According to the dictionary, a “psalm” is “a sacred song or poem.” But is this the meaning of the Hebrew word translated as “psalm?”
The Hebrew word for “psalm” is מזמור (mizmor, Strong’s #4210). This Hebrew word is derived from the root זמר (Z.M.R, Strong’s #2167), which means “to pluck.” This verb is used for the “plucking” of fruit or “plucking” a stringed musical instrument, such as a כנור (kinnor, Strong’s #3658).
While זמר (Z.M.R) and כנור (kinnor) do not appear to be related, it is likely that they in-fact are. The parent root of the root word Z.M.R would appear to be either זם (Z.M, Strong’s #2154), which means “mischief” or מר (M.R, Strong’s #4751), which means “bitter.” Neither of these parent roots seems to fit with the idea of plucking fruit or music.
Over time, letters of similar sounds will shift. For example, in English we have the word “foot.” This word actually comes from the Proto-Indo-European root (PIE) ped, which means “foot.” Over time the “P” became a “F” and the “D” became a “T.” While the word ped became our word “foot,” we can still see this PIE root in words like “pedestrian” and “pedal.”
Another common shift is the “M” to an “N.” Could the parent root of זמר (Z.M.R) be נר (N.R), which means “lamp,” that which brings forth light. One could interpret “plucking” fruit and “plucking” music as “bringing forth light.” If this is true, then the word כנור (kinnor) is preserving the original spelling with the letter nun (נ / Ν) instead of the letter (מ / M).
Back to the word מזמור (mizmor), which we can interpret, in “light” of our understanding of its root, to mean “a bringing forth of bright music from a stringed instrument” or simply “melody.”
Give thanks to YHWH with the harp (kinnor), with the lute (neyvel) make melody (ZMR) for him. (Psalm 33:2)
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Related Pages by Jeff A. Benner
|Ancient Hebrew Dictionary (Book)|
This Biblical Hebrew dictionary contains the one thousand most frequent verbs and nouns found within the Hebrew Bible.