Man, coal and flowers

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/a/a-n-et-r.html

What a piece of work is man

— and how smoldering coals and flowers may explain him —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The ubiquitous masculine and quintessential Greek noun ανηρ (aner) means man in the sense of a male adult person (Matthew 14:21, Ephesians 4:13), or man as member of the human race (Mark 6:44, Luke 5:12). Our noun occurs 214 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but mostly with the meaning of husband (John 1:13, 1 Corinthians 7:10, Ephesians 5:25).

This word stems from the Proto-Indo-European noun "hner", meaning man or vital energy, and although one would expect this term to express a rather important idea, only very modest traces of it survive in Latin (the name Nero) and Slavic languages (narav, nature or temperament).

Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that the formation of this PIE noun may have been helped by its proximity to the Hebrew noun נר (ner), meaning lamp, from the verb נהר (nahar), meaning to flow (what a river does) and to shine (what a lamp does). See our article on the many Hebrew roots of the Greek language for more of these imported words. See our article on the name Tigris for a look at the relationship between rivers and human cultures.


The familiar noun ανδρος (andros) is a genitive (indicating possession or some other "of" relation) of the word ανηρ (aner), meaning man or husband. Derivations of ανηρ (aner) that use this genitive are:

  • The masculine noun ανδραποδιστης (andrapodistes), meaning a man-stealer; a person who abducts men in order to make them slaves (1 Timothy 1:10 only).
  • The verb ανδριζω (andrizo), meaning to behave manly, that is maturely or courageously (1 Corinthians 16:13 only).
  • With the verb φονος (phonos), to murder: ανδροφονος (androphonos), meaning manslayer, or rather male-slayer (1 Timothy 1:9 only).
  • With the common preposition υπο (hupo), meaning under, beneath or through: the adjective υπανδρος (hupandros), meaning "under a husband," or married (Romans 7:2 only).
  • Together with the adjective φιλος (philos), meaning beloved or friend, the adjective φιλανδρος (philandros), meaning friendly toward man or husband (Titus 2:4 only).

The noun ανθρωπος (anthropos) denotes man as in mankind and is used in the Bible distinctively from both the realm of the divine and the more general word for man ανηρ (aner). Paul strikingly uses this word when he tells his arresting officer that he is not some rioter but human (Acts 21:39).

This word is hugely old (it existed already in Mycenaean times) but it's not clear how it was formed and thus which core idea it expressed. But it obviously reminds of a combination of ανηρ (aner), man, and ωψ (ops), face or look.

In modern times, the difference between animals and humans is commonly understood to be a matter of genetics, but race theory didn't really exist back then (see 1 Corinthians 15:39, and our article on σαρξ, sarx, flesh) and the difference between animals and humans was rather determined by culture and reason: "Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was a beast before You" (Psalm 73:22, also see Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10).

See for a short discussion on what makes a human and what makes a non-human, our article on the noun θηριον (theorion). See below for some words that may have helped Greeks to understand humanness.

This noun ανθρωπος (anthropos) is used 559 times, see full concordance, and its derivations are:

  • Together with the verb αρεσκω (aresko), meaning to fit or please: the adjective ανθρωπαρεκος (anthropareskos) meaning pleaser of man(kind) as opposed to a pleaser of God. This adjective occurs only twice in the New Testament, namely in Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:22.
  • The adjective ανθρωπινος (anthropinos), meaning human or belonging to mankind. This adjective is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the otherwise unused verb κτεινω (kteino), meaning to kill or slay: the noun ανθροποκτονος (anthropoktonos) meaning manslayer or rather human-slayer (John 8:44 and 1 John 3:15 only).
  • Together with the adjective φιλος (philos), meaning beloved or friend, the familiar noun φιλανθρωπια (philanthropia), denoting love for mankind (Acts 28:2 and Titus 3:4 only), and its associated adverb φιλανθρωπως (philanthropos), meaning humanely (Acts 27:3 only).

The noun ανθραξ (anthrax) describes glowing coal or a slow fire. It's a relatively rare word in the classics (presumably because slow fires or glowing embers were rare, relative to properly roaring fires to cook on or stay warm with). Our word could also describe a glowing red infectious spot, which explains its use in modern English. Our word could also describe a sort of gem, the first one mentioned in Exodus 28:18, נפך (nopek), variably translated as turquoise, carbuncle, or ruby.

It's a mystery where our word comes from. But that allows anybody creative enough the liberty of tying it to the previous word, the formidable noun ανθρωπος (anthropos), meaning man(kind).

In the old world, fire was broadly seen as the anchor around which humanity grew (see our article on πυρ, pur, fire), and its light became synonymous to enlightenment and reason (Abraham's city of origin was Ur, which means light). But the Hebrews understood that the fire itself does not point to reason, but rather to the madness of passion (see our article on Beelzebub).

The miracle of the bush was not in the fire but rather in the bush that didn't get consumed by the fire (Exodus 3:3). The Hebrews understood that fire did not enter the bush but that the bush had captured the fire. The Hebrews understood that the fire came first, and that rationality became the cage that kept the fire contained. The bush which Moses saw became the tabernacle that contained the Ark, which became the temple, which became the Body of Christ that embodied the Logos. All of it was based on heavenly patterns (Exodus 25:9, Hebrews 9:23), which explains the fire contained by the very Throne of God (Isaiah 6:6, Ezekiel 1:4, Daniel 8:9). And all of it was technological and designed to keep the fire contained, so that the fire, in turn, could power civilization.

Humankind began with the first red glow of the rational containment of fire: Adam (whose name means red), but also the much mentioned rosy-fingered dawn (hence also Anatolia, which means sunrise), the Red Sea, or the many roses of Rhodes. The familiar word μορον (moron), means mulberry, the proverbially dim glowing fruit beneath which Pyramus and Thisbe found their deaths, or so it was told by the Roman poet Ovid.

Where our noun ανθραξ (anthrax) comes from remains a mystery, but the Greeks' celebrated Golden Age could not have started without the alphabet, which was a dazzling technological feat, like all rational technology designed to contain emotional fire. The alphabet was imported from Greece's Semitic trading partners, along with a formidable slew of handy terms. All this suggests that our word ανθραξ (anthrax) and hence the noun ανθρωπος (anthropos) may have been based upon a fitting Semitic term.

One particular word that comes to mind is the verb תור (tur), to explore or survey (the leading "a" might derive from the article ה, he; a prefixed "n" would mark a participle; a postfixed "k" or "x" in Hebrew marks a second person singular masculine possessive pronoun and might thus express a devotional notion, whereas in Greece, a final "k" or "x" might express a diminutive or individuality relative to a massive collective). Other words of note are the verb נתר (natar), to spring up, to be free or loose, the verb נטר (natar), to keep or guard (like a vineyard), which is an alternative spelling of the magnificent verb נצר (nasar), to watch, guard or keep. That latter verb in turn relates to the verb נזר (nazar), to consecrate oneself, which suggests that in Hebrew eyes, the Greek ανθρωπος (anthropos) equaled the Nazirite: the man of dedication, whose job it was to shepherd his people, and to guard and keep them.

Our noun occurs in Romans 12:20 only, where Paul quotes Proverbs 25:22 and speaks of piling burning coals upon someone's head. Some commentators have interpreted this to relate to a form of physical torture, whereas others remembered that the Bible doesn't volunteer tips on abuse, but rather speaks of the gradual and arduous enlightenment of people who are otherwise wholly in the primitive dark.

From our noun in turn comes:

  • The noun ανθρακια (anthrakia), which utilizes the same "-ia" extension we have in English (mostly for collections). It simply describes a small stack of glowing coals, although in the context of the gospels it obviously speaks of the earliest rudiments of collective reason (John 18:18 and 21:9 only).

The noun ανθος (anthos) means flower (hence names like Anton and Antonia and words like chrysanthemum). In the New Testament, this noun occurs 4 times (in three verses); see full concordance.

In our article on the name Hebrew, we argue that languages are ecosystems in which speakers evolve like animals. We further hypothesize that Hebrew is a jungle: extremely diverse and three-dimensional (trees are what's known as social memory), and much older than the Indo-European language family, which is rather alike a grassland, with one dimension less and supportive of a significantly less diverse range of speakers. Moreover, the grasslands that are the Indo-European languages gave rise to the enormous herds of ungulates, but also their carnivorous cousins: canines and felines.

Cats, dogs, sheep, cows; they're all cousins who all "lift the heel" (see our article on πτερνα, pterna, heel), and race around on their toes; toes of feet built for speed. We cave-slash-house dwelling great apes walk on flat feet, and our closest flat-footed cousins are our fellow burrowers rabbits and mice and the likes. An animal can't develop hands without first having flat feet, and without hands an animal can't handle tools, and thus develop technology and thus have science. Science is essentially a quality of language, namely the pursuit of agreement on how to describe things (Genesis 2:19-20). This is of course in basic essence what a word is for: to call a thing by a name we all agree on. This, simply, explains why the Hebrews called the whole of natural law, or rather mankind's agreed understanding of natural law, by the name Word (see our article on Logos). It also explains the link between technology, textile, text and τεκτων (tekton), meaning "assembler", which is the word for the earthly vocation of Jesus, who embodied the Logos.

The crucial difference between science and mysticism is that science produces technology (see Exodus 31:1-11) whereas mysticism is mostly mysterious and that's it. But our scientific tradition, and thus our modern technological world, is essentially an outgrowth of the great mystery schools of antiquity. The mystery schools basically forged the infrastructure of thought; the Hebrew alphabet, which would domesticate the entire world, arose in the mystery schools of Egypt (the entire arc from the Exodus to Solomon's building of the great Temple is about the formation of the alphabet; see our article on the name YHWH). All this explains why the Greek word for mystery (μυστηριον, musterion) is closely similar to the word for mouse (μυς, mus).

But the big punch line of our present story is that the flower is a relatively late addition to the world of plants (and remember that languages are ecosystems in which plants and trees are information that is captured in etymological links and style-figures like tropes and metaphors, that exist within the language, long before any story starts). Trees have existed for about 360 million years, but flowers only showed up about 130 million years ago. Flowers are a plant's sex organs (which is why young suiters offer them to their prospects), and many grow into fruits when pollinated. The rise of the flower's colorful appearance invited the evolution of color vision in fruit-eating animals like us great apes. It allowed the rise of many different kinds of insects (the Hebrew word for bee, namely דברה, debora is closely related to the Hebrew equivalent of Logos, namely Dabar). And all that gave rise to a broad diversification of birds.

More relevant to our present story, however, is that flowers gave immense powers to grass. Up to the coming of flowers, the world had been covered in forest, but around 60 million years ago (roughly around the time the dinosaurs lost their dominant position) grass began to overwhelm the forests and created the prairies and savannahs. Animals of all varieties (but mostly losers, in a survival-of-the-fittest sense), flooded out of the jungles and onto the prairies. Herds formed, and predators arose. And at some point, the nerdiest members of the wolve-people somehow found the nerdiest member of the ape-people, and the two merged into what would become the House of Human: shepherds (ποιμην, poimen), and their sheepdogs (κυων, kuon), and vast domesticated herds, then cities and kingdoms, then nation states and federations, and finally the Internet and Artificial Intelligence. And perhaps someday the New Jerusalem.

Associated Biblical names