Metaphors in the Torah: The Ancient Language of Paleo-Hebrew


Illustration: Sample of Ancient Hebrew Alphabets


Just to start, I would like to make it very clear that I don't speak Hebrew well. I have a heavy American accent and most of the time I prefer to read and write in English which doesn’t help much. Nevertheless, one of the advantages of speaking Hebrew badly is that it forces me to consult the dictionary quite often for words that the average Israeli takes for granted he understands. The result of these searches is that I am exposed to various interpretations of words which many people are totally unaware of because these meanings were in common use only two or three thousand years ago.

Although I can’t remember the exact chain of events, about five years ago I came across a website and a series of videos of: The Ancient Hebrew Research Center:

This was really great for me, because the definitions of the words were so different that now I was like everyone else in Israel. I didn’t understand the language called Paleo-Hebrew and neither did they ….

In short: the people who study Paleo-Hebrew have developed a little network of their own, as well as a distinct philosophy about both Judaism and Christianity.

So, if you are a Christian, you might find the videos and website of Brad Scott interesting (If you are Jewish they are also interesting, but you just have to close your eyes during the Christian parts). Brad Scott’s videos can be found on YOUTUBE, but he also has a website:

Another teacher of this subject is Alan Horvath, but here the message is heavily Christian, so if you are Jewish and sensitive to these types of things, then maybe it might not be so good for you. Regardless, Alan’s material also can be found on YOUTUBE and he has his own website:


Okay, so: What’s the big deal? Hebrew is Hebrew, right?

Well…   “No”….

Basically, what all these websites have in common is the belief that when the Hebrew scholars in Babylon decided to adopt the shapes of the Aramaic alphabet, they unintentionally also changed the meaning of the words. At the very least they made the meanings less clear.

So, let’s take for example the letter “aleph”. In Paleo-Hebrew this letter looks like the head of a ox. (i.e. it is a little picture, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics). In Aramaic, it is simply a shape which conveys no meaning what so ever.

In Paleo-Hebrew the letter for “bet” looks like the floor plan of an ancient tent (“bet” means “house” in Hebrew). In Aramaic, once again, we just have a shape for the letter, which is distinctive, but which does not convey any meaning.

The two letters together spell “av”, which is the Hebrew word for “father”.

The difference between the two languages is that when you look at the two pictures of Paleo-Hebrew (i.e. the ox and the tent) you can at least make a guess as to the meaning of the word. With the Aramaic letters, as with English letters, there is nothing in the shape of the letters to indicate the meaning of the word.

This does not mean that Paleo-Hebrew is perfectly clear and that now we can understand everything that is written in the Torah. Nevertheless, it does introduce a new  perspective to the language and it certainly challenges everything the “rabbinout” (religious authorities in Israel) claim about the Torah (i.e. It is impossible to understand what is written in the Torah without the teachings of the rabbis).

So, let’s just give an example of ambiguity which can also be found in Paleo-Hebrew.

First off: there is even an argument as to whether or not Paleo-Hebrew was the original language of the peoples of the Middle East. Alan Horvath thinks that there was an even older language which he calls: “Aramaic/Hebrew” and indeed there are slight differences in the pictures and, of course, the meanings.

The Ancient Hebrew Reseach Center, which is run by Jeff A Benner, leans towards the Paleo-Hebrew source.

So, to give just a quick example of one of these differences: In “Aramaic/Hebrew” the letter “gimmel” is a picture of a foot. In Paleo-Hebrew the letter has been flipped over and looks like the hump of a camel. Accordingly, some people say “gimmel” originally represented: "a man’s foot" and other people say that the letter “gimmel” means: "camel".

Yet, even when there is agreement about the picture, there is still disagreement about the interpretations. So, Alan Horvath believes that the ox’s head (aleph) should be interpreted as: “being yoked together”. Whereas Jeff A Benner feels the head of the ox simply represents: “strength”.

My personal feeling is that the head of the ox represents: "intellectual strength" because of the reference to a heifer and ploughing a field found in the story of Samson's riddle which I discussed in a previous article:

Thus: although I have not seen Alan Horvath’s interpretation of the word “av”, Jeff A Benner then goes on to ask: What is the strength of the tent? The answer he gives is: the tent pole. Jeff then concludes that the father is: “the tent pole of the family” (i.e The father maintains the home with his strength).

To sum up: the study of Paleo-Hebrew, whether you agree with every interpretation or not, certainly opens up an entirely new perspective to the study of the Torah. In addition, it also challenges the well known assertion taught in almost all Israeli schools that Hebrew is a language based on three letter roots. Hebrew clearly developed from one letter roots such as: “ayin” (eye), “peh” (mouth) “dalet” (door) etc. etc. Hebrew then advanced to two letter roots, which one can read about in the book: “How the Hebrew Language Grew” by Ed Horowitz. Finally, Hebrew eventually progressed to the three letter root which most people identify with Modern Hebrew.