Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
פרא פרה פור פרר
In the Hebrew language of the Bible, there are three roots of the form פרר (prr), one real root and one loanword of the form פור (pwr), one root of the form פרה (prh) and one פרא (pr'). Officially these roots have nothing to do with each other, but on a poet's pallet, they would certainly represent closely resembling hues.
Also note the obvious similarities with the roots פרץ (paras), meaning to break (through), פרש (paras and parash), meaning to spread out or declare, and פרס (paras), meaning to break in two or divide.
The verb פרר (parar) generally reflects the undoing of a previously established agreement. Almost half of the more than fifty occurrences of our verb conveys the "breaking" or "violating" of a covenant, usually the covenant between God and man (Jeremiah 11:10, Judges 2:1) but also between just men (Isaiah 33:8). Other agreements or agreeablenesses that can be frustrated are: counsel (2 Samuel 15:34), vows (Numbers 30:9), reverential fear (Job 15:4), commandments (Ezra 9:14), even God's judgment (Job 40:8).
The verb פרר (parar) means to split or divide. It occurs in Arabic and Aramaic with the same or similar meanings, and in the Bible only twice: in Isaiah 24:19 and Psalm 74:13. Still, it takes no great leap to see the obvious kinship with the previous verb. Also note that in both occurrences, this verb conjugates into forms that are based on the form פור (pwr), and see below.
There's no verb to root פרר (prr III), but that doesn't mean there never was one; it's just not used in the Bible. That is, of course, if we maintain that the following nouns have nothing to do with the previous verb(s):
- The masculine noun פר (par) denotes a young bull, and that almost exclusively as sacrificial animal. Its masculine form is פרים (same as Purim) or פרי (meaning 'bulls of'), and note that the latter form is spelled the same as the word meaning fruit (see below).
- The feminine equivalent פרה (para), meaning cow or heifer (Numbers 19:1, 1 Samuel 6:7, Isaiah 11:7). Note the similarity between this noun and the verb פרה (para; see below).
Perhaps these three roots indeed developed, or where introduced into the Hebrew language, independently, but to a Hebrew audience it would seem as if the Hebrew word for young bull literally meant "breaker, violator," which gave all the more sense to sacrificing such an animal.
Bulls were sacrificed:
- At the dedication of the altar of the tabernacle (Numbers 7:15).
- As the sin offering for either the high priest or Israel at large (Leviticus 4:3, 4:14).
- On the Day of Atonement
- When priests were invested (Leviticus 8:2).
- At various feasts: of tabernacles (Numbers 29:20), of weeks (Numbers 28:28), of the new moon (Numbers 28:11).
The form פור (pwr) occurs as expression of the verb פרר (parar II; see above). But it's also the masculine noun פור (pur), meaning lot, where the name of the feast of Purim comes from. It's not clear where this word itself comes from. Some scholars suggest that it was imported from Assyrian where it means stone, and that it was simply an unusual equivalent of the more regular word for lot: גרל (goral).
Here at Abarim Publications we are more persuaded by the similarity between our word and the previous roots. The noun פור (pur) is only used in a narrative sense in Esther 3:7, where we read how a "pur was cast" before Haman, day in day out for twelve months until Haman finally forwards his evil plan to king Ahasuerus. Although this may refer to some repeated divination ritual, it obviously says very little about actual pebbles being tossed up, but a lot about a subtly increasing anger that caused Haman to finally choose the path of death. To a Hebrew audience, Esther 3:7 literally says that over the course of a year, Haman "came loose" from the path of life.
And then there is the proper root פור (pwr), which is also not used as verb but which yields the following nouns:
- The feminine noun פורה (pura), meaning winepress (Isaiah 63:3 and Haggai 2:16 only).
- The masculine noun פרור (parur), meaning boiling pot (Numbers 11:8, Judges 6:19 and 1 Samuel 2:14 only).
The verb פרה (para) means either to bear fruit or produce in case of vegetation (Isaiah 32:12), or to be fruitful in case of humans or animals (Genesis 26:22, Jeremiah 3:16). It occurs 29 times in the Bible.
This verb's sole derivative is the masculine noun פרי (peri), meaning produce of any kind (Genesis 4:3), fruit (2 Kings 19:20), offspring in case of animals or humans, and consequence - of actions (Isaiah 3:10, Hosea 10:13), of thoughts (Jeremiah 6:19), labor (Proverbs 31:16), works (Psalm 104:12), wisdom (Proverbs 8:19), of speech (Proverbs 18:21).
It should be noted that our words fruit and fruitfulness only approximate the meaning and compass of the Hebrew words פרה (para) and פרי (peri). And when the noun פרי (peri) is used for someone's children, there's nothing figurative of metaphorical going on. It's all held within the regular meaning of these words.
The form פרא (pr') occurs on rare occasions as alternate spelling of the verb פרה (para), but it also occurs as the masculine noun פרא (pere'), meaning wild donkey. Where this noun comes from is unclear, and thus also what a donkey literally represented to the Hebrews. The angel of YHWH called Ishmael a donkey of a man (or the donkey-of-man; Genesis 16:12), while Zophar the Naamathite declared that an idiot will become intelligent when a donkey's foal would be born a man (Job 11:12).
Hosea uses the donkey as image of loneliness, powerlessness and promiscuity (Hosea 8:9). Jeremiah describes the donkey as one accustomed to wilderness and passionate in heat (Jeremiah 2:24), and panting for air and food (Jeremiah 14:6), and according to Isaiah, donkeys love to roam abandoned palaces and cities (Isaiah 32:14).
Job too uses the donkey as image of one who searches the wilderness for food (Job 24:5), but also seems to suggest that a donkey takes his grass for granted (Job 6:5). In his response, YHWH challenges Job to say who set the donkey free, and loosened the bands of the wild ass (ערוד, 'arod; Job 39:5). And the Psalmist declares that the donkey quenches his thirst with the water that YHWH provides (Psalm 104:11).