Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: μασσω

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/m/m-a-s-s-om.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The verb μασσω (masso) (or ματτω, matto) means to knead: to violently squeeze, slap, swing and twist a helping of various components until they are in homogenous unison, so as to be pressed into a mold and baked in fire. It's been proposed that this word derives from a Proto-Indo-European root mehk-, meaning to knead, which also yielded the Latin verb macero, to make soft (of materials, by soaking, of the mind, by fretting), obviously the English noun "mass" and even the English verb "to make" (whose modern broad pallet of applications apparently derived from an initial production of mud brick houses).

Here at Abarim Publications we're rather struck by the obvious similarity to the Hebrew verb מסס (masas), to melt or dissolve. The Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Hebrew one, and our verb μασσω (masso) may very well have been among the few terms that were imported along with it.

But whatever the pedigree, and as could be expected, in the Greek classics our verb applies mostly to φυραμα (phurama), a lump of dough that's thoroughly mixed and kneaded and pressed either flat into a pancake or into a mold to become αρτος (artos), bread. This latter noun looks rather similar to the adjective αρτιος (artios), meaning precisely right, which through the ages has enticed the poets into kneading their fair share of metaphors: "But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make" (Jeremiah 18:4).

Our verb μασσω (masso), to vigorously knead, isn't used independently in the New Testament, but from it derive:

  • Together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from: the verb απομασσω (apomasso), to slap off (Luke 10:11 only). This colorful verb employs the image of a baker's violent assault on a lump of dough, which he grabs and squeezes and slaps around (to make it properly mixed and ready for the oven). In the classics this verb describes any kind of vigorous cleaning by kneading or slapping: a table with a rag, one's hands by kneading a towel, or one's dusty clothes by slapping oneself up and down. This verb was also used to describe the making of an imprint in clay, and hence the making of any kind of copy — compare the familiar noun εικον (eikon), meaning icon, which relates to the verb εικω (eiko), to give way, to make way for or to yield to pressure or impulse.
  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out, from or of: the verb εκμασσω (ekmasso), meaning to slap (or better: dab) out or away. In the classics, this word predominantly describes the dabbing away of tears. In the New Testament, this verb is used mostly in the scene in which Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus' feet and dabs (probably not slaps) them dry with her hair. Drying someone after anointing wasn't at all customary, but like the previous, this verb could also describe the making of a copy out of imitating some original. Hence this verb could also be used to describe the impression that some original (or a teacher) made in an emulating follower (a student). That means that Mary wasn't merely drying Jesus' feet, she was, in some dazzlingly symbolic way, copying their definition onto her hair: his lowest to her highest — and see our article on the noun κοσμος (kosmos), world-order, for more on the cosmological profundity of all this. See our article on Nicodemus for a look at the significance of the oil Mary uses. And also remember that the noun δοξα (doxa), or "glory", translates the Hebrew term כבוד (kabud), weighty or impression-making.
    Our verb εκμασσω (ekmasso) occurs 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
  • The verb μασσαομαι (massaomai), which appears to be an invented verb derived from μασσω (masso) and means to be twisted, slapped and torqued like a lump of dough that's abused and punished until it's ready to be put in the oven to be baked. This verb occurs in Revelation 16:10 only, where it applies to the tongues of those who dwell in the dark kingdom of the beast (and see James 1:26 and 3:2 for an extension of the tongue metaphor). Other commentators have proposed that our verb μασσαομαι (massaomai) was not willfully invented but rather a misspelling of a relatively rare verb μασαομαι (masaomai), meaning to chew (unused in the New Testament). Here at Abarim Publications we would counter-suggest that chewing and kneading (or diluting) are obviously closely kindred exercises, and the verb μασαομαι (masaomai) is a misspelling of the correct μασσαομαι (massaomai).

The noun μαστιξ (mastix) describes a whip or scourge, mostly for driving horses and soldiers. Above we discuss the verb μασσαομαι (massaomai), which applies to people's unruly tongues, and in James 1:26 and 3:2 these same tongues are compared to unbridled horses. Hence our noun μαστιξ (mastix) describes a tool for beating horses (or human personnel) into submission and make them all trot in unison, or at least according to their master's bidding. In the classics, our noun was also often deployed in the metaphorical sense of a scourge or plague that forced people into submission. In the New Testament, this noun is used solely in that way. It's used 6 times, see full concordance, and from it come:

  • The verb μαστιγοω (mastigo), meaning to whip or scourge, or rather more general and figuratively: to lash and knead in order to weaken and reform into some desired mold. This verb is used 7 times; see full concordance.
  • The verb μαστιζω (mastizo), meaning to take a scourge to (Acts 22:25 only).

The noun μαστος (mastos) means breast, or rather nipple. Its commonly proposed to stem from a relatively rare verb μαδαω (madao), which is listed to mean to be moist, but which in the Greek classics rather describes a kind of soppy fig-tree disease, and came thus to be used to describe the falling out of human hair. And besides, the nipple as milk dispenser is mostly described by the noun θηλη (thele), from the verb θηλαζω (thelazo), to suckle.

Our noun μαστος (mastos) also covers the male nipple, and a more likely derivation is from our verb μασσω (masso), to knead, also because despite modern objections, in antiquity, the female breast was predominantly thought of as recipient of the husband's gropes. In Hebrew, the verb ידד (yadad) means to love, and דדה (dada) means to move slowly and caress. Noun דד (dad) denotes a women's nipple or breast, specifically as object of the husband's ever corrigible attentions (Proverbs 5:19, Ezekiel 23:3).

In the classics, our word would on occasion denote a male nipple (mostly in order to pinpoint the precise location of an arrow wound: Od.22.82), but most often described the female breast, which, likewise, could be pierced by an arrow, even if she was the supreme goddess (Il.5.593), but which ever more often was offered in the hope to change and appease the hearts of men (Il.22.80).

Our English words mammal and mammary don't relate to our word, but rather stem from μαμμα (mamma), mamma, or μαμμη (mamme), grandmamma. In English, several masto- words that have to do with the female breast do come from our word, including the noun "mastodon", which was designed to mean nipple-tooth, on account of nipple-like structures on the molars of unearthed fossils.

In the New Testament, our noun μαστος (mastos), nipple, occurs in Luke 11:27, 23:29 and Revelation 1:13 only. In Luke, it clearly describes a lactating human female nipple, but in Revelation 1:13, it describes the location at where the foot-fitting robe of he who "resembled one of the humans" was girded with a golden belt. According to Josephus (Ant.3.154-155), the high priest would indeed wear around his chest a gold-embroidered belt, whose texture resembled that of a snakeskin. A similar description happens in Revelation 15:6, but no nipples are mentioned.

Here at Abarim Publications, we surmise that to the ancients the male nipple was as much associated with the underlying pectoral muscles, as the female nipple was with milk-producing mammary glands. Milk (γαλα, gala) is food for young babies, and so came to symbolize the first lessons taught to brand new disciples (1 Corinthians 3:2). With the pectoral muscles, however, the males deployed their arms, and whatever tool or weapon extended their arm. In the classical mind, an arrow in or near the female nipple would compromise the victim's ability to teach her children. An arrow in or near the male nipple would compromise the victim's ability to defend his children.

Hence Moses spoke of God's mighty and everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27, Exodus 6:6, 15:16, also see Luke 1:51) and the Psalmist sang of the deployment of God's powerful right arm (Psalm 44:3, 89:10). The prophet Isaiah declared: "Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him" (Isaiah 40:10), and "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1), which later John the evangelist applied to the mature Word (John 12:38).