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Heavens in Genesis
Posted: 24 August 2011 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]
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What is the Hebrew word that corresponds to “heavens” in Genesis 1:1? Is it likely to have referred to the afterlife/spiritual realm, or to the place that the stars and moon are (ie the sky)? Or something else.

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Posted: 24 August 2011 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The Hebrew is “shamayim”, which break down as “sham” (rhymes with ‘palm’) meaning “there” and “mayim” (rhymes with “buy’em") meaning “water”.

Genesis sees there as being a body of water below and body of water above, divided by a “firmament” (Hebrew ‘raki’a), “sky”.  So the Heavens “shamayim” would be a cosmological term, not a spiritual one.

In the Hebrew Bible, there was a belief in life after death.  The afterlife is often referred to as “gathered unto his forefathers”. 

When King Saul has the necromancer at Ein Dor bring up the soul of the Seer Samuel, the latter was apparently not pleased to have been aroused from his abode in the hereafter.

Lots more to say, but as regards to the OP, enough.

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Posted: 24 August 2011 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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This cosmology of water below and water above is also referred to in the Genesis account of the Flood (as the rebbe well knows, but I mention it for others who might be interested):
Chap. 7, v. 11: In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

Not an unreasonable hypothesis, given that water seems to enter the world we inhabit from the sky (rain) and from underground (wells and springs).

[ Edited: 24 August 2011 04:34 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 24 August 2011 05:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Wordorigins diegogarcity strikes again. I was just wondering yesterday why the Latin word is firmament, which suggests something solid. According to the OED the Hebrew word has several senses, including expanse and something beaten out such as a piece of metal. Does the word for sky in ancient Hebrew have some sense of a barrier or something solid between the heavens and the earth?

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Posted: 25 August 2011 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks, All.

Good to see you again, Reb.

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Posted: 25 August 2011 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The Hebrew is “shamayim”, which break down as “sham” (rhymes with ‘palm’) meaning “there” and “mayim” (rhymes with “buy’em") meaning “water”.

I presume this is a traditional rabbinical interpretation; it is certainly not an actual etymology (cf. Ugaritic shmm, Akkadian shamu ‘rain,’ plural ‘heaven’; there are also cognates in Aramaic, Arabic, and South Arabic).

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Posted: 25 August 2011 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Wouldn’t the Tower of Babel also be a traditional rabbinical interpretation unless you cherry pick?

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Posted: 25 August 2011 09:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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BlueletterBible (using Genesius) has: From an unused root (sha-maw) meaning to be lofty

FWIW.

[ Edited: 25 August 2011 09:11 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 25 August 2011 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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an unused root

Wait, what?

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Posted: 25 August 2011 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dr. Techie - 25 August 2011 09:10 AM

an unused root

Wait, what?

I know. Here’s the Blueletter citation. Why not just say “from the root...”

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Posted: 25 August 2011 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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My reading would be that the singular form, which supplies the root, is unattested, i.e., *sha-maw.

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Posted: 25 August 2011 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Reb Wm is a hard act to follow, and it is with diffidence that I offer a few additional thoughts:

The termination -ayim in Hebrew usually expresses duality: shtayim = two, yomayim = two days (yamim = plural days in general), na’alayim = (a pair of) shoes, mahartayim = the day after tomorrow (i.e. two successive tomorrows, mahar being tomorrow). Duality is implied in Reb Wm’s explanation of shamayim = heaven, and in the words of Genesis 1:6,7. Reb wm mentions the Hebrew word for “water” itself: mayim. Whether or not duality is implicit in this word - I don’t know.
Interestingly enough, the KJV translates shamayim in Genesis 1 as “heaven”, singular. Yet in English one often hears of “the heavens”, as though there were more than one heaven (economy, business [for TV evangelists, perhaps], and first class [for “the squire and his relations"]? ;-). Does Christian theology postulate more than one heaven ("In my Father’s house are many mansions")? Dante divides Hell into seven circles, one nastier than the other - yet AFAIK one never hears speak of “the hells”.

Reb Wm mentions that the word rendered as “firmament” in Genesis is raki’a. As Iron Pyrite says, the root resh-kof-’ayin can have several senses (all connected) - to stamp one’s foot, to beat out metal. The word rakia in the sense “firmament” suggests a beaten basin or bowl. A bowl (or a vault, or a dome) is, I think, a common metaphor for the sky in many languages. Isn’t the “firmament” the bowl in which the stars are fixed, and across whose surface the sun, moon and planets move?

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Posted: 25 August 2011 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Does Christian theology postulate more than one heaven ("In my Father’s house are many mansions")?

"Mansions" is the KJV rendering. Most other translations use “resting places”

Mansion does have this “resting place” meaning as well. From OED

post or relay on a major route (perhaps referring to classical antiquity, 1596) < classical Latin mansiōn-, mansiō the fact of remaining or staying, a dwelling or place where one stays, especially a stopping place on a journey, also a day’s journey < mans-, past participial stem of manēre to stay. See remain.

The Greek noun monē is from the verb menō which means to remain, stay etc.

So, Mansions is right, if a bit archaic to our ears. OED also reports a verb form “to mansion.”

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Posted: 25 August 2011 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Thanks, Oecolampadius. The old trade routes passing through Israel are dotted with the ruins of such places, usually about 20-25 km apart (depending on the terrain), where travellers (especially caravans) would stop for the night (only bandits moved about by night). The Arabic word for such a place is “khan”. In Central Asia I believe they are called “serai” or “sarai”. It should have occurred to me that Europe would have such a concept too.

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Posted: 25 August 2011 02:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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serai

Possibly more familiar (at least to readers of the Rubaiyat) as an element of the compound “caravanserai”.

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Posted: 25 August 2011 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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BlueletterBible (using Genesius) has: From an unused root (sha-maw) meaning to be lofty

That is, of course, a premodern explanation useless for etymological purposes (but, like Isidore of Seville, interesting for the development of ways of explaining word origins).

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