Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
Once, in Luke 13:15, our word appears as synonym for the whole stall, and this has helped form the Christian myth that Jesus was born in one. The original audience of Luke probably didn't make that conclusion, because for them it would have been unthinkable that any Jewish homeowner in Bethlehem would have rejected a heavily pregnant woman when the public inn was full.
Luke's colleague author Matthew uses the word οικια (oikia), which in both the Greek classics and the New Testament exclusively denotes a human house and never a stable (Matthew 2:11). The original audiences of these accounts probably understood the animal trough inside a human house as an obvious reference to the Pascha lamb that was to live in every house for four days and hence needed a manger (Exodus 12:3-6; Mark 14:12).
But there is more, much more:
Oxen and donkeys huddled around Jesus' manger
Proverbs 14:4 reads: "Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of the ox comes an abundant harvest," which suggests that when Jesus was laid in the crib, and the crib was no longer empty, the proverbial oxen gathered and brought with them an abundance of harvest. No oxen and donkeys are mentioned in either account, but there was of course quite a gathering.
In Matthew, wise men (μαγοι, magoi) from the east show up and pay homage to the newborn Christ (Matthew 2:1). In Luke, there are shepherds (ποιμενες, poimenes) abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8). Shepherds obviously don't abide in the field at night when it's dead winter, so Luke make an emphatic effort to place the birth of Christ in the summer. Perhaps he did that to clearly separate the birth of Jesus from the winter festivals of various pagan religions (and see our article on Hanukkah for a further look at the disaster that is White Western Christmas).
Matthew's magi and Luke's shepherds were of course the same people: members of the formidable wisdom class founded by those who had stayed in Persia when a small minority returned to Judea to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This was the wisdom class that had created Judaism's signature synagogue structure, and was most likely also responsible for the invention of the systemic postal service: which is why we have both the Talmud and the epistolary New Testament and ultimately the Internet.
If an imperial government is solar (solar, solo, mono, monarch), then the Jews are decidedly stellar. They had been able to survive and thrive in Persia thanks to queen Esther, whose name means Star (hence Matthew 2:2), and the nature of stars is that they have no leader (Matthew 23:8-12), only massive numbers of sovereign individuals who communicate freely with anyone else (Genesis 1:14-19, Genesis 15:5, Daniel 12:3).
The birth of the formal postal network was in essence the birth of free speech and thus personal sovereignty — the pseudo-name Christ is actually the noun χριστος (christos), meaning anointed or sovereign; it denoted someone without an earthly superior, who answered directly to God: kings, prophets and high priests. The pursuit of knowledge had long been the domain of specially trained priests, but the postal network opened the treasuries of wisdom and knowledge to anyone (Colossians 2:3) and the world could truly become a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6).
Rather than by the decree of a single imperial solar superman, the Word of God comes to humanity on the clouds. Not clouds of suspended water vapor in earth's atmosphere but stellar clouds of sovereign witnesses that surround the Word like friendly and domesticated animals their manger (Hebrews 12:1). The Persian postal service was the beginning of that cloud (1 Kings 18:44). See for more on this, our article on the noun νεφελη (nephele), cloud.
A King on a donkey's foal
The noun ονος (onos) means donkey. The diminutive noun οναριον (onarion) means the foal of a donkey. The noun οναρ (onar) means dream. The word "woke" is overrated; the trick is to ride dreams (Daniel 2:30).
The Persian word for mailman was angaros, from which Greek got its noun αγγελος (aggelos) and English the word "angel". Long before a gullible culture had allowed the "angel" to morph with pagan ghosts to become an ethereal being with huge white wings, the word described a man on a horse, carrying messages along an imperial super-brain of well-worn paths (τριβος, tribos; Matthew 3:3) that were maintained and secured as per the king's solar decree (hence also Titus 3:1). The "angel-choirs" the evangelists speak of were mailmen delivering messages along a formal network. When Jesus said: I am the Way (John 14:6), his audience doubtlessly thought of that stellar network. All Roman roads lead to Rome, but Christ's network leads to Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2).
The name of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and see our article on the name YHWH for a look at the baffling miracle that is the alphabet) derives from the verb אלף ('alep), to learn, or rather to socially synchronize, and hence to produce thousands. Noun אלף ('elep) means both cattle or a thousand — hence "...showing lovingkindness to thousands (or cattle?); to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6). Adjective אלוף ('allup) means tame, peaceful or friendly or "leader of thousands" — hence Jeremiah 11:19, "like a gentle lamb (or a lamb that's the leader of thousands?) led to the slaughter".
In around 120 AD, when the Gospel of Christ was gaining serious momentum and the Roman empire began to seriously push back, Roman historian Suetonius placed Octavian's birth in 63 BC at a mysterious and hitherto unknown location called Oxen Heads on the Palatine Hill in Rome. In 27 BC, Octavian became Augustus, the creator and first emperor of the Roman Empire (and see our article on Octavian for a longer look at all that).
Our noun φατνη (phatne), meaning manger, was also the Greek name for a nebulous cluster in the constellation Cancer. Ancient astrologers deemed it the manger from which two heavenly donkeys ate, namely the donkeys upon which Dionysius and Silenus had charged the Titans (hence also Matthew 12:29: ".... how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property..."). Other poets called this stellar object Nephelion, a diminutive of νεφελη (nephele), cloud. Its modern name (of uncertain but relatively modern origin) is the Beehive Cluster. In 2012 two exoplanets were discovered in it (and graced with the names Pr0201b and Pr0211b).
The Good Shepherd and the Agricultural Revolution
As we explain in our article on the noun αγρος (agros), meaning acre or field, the agricultural revolution went hand in hand with the wisdom revolution, and while the Bible tells of the latter, it does so largely in imagery borrowed from the former. This is why Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), while in fact Christ is as concerned about sheep as God is about oxen (1 Corinthians 9:9), and these things were written for our human sake.
If we find ourselves in a room with 100 strangers, it's very difficult to keep track of who's doing what. But if these 100 are our friends and we know them all by name (and we know who goes with who, and who are friends and who are foes), it becomes much easier to recognize and retain knowledge of these people's complex interactions. Likewise, when we know the words of things we see around us, it becomes much easier to keep track of things, their categories and their normalcies, and to see a depth of patterns that ties the nature and histories of things together.
Our celebrated human consciousness is strongly dependent on the language we speak and think in. And the intelligence with which we look at the world is strongly dependent on the logical connectedness of the words we use for that. Our consciousness is the effect of the software that is our language, and since every language has innate intelligence (namely the etymological patterns or poetic associations that connect the words), our collective or cultural intelligence strongly depends on the intelligence of our language. Even with an average intelligence, if your native language is ancient Hebrew, you'll see the world as a multi-dimensional fractal matrix, in which everything is connected to everything else and all things always work together. If your native language is modern English, the chances are excellent you believe in alien abductions and the Loch Ness Monster.
All this means that much of the animals that are mentioned in the Bible are languages (likewise, Tolkien's elven and dwarfs and such are much rather languages than peoples; his stories, like the Bible stories, are battles between languages and literary legacies; see Psalm 16:10). In this context, Christ in the crib is obviously Hebrew; the human shepherd in our story of the agricultural revolution. Greek and Latin are obviously canine — see our articles on κυων (kuon), dog, and the names Hellas and Aeneas — and the modern Indo-European languages are the rest of the domesticated farm animals (their relationship over time is: the shepherds instruct the dogs, and the dogs herd the herds, so that ultimately, the behavior of the herds reflects the original shepherds' will, even though they are now far removed).
In the natural world, herds are driven into compact masses by predatorial hunters. In the agricultural world, herds are invited to congregate around feeding troughs. The theme is food, but where in the natural world, selfish hunters target herds for it, in the agricultural world, that which was once food has become the eater and eats what is willfully deposited into the central manger.
The Hebrew word for manger is the feminine noun אריה ('urya). This word's masculine counterpart is ארי ('ari), which is another word that means lion. Both these words comes from the verb ארה ('ara), to collect or gather, which makes perfect sense, since the lion is the animal-gatherer and the manger is that around which the animals gather.
The Hebrew word for bee is the feminine noun דברה (deborah), hence the name Deborah. Its masculine counterpart is the noun דבר (dabar), meaning Word (in Greek that's Logos). Both these nouns come from the verb דבר (dabar), to proclaim a message or tell a theory.
That means that the bees (♀) in the lion (♂) of Samson's riddle (Judges 14:14) is the gender-reversed equivalent of the Word (♂) in the Manger (♀).
A central manger, a central fire, a central ... dragon?
It's formally unclear where our noun φατνη (phatne) comes from, although some suggest it might be the same Proto-Indo-European root "bend-" that gave English words like bind, bond, band and bundle. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but the beginning of enlightenment is not only compared with animals gathering around a trough, also with people huddling around a centralizing fire (see our article on πυρ, pur, fire). That very first step toward modernity obviously didn't go without a stumble, which is a tragedy that in many cultures is considered as having to do with a snake: hence the locutionary snake in paradise who was craftier than all the animals, (Genesis 3:1) — which makes that snake as obviously human as the beast whose number is 666 (Revelation 13:18) — and the fiery serpents that prompted Moses to construct the fiery bronze Nehushtan (Numbers 21:8).
The Greek word for snake is the familiar noun δρακων (drakon). What's less familiar is that this noun derives from the verb δερκομαι (derkomai), meaning to see, bringing to mind the names Beer-lahai-roi, meaning the Well Of The Living One Who Sees, and Reuben, meaning Son Of Vision. It also brings to mind the name Lucifer, which means Light Bringer (and for the whole good-and-evil thing, see our article on Apollyon).
Here at Abarim Publications we often make the point that the Greek alphabet was adapted from the Hebrew one, and was introduced into the Greek language basin along with a helping of handy terms and ideas. Our word φατνη (phatne) may have been among them, not because the pre-literate Greeks didn't have a word for trough (because they certainly did) but because our noun φατνη (phatne) rather means manger-plus, or a manger that relates to the farm animals the way the Word relates to people-who-can-read, and who voluntarily show up and eat their fill from what is offered.
That said, the Hebrew word for venomous serpent is פתן (peten), and comes from an unused verb פתן (patan), which is not at all unlike our noun φατνη (phatne). This verb פתן (patan) isn't used in the Bible so we don't know what it might have meant. But it appears in Assyrian as patanu, with the meaning of to protect (and see Genesis 15:1, Exodus 23:20, Psalm 91:1). This noun פתן (peten), serpent, prefixed with the article of agency makes the noun מפתן (miptan), meaning threshold, which is a word that appears in Arabic with the meaning of carpenter. The link is not immediately obvious, but perhaps a wound joint (two beams joined by a very firmly wound rope) reminded of a snake.
In the Greek New Testament, Jesus' earthly profession is described as τεκτων (tekton), meaning joiner (Mark 6:3). This word is closely related to our English words text, textile and technology, which are all about the harmonic joining of elements. Modern humanity differs from our wild forbears in that we moderns are united by technology, which includes information technology, which includes the alphabet.