Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
There are two separate roots of the form נהר (nhr) in the Bible, one of which appears closely related to another root, of the form נור (nwr):
We don't know what this assumed root-verb נור (nwr) might have meant, although the renowned theologian Gesenius insisted that it was derived from the verb נהר (nahar II), meaning to light or shine (see below). Gesenius might be quite right because the derivatives of the unknown root נור (nwr) are:
- The masculine noun נר (ner), meaning lamp (Exodus 27:20, 1 Samuel 3:3).
- The masculine noun ניר (nir), also meaning lamp (1 Kings 11:36).
- The feminine noun מנורה (menorah) or מנרה (menorah), the familiar word for lampstand (Exodus 25:31, 2 Kings 4:10, Zechariah 4:2).
The root-verb נהר (nahar I) means to flow or stream. This verb occurs in several cognate languages, with the same meaning. Although our verb primarily describes the flowing of a river or stream, in the Bible it's connected only to people movements (Isaiah 2:2, Jeremiah 51:44). It occurs about half a dozen times, but its sole derivative occurs much more often:
The masculine noun נהר (nahar) means river or stream (Genesis 2:10, Numbers 24:6, Isaiah 48:18). This word is applied to rivers like the Euphrates and the rivers of Eden, but curiously, never to the Jordan, or the Nile. This last river is called יאר (ye'or), which is probably a loan-word, although it comes close to אור ('or), which is the Hebrew word for light. The same parallel exists between this root for to flow and the next, identical root:
The root-verb נהר (nahar II) means to light or shine (as a lamp), and it's obviously related to the verb נור (nwr; see above). It occurs only two times in the Bible, both in the sense of people being radiant with joy (Psalm 34:5 and Isaiah 60:5). Its derivatives are:
- The feminine noun נהרה (nahara), meaning light or daylight. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament adds that "our word signifies the first "rays" of the morning sun". It occurs only one time, in Job 3:4.
- The feminine noun מנהרה (minhara), which literally means "place of nahara". It's used only once, in Judges 6:2, and we're not sure what it may mean. Some scholars think that a מנהרה (minhara) is a cavern hollowed out by water, others think it has to do with an opening through which light may enter a cave. Here at Abarim Publications we imagine that our word may signify a natural cavern with its mouth to the east, which could have been used as a shrine to the sun.
Relativity and ancient Hebrew
Moderns may be tempted to presume that the two verbs נהר (nahar) accidentally evolved into the same form, but that the ancient Semites lucidly considered them wholly separate and indicative of two widely diverged concepts, but this presumption may not be correct. There is compelling evidence that the ancients associated light (and thus illumination and insight) with water:
- The verb נהר (nahar) means both to flow and to shine, which suggests that the ancients knew that light travels along trajectories, is substantial and subject to gravity.
- The words יורה (yoreh) and מורה (moreh) both mean rain, but the latter also means teacher. Closely related to these words is the familiar noun תורה (tora), or Torah. This leads to the understanding that light, like rain, consists of discrete packages (rain drops versus photons). It also suggests that light is mostly absorbed by objects and thus affects them, like rain that falls on dry land. And, judging from the relation between the concepts of land (ארץ, 'eres), sea (מים, mayim) and the heavens (שמים, shemayim), the ancients even appear to have been aware of special relativity (energy and matter are different phases of the same entity).
- The plural noun מים (mayim), denotes a large body of water, which tells that when viewed as a continuum, light appears as waves (to us known as the probability wave of Shrödinger). The hypothetical singular form of מים would be מי (may), which happens to be identical to the common particle of inquiry: מי (mi), meaning who?
- The noun עין ('ayin) means both fountain and eye.
- The Chaotic Set Theory shows that Genesis 1 is an excursion in complexity, not time, and allows to let the events of the second creation day (the primordial "waters" breached by means of a heavenly firmament) explain the matter-antimatter symmetry breach. Note that on the third day the waters don't subside to clear land but rather gather in one place. That's matter forming from energy (and this still on a complexity scale, not a temporal one; matter and anti-matter are still being formed today).
- Also according to the Chaotic Set Theory, the story of Noah's flood serves to mark the level of complexity at which the symmetry breaks between animal and human minds. The resulting covenant and token rainbow (Genesis 9:14) are alluded to in the event popularly but erroneously known as the Second Coming of Christ (erroneous because He never left; Matthew 28:20) at which the Light "returns" on the clouds (John 8:12, Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The ancients were well aware of the hydrologic cycle (Ecclesiastes 1:7 and 11:3, Isaiah 55:10) and it stands to reason that a very clever ancient could have deduced the first law of thermodynamics, which dictates that energy, like water, can move around and do its work but does not get more or less.
And since water obviously occurs as a liquid but also as a solid (ice and snow) and as a gas (steam), the ancients may very well have deduced that at levels of energy below and above that of visible light there are other kinds of light (such as radio waves below, and X-rays above the energy levels of visible light).
It's pretty clear that the ancients knew far more than tradition gives them credit for, or (less boldly) that the oldest human languages reflect the same kind of all-encompassing pattern-repeating qualities by which the universe works. Certain researchers have noted that certain very old buildings (such as the Egyptian pyramids) were built with a precision far exceeding the requirements of tombs and monuments (a precision that could only be achieved as an engineering marvel, but which could not even be verified with the tools we think the ancients had), and on a par with those of machines, and it may seem to some observers that the temple of Solomon also behaved as if it was designed to contain some kind of process (1 Kings 8:10-11).
Note the curious parallel that Isaiah draws between rain/snow and the Lord's creative commands (Isaiah 55:10-11). And if we weren't biased by the dictum that older is dumber, the pouring forth of water from split rocks would certainly have reminded us of nuclear fission (Isaiah 48:21).