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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner
חַי hhai

The Hebrew word חי (hhai) is pronounced like the English greeting “Hi” but the “H” is pronounced hard like the “ch“ in the name “Bach.” The word hhai is usually translated as “life” in the English Translations.

The idea of “life” is an abstract thought meaning that the concept of “life” cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt. As the Hebrew language does express abstract thought, it is always through concrete ideas. In order to demonstrate this process of concrete and abstract thought let us examine the concept of “heart.” The Hebrew word for “heart” is לב (lev). The heart is the concrete and physical “heart,” the organ in the chest. But, this same word also represents the abstract idea of “emotion” as the ancient Hebrews understood the “heart” as the seat of emotion (much like we see thinking being associated with the brain).

Now when we come to the word חי (hhai) we understand the abstract concept behind the word as awareness, existence, etc. but what was the concrete background to the word. The following passage (quoted from the KJV) can help us unravel this mystery.

“Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions” (Job 38:39)

The word “appetite” in this verse is the translator’s translation of the word hhai. An “appetite” is again an abstract word and was probably chosen for the translation as it best fits with the idea of “life”. But, if we instead replace appetite with “stomach”, a more concrete Hebraic concept, we find that the verse makes much more sense.

“Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the stomach of the young lions”

Just as the heart is the seat of emotion, the stomach is, according to Hebrew thought, the seat of life. If we think about this we can easily understand why. We must first remember that the Hebrews were nomads who traveled from pasture to pasture with their flocks in search of food and water. This was their primary goal in “life”. If food and water were in plenty, life was good, if it was not, life was very bad.

Strong's: #2416

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