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

מים

The masculine plural noun מים (mayim) means water, but is often translated with a curiously plural "waters". Nouns that are really plural forms are quite common in Hebrew, and although they are a curious phenomenon, plural nouns are not foreign to English. Take the word "people", for instance. People is a plural word (people are), yet there is no single form that it's a plural of.

The plural noun מים (mayim) occurs almost 600 times in the Bible, but the proposed singular that it's a plural of, namely מי (may) does not occur at all in the narrative. The form מי (mi) nevertheless does occur, but only in a so-called construct state of the word מים (mayim). A construct state is evoked to express an of-case: the waters of Merom (Joshua 11:5), is spelled מי מרום (mi merom); it's still the plural word מים (mayim) but the final ם (mem) is assimilated.

The Biblical relationship between water and dry land (ארץ, 'eres) is a bit tricky, but it's obvious that water was seen as a proto-form of dry land. Dry land may emerge from water but land may also dissolve in water. In that sense, water is the opposite of dry land, and figuratively of solid footing, of security and certainty, and shares therefore qualities with the mental states of being confused or desperate. One can sink away in water just like one can sink away in madness (Matthew 14:30). And a period of confusion and uncertainty can be followed by achieved certainty, just like dry land rises from the waters on the third creation day (Genesis 1:9).

Note that the two most common particles of inquisition are מה (ma) and מי (mi); the latter being identical to the theoretical singular root word of the plural מים (mayim). Another curious similarity is with the noun ים (yam), which means 'sea' and which is spelled as the reverse of the theoretical singular word for 'water'. It's not very difficult to find striking reversal forms in Hebrew, but transposition of letters appears to have been a major component of the Hebrew language; something that's sadly lost in translation and subsequently completely neglected as an exegetical tool.

The word מים (mayim) denotes water of pretty much any kind: a sea (Exodus 15:8, Amos 5:8), a spring or well (Genesis 16:7), a river (Exodus 2:10), a flood (Genesis 7:7), primordial "waters" (Genesis 1:2) and subterranean "waters" whatever those might be (Exodus 20:4; see for a proposal our article on Genesis 1), even water in clouds (Jeremiah 10:13, Job 26:8), or rain (Judges 5:4), and even dew (Judges 6:38).

Waters are often symbol of distress (Isaiah 43:2, Psalm 66:12), or whatever is violent or overwhelming (Isaiah 28:2). But waters may also be invigorating (Isaiah 32:2) and peace-giving (Psalm 23:2).

Three intimately connected "water-walks" are:

  • God's Spirit hovering over the early-earth's waters (Genesis 1:2)
  • Noah's deliverance of all non-aquatic animal and human life on earth (Genesis 6).
  • Jesus' famous walk on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:25).

Associated Biblical names

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