Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
חמם חום חמה יחם
The two roots חמם (hamam) and יחם (yaham) are most probably etymologically related; they look the same and mean the same. There are even instances where it can not be determined which of the two verbs is used (Genesis 30:39, Hosea 7:7). The root חום (hwm) is also a close cousin of the previous two. The root חמה (hmh) officially has nothing to do with either, but produces forms that are identical to the forms produced by the other two:
The verb חמם (hamam) means to be hot or warm, and that usually in the physical sense (Exodus 16:21, Haggai 1:6). Sometimes it's used to describe a non-physical heat: determination (Psalm 39:3), non-sexual excitation (Isaiah 57:5), and sexual-excitation (of animals only - Genesis 30:38).
Its derivations are:
- The masculine noun חם (hom), meaning heat (Genesis 8:22, Jeremiah 17:8).
- The adjective חם (ham), meaning hot (Joshua 9:12, Job 37:17).
- The feminine noun חמה (hamma), meaning heat, typically of the sun (Psalm 19:6). In poetic passages, this word is used as substitute for the word שמש (shemesh), meaning sun (Isaiah 24:23, Job 30:28).
- The masculine noun חמן (hamman) and its plural form חמנים (hammanim), denoting small pillars used in idolatrous worship (Leviticus 26:30, Isaiah 27:9).
The assumed root חום (hwm) yields one adjective: the similar חום (hum), which apparently conveys a color or pattern of coloration.
In the Bible this adjective is applied only to sheep (and only in Genesis 30:32-40) and although this color is commonly guessed to be dark or black, it's probably much more likely a fiery red, or even not a color at all but indicative of a pattern of coloration, perhaps one that reminds of sparks flying, or a head that's a different color than the rest of the body.
This adjective is used along words meaning "speckled," "spotted" and "striped," to indicate which goats and sheep were Jacob's. It seems unlikely that Jacob's wage consisted of speckled, spotted and... solid black individuals.
The verb יחם (yaham) means to be hot. Where חמם (hamam) is mostly used for physical heat and sometimes figurative heat, the root יחם (yaham) is used sometimes for physical heat and most often for some kind of mental arousal.
The verb itself occurs only three times: In Psalm 51:5 it conveys human conception, and in Genesis 30:41 and 31:10 it denotes animals in reproductive heat.
This verb's sole derivation occurs much more often: the feminine noun חמה (hema), meaning most often rage or anger: of men (Genesis 27:44, 2 Samuel 11:20), of the male goat in Daniel's vision (Daniel 8:6), but most often of God (Numbers 25:11, Isaiah 27:4, Ezekiel 36:6). This noun may also mean heat in the sense of (wine)-fever (Hosea 7:5), or venom (Deuteronomy 32:24).
The verb חמה (hmh) is not used in the Bible, but in cognate languages it means to surround, guard or protect. Its derivations are:
- The masculine noun חם (ham) meaning father-in-law (Genesis 38:13, 1 Samuel 4:19). Note that this noun is identical to the adjective חם (ham), meaning hot.
- The feminine equivalent חמות (hamot), meaning mother-in-law (Ruth 2:11, Micah 7:6).
- The feminine noun חומה (homa), meaning wall (as protection, says BDB Theological Dictionary). This word is used for a wall of a city (Deuteronomy 28:52, Isaiah 22:11), or of a building (Ezekiel 40:5, Lamentations 2:7). It's also used for the waters of the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14:22), David's men (1 Samuel 25:16), of a woman (Song of Solomon 8:9), and of YHWH (Zechariah 2:9).
At first glance the latter root and the previous two are entirely unrelated, but it may be that to a Hebrew audience, the meanings of these three roots were as kindred as the forms in which they were spelled.
Perhaps parents-in-law were known by words that expressed strong, passionate feelings (remember that the words דודה (doda = aunt) and דוד (dod = uncle) stem from the root דוד (dwd = to love).)
Perhaps strong feelings such as anger or the heat of passion were recognized as means of protection for the individual, and producing offspring means protecting existence for any species. Remember that the word בן (ben = son) probably arose from the verb בנה (bana = to build).
The root חמת (hmt) isn't used in the Bible but it occurs in cognate languages with the meaning of to grow rancid or putrid. Its sole derivative is the masculine noun חמת (hemet), meaning waterskin. This noun occurs only three times in the Bible, and all in the same scene, namely the flight of Hagar (Genesis 21:14, 21:15 and 21:19). In the Hebrew mindset, light and water were highly similar; see our article on the verb נהר (nahar), meaning both to flow and to shine. As such, a waterskin is highly similar to a device that encapsulates any high density of energy such as a very hot fire.