Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Hebrew Researches

by Jacob I. M. Falkenau

In presenting our readers this month with the first part of the subjoined learned dissertation, we must express our regret that the author has not applied his extensive reading to an elucidation of an entire passage of Scripture, where there are different opinions entertained, rather than to a single phrase, which, important as it is, presents no point for the establishment of any doctrine of religion. Nevertheless, we hope that Mr. F. will see the propriety of furnishing us at a future day with contributions more suitable to our pages than a verbal criticism such as he has now favoured us with; inasmuch as the greater portion of our readers must be first impressed with the necessity of a critical study of the Scriptures, before they can relish an extensive dissertation on a single sentence.

 In saying this we by no means wish to disparage the value of the exposition of the very difficult text which Mr. F. has elucidated; only to direct him to subjects of more extensive usefulness at the present time.

With these brief remarks, we leave Mr. F. to speak for himself; merely stating that in some respects, we do not altogether share his views, chiefly with regard to the Hiphil signification of the verb חלל, and the original meaning of the root to be hollow; since this signification is, as far as we can recollect at present, no where found in the Bible, and it is not likely that the original meaning of a root should first occur in post-biblical writings, such as the Mishna and Talmud. In other respects, we share fully in, or are instructed by, what Mr. F. advances in his Hebrew Researches.

Note on Genesis ch. iv. 26: 'אז הוחל לקרא בשם ה "Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord." Critical definition of the Hebrew verbs חלל and קרא, the compound terms קרא שם and קרא בשם; notes on, Sam. 14. 35, Judges 13. 16; reasons for the introduction of a new verb תחל instead of חלל; criticisms on the Bible translation of Isaiah 40. 26, and Psalms 147. 4.

'אז הוחל לקרא בשם ה "Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord." The English version here, however supported by some authorities, is not only at variance, but even in contradiction with the greater part of the biblical commentators, the Midrash and the ancient Targum; since, with all the last mentioned, the Hebrew text is considered as a statement that "then mankind had profaned the name of the Lord."* In any Hebrew lexicon one may find that חלל signifies, to begin and to profane. Guided by this, it is easy to comprehend that the word הוחל (the Hophal species of חלל) in the original text of the Bible, has been considered, in the passage in question, as decidedly belonging to the one or the other of these two significations.

* On some eccentric interpretations, amongst which also that of M. H. Landau in his "Ma'arche Halashon" art. ליבונאה we had better make no remarks.

Supposing that in this case, as in many others, the plain original text, critically analysed and defined, will be the best demonstration, and that all the rest can be left to the reader's own mind and inquiry, we will only attempt here to analyse the text, and to present a critical definition of its verbs חלל and קרא, together with the compound terms of the latter, קרא שם and קרא בש ם.

One of our latest lexicographers on the verb חלל, (with which we here commence,) though seemingly so near ours with regard to the primitive significations of the root, is still, in the mode and principles of derivation, greatly at variance, or rather inconsistent with what we suppose it to be; it is, therefore, that some account of what we hold to be a correct view is deemed necessary, which, serving at the same time as a preliminary, will occupy here its proper place.

Turning to Prof. Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon, we see there, as in many others, the root חלל defined with four primitive significations.

1, to pierce,  verb active  (durchbohren,)
2, to dissolve, id.  (auflösen,)
3, to open, id.  (öffnen,)
4, to rend, id.  (zerreissen,)

and thence are derived many others, as to wound, &c., &c. We think, however, that none of all these primitives, nor the derivative to wound, will be admitted to answer for the root חלל, on the following grounds:

Neither the Bible, nor any of the subsequent Hebrew writings, offers one instance which represents by that root plainly any one of these primitives, and this being the case, we have but to call them all imaginary.

The derivative to wound (to hurt) is evidently denied in the Bible to either form of that root, as a verb (participle) Ezek. 28.9, 32.26, (the only instance where it occurs in that form, besides the one of our next objection); and as a noun, Gen. 34.27; Numb. 31.8, which plainly denote but a slain, a dead person, excluding even a deadly wounded. So also, Numb. 19.16, 18; 31.19; Deut. 21.1, 3, 6.

As the simplest idea of a verb is expressed in its simplest form--the Kal species--so the verb חלל, in the way it is here defined, ought to have in that species an active transitive sense, and not a passive one, which latter it decidedly has in Ps. 109.22.

To assign to one root a number of significations, so loosely connected with each other, serves little to define it, and rather renders its meaning more doubtful and unsettled. All these obstacles we may remove at once, and therefore maintain, that the root חלל has but one primitive--but one derivative signification. It represents primitively the idea of hollowness, either as a noun with its proper vowels חָלָל, or as a verb with the regular vowels of verbs חָלַל, Syr. and Chald. the same הַלַל: to be hollow; (its consonants corresponding entirely with some modern languages: חלל will give, by substituting ה for ח, the same form as the Engl. hollow, and German. hohl.) In this, its primitive signification, it is of great frequency in the Jewish Prayers, the Mishnah, and the later Hebrew writings. The cavity of tubes and vessels of the animal body, the cavity of the organs of digestion, &c., חָלָל; each cavity of the heart חלל הלב, and every cavity of the body חלל הגוף; this is the only and most correct signification so often met with on those occasions.

In the Bible, however, this root is transferred from the primitive (for which the Bible has נבב) to the derivative signification, by way of figurative language--a most frequent and principal feature in oriental etymology;--and the figure itself is also quite oriental--human body and soul are tropically represented; the profane matter--the body--is the exterior; the sacred living soul--the interior of man; a slain--is a person hollowed, made void of that interior, a hollow body (no soul within) חָלָל; hence it never applies to any inferior animal. Analogical to this idea is the Engl. corpse: a body deprived of its soul, and therefore more properly applied to a human being, whilst "carcass" is said of other animals; Lat. corporo: to form into a body--hence corpus, homo 'inanimatus,' a corpse.

The verb חלל is now in regular order a neuter in the Kal species; חָלַל (Ps. 109.22,) to be hollow, viz. to be slain,* but becomes an active verb by the power of the Pi'ël species חִלֵל. And hence the figure is more extensively continued: every thing holy is considered "body and soul." Nor is it the matter--the body--the exterior--bit it is an ideal interior--a sanctified spirit--a soul that is unlawfully taken and violated by profanation; hence חִלֵל "to profane" and "to slay." and thus חִלֵל means "to profane" the sacred rights of a covenant, viz., to break a covenant--"to profane" the sacred chastity of woman, viz., to prostitute a woman--"to profane" a vineyard, that is, to make its fruits unholy by redeeming them in the fourth year, to be then eaten anywhere, instead of "unredeemed;" "in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy," &c. &c., Levit. 19.24, and be eaten as such only in the holy city of the temple; even as the tithe (Levit. 27.30; Deut. 14.23-25.)

* The Hebrew text is here חלל, alike with the German "erschlagen," but the Engl. is wounded; in like manner are the Hebrew terms taken literally:--"The slain shall fall; the groans, the pains of the slain;" (Ezek. 6.7; Jerem. 60.4;) while the Engl., alike with others, say, wounded, and occasionally deadly-wounded (Ezek. 30.24). all this will appear nowise unusual to any intelligent reader, who knows that idiom often makes peculiar to one language what would be incorrect in any other. This we must bear in mind, in order to comprehend justly that originally חלל never means "to wound," although often thus translated by necessity in other vernaculars.

The root חלל, as a verb or a noun, even in the one signification, of "slaying," bears some affinity to the other of "profanation," since it stands not for dying a natural death, nor by the act of criminal murder, but it mostly applied to life taken in war and battle, and intimates "profane violation of the sacred human life."

The Hiph'il species הֵחֵל, "to begin," interferes nowise with what has been said above, when in accordance with others, we derive it from the primitive idea of "hollow"--"opening," hence "beginning." But, from the reason to be given immediately, we must claim for it a compound derivation; and thus we say, that הֵחֵל, retaining the primitive significations of its root, connects with them that of another, חוּל, gigno--to procreate--to generate--to begin. And in fact this latter, as a bilateral root חל, is but one and the same with the trilateral חלל.

The etymology of the Engl. "to begin," we might trace, in the same way, from the radical "gen," in gender, genesis, genealogy, generate, &c.; hence "begen" commuted into "to begin."

What we meant to advance is, that in going through all the passages where this word occurs in the Bible, we shall discover that it never refers to any subject except those relating to the primitive meaning of its root;--profanation or slaying. It is, therefore, only employed to denote actions impairing holiness, religion, or morality, or those relating to slaughter, war, and similar acts; and thus by the evidence of the Bible we have to draw the conclusion that החל never is a pure and simple representative of the Engl. "to begin," to enter upon any thing.

It is directly connected with, or bears relation to some action of slaughter, war, battle, destruction, calamity, or suffering in the following passages: Gen. 41.54; Numb. 17.11, 12 (Engl. Bible 16.46, 47;) Deut. 2.24, 31; Judges 10.18; 13.5, 25; 16.19; 20.31, 39, 40; 1 Sam. 3.2.12, "When I begin" (punishment and destruction), &c.--(not as Gesenius takes it);--2 Kings 10.32; 15.37; Jerem. 25.29; Ezek. 9.6; Jon. 3.4; Nehem. 4.1; Esther 6.13; 9.23. And in all the rest it speaks of some profaneness, wickedness, transgression, injustice, impaired holiness or religious laws, or of condescension of the Lord; as Genesis 6.1, see 5; 9.20, "and Noah 'began,'" &c., "and was drunken;: 10.8, and 11.6; and 1 Chron. 1.10; (see Josephus' History of the Antiquities of the Jews, vol. 1. b. ch. 4.;) Gen. 44.12; Numb. 25.1; Deut 2.25, 31; 3.24; 16.9--that day terminated the holy interdiction of eating new corn (Levit. 23.10, 14, 15); Josh. 3.7; Judges 16.22; see 17; 1 Sam. 14.35, 'אתו החל לבנות טובה לה :* "It was he who began to build an altar unto the Lord," that is, with him, as the king, began the unholy period--החל--of building altars unto the Lord--to sacrifice upon--not "to look at," למראה--Josh. 22.10. With the reign of King Saul (Samuel was his contemporary) commenced the suspension of that holy law which interdicted to sacrifice at any place but the tabernacle; Levit. 17.4; Deut 12.; whilst this was in force during the government of all the preceding judges until the last--the priest Eli--died, and the ark of God was taken, a period little short of four centuries, from the time the tabernacle was set up in Shiloh.† Gideon's altar and sacrifices were but a momentary dispensation induced by divine vision, Judges 6.25-28. So was Manoah's sacrifices, and the phrase of Judges 13.16, we translate accordingly thus: "and if thou silt offer a burnt-offering unto the Lord, thou mayest offer it;" which is fully supported by the disjunctive tipha (tercha) under the word 'לה. According to the English, German, and other versions 'לה should have the conjunctive "muna'h," in order to render it more separated from the preceding עלה, and connected with the following תעלנה. On other occasions we read in Scripture, "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes," (Ibid. 21.25.) 1 Sam. 22.15, see 13; 1 Chron. 27.24; see 21.1-8; 2 Chron 29.27; 31.21; (see the commentators;) farther, 34.3; "he was yet a minor;" 31.7, 10, (see commentators.) It is thought sufficient here to point out those passages most strongly supporting our position, and to leave others unnoticed. In both classes, however, of the foregoing quotations, taken together, we have at once presented a number of passages where the form הֵחֵל occurs in the Bible, adding some such short remarks as were deemed necessary to facilitate the reader's own inquiry.

* For את compare Ezek. 47.17, 18, 19; Gesenius' Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache III. Hauptth. 177, p. 684.

† See Deut. 12.4-6, Josh. 18.1; 22.10, &c.; 1 Sam. 4.; Mishnah Zeba'him 14.6, 7; Talmud id. 117-119; Id. Themurah 28.

(To be continued.)