Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun αμπελος (ampelos) means vine, which is the plant that grapes grow off of. It's not clear where this word may come from, but the Latin amplus, meaning great and spacious (hence our English word "ample"), readily jumps to mind (also see our remark on the word amphora below). This latter word comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "hem-", to grasp or handle — which by extension means to hold in one's hand or to control.
The agricultural revolution happened in stages. It began with the domestication of the κυων (kuon), dog (15th millennium BC), which allowed man to begin to manage large herds. Then came agriculture (12th millennium BC) and finally urbanization (beginning in the 4th millennium BC). This process is in the Bible told as the progression from Cain (cereal agriculture) and Abel (husbandry), the beginning of viticulture immediately after the flood of Noah (Genesis 9:20) and ultimately urbanization as Jacob built houses for himself and his life stock at Succoth (Genesis 33:17). Very early cities had obviously existed since Enoch (Genesis 4:17), but the story of Jacob is concerned rather with the evolution of wisdom (whose autonomous narrative cycle starts in Abraham and completes in the New Jerusalem), whereas the flood of Noah marks the beginning of a distinct human society based on cognition and verbal expression.
Viticulture (the cultivation of vines and thus wines) was a relatively late specialization of agriculture (beginning in the 5th millennium BC), and rather typical of urbanization and cultural refinement. This is how the Bible consistently compares a human society based on writing (the temple of YHWH at its heart), namely with a vineyard: "Let me sing now for my well-beloved: a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard" (Isaiah 5:1). Or "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5).
As we point out in our article on the noun αστηρ (aster), meaning star, the ancients were well aware of the fractal nature of reality and had so been able to figure out the basic structure of the universe. As we moderns have known since Einstein, spacetime warps around concentrations of mass. This means that if an observer could take a perspective from outside spacetime (and isn't that what we do when we contemplate?), she could be imagined to stand on dry land (that's outside spacetime) whilst looking at the ocean and the various rivers that flow into it (that's spacetime).
Here is the big secret: stars are the sources of the rivers.
If a salmon (or a spaceship) would want to swim from the source of one particular river (some star) to the source of some other river (another star), she would have to swim down the first river, then follow the coast for a bit, and then swim up the other river. Our observer can see both the sources and also the stretch of dry land between them, but our salmon has no idea, and only knows the water. Likewise (and here's the second big secret), when we casual humans "look" at space, we see the stars from inside the river, from underwater, with the perspective of the salmon. But someone who assumes the perspective of the dry-land observer sees stars like flowers and black holes like grapes hang in tight clusters from the branches of a gigantic vine. Spacetime is a giant vine, and when we humans look at a star, we look from within a branch, down the branch into the inside of a flower (a star) or a grape (a black hole). Our minds (and angels, for that matter) are like bees that buzz around in the realms outside spacetime.
It takes a while to see it, but once you do, you can't unsee it: the universe is a giant vine (also see our article on οινος, oinos, meaning wine).
Our noun αμπελος (ampelos), vine, is used 9 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Together with the noun εργον (ergon), meaning work: the noun αμπελουργος (ampelourgos), meaning vineyard-worker; someone who cultivates and tends vines (Luke 13:7 only).
- The noun αμπελων (ampelon), meaning vineyard. As we discuss above, this word occurs mostly to metaphorize humanity in its cultivated, literate, urban and sophisticated form. Obviously, mankind's destiny is urban, namely within or around the New Jerusalem, and will also resemble the most basic structure of the universe, which is a vine. The Hebrew word for vineyard is כרם (kerem). Our Greek noun αμπελων (ampelon) occurs 23 times in the New Testament see full concordance.
The Latin noun amphora, which describes a two-handled vessel commonly filled with wine, comes from the prefix αμφω- (ampho-), which describes an approach from both or all sides. This prefix does not seem very alien to the adjective amplus, meaning great and spacious, from which comes our noun αμπελος (ampelos), vine. These two words are perhaps not etymologically related but rather the result of convergent evolution.