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

רוח

There are two roots of the form רוח (rwh), one having to do with breath and the other one with being wide, and note that the same duality exists in the word נפש (nepesh), which denotes a living being.

Because a living being breathes in and out and the form רוח (rwh) also means to enlarge and is associated with air around us, it appears that רוח (rwh) is mostly associated with one's inhaling of universally available air, whereas the verb פוה (puah), meaning to blow, is mostly associated with exhaling one's personal breath.


רוח I

The root רוח (rwh I) is not or sporadically used as verb in the Bible (see Isaiah 27:8 for a possible substantive use of the verb), but its main derivative, the noun רוח (ruah) occurs 379 times.

The feminine and sometimes masculine noun רוח (ruah) in its most abstract definition reflects a global force that moves or motivates multiple recipients. It's the most common word for wind (Exodus 10:13, Proverbs 25:23, Jeremiah 49:36), but its usages go far beyond that.

In recent years, there has been a clear shift in perception among academics who study ancient, pre-Greek cultures. Time and time again we hear how ancient cultures were not, as was believed, primitive and barbaric but rather sophisticated and cultured, based on shockingly high levels of technology and understanding of the night sky. It's probably prudent to also no longer see the Hebrew authors as mere bronze age desert dwellers with a knack for poetry and the occasional stroke of brilliance but rather as keen observers of the world around them, endowed with an insight into the natural world that rivals or even surpasses ours. Wind, they must have noticed, is not some creature that moves from place to place, but rather a disturbance in the atmospheric continuum. The word רוח (ruah), therefore, does not primarily denote the air moving, it primarily denotes a collective movement by a general driving force.

Not surprisingly, our word most often describes a living being as recipient of whatever forces move the world in general. It covers animals (Genesis 7:15, Psalm 104:29) and humans (Genesis 41:8, Isaiah 42:5). It may reflect something as mundane as inhaling breath through the nose, which results in smelling the world (Genesis 27:27, Song of Solomon 7:8, Jeremiah 2:24), but it also describes a kind of cerebral inhaling via which ideas enter one's ruah (Ezekiel 11:5). Mostly it reflects either a people's collective experience of something (Joshua 2:11, Lamentations 4:20), or an individual's experience of what everybody else is also feeling (Job 17:1).

Derived from the same root are:

  • The masculine noun ריח (reah), meaning scent or fragrance (Genesis 27:27, Exodus 29:18).
  • The denominative verb ריח (riah), meaning to detect or produce a scent or fragrance (Job 39:25, Amos 5:21).
רוח II

The root-verb רוח (rawah II) conveys a being wide or spacious. It occurs a mere three times: once in the sense of a room being spacious (Jeremiah 22:14) and twice in the sense of relief (the opposite of being confined - 1 Samuel 16:23 and Job 32:20). This verb yields two derivatives:

  • The masculine noun רוח (rewah), meaning space or interval (Genesis 32:17) or respite, relief (Esther 4:14).
  • The feminine noun רוחה (rewaha), meaning respite or relief (Exodus 8:11, Lamentations 3:56)

Associated Biblical names

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