Word pictures are a great way to communicate concepts. In English, we normally use illustrations or incidents to endeavor to "paint a picture" that a listener can relate to. For example, if I was teaching about justice, I would describe an incident involving a legal case and the people involved and what the verdict was to try to show whether there was a just handling of the case.
In the Eastern Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, the illustrations are built into the language itself. There is usually an action verb that is the root or foundational basis for all the nouns and adjectives related to that verb.
In linguistics, this difference between the Eastern and Western languages is called dynamic vs. static understanding or thinking. Simply put, dynamic thinking means that there is an underlying action in the thought. Static thinking is that even a concept is stationary and can be described only with additional unrelated words.
The Bible was written by Eastern people who lived in an Eastern culture. Understanding the Aramaic text of the New Testament will give us a basis of understanding the culture and from the “flavor” of the language, we as Western people will have a glimpse of the Eastern culture and how the people of the Bible thought.
Marvin Wilson, in his book, Our Father Abraham, states: “The Bible contains many Hebraisms in which abstract thoughts or immaterial conceptions are conveyed through material or physical terminology.” (p. 137)
Another pithy quote from Our Father Abraham describes the type of people who were the writers of the Bible as those who “use vocabulary which is highly colorful, dynamic, and action-centered.”
Let’s look at some examples.
Let’s go back and see what the root action verb is for one of the words we have already learned -- father. The two letter root AB does not at first glance have a specific underlying action, but in Brown, Driver, Briggs Lexicon, there is an entry regarding the related root verb in Assyrian as “to decide.”
Combining the word picture and the action verb helps to clarify the role of the FATHER. The Father is the strong leader who decides.
I would like to put in a word of caution at this point. I have read many examples of word pictures from studies from the Internet, other books and even from the Rabbis. Not every word has an action root and sometimes the choice of the meaning of the alphabet pictures can be used to make up something that a person wants the word to mean. The best source that I have found as a base for this work is Jeff Benner’s The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible.
As we go further and look at the Aramaic words for salvation, this will be helpful to keep in mind and I would rather err on the side of “not knowing” than to teach something which may have a precarious basis.
Let’s put these two points together that we have seen so far, how the individual letters work and finding the action underneath the verb. We will go back to Genesis 14:19 about El as the possessor of heaven and earth.
Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
The word possessor is a participle being used as a noun from the verb qanah in Hebrew, qena in Aramaic.
Here is the word picture of the first two letters:
Qoph is picture of the sun on the horizon and can mean rising up.
Nun is picture of a seed, especially a sprouting seed, and can mean life or continuity
The simple meaning of the word picture is the rising up of the seed.
Some synonyms of qanah are: get, acquire, create, buy, possess, obtain.
The first verse where qanah is used is in Genesis, when Eve says she named her son Cain, “for I have gotten [qanah] a man from the Lord.”
All of the nouns that are built on this verb have this action and meaning as their base. Here are just a few of the nouns that come from qanah.
Qinyan – wealth
Miqneh – cattle
Miqna – purchase, purchase price
When we find the action meaning of the verb, it helps us to understand all of the words in the word family.