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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Hebrew word: חרם

Source: http://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/ht/ht-r-mfin.html

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

חרם

There are two roots of the form חרם (hrm), or so the experts say. Here at Abarim Publications we see no reason to divide the form חרם (hrm) into two roots.


חרם I

The root-verb חרם (haram I) reflects a difficult theological concept and additionally demonstrates how different the classic Hebrew world view was from ours. Our verb basically designates something or someone to the afterlife, whichever way that can go. More technically: our verb appears to describe a transition between two stages. On the initial stage exists one continuum. On the second stage exist two continuums, formed from the initial one. One of the two new continuums is destined to evolve on, while the other becomes discarded or disregarded. This transition is most clearly manifested in the first two creation days, where the singular watery continuum of day one becomes the two watery continuums of day two, separated by the firmament (Genesis 1:1-8). The waters above the firmament are heard from no more, while the waters below the firmament produce dry land and all life on it.

Another example of this transition occurs when the united kingdom of Israel splits into the northern and the southern parts. The northern part goes to Assyria, assimilates and is heard from no more, while the southern part goes to Babylon, returns, forms Judea and eventually produces Christ and the church. Living human beings are part of a single earthly human continuum, but at death this continuum divides into a group of lost souls and a group of souls which will continue living and growing forever.

Quite similarly, whatever a person eats is divided in useful elements which stay in the body and build it up, while the useless elements are expelled and discarded. Note that the verb לחם (laham, as in the name Bethlehem) may either mean to eat (bread) or to do battle. That is no accident. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and called Himself the Bread of Life (John 6:48-51), but also declared that He would not bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36). Then realize that the name Golgotha comes from a Semitic word that means skull, namely גלגלת (gulgoleth), which is closely related to the noun גלל (galal), meaning dung. Again, no accident.

Our verb חרם (haram) describes this entire inter-societary digestive process and can result in either utter destruction or else inviolable perpetuation. It describes assigning an object or a person to the second stage, with the result that this object or person plays no longer a part in the natural economy, but is either in God's eternal care and for His sole purpose, or else a permanent citizen of the garbage heap. To illustrate this concept: the familiar Arabic word "harem," which comes from the Arabic cognate of our verb חרם (haram), describes a group of women who are no longer part of every day life, but are kept separate in the care of the king and for his purpose. It may seem a touch irreverent, but strictly in this verbal sense, it's not undefendable to state that the Church is God's harem (or rather, that a harem is a king's temple). In its treatment of the name Hermon, BDB Theological Dictionary notes that a closely related Sabean noun means temple, and in Arabic exists a noun that's closely related to the word for harem, which describes the inside of a mosque.

Dedications to destruction are unfortunately much more numerous in the Bible than dedications to God and God's will. Of the latter category only a few clear instances are recorded. The Law of חרם (haram) is expounded in Leviticus 27:28-29, which states that whatever is thus labeled can not be redeemed (bought back or ransomed out). Even a human being who has been designated as such can not be un-designated as such. There is even a death penalty connected to this, although it's not clear whether the person designated must be put to death or the one who attempts to redeem him. In the narrative of the Bible there are no instances of human beings so designated who aren't subsequently executed, but there are quite a few people who have names that are derived from this verb. This indicates that our verb was once certainly also used in the salvatory sense.

That not everything that's so designated must automatically be destroyed is made clear in Numbers 18:14, where YHWH declares that everything so dedicated is assigned to Aaron and his sons (also see Leviticus 27:21 and Ezekiel 44:29). When Joshua sacked Jericho, the whole city and all it contained (apart from Rahab and her house) was designated חרם (haram), yet the gold, silver, bronze and iron objects went into the tabernacle's treasury (Joshua 6:19). The trouble-maker Achan famously purloined some of Jericho's designated items, and he and his family were stoned to death (Joshua 7:25).

But most of what was designated חרם (haram) was destroyed, from the indigenous Canaanites (Numbers 21:2-3), to the men, women and cattle of Jericho (Joshua 6:21), to cities of Israel if they would serve other gods (Deuteronomy 13:16), to the men and women of Jabesh-gilead (Judges 21:11).

Not only Israel was designating other nations as חרם (haram). The Assyrians did it to various lands (1 Kings 19:11), Moab and Ammon designated the people of Mount Seir, and when they were done with them, they had a go at each other (2 Chronicles 20:23), and the Willful King, spoken of by Daniel, would also go forth with great wrath to designate many (Daniel 11:44).

Our verb's only derivative is the masculine noun חרם (herem), meaning either an item that's been designated, or the designation itself. This noun usually occurs in the same scenes as the verb and has the same applications.

חרם II

The root-verb חרם (haram I) is thought to be cognate with an Arabic verb that means to be prohibited or become sacred, whereas the identical root-verb חרם (haram II) is thought to be cognate with a different Arabic verb that means to perforate or split. This second verb occurs only once, in Leviticus 21:18, where it describes a disqualifying quality of a wannabe priest. Translations usually interpret this quality to be a split or perforated lip or nose. But if we take this instance of חרם (haram) from the first root, and that first root to literally describe a kind of eating, this quality is not a perforated nose but a case of autolysis or necrosis.

This hypothesized second root comes with one derivation: the masculine noun חרם (herem), meaning net, either of a fisherman (Ezekiel 26:5, Habakkuk 1:15) or a hunter (Micah 7:2, Ecclesiastes 7:26). This derivation is explained by confusing a net with something perforated (both BDB Theological Dictionary and HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Where that idea comes from is unclear, but a net is obviously not something perforated. And items in Hebrew are never described after what they look like but always after what they do or what can be done with them (see our article on this). A net is something with which people sieve water and pick out what's useful. It clearly belongs to the first root, not to a hypothetical second.


Associated Biblical names