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Hebrew Thoughts

kaph - כַּף (Strong's #3709)
Palm, paw, hollow, hand

"But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned ... to the ark" (Genesis 8:9, JPS)

The monosyllabic כַּף kaph (Strong's #3709, x191) meaning "palm of the hand" is actually from כָּפַף kâphaph (Strong's #3721, x5) "to bow/bend", hence to create a "hollow". It is also the name of the Hebrew letter פ which resembles a cupped hand or wings. A similar verb but with ה for its third root letter rather than פ, is כָּפָה kâphâh (Strong's #3711, x1) and also means "to bow/bend" in the sense of subdue and pacify.

On that theme, Genesis 32:25 [v26 in the Hebrew] tells of Jacob's wrestling with God or an Angel in the guise of a man, who could only subdue Jacob by touching or smiting the "soft" part of his thigh resulting in its כַּף kaph "hollow" or "socket" being put out of joint/left hanging.

In Exodus 25:29 and Numbers 4:7 it is paralleled with words for dishes, cups, jars and bowls, indicating a translation as a concave or cupped holding and pouring container. The KJV actually translates it as "spoons", but most other versions opt for "pans".

In Song of Songs 5:5 it is used to translate "handles" of the lock, perhaps a hollow ring arrangement like a gate latch or the part of a bolt that sticks out like a ball to be grasped in one's hand.

Leviticus 23:40, in a rare usage, as other words like כִּפָּה kippâh (Strong's #3712, x3) exist for it, describes the branches of palm trees using כַּף kaph, so literally the palms of palms!

Speaking of palms, כַּף kaph is essentially a concave face of a hand or soft part of the arched underside of a foot, paw of an animal in the sense of its soft pads, in other words a "cupped" surface. It is the hand palms up and able to carry or contain something (e.g., 1 Kings 17:12 "handful"), even of a slingshot and its hollow in which a stone would be placed (1 Samuel 25:29).

The more familiar and frequent word for hand is יָד yâdh (Strong's #3027, x1614) which means "hand" both generally and more specifically as indicating power, authority and ability to smite or bless, or to indicate, or represent a side of something, or to be used in greetings, vows, or lifted in praise.

The number of words that begin with the כּפ K-P syllable and still retain a hint of the "curved or cupped, bent, or hollow" meaning is astounding - essentially all the Strong's numbers from #3710-#3728. One such is כֵּף kêph (Strong's #3710, x2) which seems to mean a hollow or overhanging rock which could afford shelter, protection or a dwelling; see Job 30:6 where it is paired with "caves or holes" חוֹר chôwr (Strong's #2356, x7).

In the Greek כֵּף kêph is translated by πετρα "rock" (Strong's #4073) upon which Jesus plays with the name of Peter Πετρος (Strong's #4074), aka Κηφας Kephas (Strong's #2786), in Matthew 16:18 when he says he would build his church upon the rock, not just a solid foundation but also perhaps the kind of rock that afforded protection and a dwelling as an open, curved, or overhanging rock.


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KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. Their "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at

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