The Forgotten Meaning of ʿāpār in Biblical Hebrew

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Nissim Amzallag



It is argued in this study that ʿāpār, in the context of mining expressed in Job 28:2, 6, probably denotes neither ‘dust’ nor related materials (‘earth’, ‘dirt’, or ‘ashes’), as is generally assumed, but ‘metallic ore’. A similar designation of ʿāpār as ore is identified in Job 30:6 and Ezek. 26:12. Further examination reveals the figurative use of ʿāpār as ore in Job 22:24, Isa. 34:9, and Isa. 41:2. In contrast to the abasement, humiliation, and worthlessness that are closely related to dust, metallic ore is associated with preciousness, rarity, and wisdom. Consequently, disregard of the figurative meaning of ʿāpār as ore may generate misunderstandings of the biblical text. It may also conceal a theological reality. For example, the identification of ʿāpār as ore in Prov. 8:26 promotes homology between Lady Wisdom and the Egyptian goddess Hathor in Prov. 8:22–31. In Gen. 3:14, it stresses the metallurgical background of the Hebrew myth of origin and helps to clarify its significance. The meaning of ʿāpār as ore in Isa. 65:25 even transforms the metallurgical theological component into the source of eschatological developments. It is concluded that the ‘ore’ dimension of meaning of ʿāpār coexists in Biblical Hebrew with the traditional association of ʿāpār with dust and that the disregard of this dimension overlooks the meaning of these verses and the theology that inspires them; it also reflects misunderstandings of Biblical Hebrew after the Persian period.

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