Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day.

Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Hapax Legomena

—Biblical Data:

Words or forms of words that occur once only. There are about 1,500 of these in the Old Testament; but only 400 are, strictly, "hapax legomena"; e., are either absolutely new coinages of roots, or can not be derived in their formation or in their specific meaning from other occurring stems. The remaining 1,100, while appearing once only as a form, can easily be connected with other existing words; as, for instance, (Job 17:9) and (Zechariah 12:5); (Amos 9:11) and (Isaiah 49:19); (Ezekiel 24:26); (Job 34:25); and (Psalms 69:3); these one would obviously refer to the verbs etc., which are of frequent occurrence in the Bible.

Some of the hapax legomena are ordinary words, and their non-recurrence is merely an accident, there having been no need of using them again. In some portions they are due to the subject-matter being somewhat removed from the usual trend of thought in the Old Testament; as, for example, in the Book of Job, where the wealth of ideas is paralleled by a corresponding richness of language. Besides, in portions of the Bible composed in the north of Palestine many words may have been used which were not in vogue in the south. In passages dealing with technical or individual things, as, for instance, Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 (lists of animals), or Ezekiel 27 (enumeration of articles of merchandise), a comparatively large number of hapax legomena may be expected. Some are introduced for the sake of assonance (comp. I. M. Casanowicz, "Paronomasia in the Old Testament," p. 42), and a few are loan-words.

The following is an alphabetical list of the absolute or strict hapax legomena of each book. The verbal forms are quoted in the third person singular perfect of the conjugation or voice in which they occur:

41:43 (an exclamation),
:11, pistachio-nuts,
6:14, gopher-wood,
21:16, shoot,
36:24, hot springs,
25:30, feed,
47:13, faint,
30:37, almond,
49:3, sword,
15:2, possession,
28:12, ladder,
41:23, blasted,
11, press out,
24:21, gaze, contemplate,
49:17, species of serpent,
9:31, in bloom,
30:34, galbanum,
21:10, conjugal duty,
16:33, pot,
16:31, wafer,
30:34, onycha,
11:30, ferret,
21:20, testes,
13:39, tetter,
21:20, crookbacked,
11:29, weasel,
11:30, species of lizard,
11:22, bald locust,
22:22, swelling,
11:30, chameleon,
11:35, range (for pots),
11:30, species of lizard,
26:16, pining,
1:16, crop (of bird),
11:22, cricket,
3:9, spine,
11:29, species of lizard,
19:28, cutting,
14:37, hollows,
21:20, blemish,
6:14, (?)
11:5, melons,
21:15, slope,
11:5, onions,
6:4, (?)
6:4, (?)
20:24, path,
11:5, cucumbers,
11:5, garlic,
33:14, shovel,
14:5, wild goat,
33:25, security,
14:5, pygarg,
1:41, be light-hearted,
33:22, leap forth,
14:5, chamois,
28:22, flery heat,
25:18, be in the rear,
32:34, store up,
32:15, be fat,
32:24, wasted,
16:10, measure,
27:9, keep silence,
32:26, scatter,
18:3, maw,
32:18, neglect,
33:3, (?)
16:16, press, urge,
3:16, cubit,
5:28, cry,
3:23, (?)
3:22, (?)
4:18, rug,
2:33, grieve,
19:20, company,
21:9, press, urge,
13:21, (?)
13:21, point,
5:9, break out,
15:33, tear in pieces,
21:20, length,
13:9, pan,
23:8, lance,
21:16, spear,
1:9, giddiness,
17:29, kind of cheese,
1 Kings.
5:3, (?)
5:23, rafts,
20:33, ascertain,
7:33, spokes,
2 Kings.
6:25, dove's dung,
4:35, sneeze,
23:5, planets,
10:22, wardrobe,
4:42, sack,
6:25, a measure,
9:17, roll upward,
19:10, grieved,
13:21, screech-owl,
41:24, naught,
54:12, carbuncle,
14:15, larch,
59:10, magnates,
46:8, show manliness, firmness,
5:6, waste, desolation,
7:19, rugged height,
27:9, chalkstone,
17:6, berry,
30:6, herd of camels,
47:13, astrologer,
56:10, dream,
64:1, brushwood,
18:5, sprig,
1:6, press out,
48:9, restrȧin,
1:17, oppress,
30:24, salted,
3:16, mince one's steps,
33:19, impudent,
61:10, clothe,
22:18, ball,
66:20, dromedaries,
34:14, (?)
1:22, mix,
17:1, heap of ruins,
15, drop,
56:10, bark,
33:1, accomplish,
30:30, tempest,
42:14, gasp,
28:25, appointed,
51:8, moth,
55:13, brier,
64:5, uncleanliness,
4, sustain,
5:2, dig,
11:15, heat or might,
32:4, stammerer,
42:22, ensnare,
3:24, (?)
33:20, wander,
22:24, offspring,
34:15, arrow-snake,
44:8, tremble,
4, rugged country,
3:19, veil.
57:20, mire,
3:16, look wantonly,
44:13, pencil,
19:9, combed (flax),
3:18, cauls,
47:2, train (of dress),
36:12, urine,
54:8, overflowing,
18:5, cut off,
44:14, holm-tree,
15, bulwark,
14:9, be astounded,
36:18, ink,
13:23, stripes,
37:16, stores,
10:7, appertain,
51:34, belly,
10:17, bundle,
51:38, growl,
48:9, fly,
15:8, anguish,
29:26, shackles,
46:20, gadfly,
49:24, terror,
2:23, roam, traverse,
5:8, roam,
47:3, stamping (of horse),
43:10, ornament,
2:24, desire,
21:20, (?) (?)
1:14, lightning,
27:24, (?)
16:40, cut down,
5:1, barber,
27:11, (?) (?)
4:9, millet,
27:15, ebony,
42:12, (?)
23:24, kind of weapon,
13:10, wall,
27:20, cover,
23:15, turbans,
13:12, daubing,
13:10, lead astray,
21:20, sharpened,
16:4, cleansing,
7:11, (?)
2:6, brier,
47:2, trickle,
27:17, (?)
4:15, dung,
17:5, willow-tree,
46:22, join, bind,
17:9, cut off,
7:25, terror,
46:14, sprinkle,
41:16, panel-work,
39:2, lead on,
47:12, healing,
2:15, jewels,
3:2, measure,
11:9, wrath,
9:14, be dry, withered,
13:14, destruction,
13:1, trembling,
8:6, splinters,
5:2, (?)
13:5, drought,
1:17, shrivel,
4:11, hasten,
2:20, stench,
3:12, piece,
7:14, dress,
4:8, sultry,
1:5, ship,
6:14, emptiness,
4:7, cast off,
7:3, weave together,
1:13, bind,
3:17, species of locust,
2:4, spear,
3:17, princes,
2:4, something pertaining to war-chariots,
2:11, beam,
1:9, (?)
3:14, (?)
3:17, stalls,
2:9, possession,
1:11, laden,
2:12, apple (of the eye),
9:12, stronghold,
4:12, spouts,
14:6, (?)
1:8, sorrel,
3:24, tread down,
21:3, desire,
31:23, be cut off,
45:9, cassia,
93:3, noise,
20, thrust,
62:4, set upon,
72:6, heavy drops,
78:47, hailstones,
18:46, come forth,
68:32, magnates,
119:70, be covered up, stupid,
119:131, crave,
55:23, burden,
10:10, helpless,
74:6, ax,
63:2, long,
80:14, uproot, ravage,
74:6, hatchet,
114:1, be an alien,
144:13, garners,
119:103, pleasant,
58:7, fangs,
99:1, quake,
72:17, sprout,
60:9, storm,
4, adder,
104:12, branches,
88:16, faint,
48:14, traverse,
72:16, abundance,
12:2, vanish,
60:4, break, split,
68:28, throng,
31:21, conspiracy,
68:31, piece,
68:17, look askance,
58:9, snail,
7:16, yarn,
30:31, (?)
25:11, occasion,
10:3, desire,
21:8, straight,
30:31, well girt, swift,
7:16, stripe,
12:27, urge,
31:19, distaff,
21:14, bend,
26:18, hurl about,
4:24, sinfulness,
23:2, throat,
29:21, scion,
30:15, (?)
27:22, pestle,
16:30, compress,
29:21, spoil by indulgence,
23:2, knife,
30:28, kind of lizard,
23:7, reckon, calculate,
9:26, cane,
34:36, O that,
38:28, drop,
25:5, be bright,
30:24, prayer,
10:10, cheese,
21:33, tomb,
7:5, clod,
16:15, crust, skin,
41:14, leap,
12, tear down,
19:3, be impudent,
33:20, be loathsome,
28:17, glass,
17:1, extinguish,
6:17, be burning,
31:33, bosom,
29:18, phenix,
6:6, white of an egg,
33:9, clean,
9:26, swoop,
18:3, be foolish,
21:20, destruction,
41:11, spark,
15:24, attack,
3:5, darkening,
38:32, (?)
37:9, (?)
18, hammered stave,
30:4, sea-purslane,
15:29, possession,
38:31, bands,
38:33, dominion,
38:10, spring,
3:4, daylight,
41:12, nostrils,
30:13, tear up,
4:10, be torn out,
10:22, order,
6:10, jump up,
20:22, plenty,
30:25, be bowed down,
21:24, pail or trough,
41:10, sneezing,
39:30, suck, sip,
39:5, wild ass,
33:24, deliver,
15:27, fat,
26:9, spread,
35:15, arrogance,
18:2, chase,
26:11, sway, tremble,
15:12, wink,
33:25, be green, fresh,
31, sharp weapon,
38:36, (?)
16, muscles,
4:18, error,
41:21, club,
17:6, spitting,
6:11, walnut,
3:9, palanquin,
7:10, glide down,
1:10, strings,
2:9, lattice,
5:3, defile,
4:14, saffron,
7:3, roundness,
7:9, branches of palmtree,
2:11, winter,
1:17, rafters,
4:4, (?)
5:11, (?)
1:13, seclude oneself,
2:14, give,
2:16, bundles,
3:16, cover over,
4:2, be weighed,
2:1, cloud,
3:59, oppression,
3:11, tear into pieces,
4:8, shrivel,
1:14, be bound,
12:3, cease,
10:8, ditch,
12:12, study,
8:1, interpretation,
8:10, (?)
1:8, compulsion,
1:6, mother-of-pearl,
1:6, white cloth,
1:6, cotton,
7:4, damage,
1:6, spotted marble,
8:10, (?)
8:15, robe,
11:45, palace,
9:24, decreed,
11:43, treasures,
10:21, inscribe,
1:9, knife,
3:7, permission,
7:3, shut,
3:15, cover,
15:27, be clothed,
19:4, nates,
29:2, precious stone,
29:2, precious stone,
29:2, marble or alabaster,
36:16, woke,
3:15, capital (of column),
2:15, need,
2:15, floats,

The following table gives the number of the absolute hapax legomena and the total number of unique forms, not including those of the Aramaic portions of the Old Testament:

Book.Absolute Hapax Legomena.Total.
1 Kings426
2 Kings627
Daniel (Hebr. portion)513
Ezra (Hebr. portion)26
E. G. H.
I. M. C.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

A large number of the difficult words which are lexically treated in the Talmud and Midrash are hapax legomena. In the exegesis of the Talmud and Midrash, however, the hapax legomena are treated in no way differently from the other rare and difficult words which occur in the Scriptures, and a special term does not even exist for them. They by no means receive a consciously systematic treatment, though an examination of a number of examples reveals the use of various methods, which may be classified as follows:

Methods of Interpretation.

  1. Traditional interpretation; that is, when the interpretation of a hapax legomenon is based on tradition. In this case the meaning is, of course, more easily preserved when the context justifies or indicates it. Palestinian tradition, e.g., explained the hapax legomenon (in Judges 4:18) which, from the context, might mean either "cloth" or "vessel," to mean "cloth" ("sudra"), while that of Babylon regarded it as equivalent to "vessel" ("mesiklah"; Lev. R. 23:10). Rabina, one of the last Babylonian amoraim, at the end of the fifth century, in discussing (Esther 8:10), stated that at times tradition failed and the meaning of a hapax legomenon was avowedly lost (Meg. 18a).
  2. Interpretation by means of a parallel passagein the Mishnah. Thus, for example, an amora of the fourth century, R. Ze'era, explains the hapax legomenon (Genesis 25:30) according to Shab. 24:3 (, "They stuff the camel with food"; Gen. R. 63:12).
  3. Interpretation by derivation from a foreign language. Thus Jose, a tanna of the middle of the second century, detected in the word (Genesis 41:43) a Hebrew form of the Greek Ἀλαβάρχης(see Abrech); and Samuel, a Babylonian amora of the third century, explained in Esther 1:6 as being identical with the precious stone called "darra" (Arabic "durra," pl. "durr" = "pearl"), found in the cities on the coast.

Midrashic Method.

  1. Interpretation on the basis of etymological analogy, with a homiletic-midrashic exposition of the word. The derivation of words from biliteral roots was still a grammatical principle in the Talmudic period; , for example, is given as the stem of the hapax legomenon (Genesis 15:2; see Gen. R. 44:9), consequently a haggadist of the third century connected with (likewise from root ), "to long for," and explained the expression "ben mesheḳ beti" (Genesis 15:2) according to this etymology. In these words, he said, Abraham meant to indicate Lot, who longed ("she-nafsho shoḳeḳet") to become his heir (Gen. R. 44:9). In like manner, R. Ishmael connects the hapax legomenon (Esther 1:6) with ("liberty"). Ahasuerus, he explains, granted to all traders "liberty," that is, the right to trade (Meg. 12a). Another example of this kind is furnished by the midrashic treatment of the hapax legomenon (Genesis 49:17). The word in the phrase (Numbers 23:3; generally translated "hill") having been interpreted by the Midrash to mean "lameness," was considered as a form derived from it by reduplication, and, in the case of Samson, as denoting "lameness on both sides of the body." In these and similar cases it is not easy to decide whether etymology has produced the Midrash, or the Midrash has produced the etymologic comparison.
  2. The interpretation of a hapax legomenon as a composite of, or contraction from, two words. The solution of a composite form into its component parts is held by Resh Laḳish to be the ultima ratio; for, after reading through the whole Bible to explain the hapax legomenon (Judges 4:18) and finding no object with this name, he was compelled to explain it as a composite of (= "my name here," or "my name like this"). This, he says, may prove that the wicked Sisera did not touch Jael (Lev. R. c.). The hapax legomenon (Esther 1:6) is explained as a composite of = "curtains of colored stuffs"; see also the explanations of Abrech).

Saadia's Treatise.

The method of explaining Biblical hapax legomena from parallels in the vocabulary of the Talmud was adopted by Saadia in a little Arabic composition, the only extant manuscript of which exists at Oxford (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1448, 2); it is entitled "Tafsir al-Sab'in Lafẓah al-Faradah." It was published four times in 1844: by L. Dukes, in "Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes," 5:115 et seq., and in Ewald and Dukes, "Beiträge zur Gesch. der Aeltesten Auslegung und Spracherklärung des Alten Testamentes," 2:110 et seq.; by A. Geiger, from a copy of Derenbourg, in his "Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol." 5:317 et seq.; and by A. Jellinek, under the title "Pitron Tish'im Millot Bodedot," in Benjacob's "Sefer Debarim 'Attiḳim," Later it was published by Solomon Buber in "Bet Oẓar ha-Sifrut," 1:33 et seq., Yaroslav, 1887. In this small work ninety, or, according to Dukes's and Steinschneider's reckoning, ninety-one difficult or rare words of the Bible, are treated; not all of them, however, are hapax legomena. It is curious that the Arabic title speaks of only seventy words; but Dukes and, after him, Bacher and Buber, explain this discrepancy by the fact that in early times "sab'in" (seventy) was incorrectly written for "tis'in" (ninety). However, as an old authority like Jepheth ben 'Ali cites the title "Sab'in," and as it is not even certain that the number ninety is accurate, and in view of the construction of the little work, Geiger suggested that it is not complete and independent, but merely a fragment of an anti-Karaite production, in which Saadia endeavored to convince the Karaites of the value of tradition from a linguistic standpoint. Therefore it must be supposed that this fragment of seventy words was later supplemented by others. This manuscript has no alphabetic nor other methodical arrangement; Steinschneider has endeavored to remedy this by supplying an index to the Biblical passages ("Cat. Bodl." col. 2197). The work is especially valuable as being the oldest example of Hebrew lexicography. In using the lexical material scattered through the Talmud and Midrash, in adducing parallels from rabbinical literature and sometimes from the Arabic, Saadia has contributed largely to an understanding of the hapax legomena. Saadia's method of treating these may best be seen from a few examples—No. 1: (2 Chronicles 2:15), according to the Mishnah word ("it is necessary"; "he must"); No. 15: : (Job 6:6), according to ('Ab. Zarah 40a, "If the yolk [of the egg] is outside"); No. 18: (Habakkuk 2:11), from (B. B. 2a, "[Where it is customary to build] with hewn stone, with half bricks, with whole bricks," etc.); No. 75: (Lamentations 1:14), from (read ; B. Ḳ. 22a, "The dog [injured itself] in jumping").

Saadia's work is cited by such early writers as Dunash ben Labraṭ, Jepheth ben 'Ali, Jonah ibn Janaḥ, Jacob ben Reuben, etc., and was used by the Jewish lexicographers of the Middle Ages, sometimes with, and sometimes without, mention of the source (see Jellinek in "Orient, Lit." 7:139).

Special investigations and monographs on hapax legomena are not found in the literature of the Middle Ages; but they have been included in the general field of lexicography, where they occupy no independent position (see LEXICOGRAPHY).

  • Dukes, in Ewald and Dukes, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Aeltesten Auslegung und Spracherklärung des Alten Testamentes, 2:39 et seq.;
  • Steinschneider, Die Arabische Litteratur der Juden, p. 60;
  • Bacher, in Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, 2:141.
M. Sc.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Hapax Legomena'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry