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

היה  הוה  הוא

The Hebrew language knows one root of the form היה (haya) and two of the form הוה (hawa) — or so says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; the older BDB Theological Dictionary does not differentiate between the two roots הוה (hwh). One of these roots הוה (hawa — or one strand of the one root הוה (hawa) — is in fact the verb היה (haya) in an older spelling, and the other הוה (hawa) is an unusual variant of the root-verb הוא (hawa'):


היה

The marvelous and most fundamental verb היה (haya) is the Bible's common verb to be, but it should be noted that "very seldom in the Old Testament is haya used to denote either simple existence or the identification of a thing or person" — in the words of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, which proceeds to suggest that the reader should have a look at a King James version of the Bible and notice how often the English expressions of the verb to be are printed in italics, indicating that the Hebrew text doesn't have those there.

Our verb היה (haya) means 'to be doing something that defines the doer' or in case of some unfolding event: to happen.

The Hebrew language is fundamentally dynamic, and as good as every occurrence of the verb היה (haya) expresses some essential behavior that defines the character which the text discusses. If there is nothing essential going on, the Hebrew language simply omits its verb to be. And if simple presence needs to be expressed, Hebrew uses the particle of existence יש yesh, meaning 'there is' something but whether that something is doing something isn't told. (See this complicated principle explained more graphically in our article To Be Is To Do.)


הוה I

In Hebrew, the verb הוה (hawa I) is an older version of the verb היה (haya). In Biblical Aramaic, which is closely related to Biblical Hebrew, the form הוה (hawa) remained. In the Hebrew parts of the Bible, the verb היה (haya) occurs more than three and a half thousand times, and the verb הוה (hawa) a mere half a dozen times (Genesis 27:29, Ecclesiastes 2:22 and 11:3, Isaiah 16:4, and Nehemiah 6:6). Many scholars believe that the name of the Lord, YHWH, was derived from this verb, although pretty much every theory on how that might have happened can be challenged.

הוה II

The root-verb הוה (hawa II) means to fall, or so we surmise. It doesn't seem to be used anywhere in the Bible (save for a curious variant הוא (hawa'), which may or may not be the same as our verb הוה (hawa) — see below). BDB Theological Dictionary actually doesn't recognize two separate roots הוה (hawa) and argues that the single Hebrew הוה (hawa) works similar like our verb to (be)fall. But whatever the etymology, these two roots are indistinguishable to anyone using them; even more so because הוה (hawa I) doesn't yield any derived nouns but occurs as verb all over the Old Testament, whereas הוה (hawa II) does not occur once as verb but spawns two or three separate nouns:

Our verb הוה (hawa II) comes with the following derivations, which (in the words of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) "speak metaphorically of a fall of fortune". :

  • The feminine noun הוה (hawwa), meaning either a bad kind of desire or lust (Micah 7:3, Proverbs 10:3), or ruin or destruction (Job 6:2, Psalm 5:9).
  • The feminine noun היה (hayya), meaning destruction of calamity. This noun occurs only once, in Job 6:2. BDB Theological Dictionary feels that this word may be a misspelling of the following noun:
  • The feminine noun הוה (howa), meaning ruin or disaster. This noun occurs twice, in Ezekiel 7:26 and Isaiah 47:11.

הוא

The verb הוא (hawa') occurs only once in the Bible, in Job 37:6, where Elohim commands the snow to fall on the earth. Scholars generally agree that this verb is an unusual form of the verb הוה (hawa II); BDB Theological Dictionary calls it "an Arabizing usage," but HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament refutes that and figures that the author of Job altered הוה (hawa II) into הוא (hawa') to distinguish it from הוה (hawa I). But that's a rather odd supposition because in Hebrew we have quite a few homomorphs which don't get altered for the sake of clarity. And disguising a word that normally looks like another one, so that it doesn't look like the other one, also exits the small bubble of meaning in which it's customarily found. Bad idea. The verbs הוה (hawa I and II) may very well be one and the same, and it may very well be that in Job 37, God commands the snow to be on the earth, in its typical existential behavior of falling out of the sky.

Note that without the Masoretic vowel symbols, the verb הוא (hawa') is identical to הוא (hu), the third person singular, independent nominative pronoun; he, she or it.


Associated Biblical names

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