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

בית

The word בית (bayit), roughly meaning house, is very common in the Bible. In regular text it's pronounced as a disyllabic word (bayit) while in names it's a monosyllabic word (beth). This may be the case because names, specifically of locations, tend to be a lot older than the Biblical texts we have. The narrative language evolved while the names stayed the same. The exact opposite, however, occurs in the name David, which is pronounced dawid but is said to come from the word dud, meaning beloved. All this has to do with the invention of the vowel notation for which the Hebrews are famed.

Beth is also the name of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter is used as regular part of words, but is also used as an inseparable preposition, meaning in, at or by or even from. As such it is the first letter of the Bible: בראשית (bresheet), meaning in the beginning.

The fundamental meaning of the word בית (bayit) appears to be a kind of enclosure, specifically for keeping, safekeeping or containing, and is contrasted by a wide array of specialized words meaning any kind of specific habitat, ranging from tent to palace. In that sense, the word בית (bayit) does not denote a specific kind of building, but rather the function of container. As such it is aptly used to describe a ship's hull (Genesis 6:14). In Genesis 6:14, Exodus 25:11, Exodus 37:2 and 1 Kings 7:9 occurs the term מבית ומחוץ, which means 'on the outer housing'.

In Exodus 28:26 and 39:19 our word appears to denote the ephod's harness. In these instances, our word is followed by the letter ה (he), and this prefix often refers to a movement towards. But this same prefix may also turn a masculine word into a feminine one. The rule isn't wholly waterproof, but masculinity tends to describe individuality and femininity sociality. A feminine version of בית namely ביתה would in theory describe some kind of collective, perhaps many little elements like knobs or rings.

A similar situation occurs in 1 Kings 7:25 where the hind parts of the twelve bulls either point toward the temple (probably not, because their front ends were pointed toward the cardinal directions in groups of three), or these twelve bovine buts together formed a housing or harness, or in this case a standard, for the bronze laver. In Exodus 26:33 our word בית denotes the outer casing of the tabernacle. Likewise in 2 Kings 6:30 this word seems to denote the protective outer attire beneath which the mourning king wore sackcloth.

Our word covers regular houses (Exodus 12:7), the temple of God (1 Kings 5:3), or rooms within other buildings, such as prisons (Genesis 39:20, Jeremiah 37:15), treasuries (Isaiah 39:2), or drinking halls (Esther 2:3), even a spider's web (Job 8:14). The word בית (bayit) can even be applied to holders of any kind: of a tomb (Nehemiah 2:3), of carrier poles (Exodus 25:27), or even perfume (Isaiah 3:20) or an encasing of fire (Ezekiel 1:27), or by a porch (Ezekiel 40:9).

One very important usage of the word בית (bayit) is to describe the entire membership and economy of one's household. Hence the Bible speaks of the house of Jacob (Genesis 35:2, 46:27), the house of David (2 Samuel 7:11) and the house of Israel (Exodus 16:31). That the word בית (bayit) emphasizes collectivity much more than a physical building or even biological descent becomes evident when Abraham (then the biological father of only Ishmael) is told to circumcise all males in his household, regardless of whether they were born there or bought (Genesis 17:12-13, 18:19). Members of a household are usually referred to as benim, meaning 'sons.' Read our article on the name Ben for a closer look at that marvelous word.

Most translations of Proverbs 8:2 appear to take the word בית to come from בין (ben), meaning between, but the reference to high places suggests that 'wisdom' stands both on the tops of high places, as well as on all roads toward the temple. The alternative and apparently most popular reading suggests that wisdom stands there where paths meet at the peaks of high places. That wouldn't have been many.


Associated Biblical names

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