Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Old Testament Hebrew word: יבש

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/y/y-b-si.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

יבש  בוש

The two verbs יבש (yabesh) and בוש (bosh) are not formally related, but in certain grammatical constructions, their expressions become indistinguishable and only context can help to determine which verb we're dealing with.


The verb יבש (yabesh) means to wither; to be or become dry (Joshua 9:5, Isaiah 15:6, Amos 4:7). There are some other verbs that basically mean to dry or dry up, but yabesh is used predominantly to indicate withering of plants and vegetables (or even souls or body parts). Oddly enough, typically this verb is used to describe the dryness of the earth after the flood of Noah recedes (Genesis 8:14), and the dryness of the Reed Sea that allows Israel to escape from Egypt (Joshua 2:10).

This verb's derivatives are:

  • The adjective יבש (yabesh), meaning dried (Numbers 6:3) or dry (Nahum 1:10, Job 13:25).
  • The feminine noun יבשה (yabbasha), meaning dry land (Exodus 4:9, Nehemiah 9:11, Isaiah 44:3).
  • The feminine noun יבשת (yabbashet), also meaning dry land. This variant is used only in Psalm 95:5 and Exodus 4:9.


The verb בוש (bosh) means to be ashamed (1 Samuel 20:30, Isaiah 29:22, Jeremiah 6:15). Another verb that means to be ashamed, namely חפר (haper II), appears to predominantly express private feelings of shame and responses thereto, whereas the verb בוש (bosh) seems to emphasize a being publicly disgraced, almost to the point where it begins to mean a being expelled or cast out. Note that where יבש (yabesh) means to become dry, חפר (hapar I) means to dig, either to cover something up (perhaps something shameful) or to search for something (perhaps for water during dryness).

It appears that to the Hebrews the act of being ashamed was based on the act of being weak or weakened, which explains the social aspect of our verb בוש (bosh), since weakness is always measured relative to something/one stronger.

It stands to reason that the Hebrews recognized dryness, weakness and shame as being kindred, and that a flaccid penis reflected these states, whereas an erect penis reflected tautness, strength and confidence. In antiquity, one's emotions were thought to be seated in the lower abdomen, whereas the penis was the seat of a man's will (John 1:13).

This would, at the same time, force Israel's rather unique chastity laws to flow over into the social arena and dictate one's general attitude towards others. In other words, a man should deal with another man irrespective of both men's social or financial status and even of both men's degree of learning and wisdom. Those are all "private" things and a man may utilize his own strength and plenty to give joy and posterity to his own household, but not to his neighbor's, so to speak. One's own blessings should not result in the humiliation of one's neighbor.

A similar approach sheds light on the otherwise hard to explain note that Adam and Eve were both naked and they were not ashamed (as it's rather easy to be not ashamed of being naked when there's no one else around - Genesis 2:25). Since weakness and weakening lies at the root of shame, neither Adam nor Eve held power over the other. Similarly but in a reversed way (and without actually using our verb בוש, bosh), the Angel of YHWH couldn't overpower Jacob, not because Jacob was as strong as God (a definite no), but because Jacob had no reason to feel shame towards God (Genesis 32:25, also see Romans 8:15 and 1 John 4:18). And the man whose withered hand Jesus healed was not just disabled, he was probably also weak and ashamed (Matthew 12:10).

Apart from usages that are more or less parallel with our English verb to be ashamed, our verb is also used to express a delay or waiting, perhaps because a withered plant or fruit takes time to wither, or because waiting weakens (Exodus 32:11, Judges 3:25, 2 Kings 2:17). And our verb may also express one's reaction to foiled hope when matters turn out not according to one's expectations (Job 6:20, Jeremiah 14:3, Isaiah 42:17).

This verb's derivatives are:

  • The feminine noun בושה (busha), meaning shame (Psalm 89:45, Ezekiel 7:18, Obadiah 1:10, and Micah 7:10 only).
  • The feminine noun בושה (bosha), also meaning shame (Hosea 10:6 only). This word is probably the same as the previous one and accidently pointed different by the Masoretes.
  • The feminine noun בשת (boshet), which is the more usual word for shame (1 Samuel 20:30, Job 8:22, Isaiah 54:4). Some names (see below) and perhaps some narratives (Hosea 9:10, Jeremiah 3:24) that contain this word were altered from originals that contained the name Baal. It's generally held that a later author or editor performed these alterations to hide the name Baal, but it's difficult to image that any scribe worthy enough to handle these texts would engage in a kind of literary vandalism. It's more probable that these scribes were motivated by considerations that allude us today (note that two out of three names that underwent this procedure are also related to the verb ריב, rib, meaning to contend).
  • The masculine noun מבוש (mabosh), which seems to denote a man's private parts. This word occurs only once, and also provides the only usage of this whole root in the Pentateuch. In Deuteronomy 25:11 is decreed that when two men fight and the wife of one grabs the other by the מבוש (mabosh), her hand must be cut off. But see a brief discussion of this below:

If the command of Deuteronomy 25:11-12 was meant solely to keep wives from handling another man's glockenspiel, other available words would have done the trick. This particular noun literally means "place/instrument of shame" but in Biblical times one's genitalia were not necessarily per definition linked to pudency (why would they be, in fact?).

Back then, arguing men who actually came to blows was probably as rare as it is today. Rarer still would be two men coming to blows in reach of the wife of one. Let's estimate half of these rare occasions to occur in front of the wife of the one who's losing, which means that the man who is so strong that he wins from the other, still somehow manages to make his privates available for the woman to grab. And even if all these unlikelihoods are in place, it would be rare if the woman actually goes for the assailer's schlong instead of, say, hitting him on the head with something heavy. Come to think of it: who would try to separate, say, two fighting dogs by grabbing one by the nuts?

It seems that this particular event is so unlikely to occur that regulation seems overkill and all these considerations appear to point at additional meaning. Note that this rule appears in a paragraph that deals with the boundaries between which men are to engage their conflicts, which ends with a treatment on unequal weights and measures. It seems that the rule of the grabbing wife tells more about unfair advantage that one man might assume when his wife (or indirectly his household or business) grabs hold of the other guy's private weaknesses, wherever these may dangle.

A situation to which this rule might apply is, say, when of two competing companies, one begins a slur campaign against the other by broadcasting discrediting information that has nothing to do with the companies' products, but, say, their inferior house-style or their stuttering CEO or something along those lines.

Associated Biblical names