Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb בשר (basar) means to bring tidings and particularly tidings of comfort and joy. This verb exists all over the Semitic language basin, and appears to have originated in the very primitive activity of rubbing faces together as a means of greeting and exchange of scents and tastes. The verb then attached itself to the activity of rubbing protective surfaces off things in order to expose the goodies within, and this remained the meaning of our verb in Arabic: to uncover to great joy. Without much further effort, our verb then began to specialize in joyfully announcing the birth of a human child. And since children are little autonomous bundles of flesh that emerge from within the flesh of the mother, our verb yielded a noun that meant just that: flesh (see below), which is the physical manifestation of the soul.
The original meaning of our verb, namely to joyfully meet and come to know the other, became thus very closely associated with childbirth. This very same dual meaning is expressed in the verb ידע (yada'), to know, which is also the verb for to copulate — hence Adam "knew" Eve, who consequently became pregnant with Cain (Genesis 4:1). In Greek, the similar verb αγγελω (aggelo), to message, derives from the familiar noun αγγελος (aggelos), messenger, which became our English word "angel". Prefixed with ευ (eu), good, this word forms the equally familiar verb ευαγγελιζω (euaggelizo), meaning to deliver a good message. This verb became our English verb "to evangelize".
Our verb בשר (basar) literally means to concorporate (join into flesh) an excitement or exiting message. It's used two dozen times in the Bible, and only in a few exceptions our verb appears to speak of conveying a negative message (of the loss of the Ark: 1 Samuel 4:17). The rest concerns the concorporations of decidedly positive news: of the birth of a son (Jeremiah 20:15), of a military victory (1 Samuel 31:9), of ensuring peace (Nahum 1:15), of a God to behold (Isaiah 40:9) and of righteousness in the great congregation (Psalm 40:9).
Our verb comes with the following derivations:
- The noun בשר (basar), meaning flesh. This word is the common Hebrew word for flesh and occurs 270 times in the Old Testament. But the difference between the Hebrew sense of flesh and our modern one is crucially different and deserves careful consideration. Scientists commonly regard organic bodies as little more than hyper-complex amalgamations of organic and sub-organic compounds. Modern mystical traditions commonly regard the body as the vessel in which the soul lives and operates, in the sense that the soul is the hand that animates the glove that is the body. The Hebrew idea, on the other hand, sees the soul as most fundamental, and the body as formed as an expression of the soul: rather like a hand (the soul) that scoops up a helping of sand and water (the body), and holds it in one place, dynamically, leaking from all ends and requiring constant replenishing.
Life is rather like Artificial Intelligence, in that once life is going, it can perpetuate itself and broadly form variations of itself until the whole earth is covered with a bustling economy of different living individuals, all interacting in their own unpredictable and unrestricted ways. But the beginning of it all depends on an external Creator, who gathers the dust of the earth independently of a soul, makes the composition viable and only then releases the soul into the mix (Genesis 2:7). This exact process occurred when the seed of Abraham became like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16, Galatians 3:7) and God brought that dust together into a viable composition and released into it the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-4). Paul writes: "All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish" (1 Corinthians 15:39), which quite obviously has nothing to do with Paul's concern for carnivorous cuisine but rather with differing identities within the community created in Acts 2:2-4.
All flesh is expression. Our human flesh is an expression of our human soul, and when YHWH instructed Abraham to signify the covenant by "cutting" his "flesh", he primarily told him to "curb" his "enthusiasm" and only secondarily to incise his body. See our article on the Greek verb τεμνω (temno), to cut, for more on this.
- The noun בשרה (besora), which is the feminine version of the previous, and means good tidings. This noun occurs less than half a dozen times, and only in 2 Samuel and 2 Kings (2 Samuel 18:20, 2 Kings 7:9).