Blood and the color red in the Bible

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/a/a-d-mfin.html

Blood in the Bible

— And red, the color of tranquility and beginnings —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

דמם  דום  דמה  דמן  אדם  דם

Perhaps by coincidence and perhaps not, this root-cluster contains roots that all seem to have to do with stillness or productivity, with a clear nod to the color red.

Red is the color of dawn and is also the first color a human baby learns to see. It seems plausible that to the Hebrews the color red signified the rudiments or principal beginnings of civilization, which of course is a mere manifestation of the beginning of a wisdom tradition, or as we would call it today, the preservation of information (in a cultural expression). That would link the beginning of wisdom to typical red items such as wine (Noah's vineyard: Genesis 9:20) and blood (hence the covenant of blood: Exodus 24:8), and since the art of understanding is metaphorized in a standing on dry land (Noah again), a partial understanding would be similar to mud and mire (in which Noah's dove couldn't find a foothold; Genesis 8:9).

A strikingly similar relationship between tranquility, muddy substances and the color red is demonstrated by the root-group חמר (hamar; see the name Homer), and perhaps even by the root group יון (ywn; see the name Javan, which is the Biblical word for Greece).

Also see our article on the Red Sea for a closer look at how the ancients viewed the color red.


The verb דמם (damam) means to be still, as opposite to speaking and moving around, and usually in response to something stupefying. Aaron was silenced after his sons died by YHWH's admonishment (Leviticus 10:3) and the elders of the daughter of Zion by the destruction of Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:10). Likewise, the Lord is going to silence the wicked (1 Samuel 2:9), the men of war (Jeremiah 49:26), the cities of Moab (Jeremiah 48:2) and the port of Tyre (Ezekiel 27:32, Isaiah 23:2).

Our verb may also denote a physical motionless: of a sword — although note that the edge of a sword was known as its mouth: פה (peh; Jeremiah 47:6), of men (1 Samuel 14:9), and most famously: of the sun and moon (Joshua 10:12-13). Likewise, the greatness of the Lord's arm makes people still as stones (Exodus 15:16).

The stillness this verb describes is not in itself negative. Not bothering with too difficult things leaves one still like a baby leaning against his mother (Psalm 131:2), as does trust in the Lord (Psalm 4:4). Yet in Psalm 30:12, stillness is opposed to singing praise to the Lord.

In Job 31:34 this verb declines into the rare form אדם, which is spelled identical to the ubiquitous word אדם ('adam), meaning man (see below).

Our verb's derivatives are:

  • The feminine noun דממה (demama), denoting the quietness in which God resides (1 Kings 19:12, Job 4:16) or the calmness of the sea after a storm which the Lord both causes and ends (Psalm 107:29, see Matthew 8:27).
  • The feminine noun דמה (dumma), denoting one silenced (Ezekiel 27:32 only).

Most dictionaries list a second root דמם (damam), supposedly meaning to wail, and this solely in order to explain Isaiah 23:2. Under its mini-entry on דמם (damam II), BDB Theological Dictionary submits that "most, however, assign this to דמם I". All English translations from the King James on indeed read "Be still/silent, you people of the coastland" or something to that extent.


The root דום (dwm) doesn't occur as verb in the Bible but judging from its derivations, it's obviously closely related to the previous root דמם (damam). Its derivations are:

  • The feminine noun דומה (duma), meaning the silence of death (Psalm 94:17 and 115:17 only).
  • The feminine noun דומיה or דמיה (dumiya), meaning the silence of waiting (Psalm 22:2, 39:2, 62:1, 65:1).
  • The masculine noun דומם (dumam), meaning the silence of inertia or inactivity (Habakkuk 2:19, Isaiah 47:5, Lamentations 3:26)


Scholars generally break the hugely important form דמה (dmh) into two separate roots, but that's uncalled for. The one and only verb דמה (dama) essentially describes the untimely cessation of a natural evolution (or growth) and that can happen because (1) whatever was growing gets killed, or (2) an observer turns the naturally changing thing into an artificial fixed representation of it. The latter obviously describes an important aspect of an intelligent mind, but it also warns that if a mind itself doesn't change but dwells on fixed ideas, it becomes as dead as the effigies it contains. When a living thing dies, it obviously stops growing, and when a living thing stops growing (in one's mind) it's as good as dead.

Enthusiasts often explain Jesus' insistence to be like children (Matthew 18:3) to mean that we should whine and blubber all the time, but here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that he also meant that our minds should never stop changing by absorbing and growing. The Rock of our faith should not be our conviction, but the ability and willingness to learn (also see our article on the Greek word πιστις, pistis, meaning "faith").

But we don't want to be too radical too much too often, so we'll follow the established outline of two separate roots (but now you know better):

דמה I

The verb דמה (dama I) describes the forming of a frozen snap-shot of someone or something; the making of a mental graven image, usually translatable with to resemble, to be like, or to devise. Its usages generally split into two categories. It's used to describe a likening or comparing: of appearance (Isaiah 40:18), of qualities or conditions (Song of Solomon 1:9, Isaiah 46:5, Lamentations 2:13), or of metaphorical similarity (Hosea 12:11). And secondly, it's used to describe the forming of a fixed idea or plan of action (2 Samuel 21:5, Numbers 33:56, Isaiah 10:7, Psalm 50:21).

In Isaiah 14:14, Lamentations 2:13 and Hosea 12:10 our verb declines into the rare form אדמה, which is spelled identically to the noun אדמה ('adamah), denoting red, arable soil (see below).

Our verb's derivatives are:

  • The feminine noun דמות (demut), meaning likeness. It's this word that is used in Genesis 1:26, where God famously makes man in his image (repeated in Genesis 5:1). It's also used in Genesis 5:3, where Seth is Adam's image (a quality not ascribed to either Cain or Abel). Ezekiel sees in his famous vision beings in the image of certain creatures, and most spectacularly, God himself in the image of man (Ezekiel 1:5, 1:10, 1:26, 8:2, 10:1). Our noun is also used to describe the design of an altar (2 Kings 16:10) and the images of oxen underneath Solomon's great bronze laver (2 Chronicles 4:3). Isaiah uses this noun to liken the sound of tumult on mountains with that of many people (Isaiah 13:4).
  • The masculine noun דמין (dimyon), also meaning likeness. It occurs only once, in Psalm 17:12.
דמה II

The verb דמה (dama II) means to stop and especially to stop before stopping is required or supposed to occur. Jeremiah prays that his eyes may flow with tears and not cease (Jeremiah 14:17), but he also sees the untimely ending of the daughter of Zion (Jeremiah 6:2, likewise Hosea 4:5-6). Mostly this verb is used to describe the ending of nations and peoples in their prime: Moab (Isaiah 15:1), Ashkelon (Jeremiah 47:5), Edom (Obadiah 1:5), the monarchy of Israel (Hosea 10:15), Samaria and her king (Hosea 10:7) and the people of Canaan (Zephaniah 1:11). Isaiah used this verb when he famously exclaimed, "Woe is me for I am finished!" (Isaiah 6:5).

This verb's only derivative is the masculine noun דמי (domi), which occurs only four times and quite surprisingly. Through Isaiah the Lord reveals that he has placed watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem who remind him — without giving either him or themselves domi — to make Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Isaiah 62:6-7). Likewise Asaph implores the Lord to not be domi (Psalm 83:1). In Isaiah 38:10, king Hezekiah observes that he is at the domi of his days and is to enter the gates of Sheol. Apparently scholars and translators have difficulty interpreting this verse but as Hezekiah suffers from a lethal affliction, he quite obviously reflects on the untimely cessation of his earthly existence. He will become a corpse and a snap-shot of his last moment alive (also see Psalm 39:3).


The root דמן (dmn) isn't used as a verb in the Bible and it's not known what it might have meant, but the following telling derivations are extant:

  • The masculine noun דמן (domen), denoting a corpse lying unattended and desecrated on the ground (2 Kings 9:37, Jeremiah 8:2, Psalm 83:10). This word is usually translated with dung but that may not be wholly accurate. See next.
  • The feminine noun מדמנה (madmena), used only in Isaiah 25:10, which reads that Moab will be threshed like straw that's threshed in the water of מדמנה (madmena), and the result would be a substance that's so liquid that one could swim in it. Madmena literally means place of domen, and here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that domen denotes manufactured fertilizer: manure, and madmena a manure pit. That links this root to the noun אדמה (adama), meaning soil or acre (see below).

אדם I

The first root אדם ('dm) may have to do with an Assyrian root adamu, meaning to make or produce, says BDB Theological Dictionary. In the Bible this root is not used as a verb and only two nouns occur:

  • The masculine noun אדם (adam) is one of a few words to describe mankind. Others are: גבר (geber), denoting a man in his strength (like dude or guy); אנוש ('enosh), denoting a man in his frailty or mortality; איש ('ish), denoting a man in a specific function (like husband, or man of . . . something); מת (mat), denoting a male capable of combat. Our noun אדם (adam) occurs 562 times in the Bible and always in the singular form; never plural. It denotes mankind as produced or made from matter — that is 'dust of the earth'; an adam is a 'dustling' — as opposed to non-corporeal creatures, such as angels. And as such it is used as the name of the "first" human, Adam.
  • The feminine noun אדמה (adama), originally denoted red, arable soil (says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) and over time came to mean ground or land, particularly land that yields produce. It's used to denote arable land in general (Genesis 3:17, Nehemiah 10:37, Malachi 3:11), or a particular plot or acre (Genesis 47:18, Psalm 49:11). But it's also frequently used to describe the material from which something is made: all living things (Genesis 2:7, 2:17), one of two altars that Moses had to make right after the Law was deposited (the other one being an altar of unhewn stones; Exodus 20:24), and pots (Isaiah 45:9). This same earth or clay served as a sign of mourning or contrition when put on one's head (2 Samuel 1:2, Nehemiah 9:1). Note that the other expression that features putting something on one's head signifies guilt: a victim's blood on the perpetrator's head (Joshua 2:19, 2 Samuel 1:16, Ezekiel 33:4, Acts 18:6, also see Matthew 27:25).
אדם II

The second root אדם ('dm) yields a small group of words that all have to do with red. In the Bible this redness is ascribed to: skin (Lamentations 4:7) and leprous sores (Leviticus 13:42), a dyed shield (Nahum 2:4), wine (Proverbs 23:31), sin (Isaiah 1:18), a horse (Zechariah 1:8) and the curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:5). In 2 Kings 3:22, this color is ascribed typically to blood: מים אדמים כדם (mayim adamim kedom); waters red as blood.

This root's derivatives are:

  • The verb אדם ('adom or 'adem) meaning to be red (Lamentations 4:7, Isaiah 1:18).
  • The adjective אדם ('adom) meaning red (Zechariah 1:8, Isaiah 63:2).
  • The feminine noun אדם ('odem) denoting a ruddy gem, possibly quartz (Exodus 28:17).
  • The masculine noun אדם ('edom), denoting a kind of food, made famous by Esau's voracious appetite and giving rise to his nickname Edom (Genesis 25:30).
  • The adjective אדמדם ('adamiddam), meaning reddish (Leviticus 13:49).
  • The adjective אדמוני (admoni) meaning red or ruddy (1 Samuel 16:12).


The masculine noun דם (dam) means blood, but comes with a substantial and important footnote:

Blood in the Bible

Blood plays an enormously important role in the Bible, but the precise reason for this appears to have been lost over time. Here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that our word דם (dam) does not only denote the bodily fluid that we call blood today, but all internal bodily fluids: blood, lymph, bile, etcetera. In the Bible too, blood is proverbially red, but just as glass is proverbially clear, not all glass is. Read our article on אזוב ('ezob), meaning hyssop, for a brief discussion on how people can wash their robes in lamb's blood and have them come out white and clean (Revelation 7:14).

It's essential that the reader understands that the Hebrews associated blood differently than we do today: Our English word "blood" is primary; it's not obviously derived from something more fundamental, and it serves as the base for a small group of blood-words which mostly have to do with violence. In Hebrew the word for "blood" is first of all an associative (albeit not necessarily etymological) part of a cluster of roots that have to do with stillness and productivity.

In our article on the Greek word for blood, namely αιμα (haima), we argue that when YHWH turned the Nile into blood, the waters did not so much begin to look like red and thick blood, but rather stopped flowing. When YHWH turned the Nile into blood, he possibly did so in response to a too lavish use of the water for irrigation, which made the Nile a closed and locally circulating (and thus accumulatively contaminating) system, because of which the fish died.

Secondarily, the Torah emphasizes that blood serves the body as the seat of the soul and was for that reason not to be consumed (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10-14, Deuteronomy 12:24, Acts 15:20, 21:25). The only "blood" that could be consumed was the "blood of grapes" (Genesis 49:11, Deuteronomy 32:14), which comes about when grapes are plucked from their branches and their individual juices are united and blended (which also explains why Jesus would insist that his "blood" would be drank; obviously not the blood of his earthly body).

Blood is the seat of the soul but the Hebrew idea of soul — נפש (nepesh) — is not at all the same as what people today commonly think it is (and the translation of the word nepesh as "soul" is really quite unfortunate). In Hebrew, one's nepesh equals not some vague ethereal substance but simply one's condition of being alive; it is closely associated with the acts of breathing (the Hebrews clearly understood the respiratory system and knew that blood transports one's breath) and secondarily with desiring or wanting. The Hebrew word commonly translated with "spirit" is also not as esoteric as our word "spirit" is today. It is the word רוח (ruah), which also means wind. Like so:

blood"soul"one's condition of being aliveassociated with one's personal breath and desire.
wine"spirit"one's interaction with one's cultureassociated with the universal wind, and thus storm, rain, agriculture, war, etcetera.

Discussions on blood in the Bible go three ways:

Blood means private failure

The visual appearance of blood obviously demonstrates that one's physical constitution is compromised, and that commonly via an act of violence, which commonly follows from being undesired and usually results in the demise of the one who's bleeding. In that sense, blood is the herald of death-from-being-unwanted.

Blood means social failure

Secondly, blood heralds the failure to conceive during the menstrual period. In Biblical times the failure to conceive was a disaster because:

  • It violated God's very first command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).
  • It jeopardized people's personal futures (there were no pension plans other than having children to care for you in your old age).
  • It annulled people's share in mankind's collective future.
  • It suggested that God had justly cursed people, and had cut them off from the future of mankind.
  • It suggested that the husband didn't desire his wife (as was probably the case with David's mocking wife Michal; 2 Samuel 6:23).

Social economy depends on private economy

The third category is the most difficult one, mostly because it doesn't directly relate to anything we do today: the use of blood in ritual contexts. Blood of the Passover lamb became a sign on the doors of the Israelites, to be skipped by YHWH on his killing spree of the first-borns of Egypt (Exodus 12:13). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ has become our Passover lamb, and his blood atones for us. We're even to wash our robes in his blood, and they will turn white (and not red; Revelation 7:14).

During the meeting between YHWH and Moses and the seventy three elders, Moses went down to the camp, built an altar and instructed certain young men to slaughter young bulls. Half of the blood Moses poured over the altar and the other half he sprinkled over his audience, saying: "This is the blood of the covenant, which YHWH has made with you . . . " (Exodus 24:8, also see Zechariah 9:11 and Matthew 26:28).

The priestly caste of the Aaronites was established by anointing them, and sprinkling them (and the altar) with the blood of two perfect rams and one bull (Exodus 29:1). The bull also fueled the sin offering (Exodus 29:14). Once a year, the high priest was to sprinkle the horns of the incense altar with the blood of the sin offering (Exodus 30:10). And blood was poured for a wide variety of offerings for the common people.

The point of all this blood offering is summed up in Leviticus 17:11: "For the nepesh of the flesh is in the blood, and I [the Lord] have given it to you on the altar, to atone for your souls; for the blood is for the nepesh which atones".

The word for to atone is the familiar כפר (kpr), as in Yom Kippur, and that word has to do with paying a price for rightful freedom. It appears that the atonement goes both ways. The blood of the sacrificial animal atones for the nepesh of man, and the nepesh of man atones for the sacrificial animal.

Many of the best and brightest have pondered the use of blood in the Bible, but here at Abarim Publications, we're guessing that the sacrificial system of Israel was designed to teach the people that whoever occupies the top of the food chain does so by the grace of the quality of the lower members of the food chain, while in turn the worth of the entire food chain is determined by the quality of whoever occupies the top. The king makes the country that makes the king. The customer makes the company that makes the customer (also see our article on the verb זבח, zabah, meaning to sacrifice).

Here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that in Biblical times, a creature's nepesh ultimately signified a creature's "desire" in the broadest sense of the word; that which compels a creature to go somewhere, eat and eat and reproduce. Ultimately, every creature wants to live, and anything it does stems from that desire. The blood, being the seat of the nepesh signifies a creature's total intake of food and observations. That total intake is separated into useful nutrients and wastes; the wastes are discarded and the nutrients are used to build up the body, very much in the same way as in which an acre brings about a crop. The body, in turn, can only become what it is supposed to become (a rabbit can only be a rabbit, no matter what it eats), and can either be healthy or unhealthy, skinny or well-fed, depending on what the creature eats. In other words: a body can only be what the Creator intended it to be, but the health of the body depends on a creature's intake. The creature's blood can be filled with items the creature should never have consumed.

The Hebrew idea of wisdom was not theoretical but wholly practical; Hebrew wisdom meant skill rather than philosophy (see the name Hochma). If someone had an idea and that idea turned into an invention, the validity of this idea was argued by the practical usefulness of its application, and the usefulness of the application went hand in hand with whether it brought about peace and posterity. We're guessing that Israel's dietary and sacrificial laws had as primary function to show via which methods humanity's understanding of the world and subsequent peace and posterity was to be acquired. A foreign understanding may serve ours (say, in supplying parables, inspiration, logic or technology) but we are not to absorb foreign theology into our own (Luke 8:10). This notion is exactly what the Nazarenes were known for (or so we postulate), and it ultimately derives from the command to not eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17).

Note that the only time Israelites actually ate blood is when Saul prohibited them to eat anything until the battle ended, with left them starving (1 Samuel 14:32). Jonathan disobeyed his father by eating freely available honey.

Associated Biblical names