Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The word ερυθρος (eruthros) means red (Acts 7:36 and Hebrews 11:29 only). Red is the color of sunrise and the first color that children learn to see. Hence, all over the world, the color red symbolizes initiation and beginnings, but also primitivity (hence the word rudimentary) and simpleness (and sin). In Hebrew, the names Adam (אדם, 'adam) and Edom (אדום, 'edom) relate to אדם ('adom), meaning red. The Hebrew word for blood is דם (dam).
Red symbolizes the hot emotions of anger and violence (hence our word rude, meaning redness), as opposed to the sophisticated coolness of blue rationality. The Red Sea, or Eruthra (hence also the name of the country Eritrea) was known as Red Sea since deep antiquity, but as we explain in our article on that name, this is probably because mankind's collective cultural memory remembers that on the shores of the Red Sea, human modernity began.
Our word ερυθρος (eruthros) stems from a widely attested Proto-Indo-European root "reudh-", meaning red, which also yielded the Sanskrit rudhira, the Germanic rot and thus the English "red", and the Latin name Rufus. These names for red are hugely old, and judging from the vast extend in which these reudh--words still exist, it was the first named color.
The sea which today is called Red Sea is obviously not the same as the "red sea" mentioned in the New Testament. That, namely, is the proverbial Sea Where It All Began: the Sea of Reeds, or Yam-sup, a reference to the papyri of Egypt and thus its writing system and literary legacy (see our article on βιβλος, biblos, paper).
The noun εριθος (erithos) refers to a day-worker, a hired hand. Before the rise of complex societies, humans lived in family groups and traveled with the herds. Commodities were common and people simply did whatever had to be done. This changed with the agricultural revolution, when humans settled down and invented property and wages. Both the Greek δραχμη (drachme), and the Roman δηναριον (denarion), were primary units of account and corresponded to a common worker's day's wage. Even one of the twelve sons of Jacob was called Hired Man (namely Issachar).
The invention of a standardized day's wage was among the first crucial steps toward modernity, and although it's not clear where our noun εριθος (erithos) came from, to the ancient poets it would have fit right into the root "reudh-" we discuss above.
Hired hands would generally be acquired during agricultural peak seasons, and from outside the community, which would make them unfamiliar with the local hierarchies and understandings of things. That would make them prone to be perceived as rude. And they would be carrying large amounts of cash, which would make their sub-culture prone to theft and violence.
As said, our word is of unclear origin. It originally denoted mowers and reapers, but when it also began to denote wool-workers, it began to be associated with εριον (erion), wool. Another possible association is to the verb ερεω (ereo), to verbally convey (a hired hand had to be told what to do), or even the verb ερειδω (ereido), to fix in one particular spot or to ridicule.
The New Testament word for evil, namely the adjective πονηρος (poneros), comes from the verb πενομαι (penomai), meaning to toil or labor. Its polar opposite is ελευθερια (eleutheria), or freedom-by-law.
Our noun εριθος (erithos) is not used in the New Testament, but from it derives:
- The noun εριθεια (eritheia), which literally describes labor for a wage, but which in practice denoted commercial activity that was performed not because of a personal investment in and attachment to the community, but rather in pursuit of recompense with no further strings attached. In agricultural communities, only strangers and loafers worked for wages (Matthew 20:3): men who, for whatever reason, had no home of their own to work for. Their status was below that of society's lowest formal rank (i.e. the lowest level of authority, autonomy and responsibility), and they were by definition selfish and fixated, rude and violent, and overall untrustworthy. Our noun is used 7 times; see full concordance.