Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
Scholars identify two separate roots of the form כבר (kbr), one of which occurs in many cognate languages while the other appears to be a strictly Hebrew invention. Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that there aren't two roots but one, and the second one is a mere unexpected use of the core idea of the first one.
Also note that to an untrained eye the verb כבד (kabed) may seem the same as our form כבר (kbr). The former literally means to be heavy but is also used in the sense of to be glorious or honorable.
The verb כבר (kabar I) occurs all over the Semitic spectrum with similar meanings that express an awe-inspiring muchness; greatness of abundance, greatness of size or greatness of degree. This verb occurs a mere few times in the Hebrew Bible, possibly also because in Hebrew being much or many is commonly expressed with the verbs רבה and רבב (rabah and rabab). A direct parallel can be found in Job 31:25, where Job refutes having gloated because his wealth was great (רב) and much (כביר) was found in his hand.
Elihu uses our verb in his rebuttal of Job, as he notes that the latter "multiplies" words without knowledge (Job 35:16, which wholly rephrases 34:37 and perhaps reflects 8:2, which uses the adjective כביר, kabir, see below). In 36:31, Elihu notes that God gives food in "abundance" (the phrase is למכבר, which is rather a substantive than a verbal expression).
The derivatives of this verb are used more frequently:
- The adjective כביר (kabbir), meaning great, mighty or much, which occurs only in Job and Isaiah. In Job 8:2, Bildad speaks of words that are a mighty wind (רוח, ruah) or perhaps what we would call a "passionate" spirit. In 15:10, Eliphaz compares indigenous wisdom traditions and appears to say that someone called "son" in his culture is as great-of-days (כביר ימים, kabbir yamim) and as grey-haired as a "father" in Job's culture. In 34:17, Elihu speaks of an unspecified righteous mighty-one (צדיק כביר, saddiq kabbir), and in 34:24 he declares that God shatters and replaces the great (כבירים). In 36:5 Elihu states, "Lo! God is great (אל כביר, el kabbir)...," which pronounced with an Arabic twang forms the familiar Islamic phrase Allahu akbar (technically, the Arabic version uses the elative, that is the form that expresses the superlative and comparative of our adjective; Allahu akbar means both God is Greater and God is Greatest). The prophet Isaiah foretells that Moab's remnant will be small (מזער, miz'ar) and not great (לוא כביר, lu' kabbir — Isaiah 16:14).
- The adverb כברה (kibra), which is thought to denote either some general distance or else a specific unit of length. It's used only in the construct כברת ארץ (kibrot 'eres), which would literally mean something like "greatness of land". This phrase occurs in a mere two scenes in the Bible: Jacob and his family traveled from Bethel, when there was still כברת ארץ to go to Ephrath, and Rachel began to give birth to Benjamin (Genesis 35:16 and 48:7). And when Elisha assured Naaman that no evil would befall him when he helped his master in his service of Rimmon, Naaman went from Elisha כברת ארץ (2 Kings 5:19). The former use suggests a rather great distance but the latter coincides with the distance subsequently ran by Elisha's corrupt servant Gehazi, and can't have been much. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that both stories speak of more than meets the eye, and our phrase כברת ארץ denotes a kind of grid, like a road system, or else an unspecified process which demonstrates a transcendence across a certain threshold of greatness; see the root כבר (kabar II) below.
- The adverb כבר (kebar) meaning already. It's used nine times, all in Ecclesiastes, mostly to describe seemingly new things that in fact have already existed before (Ecclesiastes 1:10, 2:12-16, 3:15, 4:2, 6:10, 9:6-7). Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that this word too is akin to the next group of words, and reflects the presence of things in a collection of elements before a sieving process separates these things and demonstrates them to exist. This principle appears to be highly significant in the Bible and offers an alternative to the much-invoked evolutionary process that works on mutations and natural selection. For instance: long before the Word of God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word existed and was operative in the world.
The verb כבר (kabar II) is thought to be unrelated to the former (and, very creatively, assumed to mean to intertwine or to be netted), but the absence of this proposed second root in cognate languages renders little credence to those thoughts. Our assumed root isn't used as verb in the Bible, but, judging from the derivatives, clearly has to do with sieving or filtering. Since sieving and filtering constitutes the act of dividing a collection of elements into elements that are greater than a certain limit and elements that are not greater than that limit, here at Abarim Publications we see no reason to assume that the following derivations are not spawns of the verb כבר (kabar I), meaning to be great.
Note that the act of sieving is in fact the same thing as fishing for fish in water, and that satan wanted to sieve Peter, possibly to see whether he was "great" enough to live up to God's standards (Luke 22:31, see Amos 9:9). Since the look-alike verb כבד (kabed) denotes a degree of weightiness or honorability, lack thereof results in the kind of levity of which the hand on Darius' wall spoke: Mene mene tekel upharsin; weighed, weighed and found too light, and divided (Daniel 5:25-27).
Here at Abarim Publications, we figure the following words to be derivatives of כבר (kabar I) and not an identical second mystery root:
- The masculine noun כביר (kabir), which denotes an item of unknown qualities, possibly a quilt or net or something like that (see the noun מכבר, makber, below). This word occurs only in 1 Samuel 19:13 and 19:16, where Michal deludes Saul's officers by placing the household idol in David's bed, with at its head a כביר (kabir) made of she-goat (and thus probably goat's hair; the word for goat is עז, 'ez).
- The feminine noun כברה (kebara), denoting a sieve. This noun is used only in Amos 9:9, where grain is sifted.
- The masculine noun מכבר (makber), apparently denoting a kind of cloth, possibly related to the item called כביר (kabir). Our noun is used only once, in 2 Kings 8:15, where it describes the item Hazael used to smother king Ben-hadad of Aram.
- The masculine noun מכבר (mikbar), which appears to denote a grate or lattice-work that surrounded the greater altar of the tabernacle. It's mentioned only in Exodus and about half a dozen times (Exodus 27:4 and 38:4 to 39:39). Other words that are used to describe the design of this particular part of the altar are: נחש (nahash), in this case meaning bronze (this word may also mean snake or to divine), and רשת (reshet), meaning net, from the root ירש (yarash), meaning to take possession of or seize. These descriptions obviously go far beyond their practical applications (the whole tabernacle and temple complexes appear to be vastly complex analyses of and excursions into the human mind) but practically the מכבר (mikbar) probably was a grid that would catch accidentally dropped parts of the sacrifice.