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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Hebrew word: עלה
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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

עלה  עלל  עול

Biblical Hebrew counts one root עלה ('lh), two or three roots עלל ('ll) and two or three roots עול ('wl). It's not clear how many of each root there are because the meanings of these roots overlap to more or lesser degree:


עלה

The root-verb עלה ('ala), meaning to go up or ascend, occurs about 900 times in the Bible and its bouquet of derivatives many hundreds of times more.

BDB Theological Dictionary lists four densely typed columns of nuances, but the compass of this verb is pretty straight forward. But besides denoting a movement towards a higher place (Genesis 45:25), this verb also captures journeying towards some specific destination (Joshua 10:4), or even activity (such as war; Numbers 13:31).

Dew rises (when it disappears: Exodus 16:14), smoke rises (Genesis 19:28) and vegetation grows (Isaiah 34:13). Thoughts emerge (Isaiah 65:17), boundaries extend (Joshua 15:3), and worthy folks get exalted (Proverbs 31:29).

This verb's impressive array of derivations:

  • The masculine noun עלה ('aleh), meaning leafage (Genesis 3:7, Isaiah 1:30).
  • The masculine noun עלי ('eli), meaning pestle (that's a club-shaped instrument for crushing or pounding substances). BDB Theological Dictionary explains the derivation as 'rising before the blow.' This word occurs in Proverbs 27:20 only, and perhaps as the name Eli.
  • The feminine noun עלה ('ola), denoting a whole burnt offering ('that which goes up', says BDB). This noun occurs 286 times throughout the Old Testament.
  • The identical feminine noun עלה ('ola), meaning ascent or stairway (Ezekiel 40:26 only).
  • The adjective עלי ('illi), meaning upper (Judges 1:15 and Joshua 15:19 only).
  • The feminine noun עליה ('aliya), meaning roof chamber (2 Kings 4:10) or 'sky-chamber' (Psalm 104:3).
  • The adjective עליון ('elyon), meaning high (Deuteronomy 26:19), or upper (Joshua 16:5).
  • The masculine noun עליון ('elyon). This noun is identical to the preceding adjective and literally means high. But it's used in the sense of highest. It forms a title (or some even say personal Name) of God: the Most High. BDB states that this noun in Psalm 82:6 doesn't mean God, but others refute that.
  • The masculine noun מעל (mo'al), meaning lifting. This word occurs only once, in Nehemiah 8:6, where it is usually translated into an expression of the English verb to lift.
  • The masculine noun מעלה (ma'ala), meaning ascent, the going up of a hill or towards an elevation of some sort (1 Samuel 9:11, Ezekiel 40:31). There are a few ascents named in the Bible: the ascent of Akrabbim (Judges 1:36); the ascent of Adummim (Joshua 15:7).
  • The preposition מעל (ma'al), meaning upward, on top of, or above (Genesis 22:9, Amos 2:9).
  • The feminine noun מעלה (ma'ala), meaning that what comes up, i.e. thoughts (Ezekiel 11:5; perhaps suggesting that Ezekiel was already thinking about a lower and higher mind, two and a half millennia before Freud).
  • The identical feminine noun מעלה (ma'ala), meaning step or stair (Ezekiel 40:6, Ezra 7:9).
  • The feminine noun תעלה (te'ala), meaning water-course (Ezekiel 31:4, Isaiah 36:2).
  • The identical feminine noun תעלה (te'ala), meaning healing (BDB: 'of new flesh and skin forming over wound; Jeremiah 30:13 and 40:11 only).
  • The ubiquitous particle על ('al) denoting any kind of elevation or motion towards someone or something. BDB lists over eleven columns of nuances of this word's meanings, which range from upwards, upon and above to hence, on account of and towards. This particle is probably related to the prefix ל (le), which means pretty much the same thing.

עלל I

The verb עלל ('alal I) means to act severely towards someone. Perhaps an association with the previous verb is justifiable as it takes a position of superiority to exercise this verb. Or as HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states, "This word speaks of relationships. It is used to indicate the exercise of power over another person, generally in a bad sense, hence meaning 'to maltreat'". And judging from the derivatives, this verb contains a repetitive factor.

Our verb occurs thirteen times in the Bible (Exodus 10:2, Judges 19:25, Lamentations 1:22). Its derivatives are:

  • The feminine plural noun עוללות ('olelot), meaning a gleaning; a going over something a second time (Isaiah 17:6, Jeremiah 49:9).
  • The denominative verb עלל ('alal), meaning to glean (Leviticus 19:10, Judges 20:45).
  • The feminine noun עלילה ('alila), meaning wantonness (Deuteronomy 22:14) or deed (1 Samuel 2:3, Zephaniah 3:11).
  • The feminine noun עליליה ('alilya), also meaning deed (Jeremiah 32:19 only).
  • The masculine noun מעלל (ma'alal), meaning deed or practice (1 Samuel 25:3, Hosea 5:5, Proverbs 20:11).
  • The masculine plural noun תעלולים (ta'alulim), meaning wantonness (Isaiah 3:4 and Isaiah 66:4 only).
עלל II

The root עלל ('alal II) has to do with children, and may be related to the previous root in that children are mischievous, or perhaps it is related to the root(s) עול ('ul), see below. Note that BDB Theological Dictionary lists this root as עלל ('alal II), but HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament skips it all together (and has presumably assimilated it in any of the other roots). This root's derivatives are:

  • The masculine noun עולל ('olel), meaning child (Job 3:10, Isaiah 1:5, Jeremiah 6:11).
  • The denominative verb עלל ('alal), meaning to act like a child (Isaiah 3:12). Note that this verb is spelled and pronounced the same way as the next and previous verbs:
עלל III

The root-verb עלל ('alal III) means to insert or thrust in. It's used only once in the Bible, in Job 16:15, where Job declares that he has thrust his horn in the dust. This root comes with two derivatives:

  • The masculine noun על ('ol), meaning yoke. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament declares that this noun and its parent verb have to do with each other "from insertion of the neck into the yoke". Here at Abarim Publications we are not so convinced. Yokes are generally placed on top of an animal's neck, and it's designed to have two animals walk side by side. Our noun is sparsely used literally (Numbers 19:2, 1 Samuel 6:7) and mostly figuratively, denoting the overbearing power of kings (1 Kings 12:4, Isaiah 14:25), bondage (Leviticus 26:13), sin (Lamentations 1:14) or even the Lord (Jeremiah 2:20, Matthew 11:29). Perhaps technically this noun is related to a verb that means to thrust in or insert, but this metaphor seems largely due to the similarity between our noun על ('ol) and the particle על ('al), meaning up or upon.
  • The masculine noun עליל ('alil), meaning furnace or crucible. This noun occurs only in Psalm 12:6. It may be that a furnace was known as a device into which things were inserted, but some scholars place this noun under the root עלל ('alal).

עול I

The root עול ('ul I) means to give suck; to feed an infant (1 Samuel 6:7, Isaiah 40:11). This verb corresponds to an Arabic verb meaning the same. In the Bible this verb is used only to describe the nursing of animals, but judging from its derivative, it could be applied to human babies as well:

The sole derivative of this root (if we follow the outline of BDB Theological Dictionary) is the masculine noun עול ('ul), literally meaning a suckling; a very young child (Isaiah 49:15 and Isaiah 65:20 only).

עול II

BDB insists on a second root, corresponding to an Arabic verb meaning to feed or nourish, which would be in Hebrew עול ('wl II), but which isn't used in the narrative of the Bible. Its sole derivative is עויל ('awil), meaning young boy (Job 19:18 and Job 21:11 only).

עול III

The root-verb עול ('ul III) again corresponds to an Arabic cognate, which means to deviate, and so does our Hebrew root: to deviate from or act unjustly. It's no long shot to conclude that in the Hebrew mind, acting wrongfully had to do with mental immaturity. Children do whatever they like, until a teacher corrects them. Adults who were never corrected will maintain this childish behavior, and act unjustly. The derivatives of this root are:

  • The masculine noun עול ('awel), meaning injustice, unrighteousness (Leviticus 19:15, Job 34:32, Psalm 82:2).
  • The denominative verb עול ('ul), meaning to act wrongfully (Isaiah 26:10 and Psalm 71:4 only).
  • The feminine noun עולה ('awla), also meaning injustice, unrighteousness (2 Samuel 3:34, Job 6:29, Isaiah 61:8).
  • The masculine noun עויל ('awil), meaning unjust one. This noun occurs only in Job 16:11, but note that it is identical to the noun עויל ('awil), meaning young boy.
  • The masculine noun עול ('awwal), meaning unjust or unrighteous one (Job 18:18, Zephaniah 3:5).
  • The curious word עלוה ('alwa), which occurs only in Hosea 10:9 (and is equal to the name Alvah). Scholars generally assume that this form is either due to a scribal error (although in this particular case, that's hard to believe), or else it's a deliberate variation of עולה ('wl) in which the central two letters are transposed.

Associated Biblical names

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