studies, IV) strongly urges the view that by this term Augustine designates Jerome's Vulgate, which he might quite well have known and preferred to any of the earlier translations. However this may be, whereas before Jerome there were those numerous translations, of which he and Augustine complain, after Jerome there is the one preeminent and commanding work, produced by him, which in course of time drove all others out of the field, the great Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) edition, as it came to be called, of the complete Latin Bible.

3. The Latin Bible before Jerome:

We are here concerned with the subject of the Latin Bible before the time of Jerome. The manuscripts which have survived from the earlier period are known by the general designation of Old Latin. When we ask where these first translations came into existence, we discover a somewhat surprising fact. It was not at Rome, as we might have expected, that they were first required. The language of Christian Rome was mainly Greek, down to the 3rd century. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in Greek. When Clement of Rome in the last decade of the 1st century wrote an epistle in the name of the Roman church to the Corinthians, he wrote in Greek Justin Martyr, and the heretic Marcion, alike wrote from Rome in Greek. Out of 15 bishops who presided over the Roman. See down to the close of the 2nd century, only four have Latin names. Even the pagan emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations in Greek If there were Christians in Rome at that period whose only language was Latin, they were not sufficiently numerous to be provided with Christian literature; at least none has survived.

4. First Used in North Africa:

It is from North Africa that the earliest Latin literature of the church has come down to us. The church of North Africa early received a baptism of blood, and could point to an illustrious roll of martyrs. It had also a distinguished list of Latin authors, whose Latin might sometimes be rude and mixed with foreign idioms, but had a power and a fire derived from the truths which it set forth. One of the most eminent of these Africans was Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who won the martyr's crown in 257. His genuine works consist of a number of short treatises, or tracts, and numerous letters, all teeming with Scripture quotations. It is certain that he employed a version then and there in use, and it is agreed that "his quotations are carefully made and thus afford trustworthy standards of African Old Latin in a very early though still not the earliest stage" (Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in Greek, 78).

5. Cyprian's Bible:

Critical investigation has made it clear that the version used by Cyprian survives in a fragmentary copy of Mark and Matthew, now at Turin in North Italy, called Codex Bobbiensis (k), and in the fragments of the Apocalypse and Acts contained in a palimpsest at Paris called Codex Floriacensis (h). It has been found that another MS, Codex Palatinus (e) at Vienna, has a text closely akin to that exhibited in Cyprian, although there are traces of mixture in it. The text of these manuscripts, together with the quotations of the so-called Speculum Augustini (m), is known among scholars as African Old Latin. Another manuscript with an interesting history, Codex Colbertinus (c) contains also a valuable African element, but in many parts of the Gospels it sides also with what is called the European Old Latin more than with k or e. Codex Bobbiensis (k) has been edited with a learned introduction in the late Bishop John Wordsworth's Old Latin Biblical Texts, the relation of k to Cyprian as well as to other Old Latin texts being the subject of an elaborate investigation by Professor Sanday. That Cyprian, who was not acquainted with Greek, had a written version before him which is here identified is certain, and thus the illustrious bishop and martyr gives us a fixed point in the history of the Latin Bible a century and a half earlier than Jerome.

6. Tertullian's Bible:

We proceed half a century nearer to the fountainhead of the African Bible when we take up the testimony of Tertullian who flourished toward the close of the 2nd century. He differed from Cyprian in being a competent Greek scholar. He was thus able to translate for himself as he made his quotations from the Septuagint or the Greek New Testament, and is thus for us by no means so safe a witness to the character or existence of a standard version. Professor Zahn (GK, I, 60) maintains with considerable plausibility that before 210-240 A.D. there was no Latin Bible, and that Tertullian with his knowledge of Greek just translated as he went along. In this contention, Zahn is not supported by many scholars, and the view generally is that while Tertullian's knowledge of Greek is a disturbing element, his writings, with the copious quotations from both Old Testament and New Testament, do testify to the existence of a version which had already been for some time in circulation and use. Who the African Wycliffe or Tyndale was who produced that version has not been recorded, and it may in fact have been the work of several hands, the result, as Bishop Westcott puts it, of the spontaneous efforts of African Christians (Canon of the NT7, 263).

7. Possible Eastern Origin of Old Latin:

Although the evidence has, up to the present time, been regarded as favoring the African origin of the first Latin translation of the Bible, recent investigation into what is called the Western text of the New Testament has yielded results pointing elsewhere. It is clear from a comparison that the Western type of text has close affinity with the Syriac witnesses originating in the eastern provinces of the empire. The close textual relation disclosed between the Latin and the Syriac versions has led some authorities to believe that, after all, the earliest Latin version may have been made in the East, and possibly at Antioch. But this is one of the problems awaiting the discovery of fresh material and fuller investigation for its solution.

8. Classification of Old Latin Manuscripts:

We have already noticed the African group, so designated from its connection with the great African Fathers, Tertullian and especially Cyprian, and comprising k, e, and to some extent h and m. The antiquity of the text here represented is attested by these African Fathers.

When we come down to the 4th century we find in Western Europe, and especially in North Italy, a second type of text, which is designated European, the precise relation of which to the African has not been clearly ascertained. Is this an independent text which has arisen on the soil of Italy, or is it a text derived by alteration and revision of the African as it traveled northward and westward? This group consists of the Codex Vercellensis (a) and Codex Vcronensis (b) of the 4th or 5th century at Vercelli and Verona respectively, and there may be included also the Codex Vindobonensis (i) of the 7th century at Vienna. These give the Gospels, and a gives for John the text as it was read by the 4th-century Father, Lucifer of Cagliari in Sardinia. The Latin of the Greek-Latin manuscript D (Codex Bezae) is known as d, and much of Irenaeus are classed with this group.

Still later, Professor Hort says from the middle of the 4th century, a third type, called Italic from its more restricted range, is found. It is represented by Codex Brixianus (f) of the 6th century, now at Brescia, and Codex Monacensis (q) of the 7th century, at Munich. This text is probably a modified form of the European, produced by revision which has brought it more into accord with the Greek, and has given it a smoother Lot aspect. The group has received this name because the text found in many of Augustine's writings is the same, and as he expressed a preference for the Itala, the group was designated accordingly. Recent investigation tends to show that we must be careful how we use Augustine as an Old Latin authority, and that the Itala may be, not a pre-Vulgate text, but rather Jerome's Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) This, however, is still uncertain; the fact remains that as far as the Gospels are concerned, f and q represent the type of text most used by Jerome.

9. Individual Characteristics:

That all these groups, comprising in all 38 codices, go back to one original is not impossible. Still there may have been at first local VSS, and then an official version formed out of them. When Jerome's revision took hold of the church, the Old Latin representatives for the most part dropped out of notice. Some of them, however, held their ground and continued to be copied down to the 12th and even the 13th century Codex C (Ephraemi) is an example of this; it is a manuscript of the 12th century, but as Professor Burkitt has pointed out (Texts and Studies, IV, "Old Latin," 11) "it came from Languedoc, the country of the Albigenses. Only among heretics isolated from the rest of Western Christianity could an Old Latin text have been written at so late a period." An instance of an Old Latin text copied in the 13th century is the Gigas Holmiensis, quoted as Gig, now at Stockholm, and so called from its great size. It contains the Acts and the Apocalypse of the Old Latin and the rest of the New Testament according to the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) It has to be borne in mind that in the early centuries complete Bibles were unknown. Each group of books, Gospels, Acts and Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles, and Revelation for the New Testament, and Pentateuch, Historical Books, Psalms and Prophets for the Old Testament, has to be regarded separately. It is interesting, also, to note that when Jerome revised, or even retranslated from the Septuagint, Tobit and Judith of the Apocrypha, the greater number of these books, the Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch were left unrevised, and were simply added to the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) from the Old Latin version.

10. Value of Old Latin for Textual Criticism:

These Old Latin translations going back in their earliest forms to nearly the middle of the 2nd century are very early witnesses to the Greek text from which they were made. They are the more valuable inasmuch as they are manifestly very literal translations. Our great uncial manuscripts reach no farther back than the 4th century, whereas in the Old Latin we have evidence-indirect indeed and requiring to be cautiously used-reaching back to the 2nd century. The text of these manuscripts is neither dated nor localized, whereas the evidence of these VSS, coming from a particular province of the church, and being used by Fathers whose period is definitely known, enables us to judge of the type of Greek text then and there in use. In this connection, too, it is noteworthy that while the variations of which Jerome and Augustine complained were largely due to the blunders, or natural mistakes, of copyists, they did sometimes represent various readings in the Greek originals.


Wordsworth and White, Old Latin Biblical Texts, 4 volumes; F.C. Burkitt, "The Old Latin and the Itala," Texts and Studies, IV; "Old Latin VSS" by H.A.A. Kennedy in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes); "Bibelubersetzungen, Lateinische" by Fritzsche-Nestle in PRE3; Intros to Textual Criticism of the New Testament by Scrivener, Gregory, Nestle, and Lake.

T. Nicol



1. Torah ("Law")

2. Synonyms of Torah

(1) Mitswah ("Command")

(2) `Edhah ("Witness," "Testimony")

(3) MishpaTim ("Judgments")

(4) Chuqqim ("Statutes")

(5) Piqqudhim ("Precepts")


1. The Critical Dating of the Laws

2. Groups of Laws in P (the Priestly Code)

3. The Book of the Covenant

(1) Judgments. Compared with Code of Hammurabi

(2) Basis of Law of Covenant. Earlier Customs

4. The Book of the Law of Deuteronomy 31

5. The Law of Holiness

6. The Final Compilation


1. The Civil Law

(1) Servants and the Poor

(2) Punishments

(3) Marriage

(4) Sabbaths and Feasts

2. The Ceremonial Law

(1) Origin of Sacrifice

(2) The Levitical Ritual

(3) The Law Truly a Torah



Law, at least as custom, certainly existed among the Hebrews in the times before Moses, as appears from numerous allusions to it, both in matters civil and ceremonial, in the earlier Scriptures. But we have no distinct account of such law, either as to its full contents or its enactment. Law in the Old Testament practically means the Law promulgated by Moses (having its roots no doubt in this earlier law or custom), with sundry later modifications or additions, rules as to which have been inserted in the record of the Mosaic law.

The following are matters of pre-Mosaic law or custom to which allusion is made in Genesis and Exodus: the offering of sacrifice and the use of altars (Genesis, passim); the religious use of pillars (Genesis 28:18); purification for sacrifice (Genesis 35:2); tithes (Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22); circumcision (Genesis 17:10 Exodus 4:25 f); inquiry at a sanctuary (Genesis 25:22); sacred feasts (Exodus 5:1, etc.); priests (Exodus 19:22); sacred oaths (Genesis 14:22); marriage customs (Genesis 16; 24; 25:06:00; 29:16-30); birthright (Genesis 25:31-34); elders (Genesis 24:2; Genesis 50:7 Exodus 3:16); homicide (Genesis 9:6), etc. We proceed at once to the Law of Moses.

I. Terms Used.

The Hebrew word rendered "law" in our Bibles is torah. Other synonymous words either denote (as indeed does torah itself) aspects under which the Law may be regarded, or different classes of law.

1. Torah ("Law"):

Torah is from horah, the Hiphil of yarah. The root meaning is "to throw"; hence, in Hiphil the word means "to point out" (as by throwing out the hand), and so "to direct"; and torah is "direction." Torah may be simply "human direction," as the "law of thy mother" in Proverbs 1:8; but most often in the Old Testament it is the Divine law. In the singular it often means a law, the plural being used in the same sense; but more frequently torah in the singular is the general body of Divinely given law. The word tells nothing as to the way in which the Law, or any part of it, was first given; it simply points out the general purpose of the Law, namely, that it was for the guidance of God's people in the various matters to which it relates. This shows that the end of the Law lay beyond the mere obedience to such and such rules, that end being instruction in the knowledge of God and of men's relation to Him, and guidance in living as the children of such a God as He revealed Himself to be. This is dwelt upon in the later Scriptures, notably in Psalm 19 and Psalm 119.

In the completed Canon of the Old Testament, torah technically denotes the Pentateuch (Luke 24:44) as being that division of the Old Testament Scriptures which contains the text of the Law, and its history down to the death of Moses, the great lawgiver.

2. Synonyms of Torah:

(1) Mitswah ("Command")

Mitswah, "command" (or, in the plural, "commands"), is a term applied to the Law as indicating that it is a charge laid upon men as the expression of God's will, and therefore that it must be obeyed.

(2) `Edhah ("Witness," "Testimony")

`Edhah, "witness" or "testimony" (in plural "testimonies"), is a designation of God's law as testifying the principles of His dealings with His people. So the ark of the covenant is called the "ark of the testimony" (Exodus 25:22), as containing "the testimony" (Exodus 25:16), i.e. the tables of the Law upon which the covenant was based. The above terms are general, applying to the torah at large; the two next following are of more restricted application.

(3) MishpaTim ("Judgments")

MishpaTim, "judgments": MishpaT in the singular sometimes means judgment in an abstract sense, as in Genesis 18:19 Deuteronomy 32:4; sometimes the act of judging, as in Deuteronomy 16:18, 19; Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 24:17. But "judgments" (in the plural) is a term constantly used in connection with, and distinction from, statutes, to indicate laws of a particular kind, namely, laws which, though forming part of the torah by virtue of Divine sanction, originated in decisions of judges upon cases brought before them for judgment. See further below.

(4) Chuqqim ("Statutes")

Chuqqim, "statutes" (literally, "laws engraven"), are laws immediately enacted by a lawgiver. "Judgments and statutes" together comprise the whole law (Leviticus 18:4 Deuteronomy 4:1, 8 the King James Version). So also we now distinguish between consuetudinary and statute law.

(5) Piqqudhim ("Precepts")

Piqqudhim, "precepts": This term is found only in the Psalms. It seems to mean rules or counsels provided to suit the various circumstances in which men may be placed. The term may perhaps be meant to apply both to the rules of the actual torah, and to others found, e.g. in the writings of prophets and "wise men."

II. The Written Record of the Law.

The enactment of the Law and its committal to writing must be distinguished. With regard to the former, it is distinctly stated (John 1:17) that "the law was given through Moses"; and though this does not necessarily imply that every regulation found in the Pentateuch is his, a large number of the laws are expressly ascribed to him. As regards the latter, we are distinctly told that Moses wrote certain laws or collections of laws (Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:4, 7 Deuteronomy 31:9). These, however, form only a portion of the whole legislation; and therefore, whether the remaining portions were written by Moses, or-if not by him-when and by whom, is a legitimate matter of inquiry.

It is not necessary here to discuss the large question of the literary history of the Pentateuch, but it must briefly be touched upon. The Pentateuch certainly appears to have reached its present form by the gradual piecing together of diverse materials. Deuteronomy (D) being a separate composition, a distinction would seem to have been clearly established by critical examination between a number of paragraphs in the remaining books which apparently must once have formed a narrative by themselves, and other paragraphs, partly narrative but chiefly legislative and statistical, which appear to have been subsequently added. Without endorsing any of the critical theories as to the relation of these, one to the other, or as to the dates of their composition, we may, in a general way, accept the analysis, and adopt the well-known symbol JE (Jahwist-Elohim) to distinguish the former, and P (Priestly Code) the latter. Confining ourselves to their legislative contents, we find in JE a short but very important body of law, the Law of the Covenant, stated in full in Exodus 20-23, and repeated as to a portion of it in Exodus 34:10-28. All the rest of the legislation is contained in P and Deuteronomy.

1. The Critical Dating of the Laws:

We are distinctly told in Exodus that the law contained in Exodus 20-23 was given through Moses. Rejecting this statement, critics of the school of Wellhausen affirm that its true date must be placed considerably later than the time of Joshua. They maintain that previous to their conquest of Canaan the Israelites were mere nomads, ignorant of agriculture, the practice of which, as well as their culture in general, they first learned from the conquered Canaanites. Therefore (so they argue), as the law of Exodus 20-23 presupposes the practice of agriculture, it cannot have been promulgated until some time in the period of the Judges at the earliest; they place it indeed in the early period of the monarchy. All this, however, is mere assumption, support for which is claimed in some passages in which a shepherd life is spoken of, but with utter disregard of others which show that both in the patriarchal period and in Egypt the Israelites also cultivated land. See B.D. Eerdmans, "Have the Hebrews Been Nomads?" The Expositor, August and October, 1908. It can indeed be shown that this law was throughout in harmony with what must have been the customs and conceptions of the Israelites at the age of the exodus (Rule, Old Testament Institutions). Professor Eerdmans in his Alttestamentliche Studien, Part III (1910), vigorously defends the Mosaic origin of the Book of the Covenant.

The same critics bring down the date of the legislation of Deuteronomy to the time of Josiah, or at most a few years earlier. They affirm (wrongly) that the chief object of Josiah's reformation narrated in 2 Kings 23 was the centralization of worship at the temple in Jerusalem. They rightly attribute the zeal which carried the reform through to the discovery of the "Book of the Law" (22:8). Then arguing that the frequent previous practice of worship at high places implied the non-existence of any law to the contrary, they conclude that the rule of Deuteronomy 12 was a rule recently laid down by the temple priesthood, and written in a book in Moses' name, this new book being what was "found in the house of Yahweh." But this argument is altogether unsound: its grave difficulties are well set out in Moller's Are the Critics Right? And here again careful study vindicates the Mosaic character of the law of Deuteronomy as a whole and of Deuteronomy 12 in particular. M. Edouard Naville in La decouverte de la loi sous le roi Josias propounds a theory which he supports by a most interesting argument: that the book found was a foundation deposit, which must therefore have been built over by masonry at the erection of the temple by Solomon.

Equally unsound, however plausible, are the arguments which would make the framing of the Levitical ritual the work of the age of Ezra. The difficulties created by this theory are far greater than those which it is intended to remove. On this also see Moller, Are the Critics Right?

Rejecting these theories, it will be assumed in the present article that the various laws are of the dates ascribed to them in the Pentateuch; that whatever may be said as to the date of some "of the laws," all which are therein ascribed to Moses are truly so ascribed.

2. Groups of Laws in P (the Priestly Code):

The laws in P are arranged for the most part in groups, with which narrative is sometimes intermingled. These e.g. are some of the groups: Exodus 25-31; Leviticus 1-7; 15-Nov; Numbers 1-4, etc. The structure and probable history of these groups are very interesting. That many of them must have undergone interpolation appears certain from the following considerations. Each of the groups, and often one or more paragraphs within a group, is headed by a recurring formula, "Yahweh spake unto Moses (or unto Aaron, or unto Moses and Aaron), saying." We might at first expect that the contents of each group or paragraph so headed would consist solely of what Yahweh had said unto Moses or Aaron, but this is not always so. Not infrequently some direction is found within such a paragraph which cannot have been spoken to Moses, but must have come into force at some later date. Unless then we reject the statement of the formula, unless we are prepared to say that Yahweh did not speak unto Moses, we can only conclude that these later directions were at some time inserted by an editor into paragraphs which originally contained Mosaic laws only. That this should have been done would be perfectly natural, when we consider that the purpose of such an editor would be not only to preserve (as has been done) the record of the original Law, but to present a manual of law complete for the use of his age, a manual (to use a modern phrase) made complete to date.

That the passages in question were indeed interpolations appears not only from the fact that their removal rids the text of what otherwise would be grave discrepancies, but because the passages in question sometimes disturb the sequence of the context. Moreover, by thus distinguishing between laws promulgated (as stated) by Moses, and laws to which the formula of statement was not intended to apply, we arrive at the following important result. It is that the former laws can all be shown to be in harmony one with another and with the historical data of the Mosaic age; while the introduction of the later rules is also seen to be what would naturally follow by way of adaptation to the circumstances of later times, and the gradual unfolding of Divine purpose.

It would be much too long a task here to work this out in detail: it has been attempted by the writer of this article in Old Testament Institutions, Their Origin and Development. Two instances, however, may be mentioned.

Instances of interpolation-In Exodus 12:43; (English Revised Version) we read, "This is the ordinance of the passover: there shall no alien eat thereof; but every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat thereof." This was the original Mosaic rule introduced by the formula in 12:43. But in 12:48, 49 it is said that sojourners (when circumcised) may eat of the passover. This was plainly a relaxation of later date, made in accordance with the principle which is enlarged upon in Isaiah 56:3-8.

According to Leviticus 23:34, 39 a, 40-42, the Feast of Tabernacles was a feast of seven days only. This was the Mosaic rule as appears from the formula in 23:33, and in certain other passages. But as a development in the feast's observance, an eighth day was subsequently added, and therefore insertions to that effect were made here at 23:36 and 39b. The introduction of this additional day would be in keeping with that elaboration in the observance of the "set feasts" which we find in Numbers 28 and 29, as compared with the simpler observance of the same days ordered in Leviticus 23. Here again the formula in Numbers 28:1 plainly covered a few verses immediately following, but not the whole content of the two chapters.

Premising then the existence in writing from an early age of numerous groups of Mosaic laws and their subsequent interpolation, the ultimate compilation of these groups together with other matter and their arrangement in the order in which we now find them must have been the work, perhaps indeed of the interpolator, but in any case of some late editor. These numerous groups do not, however, make up the whole legislative contents of the Pentateuch; for a very large portion of these contents consists of three distinct books of law, which we must now examine. These were the "Book of the Covenant," the "Book of the Law" of Deuteronomy 31:26, and the so-called "Law of Holiness."

3. The Book of the Covenant:

This book, expressly so named (Exodus 24:7), is stated to have been written by Moses (24:3, 1). It must have comprised the contents of Exodus 20-23. The making of the covenant at Sinai, led up to by the revealing words of Exodus 3:12-17; Exodus 6:2-8; 19:3-6, was a transaction of the very first importance in the religious history of Israel. God's revelation of Himself to Israel being very largely, indeed chiefly, a revelation of His moral attributes (Exodus 34:6, 7), could only be effectively apprehended by a people who were morally fitted to receive it. Hence, it was that Israel as a nation was now placed by God in a stated relation to Himself by means of a covenant, the condition upon which the covenant was based being, on His people's part, their obedience to a given law. This was the law contained in the "Book of the Covenant."

It consisted of "words of Yahweh" and "Judgments" (Exodus 24:3 the King James Version). The latter are contained in Exodus 21:1-22:17; the former in Exodus 20, in the remaining portion of Exodus 22, and Exodus 23. The "judgments" (the American Standard Revised Version "ordinances") relate entirely to matters of right between man and man; the "words of Yahweh" relate partly to these and partly to duties distinctively religious.

(1) Judgments. Compared with Code of Hammurabi.

The "judgments" appear to be taken from older consuetudinary law; not necessarily comprising the whole of that law, but so much of it as it pleased God now to stamp with His express sanction and to embody in this Covenant Law. They may well be compared with those contained in the so-called Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, who is thought to have been the Amraphel of Genesis 14. These are called "the judgments of righteousness which Hammurabi the mighty king confirmed." The resemblances in form and in subject between the two sets of "judgments" are very striking. All alike have the same structure, beginning with a hypothetical clause, "if so and so," and then giving the rule applicable in the third person. All alike relate entirely to civil, as distinguished from religious, matters, to rights and duties between man and man. All seem to have had a similar origin in judgments passed in the first place on causes brought before judges for decision: both sets therefore represent consuetudinary law.

(2) Basis of Law of Covenant. Earlier Customs.

It is remarkable that, alike in matters of right between man and man, and in matters relating directly to the service of God, the Law of the Covenant did little (if anything) more than give a new and Divinely attested sanction to requirements which, being already familiar, appealed to the general conscience of the community. If, indeed, in the "words of Yahweh" there was any tightening of accustomed moral or (more particularly) religious requirements, e.g. in the first and second commandments of the Decalogue, it would seem to have been by way of enforcing convictions which must have been already gaining hold upon the minds of at least the more thoughtful of the people, and that in large measure through the lessons impressed upon them by the events of their recent history. In no other Way could the Law of the Covenant have appealed to their conscience, and so formed a foundation on which the covenant could be securely based.

As in the "judgments" we have a ratification of old consuetudinary law; as again in the second table of the Decalogue we have moral rules in accordance with a standard of moral right-no doubt already acknowledged-very similar indeed to that of the "negative confession" in the Egyptian Book of the Dead; so in the more especially religious rules of the Law of the Covenant we find, not new rules or an establishment of new institutions, but a new sanction of what was already old. These "words of Yahweh" assume the rendering of service to Yahweh: they do not enjoin it as if it were a new thing, but they enjoin that the Israelites shall not add to His service also the service of other gods (Exodus 20:3; Exodus 23:24). They assume the observance of the three "feasts," they enjoin that these shall be kept to Yahweh-"unto me," i.e. "unto me only" (Exodus 23:14, 17). They assume the making of certain offerings to Yahweh, they enjoin that these shall be made liberally-"of the first," i.e. of the best-and without delay (Exodus 22:29 f). They assume the rendering of worship by sacrifice, and the existence of an accustomed ritual, and therefore they do not lay down any scheme of ritual, but they give a few directions designed to guard against idolatry, or any practices tending either to irreverence or to low and false conceptions of God (Exodus 20:4-6, 23-26; Exodus 22:31; Exodus 23:18 f). While insisting upon the observance of the three "feasts," spoken of as already accustomed, it is remarkable that they contain no command to keep the Passover, which as an annual observance was not yet an accustomed thing.

This absence of ritual directions is indeed very noticeable. It was in the counsel of God that He would in the near future establish a reconstituted ritual, based upon what was already traditional, but containing certain new elements, and so framed as more and more to foster spiritual conceptions of God and a higher ideal of holiness. This however was as yet a thing of the future. No mention therefore was made of it in the Law of the Covenant; that law was so restricted as that it should at once appeal to the general conscience of the people, and so be a true test of their desire to do what was right. This would be the firm basis on which to build yet higher things. It is impossible to estimate the true character of the subsequent legislation, i.e. of what in bulk is by far the larger part of the torah-except by first grasping the true character and motive of the Covenant, and the Covenant Law.


4. The Book of the Law of Deuteronomy 31:

Immediately after the making of the Covenant, Moses was called up into the mount, and there received instructions for the erection of the tabernacle, these being followed in due course by the rules of the reconstituted ceremonial of which the tabernacle was to be the home. All these for the present we must pass over.

Having arrived on the East of the Jordan, Moses, now at the close of his career, addressed discourses to the people, in which he earnestly exhorted them to live up to the high calling with which God had called them, in the land of which they were about to take possession. To this end he embodied in his discourse a statement of the Law by which they were to live. And then, as almost his last public act, he wrote "the words of this law in a book," and directed that the book should be placed "by the side of the ark of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). What now was this book? Was it Deuteronomy, in whole or in part? The most reasonable answer to this question is that the book actually written by Moses comprised at least the contents of Deuteronomy 5-26 and 28. Whether the whole or any parts of the remaining contents of Deuteronomy also formed part of this book, or were subsequently added to it, the whole being brought by a process of editing to our present Deuteronomy, is again a legitimate matter of inquiry.

Characteristics of Deuteronomy.

Regarding Deuteronomy 5-26 and 28 (with or without parts of other chapters) as the "book" of Deuteronomy 31:24-26, we find that it is a manual of instruction for the people at large-it is not a priest's manual. It deals with matters of morals, and of religion in its general principles, but only subordinately with matters of ritual: it warns against perils of idolatry and superstitious corruptions, common in the service of other gods, but which might by no means be mixed up with Yahweh's seryice: it insists upon righteous conduct between man and man, and very strongly inculcates humanity toward the poor and the dependent: it enjoins upon those in authority the impartial maintenance of right, as also fairness, moderation and mercy, in the administration of law and the infliction of punishment: it sets forth the fear of God as the guide of His people's actions, and the love of God in response to His mercy toward them. It does not lay down any scheme of ritual, though it gives rules (Deuteronomy 4:3-21) as to things which might not be eaten as unclean; it also gives directions as to the disposal of tithes (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12); it enlarges upon the direction in the Law of the Covenant for the observance of the three "feasts," adding to this the observance of the Passover (Deuteronomy 16); it lays down a law (expressed conditionally) restricting to one sanctuary the offering of at least the more solemn sacrifices (Deuteronomy 12); and it frequently inculcates liberality toward the Levites, both on account of the sacred services rendered by them, their dispersal among the tribes, and the precarious character of their livelihood. Like the Law of the Covenant it assumes the existence of an accustomed ceremonial, and it is remarkable that when there is occasion to do so it makes use of phraseology (Deuteronomy 12) similar to that of the ritual laws of Moses in Leviticus and Numbers.

It is quite possible that some interpolations may have been made in the text of Deuteronomy 5-26, but not on any sufficient scale to affect the general character of the original book. This "Book of the Law" then was an expansion of the Law of the Covenant, enforcing its principles, giving directions in greater detail for carrying them out, and setting them in a framework of exhortation, warning and encouragement. Thus, its relation to the covenant is indicated by Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Deuteronomy 29:1. This is that "book of the Law of Moses" of which frequent mention is made in the books of Kings, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah.

5. The Law of Holiness:

In marked contrast to the numerous rules, sometimes intermingled with narrative, which we find in Exodus 25-40; Leviticus 1-16, and throughout Numbers, we have in Leviticus 17-26 a collection of laws which evidently was once a book by itself. This, from its constant insistence upon holiness as a motive of conduct, has been called "the Law of Holiness." Though it contains many laws stated to have been spoken by Yahweh to Moses, we are not told by whom it was written, and therefore its authorship and date are a fair subject of inquiry. In its general design it bears much resemblance to the Law of the Covenant, and the Book of the Law contained in Deuteronomy. As in them, and especially in the latter, the laws are set up in a parenetic framework, the whole closing with promise of reward for obedience and a threat of punishment for disobedience (compare Exodus 23:20-33 Leviticus 26 Deuteronomy 28). Like them it deals much with moral duties: Leviticus 19 and 20 are practically an expansion of the Decalogue; but it deals also more than they do with ceremonial. With regard to both it sets forth as the motive of obedience the rule, "Be ye holy, for I am holy."

A Clue as to Date

A clue to its date is to be found in its conception of cleanness. The idea found in the Prophets and the New Testament that moral wrongdoing renders unclean must be based upon some earlier conception, namely, upon the Old Testament conception of ritual uncleanness. Now ritual uncleanness was originally physical uncleanness only; the idea of moral right or wrong did not enter into it at all: this is perfectly clear from the whole contents of Leviticus 11-15. On the other hand we find the idea of moral cleanness and uncleanness fully formed in the Psalms, Proverbs, and in the Prophets, including the earlier prophets, Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. In H (the Law of Holiness, Leviticus 17-26) we find an intermediate conception. We find that whereas in Leviticus 11-15 sexual acts which were lawful rendered unclean equally with those which were unlawful, in H, adultery and incest are denounced as rendering specially unclean, the idea being that their technical uncleanness became more intensely unclean through their immorality (Leviticus 18:24-30). Similarly, converse with familiar spirits and wizards, which probably involved physical defilement (perhaps through the ingredients used in charms), is mentioned as specially causing defilement, probably as such technical defilement would be intensified by the unlawfulness of dealing with familiar spirits and wizards at all (Leviticus 19:31). Sins, however, which did not in themselves entail physical uncleanness, such e.g. as injustice, are not mentioned in H as rendering unclean, though they are so regarded in the Prophets.

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(palaios, "old," "ancient"): A term thrice used by Paul (Romans 6:6 Ephesians 4:22 Colossians 3:9) to signify the unrenewed man, the natural man in the corruption of sin, i.e. sinful human nature before conversion and regeneration. It is theologically synonymous with "flesh" (Romans 8:3-9), which stands, not for bodily organism, but, for the whole nature of man (body and soul) turned away from God and devoted to self and earthly things.

The old man is "in the flesh"; the new man "in the Spirit." In the former "the works of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19-21) are manifest; in the latter "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22, 23). One is "corrupt according to the deceitful lusts"; the other "created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24 the King James Version).


Dwight M. Pratt

Strong's Hebrew
5161. Nechelami -- descriptive title for a false prophet
... Nechelami. 5162 . descriptive title for a false prophet. Transliteration: Nechelami
Phonetic Spelling: (nekh-el-aw-mee') Short Definition: Nehelamite. ... Nehelamite ...
/hebrew/5161.htm - 6k
Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary

dreamer; vale; brook

Easton's Bible Dictionary
The name given to a false prophet Shemaiah, who went with the captives to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:24, 31, 32). The origin of the name is unknown. It is rendered in the marg, "dreamer."
Nehelamite (4 Occurrences)
... It is rendered in the marg, "dreamer.". Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. NEHELAMITE,
THE. ... Dwight M. Pratt. Multi-Version Concordance Nehelamite (4 Occurrences). ...
/n/nehelamite.htm - 89k

Nehel'am (3 Occurrences)
Nehel'am. Negotiator, Nehel'am. Nehelamite . ... Nehel'am (3 Occurrences). Jeremiah
29:24 And unto Shemaiah the Nehelamite thou dost speak, saying, (See RSV). ...
/n/nehel'am.htm - 7k

Shemai'ah (38 Occurrences)
... See RSV). Jeremiah 29:24 And unto Shemaiah the Nehelamite thou dost speak,
saying, (See RSV). Jeremiah 29:31 Send unto all the removal ...
/s/shemai'ah.htm - 16k

Shemaiah (40 Occurrences)
... to hinder his work. He is styled "the Nehelamite" and was among those carried
into captivity with Jehoiachin. In opposition to Jeremiah ...
/s/shemaiah.htm - 29k

Perversion (13 Occurrences)
... Jeremiah 29:32 therefore thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the
Nehelamite, and his seed; he shall not have a man to dwell among this people ...
/p/perversion.htm - 11k

Apostacy (7 Occurrences)
... Jeremiah 29:32 Therefore, thus said Jehovah, Lo, I am seeing after Shemaiah the
Nehelamite, and after his seed, he hath none dwelling in the midst of this ...
/a/apostacy.htm - 8k

Revolt (18 Occurrences)
... Jeremiah 29:32 therefore thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the
Nehelamite, and his seed: he shall not have a man to dwell among this people ...
/r/revolt.htm - 13k

Removal (42 Occurrences)
... Jeremiah 29:31 Send unto all the removal, saying, Thus said Jehovah concerning Shemaiah
the Nehelamite, Because that Shemaiah prophesied to you, and I -- I ...
/r/removal.htm - 20k

Exiles (46 Occurrences)
... Jeremiah 29:31 Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus says Yahweh concerning
Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I ...
/e/exiles.htm - 20k

Nehemiah (9 Occurrences)

/n/nehemiah.htm - 24k

Bible Concordance
Nehelamite (4 Occurrences)

Jeremiah 29:24 Concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite you shall speak, saying,

Jeremiah 29:25 Shemaiah the Nehelamite sent a letter in his name to Zephaniah, the son of Maaseiah the priest, saying,

Jeremiah 29:31 Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus says Yahweh concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I didn't send him, and he has caused you to trust in a lie;

Jeremiah 29:32 therefore thus says Yahweh, Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed; he shall not have a man to dwell among this people, neither shall he see the good that I will do to my people, says Yahweh, because he has spoken rebellion against Yahweh.



Related Terms

Nehel'am (3 Occurrences)

Shemai'ah (38 Occurrences)

Shemaiah (40 Occurrences)

Perversion (13 Occurrences)

Apostacy (7 Occurrences)

Revolt (18 Occurrences)

Removal (42 Occurrences)

Exiles (46 Occurrences)

Nehemiah (9 Occurrences)

Rebellion (51 Occurrences)

Punish (84 Occurrences)

Prophesied (57 Occurrences)

Talked (79 Occurrences)

Preached (75 Occurrences)

Falsehood (107 Occurrences)

Acting (102 Occurrences)

Captivity (141 Occurrences)

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