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

עשת

There are two separate roots of the form עשת ('ashat), or at least, that's what scholars demand. Here at Abarim Publications we're not so sure about that. In fact, it seems obvious that both roots reflect a kind of cohesion, solidness or continuity:


עשת I

The root verb עשת ('ashat I) is thought to mean to be smooth or shiny. As verb it occurs only once, in Jeremiah 5:28, where it describes a quality of certain "wicked ones," who have become great (גדל, gadel), grown rich (עשר, 'ashar), become fat (שמן, shamen) and, our word, עשת ('ashat). And note the obvious but difficult to explain reference to numbers in this statement: עשר ('eser) also means ten or tenth; שמן (shamen) also means eight or eighty and עשת ('ashat), as we shall see below, also means one.

Here at Abarim Publications we don't think that the wicked grew smooth or shiny (as BDB Theological Dictionary and HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament attest). It seems to us that they, or rather their group, became internally cohesive. They probably developed a fraternal social currency, with trade agreements and secret handshakes and all that.

This root comes with two derivatives:

  • The masculine noun עשת ('eshet), which our dictionaries translate with plate (BDB flaccidly suggests: "as smooth or shiny?"). It's used only once, in Song of Solomon 5:14, where the Bride reviews the מעה (me'eh) of her beloved. This wonderful word has to do with the lower torso and may either refer to the inner abdomen or womb in case of women. It may indeed describe both genders' sexual parts, and metaphorically the feelings and emotions of a person. Most translations will have the Bride talk of her man's shiny six pack (or even more general: his "body"), but when we realize that perfectly decent sexual considerations weren't deemed inappropriate until a few centuries ago, we'll readily receive the obvious, namely that she was swooning over his shlong. And what of it? It was an ivory עשת ('eshet), topped with sapphires.
  • The adjective עשות ('ashot), assumed to mean smooth (BDB adds the all-telling question mark, and declares the scholarly interpretations it lists as "all dubious"). Our adjective occurs only in Ezekiel 27:19, where it describes the quality of iron which merchants from Dan (or Vedan) and Javan obtain from Tyre. Ezekiel wrote during the early iron age, and producing iron that didn't contain a lot of slag was still a coveted skill. The hotter people could make their smelting ovens, the purer the iron became and the less brittle it was. The iron Ezekiel speaks of was not so much smooth, but rather pure: solid and consistent; without inner holes.
עשת II

The root verb עשת ('ashat II) is supposed to mean to think, but again with much reservations and question marks. Here at Abarim Publications we believe that this second root is really a continuation of the first. As verb it's used only once. In Jonah 1:6, Jonah's shipmates beg him to cry out to his God, so that He might עשת ('ashat) them. Translations usually suggest that Jonah's deity might "give a thought" to them, but no, they hoped that Jonah's God would keep them as a group internally consistent.

This verb comes with three derivatives:

  • The feminine noun עשתות ('ashtut), assumed to mean a thought. It's used only in the enigmatic statement of Job 12:5, where Job wryly observes that he is a laughing stock among his friends; "the upright one is a mockery, as a torch is despised for the עשתות ('ashtut) of the eased-ones, prepared for stumbling feet". Job doesn't simply speak of the "thoughts" of those who are at ease, but of their very state of being at ease. Because of that state, they despise a torch that stands by in case someone would come down with a bad case of flop-feet.
  • The feminine noun עשתון ('eshtona), also assumed to mean a thought. This noun occurs only in Psalm 146:4, where a man's breath fails him and he returns to the earth. "In that day his עשתון ('eshtona) perishes". It seems unlikely that the man's thoughts perish when he returns to the earth. His thoughts either keep going in the hereafter, or else they perished when he died, not when he's buried. It's not the men's thoughts that perish but his bodily consistency.
  • The noun עשתי ('ashte) is a special case. It never occurs alone but always attached to the word עשר ('eser) or עשרה ('asara), meaning ten. The whole compound עשתי־עשר ('ashte 'eser) means eleven, but it should be noted that the Hebrew number sense was quite different than ours. That's probably why they could have two different words for eleven, namely also אחד עשר ('ehad 'eser), made from the much more common word for one אחד ('ehad). But although our word עשתי ('ashte) doesn't occur alone, it's usage in the sense of one makes it a perfectly fitting member of the group of words that have to do with cohesion, solidness or continuity.

Associated Biblical names

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