playing with letters

25 Sep

Once again, chemo advisory here. Read with mercy. I’m finding writing is a wonderful distraction from the fog creeping in. Better than just sitting here in a state of increasing zombification.


Not that I have a proclivity for digital nasal exploration – though I undoubtedly do more than I care to know (or others to see).

But rather the confession that I’ve been playing with letters. For years. It’s a bit of a serious addiction. And there are only support groups that encourage and feed it. And I manage a bookstore. Dooooooomed.

Specifically, I play with early Hebrew alphabet letters.

I’m not a scholar nor the son of a scholar. I’m actually the son of an accountant (my dad). I have a BS in business administration, but no BS in theology. Wait a minute, every theologian automatically has that.

But I have been reading Greek for 35 years and Hebrew for 30 years. It’s been my passionate, personal playground. Over the past decade, I’ve come across several sources exploring the significance of the individual letters of the early Hebrew alphabet, the latest being Jeff A. Benner’s website .

I honestly don’t know just how much basis this all has in reality and how much is fanciful speculation. So while I won’t build any life and death doctrinal points with the building blocks of the ancient Hebrew characters and their meaning, or start the Church of the Holy Tetragrammaton based on them, (characters as in letters, not characters as in Abraham, Isaac, and especially Jacob), I can’t resist playing with them and automatically will pull them out as points of illustration in daily conversaton (rather than as proof of something). This, of course, only further certifies me as a total geek. The Sheldon of biblical studies.

The premise here is that the ancient Hebrew alphabet, while phonetic, used pictures that conveyed meanings in themselves that illustrate the concepts being communicated in the words they form. Something like an ancient rebus.

Still with me?

For instance.

Father. It’s אב in modern Hebrew block script. Two letters, aleph and bet, read right to left and pronounced “ahv.” The way Moses or David would have written it would have looked a bit differently.


The first letter aleph was the picture of an ox head, denoting strength and hence power, leader. You can see where we got our letter “A.” Just turn the “A” around and extend the middle line. And voila, the ox head aleph.

The second letter betpictured the floor plan of a tent or house. Turn the picture around and close the door and you can see our letter “B.”


Put the two together and you have strength in the house – Ab, Abba, Daddy Papa. Of course, often this translates a bit too literally in our experience as dads nicely fill the role of the proverbial bull in the china shop rather than the tender, approachable strength that Abba should communicate to us.


Second word. Mother. It’s אם in modern Hebrew block script. Aleph and mem, pronouced “aim.” Aleph is the ox head again picturing stength and thus power, leader (what do you know, mom and dad are both leaders!).


The letter mem originally pictured water as in mighty, blood, or even chaos (mom’s world is a world of mighty, swirling chaos? Yeah, that will preach). Reduce the pictured chaos b one wave and you can see our letter “M.” Given that the Hebrew culture feared the water, it’s also a compelling picture to include in this two letter portrait of mom. Dad might be the power in the house, but you better watch out for you mother.

Put the two of them together, and you end up with strong water, i.e. glue. Mom is quite literally the glue that holds house, home and family together. Don’t say it isn’t so.

None of this proves anything. No deep theological arguments here. May be” just my ‘magina-shun, once again, running away with me…” But it does make for quite the illustration of what we know and see in the reality of word and life. It also takes abstract terms like “dad” and “mom” and makes them quite concrete. That’s actually one of the blessings of Semitic languages. English is highly abstract (what is “love”? “sin”? “righteousness”? “God”? “sanctification”? “anger”? “joy”? ad infinitum; just try defining them without using other abstract words that you have to define in turn probably with other abstract words). Semitic languages (or at least I can speak for Hebrew) are very concrete. The words have ready handles that we can grasp and readily feel.

So be prepared for me to play with letters in future posts. Just for fun.

Because this is my blog, and I can.



Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , ,

4 responses to “playing with letters

  1. Peg Simonet

    September 25, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Love it… The word pictures are so meaningful…Blessings to you Pastor Mike..

  2. wordhaver

    September 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm


  3. Mick Fairchild

    September 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Love it, Mike! Love it, love it, love it!

  4. wordhaver

    September 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks Mick…I must admit it’s a bit of an addiction for me. 🙂


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