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Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts

 

''îysh - איש (Strong's #376)
Man

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איש ’îysh (Strong's #376), occurs 2180 times with nearly another 500 in the Qumran Dead Sea Scroll texts, many times more frequently than the next most common word for 'man', אדם 'âdhâm (Strong's #120, approx 550 times - see Word Study). אנוש ’enôwsh (Strong's #582, man in his weakness, just 42 uses) and גּבר gebher (Strong's #1397, man in his might emphasising his strength or warrior-like ability to fight, occurring 68 times - see Word Study).

איש ’îysh is predominantly man as male, husband, an individual (it only occurs 3 times in the plural: Psalm 141:4; Proverbs 8:4; Isaiah 53:3), and an adult. Its use is not explicitly human but simply male for Genesis 7:2 uses it of the male animals to be taken into the Ark. אדם 'âdhâm is the word used in contrast to the animals in Genesis 1-2 and comprised "male and female" (Genesis 1:27). The feminine form of אדם 'âdhâm is the word for the ground or earth, whereas the feminine form of איש ’îysh is the word אשה ’îshshâh 'woman' (Strong's #802, occuring 780+ times), literally 'female man', "taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23), although some are not convinced of this derivation and regard it as mere soundalike wordplay.

Its origin is not entirely certain and may be from אנוש ’enôwsh in turn from אנוש ’ânûwsh (Strong's #605) 'to be weak, frail' even 'wicked'. The Hebrew letter 'n' is weak and often drops out of words. But it seems unlikely that Adam would be called איש ’îysh and woman אשה ’îshshâh before the Fall if the word had the connotation of weakness or wickedness. In Psalm 1:1 the איש ’îysh 'man' is 'blessed' for not walking in wickedness. It is more likely that it comes from a verb איש ’-y-sh possibly meaning to 'exist' or like a similar Akkadian word 'to be strong'. Gesenius regarded as a primitive word, possibly without a verbal root. It seems to reappear in the Sanscrit isha/ishi 'master/mistress', Greek ις ’is, Latin vis/vir.

Whilst איש ’îysh could be used to describe a prophet as 'man-of God' (76 times, mainly in the book of Kings, 55x), nonetheless it stood for man in distinction to God. Balaam (Numbers 23:19) describes God as "not a man...that he should lie". This doesn't explicitly rule out God's maleness but could be pushed towards that end for man was created in the image of God, "male and female" (Genesis 1:27). Occasionally איש ’îysh could be used to describe God, but these are as metaphors for warrior or husband (Hosea 2:4,9,18).

Genesis 3:6 is the first time that איש ’îysh appears to mean husband rather than just man as in "her man-husband". As husband איש ’îysh is occasionally paralleled as a synonym with בּעל ba‘al 'lord, husband' (Strong's #1167, e.g., 2 Samuel 11:26). Perhaps because of the implied sexuality or virility איש ’îysh could be used specifically in contrast to words for older men suggesting a mature youthfulness (e.g., 1 Samuel 2:32-33). In this way it also stood generically for soldiers (e.g., Isaiah 21:9) or even of nobles as opposed to the common man אדם ’âdhâm 'of the earth', as in Psalm 49:3 where בּניאיש benêy ’îysh, literally 'sons-of-man/men', is translated as "high" to בּניאדם benêy ’âdhâm's 'low'.

Although איש ’îysh is used to express man's sexuality and distinction from woman, nonetheless the word is used in a more generic sense as in, "a man shall be put to death for his own sin" (Deuteronomy 24:16), which clearly doesn't mean that only men sin or are punished, for many versions translate as 'person'. Similarly whenever איש ’îysh is used in contrast to animals or children it means men and women.


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Saturday, December 5th, 2020
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KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. The "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at www.biblicalhebrew.com.

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