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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner


As I have pointed out many times, the Hebrew language and thought works very differently from our own Western language and thought and this word is a good example. In the Hebrew mind space and time are seen as the same, they both have the present such as the present place you are sitting and the present time you at now and they both have distance, as a distant place or a distant time (past or future). For this reason the same Hebrew words are used for space and time. The Hebrew word קדם qedem can mean “East” or it can mean the “ancient past.”

He drove out the man; and at the east (קדם) of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim. (Genesis 3:24)

I consider the days of old, I remember the years long ago (קדם). (Psalm 77:5)

One of my favorite Hebrew words is עולם olam because of its unique ability to demonstrate how the Hebrew language works. While this word is frequently translated as everlasting or eternal (concepts which are foreign to Hebrew thought) it means a “distant time,” either in the past or future such as seen in the following verses.

I consider the days of old (עולם), I remember the years long ago. (Psalm 77:5)

This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future (עולם) generations. (Genesis 9:12)

The word olam comes from the root alam meaning "to be hidden" and is often used in the sense of hiding to a place where one cannot be seen. Because Hebrew words for time are also used for space we can say that olam literally means “a place hidden beyond the horizon” or “a time hidden beyond the distant time.”

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