Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
הרה הר הרר
Officially, the noun הר (har) and the verb הרה (hara) have nothing to do with each other, but to any poetic mind they would sure go together. Bear in mind, however, that ancient Hebrew sense of poetry is not the same as the modern English:
The noun הר (har) is the Bible's common word for mountain or hill. It and its proper plural, הרים, occur more than 500 times, but note that the form הרים may also result from the verb רום (rum), meaning to lift up (as such it occurs for instance in Leviticus 2:9 and 1 Kings 11:27).
Other than the obvious connection with the verb רום (rum), it's not wholly clear where our noun הר (har) comes from, but probably from some root or verb הרר (hrr). But that particular verb isn't used, nor is it found in cognate languages, and its meaning is entirely elusive. Our intuition would dictate that the verb of the word for mountain probably has to do with being elevated, but that may not be correct. In Hebrew thought, a mountain is not something that's high, a mountain is a lot of something gathered. And so, a mountain became synonymous for a large but centralized group of people (Jeremiah 51:25), or even gods (Isaiah 14:13).
In the Bible, mountains are often associated with places of worship (pagan: Deuteronomy 12:9, Isaiah 65:7; YHWH: Exodus 17:9, 1 Kings 18:42), and it's been proposed that people like to pray on mountains because it gives them the feeling that they're closer to the divine realm. Here at Abarim Publications we disagree with that.
Although some of the gods of old were celestial, many others were terrestrial. In the Bible, Elohim YHWH is only very rarely associated with heaven; he's mostly positioned on earth: he hovers over the waters (Genesis 1:2), he walks in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), he closes the door to the Ark (Genesis 7:16), and he physically visits Abraham (Genesis 18:2). We maintain that mountains didn't remind people of the spiritual realm, but of the effect of the spiritual realm on people, namely that of gathering and centralizing.
And of course, since most life goes on in valleys and on plains, folks seeking solace go to mountains where they are least likely to be disturbed.
The enigmatic name El Shaddai can be explained in many ways, but some scholars propose that it means El of the Mountain. This has nothing to do with the heavenly El's earthly abode, but with the centralizing force El exercises on the people.
A people is only a people when it has a collective identity. One of the primary functions of early deities was to provide that identity and gather the people around or within that identity. The phrase הר־אלהים (har-elohim) occurs in a few variations (Exodus 4:27, Psalm 36:6, 68:15), and some scholars translate this with a majestic or mighty mountain. But El was not seen as a distant dictator deity, but rather as personification of the national identity, or rather: the Person whose personality would be the personality of the collective; thus establishing it and maintaining it. The same still goes for Jesus and the Body of Christ.
But possibly an even stronger metaphor is the mountain as (1) one's boundary of vision, and (2) a way to expand one's field of vision. The Greek word for boundary or horizon is ορος (horos) and the word for mountain is the highly similar ορος (oros).
Our noun הר (har) comes in a few curious forms. When David speaks of "my mountain" (and that's probably not David's pet hill but rather his vision - Psalm 30:7) the word is הררי (harary). Likewise, the plural form of this noun, mountains, is sometimes הרים (harim), but also sometimes הררים (hararim). In Genesis 14:10 occurs the form הרה (hera), meaning mountain-ward. This form returns in the verb הרה (hara):
The verb הרה (hera) means to be or become pregnant (Genesis 16:4, Exodus 2:2, Isaiah 26:18). An association with the previous noun is obvious, although not because the stomach of a pregnant woman resembles a mountain. The Bible depicts nations as individual women even more than as mountains; the words אמה ('umma), meaning people and אם ('em), meaning mother are closely related. A pregnant woman is to her husband what a conceiving nation is to its deity.
This verb's derivations are:
- The adjective הרה (hara), meaning pregnant (Genesis 38:24, Isaiah 7:14).
- The adjective הריה (hariya), also meaning pregnant (Hosea 14:1 only).
- The masculine noun הריון (herayon), meaning conception of pregnancy (Hosea 9:11, Ruth 4:13).
Also note that the root שׂדה (sdh) is related to the Assyrian sadu, meaning mountain, while the root שׁדה (shdh) yields derivation שׁד (shad), meaning (female) breast (follow the link for more info on both).