Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
רום רמם ראם ארם
The four forms רום (rwm), רמם (rmm), ראם (r'm), and ארם ('rm) are similar and have similar meanings. Some scholars have concluded that the three are etymologically related. The form רמם (rmm), however, covers two separate root-verbs; one of which having nothing to with the rest of these words. We also list the formally unrelated noun רמון (rimmon) in this root cluster for reasons we will explain below:
The verb רום (rum) means to be high, in several literal and figurative fashions. This verb is used to indicate either literal height (Psalm 61:2, Job 22:12), the height of rank, statues or glory (Numbers 24:7, 2 Samuel 22:47, Proverbs 24:7), or the height of pride or arrogance (Deuteronomy 8:14, Psalm 131:1, Ezekiel 31:10).
Its derivatives are:
- The masculine noun רום (rum) or רם (rum), meaning height (Proverbs 25:3) or haughtiness (Isaiah 10:12, Jeremiah 48:29).
- The adverb רום (rom), meaning on high (Habakkuk 3:10)
- The adverb רומה (roma), meaning proudly (Micah 2:3).
- The feminine noun רמה (rama), meaning height or high place (Ezekiel 16:25). Note that this noun is identical to the root-verbs רמה (rama I and II), meaning to throw or shoot (I) and to beguile, deceive or mislead (II).
- The feminine noun רמות (ramut), meaning height or lofty stature (Ezekiel 32:5).
- The masculine noun רומם (romam), meaning praise (Psalm 66:17).
- The feminine noun רוממות (romemut), meaning uplifting, arising (Isaiah 33:5).
- The masculine noun מרום (merum), a poetic word meaning height (Job 5:18, Micah 6:6).
- The feminine noun תרומה (teruma), meaning contribution or offering (Exodus 25:2, Deuteronomy 12:6, Ezekiel 45:13).
- The feminine noun תרומיה (terumiya), meaning portion, or that what belongs to a contribution (Ezekiel 48:12).
The verb רמם (ramam I) is a by-form of רום (rum), and means to be exalted. It occurs a mere four times in the Bible: Numbers 17:10, Job 24:24, Isaiah 33:10 and Ezekiel 10:15.
The root רמם (rmm II) isn't used as a verb in the Bible, but it exists in Arabic with the meaning of to grow rotten or decay. In the Bible the following derivatives occur:
- The feminine noun רמה (rimma), meaning worm or maggot. This noun is used exclusively (and mostly in the Book of Job) to express decay or corruption (Exodus 16:24, Job 7:5, Job 17:14, Isaiah 14:11). In Job 25:6, Bildad calls man a maggot when he is compared to God.
- The denominative verb רמם (ramam), meaning to be wormy. It occurs only in Exodus 16:20.
None of the sources we commonly consult mentions it, but it might be that in an agricultural symbolic jargon a ripening of fruits was recognized to be similar as a growing high. A sapling obviously bears no fruit; a tree has to be mature for that. In that sense, the words of this root could be interpreted as a state of over-ripeness, and this either because nobody picked the fruits when they were ready, or else they were picked but then discarded.
Quite tellingly, when fruit has ripened, its destiny is limited to two options: it can either be used to seed the next generation or turned into wine (or other consumable product) or else rot away. This is not at all too far a fetch; in our society today recreational intoxication is also referred to as "getting high".
Also note that the root צהר (shr) yields derivations that have either to do with elevation or else with fresh oil (extracted from ripe olives).
The verb ראם (ra'am) means to rise. It occurs only once, in Zechariah 14:10 (although some scholars state that even this one occurrence should be ascribed to the verb רום (rum), treated above), and has some peculiar derivations:
- The masculine noun ראם (re'em), wild ox. This animal serves often as sign of strength (Numbers 23:22, Deuteronomy 33:17), which may explain why it is called Riser. Or perhaps it is because the wild ox stands a challenge with his head and horns lifted up.
- A bit more difficult to explain is the word ראמות (ramot), meaning black coral, as used in Job 28:18 and Ezekiel 27:16. Perhaps these corals were known by the method of their acquisition: someone had to dive and bring them up.
The Hebrew root ארם ('rm) is assumed to have existed because there's a word in the Bible that could only have come from a root like that. The meaning of the root was lost over the ages, but one derivation stands to this day: ארמון ('armon), meaning citadel or palace (Jeremiah 30:18, Micah 5:4).
The use of this word is largely limited to the often returning message that God will burn up the various "palaces" of certain nations (Amos 1:3). Palaces were typically built on elevations, but symbolically they denoted the capital of nations, their apices.
The pomegranate in the Bible
The masculine noun רמון (rimmon), the Hebrew word for pomegranate, is a "foreign word of doubtful origin" (says BDB Theological Dictionary), even of "unknown but very ancient origin" (says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). It's cognate to the Akkadian armannu, the Aramaic רימונא (rimuna') and comparable words in Arabic and Ethiopian.
But be all that as it may, the Hebrew variant רמון (rimmon) very obviously (and arguably deliberately) appears like it was derived from the root-verb רום (rum), meaning to be high. In fact, were we to construct a noun that means "high thing" from the noun רם (rm), meaning "height," it would be spelled just like our noun רמון (rimmon). Another piece of evidence that the Hebrews probably associated their word רמון (rimmon) with the verb רום (rum) is that this word also served as the name of Rimmon, the chief deity of Aram, also from רום (rum).
Here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that to the Israelites, the pomegranate was a Ripie, and symbolized the end of the natural growth period and the beginning of the "harvest"; the final judgment, during which would be determined which of the fruits would serve to populate a new creation and which ones would be off to the food chute. Note that pomegranates begin to be ripe precisely around the start of the Jewish New Year, which makes it the first fruit of the harvest.
Long before Abraham left Babylon, the pomegranate had gone before him and was cultivated and naturalized over the whole Mediterranean region. It was quickly recognized as an unusually potent fruit; even modern scientists appear to be quite flabbergasted by the many propitious "physiological effects of pomegranate juice constituents" and produce colossal studies to show it (for instance the 244 page tome Pomegranates: Ancient Roots to Modern Medicine).
As many report, in Greece the pomegranate achieved the status of symbol of both fertility and death, but in his excellent 2011 paper titled The Pomegranate: Marker of Cyclical Time, Seeds of Eternity Matt Bennett argues for a "shift in perception of the pomegranate as symbol of fertility and death in classical Greek funerary art to a more subtle interpretation as marker of cyclical time (and, by proxy, eternity) . . . " and concludes "The pomegranate, then, might be more accurately described as representing a liminal state in ancient Greek mythology, the threshold of life and death and the transition between the two".
Although the pomegranate was associated with several Greek goddesses, Sara Immerwahr finds "the multiplicity of its seeds with the idea of fruitfulness appropriate for Hera the marriage goddess" (The Pomegranate Vase: Its Origins and Continuity). The Greek word for pomegranate is ροα or ροια (from the verb ρεω (reo), meaning to flow, as in the familiar phrase panta rei; everything flows) and some scholars (Plato, for instance, in Cratylus) have argued that this word may have helped to form the name Rhea, which belonged to the "mother of gods" and mother of both Zeus and Hera the goddess of women and marriage.
One of Hera's own symbols was the pomegranate. Pausanias (2nd century AD) tells of a statue made by Polycleitus (5th century BC), which depicts Hera seated on a huge ivory and gold throne, holding a scepter in one hand and a pomegranate in the other (and adds: "About the pomegranate I must say nothing, for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery"; 2.17.4). The scepter and orb became symbols of earthly rulers, including Christ Pantokrator). Note that the fourth and fifth century AD Italian grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus believed that the name Rome also derived from the verb ρεω (reo), which may not be wholly true but perhaps helped establish that name as well as the use of the royal orb.
Also in the Bible the pomegranate is of enormous portent. The high-priestly ephod was lavishly adorned with pomegranates (Exodus 28:33-34, 39:24-26), and the two pillars Boaz and Jachin, which stood in front of Solomon's temple of YHWH had bases and capitals with pomegranate motifs (1 Kings 7:18-20, 42). The precise function of these pillars is unknown but note that the king's customary place of office was by the pillar (2 Kings 11:14, 23:3), and the pillars may have symbolized the king's authority in matters of state and judgment. When the Babylonians invaded Israel and deposed king Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:6), they also destroyed the pillars and took the bronze to Babylon along with the king bound in bronze fetters (2 Kings 25:17, Jeremiah 52:22-23).
Pomegranates were one of three fruits that were taken from the valley of Eshcol in Canaan by the twelve spies (Numbers 13:23, together with grapes and figs), and one of four agricultural products that the Israelites bemoaned missing from Egypt (Numbers 20:5, the three in addition to grain). Pomegranates were one of seven products that were promised to be in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:8). The prophet Joel predicted the drying up of the pomegranate, along with that of several other fruits and the rejoicing of the sons of men (Joel 1:12), but Haggai foretold the restoration of also the pomegranate (Haggai 2:19).
The pomegranate also features quite dominantly in the Song of Solomon. The Groom of the Song calls the Bride a closed garden (Song of Solomon 4:12), which probably (also?) means that she is a young girl, pre-menarche, not yet able to conceive and thus to marry. Her potential progeny he likens to an orchard of pomegranates, the maturity of which they both eagerly await (4:13, 6:11, 7:12, 8:2; also see our study on myrrh and the name Nicodemus). He compares her temples behind her veil to the halves of a pomegranate (4:3 and 6:7), which probably (also?) indicates her intellectual immaturity.
Our word רמון (rimmon) for pomegranate is used in the Bible almost exclusively in metaphors and symbolic systems. The only possible exception (which thus strongly suggests that it isn't), occurs in 1 Samuel 14:2, where king Saul sits "under the pomegranate" (compare with Nathanael sitting "under the fig"; John 1:48, or Deborah sitting "under the palm") at Gibeah, right after Samuel had informed him that his foolish pseudo-legalism had cost him the kingdom (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
In modern Judaism the pomegranate still plays an important role. People eat it during the celebrations of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and today the tops of the rollers of Torah scrolls are often adorned with pomegranates. Nineteenth century rabbis Chatam Sofer and the Malbim enthusiastically interpreted Berakoth 57a (which explains Song of Solomon 4:3 to state that even empty heads are as full of divine legislation as a pomegranate is of seeds; a notion also forwarded in Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16) and proclaimed that a pomegranate had 613 seeds (there are 613 commands in the Hebrew Bible). Modern rabbis reject this conclusion, but the legend lives on, especially in empty heads. It nevertheless illustrates what the pomegranate stands for: mental maturity and the discernment and responsibilities that come with it.