Friday, July 15, 2016

The top 10 of Hebrew words for love

Love, as all poets will attest, is a tricky thing.

Particularly since we moderns mostly consider love a feeling, and feelings tend to go all over the place, from eternally hot to stone cold the very next moment.

The matter of the nature of love is important to theophiles because since God is love (1 John 4:8), the very nature of the Creator is under scrutiny when love is considered.

Is God a feeling? Does God give you butterflies? Does God make you say YUMMMMMMM when your wet tongue slithers across the frozen swirls of a vanilla cone? Here at Abarim Publications, we think not.

The Hebrews figured that the "heart is the most deceitful thing" (Jeremiah 17:9) and appear to have viewed love as an action irrespective of emotions. That's not to say that the Hebrews didn't have the same feelings we do when we "love", "fall in love" or "make love", it just means that whenever you see the word "love" in the Bible, you're probably looking at the wrong word.

It's overly reported that Greek has several words for love, but Hebrew, as usual, has Greek beat by a landslide. Here are our roughly ten top picks for Hebrew words having to do with love (and follow the links to our online Hebrew dictionary for a closer look at these words):


The verb אהב ('aheb) is usually translated with to love, but it rather means to be attracted to or to be attached to, and that in a rather mechanical way (like a magnet to a nail).

It's used to describe a parent's attachment to a child, but not the other way around (as kids tend to dart off). This kind of magnetic attraction may obviously exist between a man and a woman, but this verb can also used to describe what impels someone to rape someone else (Genesis 34:3, 2 Samuel 13:1).

The obvious antithesis of this verb is שנא (sane'), which means to hate and which is identical to the verb that means to sleep. Sleeping in the Bible is often used in the sense of being inattentive or aloof (Matthew 26:40), which suggests that our verb אהב ('aheb) primarily has to do with being attentive and intimate.


The verb חסד (hasad) is the reason why we see curious words like "loving kindness" or "faithful love" in the Bible.

It appears to have originated as a word that expressed a kind of economic and emotional loyalty among relatives or friends or neighbors, but it appears to have moved into legal jargon as the verb that describes a formal contract or covenant.

But where in our world the word contract brings to mind a being bound by a law that when broken will land you in jail, the Hebrew word חסד (hasad)  has primarily to do with human decency and allegiance.


The verb רחם (raham) expresses a kind of devotional love that usually goes one way: from a caregiver to the receiver of this care.

It's often used to describe a parent's devotion to a child, and subsequently also God's devotion to mankind.

The verb ידע (yada') means to know, but it's also used to mean to make love ("and Adam knew his wife and she conceived..." Genesis 4:1).

Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
This is commonly explained by suggesting that men don't know what a woman looks like until the wedding night, but that's most certainly prudish nonsense. Isaac and Rebekah were "having fun" (the verb is צחק, shahaq) to such an extend that Abimelech could deduce from afar that they were husband and wife (Genesis 26:8-9).

In a gregarian society, where animals freely mate and sexual "revolutions" haven't happened yet, the sexual side of life is openly acknowledged by everybody. In stead, the ancients appear to have understood that worship and sexual ecstasy are dealt with by the very same regions of our brains.

In other words: to the brain it makes no difference whether we make love to our spouse of to the Lord.

Via the act of copulation, life is passed on to the next generation and many commentators have noted that copulation is an utterly holy act.

It's part of a indivisible package that also contains a lifelong commitment to spouse and offspring, and it's no literary mystery why in the Bible the relationship of God and man is so often metaphorized as a marriage.

Since a marriage is consummated when the husband inserts his member into the woman's facilities, the appearing of the "כבד (kabed) of the Lord" into the tabernacle is laden with sexual phraseology.

The derivatives of the verb דוד (dawadhence the name David) are commonly translated with 'beloved'. But most fundamentally these words probably have to do with a slow, caressing movement or else the act of containing something precious.

Our verb seems etymologically akin the verb ידד (yadad), which also means to love, and which in turn appears to be kindred to the word דד (dad), meaning nipple or breast.

This latter word clearly expresses the whole spectrum of the verb  דוד (dawad) as one's ample breasts can be both a target to a calid husband, and the body part that contains nutrients for a baby.

Here at Abarim Publications we roguishly surmise that the verb ידד (yadad) may just as much have reminded a Hebrew audience of the word דד (dad), meaning nipple as of the word יד (yad), meaning hand.

Obviously, the hand would be instrumental to the male contribution to afore insinuated fondling, is expected to move with tenderness and is evenly amply equipped to contain something.

It should be noted that where in English similarities like this have no real value, in Hebrew they are among the most fundamental principles of ancient information technology.

The best part of all this is that the verb that describes the act of throwing hands in the air out of a celebration of joy is ידה (yada), which is commonly translated with to praise.

This verb in turn lies at the base of the name Judah, and thus the ethnonym Jew.

Ergo: the Jews are not only the Praisers, they are also the Ecstatic Lovers, as well as the Breast with which God fed humanity in its infancy (Genesis 12:3, Hebrews 5:12-15, 1 Peter 2:2).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this blog. The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Prisca salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.


Be nice.

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