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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Hebrew word: ענן

Source: http://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/ay/ay-n-nfin.html

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

ענן  עון

Some scholars identify two separate roots of the form ענן ('nn), but others maintain that there aren't two but one. Then there is the root עון ('wn), which is related in form and possibly also in meaning. A Hebrew audience, especially one that wasn't all that well versed in matters of etymology, would probably quite readily have seen a clear connection between both roots ענן ('nn) and עון ('wn):


ענן I

The word ענן ('anan) means cloud when it's a noun, or cloudy when it's an adjective. It should be distinguished from the word עב ('ab), meaning cloud, as עב ('ab) usually denotes a single cloud, where ענן ('anan) usually denotes a mass or overcast screen of cloud.

The word ענן ('anan) is used as a verb once, in Genesis 9:14, where it means to bring clouds. A feminine noun עננה ('ananah) occurs once too, in Job 3:5, where it also means cloud.

BDB Theological Dictionary reports that this whole group of words is joined in a single root ענן ('anan I), which isn't used in the Bible, but which may have to do with an Arabic verb meaning to appear or present oneself, but specifically intervene as an obstacle. In Lamentations 3:44, the prophet Jeremiah laments that God has covered Himself with clouds and no prayer can pass through.

HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reports that of the eighty instances of ענן ('anan), three quarters refer to the cloud pillar by which God guides Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). Clouds also surround God when He and Moses meet (Exodus 34:5). The Day of the Lord is a day of clouds (Ezekiel 30:3). And when Jesus ascends, a cloud takes Him from view (Acts 1:9).

The prophet Nahum speaks of clouds of dust (1:3) and Ezekiel sees clouds of incense smoke (8:11). And that leaves only very few instances of the word ענן ('anan) to actually mean clouds made from water vapor, but in Job 38:9 God speaks of clouds that clothe the sea.

ענן II

The meaning of the identical verb ענן ('anan II) is unclear, even though it occurs eleven times (Leviticus 19:26, 2 Kings 21:6, Micah 5:11). It probably has to do with some kind of occult practice - like soothsaying or divining - and some have suggested a connection with ענן ('anan I), and that it literally means to becloud.

BDB Theological Dictionary claims that the theory of this connection is "now generally abandoned," but suggests no alternative. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament is a bit more careful and deems the connection "questionable". But both seem to think that a linguistic connection would make a soothsayer a cloud-watcher, and object because futures were learned from stars or hepatoscopy (= liver-watching; Ezekiel 21:21).

But their esteemed objections seem to disregard a possible connection on account of soothsayers being occupied with covered or obstructed things, and were known thereby. Our word occult(ist) means precisely that, as it comes from the Latin words ob, meaning to or towards, and celare, meaning to conceal. To a Hebrew audience, however, there was very little difference between a soothsaying liver-watcher and a proper prophet of God. Both did weird and mysterious things and came up with inexplicable information. The difference between the man of God and the man of the chicken liver was not in their ways and doings, but in their employer (which would be their imagination in the case of the latter and the Most High in case of the former) and obviously in the outcome of their predictions.


עון

The root עון ('wn) isn't used as verb in the Bible, but scholars identify several Arabic verbs which may be cognate to this Hebrew one. BDB Theological Dictionary suggests relations to an Arabic verb meaning to support or help, while HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sees connections to an Arabic verb that means to cover or conceal, which links it firmly to the previous root(s). Note that this hypothetical root is spelled the same as the noun עון ('awon), meaning iniquity or guilt. In the Hebrew of the Bible the following derivations occur:

  • The masculine noun מעון (ma'on), meaning refuge or habitation. This noun is used to describe the lair of jackals in desolated cities (Jeremiah 9:20), but mostly the habitation of YHWH, which is either the heavens (Deuteronomy 26:15, Zechariah 2:17) or the temple (Psalm 26:8, 2 Chronicles 36:15). This word is even used to describe YHWH Himself as a "place" of refuge or habitation to His people (Psalm 71:3, Psalm 90:1).
  • The feminine equivalent מענה (me'ona), which is mostly used to describe the den or lair of wild animals (Job 38:40, Amos 3:4), but at least once it's used to depict God as refuge to His people (Deuteronomy 33:27). Note that this word is spelled the same as מענה (ma'ana), meaning a field, from the verb ענה ('ana II), meaning to be busy or occupied, and מענה (ma'aneh), meaning an answer, from the verb ענה ('ana I) means to answer or respond.

Associated Biblical names