Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
באר בור ברר ברא ברה
The small cluster of roots באר (b'r) and בור (bwr) and ברר (brr) are obviously related in form and meaning. For some curious reason, the root-verbs deal with either clearly declaring statements or else purifying items, while the derived nouns all have to do with water wells and pits and such. Scholars also identify two or three different root-verbs of the form ברא (br'), which seem to have nothing or very little to do with each other. And then there are two different roots of the adjacent form ברה (brh), which also don't seem to be related in meaning. But, curiously, each root ברא (br') seems to be somewhat reflected in one of the roots ברה (brh), and both couples can be loosely linked to the באר (b'r)cluster:
It appears that the most basic idea that lies beneath all these verbal actions is a cutting, breaking or breaching, whether graving letters in stone, wells in the earth's surface, metals from ore, grain from stalks, the whole of creation in the expanse of nothingness, or a covenant between parties:
The root-verb באר (ba'ar) "describes writing on tablets of stone made clear and distinct" (in the words of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). As verb this root occurs three times in the Bible: Deuteronomy 1:5, Deuteronomy 27:8 and Habakkuk 2:2. Much more frequently occurring are this root's derivations:
- The feminine noun באר (be'er), meaning well (Genesis 21:25, Numbers 21:18) or pit (of bitumen: Genesis 14:10; of the grave Psalm 55:23). This word also occurs frequently as part of names.
HAW states that the derivation is uncertain, but the many obvious relations between springs of water and springs of revelation may provide hints of clarity.
- The masculine noun באר (bo'r), meaning cistern, well or pit (2 Samuel 23:15, Jeremiah 2:13).
- The masculine noun בור (bor), a much more common variant of the previous; also meaning cistern, well or pit (Deuteronomy 6:11, Jeremiah 6:7, Proverbs 28:17). Note that this word occurs also as synonym for Sheol (Isaiah 38:18).
The verb בור (bur) is "possibly a by-form of באר (ba'ar)" according to HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. It occurs only in Ecclesiastes 9:1, and over the centuries several proper translations have been proposed. The Septuagint reads "my heart saw," while the King James has "my heart declares". The authors of the Vulgate (followed by the ASV and RSV translations), however, figured this verb to be a text error and went with the verb תור (tur), meaning to explore or check out. The NAS is back at the Greek interpretation and reads "I explain"
Scholars relate the root-verb ברר (barar) to several verbs in cognate Semitic languages, all with meanings like to be shining, pious, kind, true, or even more basic: to be free or clear. In Biblical Hebrew the verb ברר (barar) primarily denotes a purifying (Ezekiel 20:38), cleaning or polishing (Isaiah 49:2). Secondarily it denotes the process with which this purification is achieved, or else the result: choice or select men (1 Chronicles 7:40), tested and tried men (Ecclesiastes 3:18), pure men (2 Samuel 22:27).
The derivations of this verb are:
- The adjective בר (bar) meaning pure or clean (Job 11:4, Psalm 24:4).
- The identical masculine noun בר (bar) denoting a kernel of grain or corn (Genesis 41:35, Psalm 65:13). None of the sources remarks on this but we may assume that a kernel of cereal was named after the verb to clean due to the process through which it was produced (by cleaning them from a pile of cuttings). Note that this noun and the adjective are identical to the Aramaic word בר (bar), meaning son, which is used sporadically in the Hebrew Bible.
- The masculine noun בר (bor), denoting a kind of material that was used in the metal purification process (Isaiah 1:25 only).
- The identical masculine noun בר (bor), meaning cleanness or pureness (2 Samuel 22:21, Job 9:30).
- The feminine noun ברית (borit), denoting a kind of soap (Jeremiah 2:22 and Malachi 3:2 only). Note that this word is spelled identically to the word meaning covenant.
- The masculine noun בר (bar), meaning field (Job 39:4). This word is probably an Aramaic word akin to the similar Hebrew word בר (bar), meaning grain or corn.
- The masculine plural noun ברברים (barburim), denoting a kind of choice bird known literally as "cleany-cleanies" (1 Kings 4:23 only).
The root-verb ברא (bara' I) is probably one of the most curious and hard to understand verbs in the Hebrew Bible as it denotes the creative activity of God (Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 42:5, Jeremiah 31:22). In contrast to verbs like יצר (yasar), meaning to fashion or form (something out of something else), or עשה ('asa), which means to make (again something from existing elements), the verb ברא (bara') denotes creation ex nihilo. Such creation is very difficult to imagine but perhaps a well or a spring that produces water from nowhere was an apt metaphor to any Hebrew audience. The verb ברא (bara') may not be etymologically related to the verb באר (ba'ar), - meaning to declare or write, with derivations that have to do with wells and springs — but on a poetic pallet, these verbs certainly represent closely kindred colors.
The action of our verb ברא (bara'), therefore, has far less to do with either יצר (yasar) or עשה ('asa) and probably a lot more with the verb דבר (dabar), meaning to speak or pronounce. We know that God creating and God speaking occur in tandem. After all, in the beginning was the Word, and all things came into being by Him (John 1:1-3), and Moses taught us that man does not live from bread alone, but from every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4).
All this would be wonderfully complete, if it weren't for the identical root ברא (bara' II), and far worse: four occurrences of our verb that have nothing to do with God creating anything, but with guys chopping down trees (Joshua 17:15 and v18) or other guys (Ezekiel 21:19 and 23:47).
Some scholars propose that the verb that describes God creating was not based on things popping out of nowhere, but rather on the familiar observation of someone making something out of something else — an activity closely akin to cutting and chopping. Other scholars propose that the form ברא (br') doesn't just cover two separate roots, but three: one for creating ex nihilo, one for chopping trees and other guys, and one for getting fat (see below).
This verb comes with one obvious derivation: the feminine noun בריאה (beri'a), denoting a creation, or perhaps "an entirely new thing". It's used only once, in Numbers 16:30, where Moses proposes that the Lord come up with an "entirely new thing" to deal with the insurrectional Korah and his comrogues.
According to BDB Theological Dictionary, the root-verb ברא (bara' II) is related to an Arabic verb that means "to be free of a thing, sound, healthy," which makes it not that far removed from the verb ברר (barar). In the Bible our verb means to be fat, and that probably with a secondary meaning of being well-fed and healthy. The action of growing fat is possibly not all that far removed from the action of creating something ex nihilo, and root ברא (bara' II) is much easier to connect to ברא (bara' I) than the four troublesome instances that mean to chop.
Our verb comes with one derivative, the adjective בריא (bari'), meaning fat (Judges 3:17) and consequently healthy (Daniel 1:15) and prosperous (Psalm 73:4).
Note that the verb כבד (kabed) denotes a becoming heavy and is often used in the sense of becoming honored or honorable.
The root-verb ברה (bara I) means to eat, which appears to place it in close vicinity to the verb ברא (bara'), meaning to grow fat. Our verb appears only a few times in Scriptures (2 Samuel 12:17, Lamentations 4:10), and yields two derivatives:
- The feminine noun בריה (birya), meaning food (2 Samuel 13:5, Ezekiel 34:20).
- The feminine noun ברות (barut), also meaning food (Psalm 69:22 only).
The assumed root ברה (brh II) isn't used as verb in the Bible, so we don't know what it might have meant, or even where it came from. But its important derivation, the feminine noun ברית (berit), meaning covenant, is used all over the Bible. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reports that some scholars believe this word came from an Akkadian verb of similar meaning, or even from an Akkadian noun that means fetter. Others link the Hebrew root ברה (brh II) to ברה (bara I) on account of the ritual that commonly accompanied the covenant making: parties would cut animals in half, line the halves up and parade through them. Although it's nowhere reported in the Bible, it may be that the sacrificial animals were subsequently roasted and consumed as part of the ensuing celebrations.
But whatever the origin of this root, to a Hebrew audience it would probably have been more important which other Hebrew words this noun brought to mind: surely the verb ברה (bara I), meaning to eat, which didn't only keep a person alive but also brought about ברא (bara'): growing fat. Or the verb באר (ba'ar), which described the cutting of a text in stone. Or the verb ברא (bara' II), which denoted the making of something out of nothing.
The rich word ברית (berit), meaning covenant, is used in the following ways (following the outline of BDB Theological Dictionary):
- Between men:
- A treaty or alliance: Abraham and the Amorites (Genesis 14:13), Edom and its allies (Obadiah 1:7), Solomon and Hiram (1 Kings 5:26), many others.
- A constitution or ordinance between a monarch and his subjects: David and Abner (2 Samuel 3:12), Zedekiah and the people (Jeremiah 34:8), the evil prince and the latter day people (Daniel 9:27).
- An alliance of friendship: David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3).
- An alliance of marriage (Proverbs 2:17, Malachi 2:14, Jeremiah 34:10).
- Between God and men:
- An alliance of instruction and revelation with any individual who fears the Lord (Psalm 25:14).
- A covenant as divine constitution with key players in the evolution of salvation:
- With Noah (Genesis 9:9).
- With Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 15:18).
- With Israel at Sinai (Exodus 19:5).
- With Phinehas (Numbers 25:12).
- With Joshua and Israel (Joshua 24:25).
- With David (Psalm 89:3).
- With Jehoiada and the people (2 Kings 11:17).
- With Hezekiah and the people (2 Chronicles 29:10).
- With Josiah and the people (2 Kings 23:8).
- With Ezra and the people (Ezra 10:3).
- The prophetic covenant; a divine promise through a series of prophets to establish a new constitution (Jeremiah 31:31).