In Biblical Hebrew (BH), like any other language, there are a number of words used to describe relationships between people. In this post we will explore the significance of these in BH. The consonants in BH carry their own meaning, and so when the meanings of those consonants are used to get the meaning of a word, it brings more depth to the word, it’s origins, and how the ancient Hebrews might have understood it and used it. BH words in this post are read in the proper direction for Hebrew, right-to-left, in the BH words displayed below.
‘Ab, meaning “father”. The first consonant, Aleph (א), means “strong, power, leader”, and in the earliest known stage of BH writing was represented by a pictograph of an ox head. The second consonant, Bet (ב), means “family, house(hold), in” and was represented by the floor plan of a tent. When the meanings of the 2 consonants and the pictograph are added together, the meaning becomes “strong / power / leader / ox — family / house(hold) / tent floor”. In ancient times, the father was the father was the one who provided strength and support to the family, he was the one who was in command of the family host (ie, army) when defence of the family was needed, and was the priest and teacher of the family. This BH word is quite often used with another BH word as a person’s name, eg, Absalom, Abraham, Ahab. The Aramaic word Abba is also closely related.
‘Em, meaning “mother”. The meaning of the first consonant, Aleph, is already indicated in the word ‘Ab above. The second consonant, Mem (מ / ם), means “chaos, mighty, blood” and was represented by a pictograph of water. When the meanings of the 2 consonants and the pictograph are added together, the meaning becomes “strong / power / leader / ox — chaos / mighty / blood / water”, or “strong liquid”. The idea of strong water suggests a glue, something that bonds together. Another BH word ‘ummah (אֻמַּה) means “collection, community of people (ie, a nation)” and is derived from this BH word. Another way to understand that is that ‘ummah (“collection, community of people”) is the result of being an ’em (“mother”). The mother is the one who binds the family together through her influence, care and love and is the matriarch of a much larger collection of people related by blood.
‘Ahh, meaning “brother”. The meaning of the first consonant, Aleph, is already indicated in the word ‘Ab above. The second consonant, Hhet (ח), means “outside, divide, half” and was represented by a pictograph of a tent wall. When the meanings of the 2 consonants and the pictograph are added together, the meaning becomes “strong / power / leader / ox — outside / divide / half / tent wall”. The idea portrayed is one of strong protection for the tent, the brothers of a household surrounding the tent. In this sense, having many brothers in a household provides much more protection than just a few. The word ‘ahh can also mean a hearth, which protects the house from a fire’s heat and embers. The word ‘ahh is masculine, and there is a feminine word closely related to it, ‘ahhot (אָחוֹת), which means “sister”. Comparing the words ‘ahh and ‘ahhot it becomes apparent that the words have similar meanings, representing siblings that resemble each other. The name Ahab, mentioned earlier, is a combination of the words ‘ab and ‘ahh and means “brother (‘ahh) of (his) father (‘ab’)”.
Notice that all 3 words above, ‘ab, ’em and ‘ahh, all start with the same consonant which suggests strength / power of an ox, and leadership.
Ben, meaning “son”. The first consonant, Bet (ב), means “family, house(hold), in” and was represented by the floor plan of a tent. The second consonant, Nun (נ / ן) means “continue, heir, son” and was represented by a pictograph of a sprouting seed. When the meanings of the 2 consonants and the pictograph are added together, the meaning becomes “family / house(hold) / in / tent floor — continue / heir / son / sprouting seed”. A son is one who is the heir and continues the family, someone who builds up the family by producing the next generation of family members. In ancient times, tent panels would wear out and would need replacing and were replaced as needed. The replacing of tent panels is somewhat like the father being replaced by a son – a son becomes a father himself and is eventually replaced by his sons. The BH word Ben is also closely related to a BH word banah (בָּנָה) meaning “he built”, and binyah (בִּנְיָן), meaning “a building / structure / edifice”. Sometimes the BH word Ben is used as a part of a Hebrew name, one of the most well known being Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand”. A less well known BH name is Ben-oniy, meaning “son of my sorrow”, which is the name Rachel gave to the child called Benjamin by Jacob. The name Ben-Hur, from movie and novel fame, seems to a sligthly Anglicised version of Ben-Chur / Ben-Hhur, which seems to mean “son of whiteness / white linen” or something similar (there are a number of possible translations for that name, some of them seeming quite different in meaning when translated into English).
Bat, meaning “daughter”. The meaning of the first consonant, Bet, is already indicated in the word Ben above. The second consonant, Tav (ת), means “mark, sign, signature” and was represented by a pictograph of a crossed sticks. When the meanings of the 2 consonants and the pictograph are added together, the meaning becomes “family / house(hold) / in / tent floor — mark / sign / signature / crossed sticks”. In ancient Hebrew times, the family members took the name of the father or male ancestor and in a sense the family members carried the ‘mark’ of the family with them wherever they went. The BH word Bat is closely related to the BH word Bayit (בַּיִת) which means “house”, which suggests a close link between a daughter and the household / family she belongs to, maybe and even stronger link than a son, as a daughter seems to have stayed in her father’s household until she married but a son might have started out on his own before he was married as we read about when Jacob left the camp of Isaac upon his deception to gain Isaac’s birthright and blessing, and when Judah left the encampment of the sons of Jacob (see Genesis 38). The BH word Bat can also signify a measure, the ancient measurement of a “Bath” being a way of measuring liquids that has the same BH spelling as Bat. Like the word Ben, the word Bat is also used in the names of people. For example, the BH name Bathsheba’ means “daughter of an oath / seven”.
It should be noted that the above BH words, and many others, can have a much broader meaning than has been indicated either above or in other sources. For example, the word ‘ab which is stated to mean “father” can also mean a male ancestor in the broader sense. The broader use of the word ‘ab is used when a person is described as being gathered or going to their fathers. The word ‘ahh which is stated to mean brother can also be used in the broader sense for someone of the same tribe or even nation, as found in Psalms 133 where is suggests a wider usage of the word “brothers” to mean those of the same tribe or nation: “… when brothers dwell together in unity”.