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Hebrew Thoughts

’îyshôwn - אִישׁוֹן (Strong's #380)
Little man, pupil

’îyshôwn 'little man, pupil' אִישׁוֹן (Strong's #380)

"He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10, NAS)

אִישׁוֹן ’îyshôwn "little man, manikin" (Strong's #380, x5) is the diminutive of the familiar Hebrew word אִישׁ ’îysh "man" (Strong's #376, x1638), although Delitzsch and others reject the suffix as indicating a diminutive at all and prefer the translation "man image". As in many languages the diminutive can mean small of size but also affection, as with several of its Hebrew uses. In this case it appears to be both in idiomatic use. Arabic, Farsi, Greek, Sanskrit, Egyptian, Latin and others, all use it similarly.

When it is paired with עַיִן ‘ayin "eye" (Strong's #5869, x887) it is a beautiful image of the idea of a little person reflected in the centre of an eye - the pupil. In reality, we only see our "little man" reflection in the mirror or in another's eyes. Even in Latin the meaning is apparent, for pupilla means "little doll" - a diminutive of pupus "boy" and pupa "girl, hence pupil as young student, as well.

אִישׁוֹן עַיִן ’îyshôwn ‘ayin "little man of eye" occurs in Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8 and Proverbs 7:2. Deut. 32:10 is also the first instance of אִישׁוֹן ’îyshôwn where most English versions translate idiomatically as "apple" whilst just the NAS, ISV, Holman, NET Bible versions translate as "pupil". The translation as "apple" has nothing to do with Eden (which is an erroneous fruit identification anyway) and may have something to do with Zechariah 2:8: "he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye". Here the Hebrew phrase is בְּבָבַת עַיִן bebhâbhath ‘ayin. בָּבָה bâbhâh (Strong's #892, x1) occurs just once and is of debatable origin. Gesenius thinks it is either "little child" with some Syriac support or "gate, aperture" like the Arabic.

How some get to "apple" again, I'm not sure, but it has been suggested the root may be "that which is hollow" or "hollowed out", and the core of the apple is its centre and precious for replanting, containing the seeds of the next generation of trees, like small children.

The English use of "apple" in the phrase seems to stem from as old as the 9th century King Aelfred and his writings, along with Shakespeare and the earliest English bibles. Back then, the pupil was thought to be a spherical part of a round eye and, in England at least, the apple was the most common round fruit. Fruit was precious sustenance and the pupil the most exposed and precious part of the eye.

In the same chapter as Proverbs 7:2 "keep my teaching/law as the pupil of your eye" we have v9: "...in the black of night" where "black" or "middle" is אִישׁוֹן ’îyshôwn. The "pupil" of night makes little sense but it is the darkest and most central part of the eye which dilates up to 8mm across in the dark, thus making eyes their blackest in the dark. Indeed, later in Proverbs 20:20 we find "Whoso curses their parents, their lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness". Here the Hebrew of "obscure" is the obscure word אִישׁוֹן ’îyshôwn again.

Scientifically, it has been shown that pupils dilate when thinking, emotionally reacting, or becoming interested/aroused by another, pupillometry is the study of the pupil.

   
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