Hebrew question

This is a question I received recently to which I don’t know the answer. Can you help?

Can you please tell me something about Hebrew. I want to know if the Hebrew we get in Biblica Hebraica, which I think is based on the masoretic text, used gender specific pronouns. Are references made to he and she with a different term for each as in English or is only one term used as in Thai?

I particularly need to know if I am correct in thinking that God is referred to with “He” “him” and “his” as the translators of the New Amer. Std. seem to think. Of course, in English, they have no choice. We don’t have a gender neutral term for a human being. So I just need to know what the original Hebrew is like. I hope you know. Thanks.

Gensis 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

15 thoughts on “Hebrew question

  1. In Hebrew:
    1st person pronouns (I, we) do not specify gender.
    2nd person (you, you plural) specify number and gender which English does not.
    3rd person (he, she, they) also specify number and gender similar to English.

    So yes, God was always referred to as masculine, even being called father, and having masculine characteristics.

    If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at http://luke.gedeon.name/about-luke-gedeon#contact

  2. Luke has already answered the question more fully than I could. I was just going to comment that the 3rd person singular female subject pronoun is “hi”, the same as in Welsh. I think the male equivalent is “hu”, although I can’t remember for sure.

    And, yes, God is referred to as masculine but it’s dangerous to draw theological conclusions from linguistic premises!

  3. Actually, in Genesis, both “he” and “she” are spelled the same: הוא (which today means “he”). The vowel marks are different, but they were added way later.

  4. “the Hebrew we get in Biblica Hebraica”

    Biblica Hebraica is an ambigous term: if you are refering to the currrent standard academic text BHS that is codex leningradensis, which is from the Tiberian tradition of the masoretes. If to the text more strictly called Biblica Hebraica, the edition of 1937 (BHK), same deal. You might also just be referring to the OT/tanak in Hebrew, which will also be some kind of masoretic tradition, often Leningradensis too (NB there are minor differences between exemplars of the MT on matters of word division, pointing etc). There are also texts of the Bible from the pre-masoretic stage, most notably the Dead Sea Scrolls which do not have pointing.

    God is referred to with the masculine pronoun, and masculine imagery is the predominant used for him (there are a very few exceptions).

    Lev: right and wrong, depending on which text you are talking about. In an unpointed text that´s true (I have a feeling that in the whole Pentateuch הוא is used for both genders: the phenomenon has a name, which I forget as I have not had to think about that kinda stuff for about 3 years). In a pointed text they are pointed gender specifically, despite the consonantal text.

    I did my doctorate at Cambridge on the translation of one of the Hebrew prophets into Greek, which explains why I know so much useless crap.

  5. God is referred to by most of the semitic languages if not all as “He”.
    The linguistic characteristics of the word “God” in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, is mainly masculine, but that does not reflect necessary the properties of the pointed “object”. It is a matter of the language and its use, not impersonating.
    In English for example, though mainly it is genderless, if I say cat people would understand “cats” in general, but to be more specific I have to explain by saying “he-cat” or “she-cat”. In some instances, the gender is obvious by the word directly, like saying: Lion and Lioness. Even in English itself, we have “god” and “goddess” (small G). Thus, in the middle of the intertwining between the noun and its gender, it is must be put in mind that language has its own properties that we cannot simply rely on it solely to denote the philosophy or the nature of the topic that it is discussing. Understanding in depth of such philosophical and religious texts takes the path far behind the simple cunning of a language, but it is something to be understood.

  6. in other words

    gramatical gender does not necessarily relate to biological sex:


    das maedchen (neuter gender, biologically female).

    The question of male language and God is much bigger and I have no desire to launch into it unless it´s specifically requested

  7. First of all: I’m not a scholar in Hebrew, but my father was. I remember he told me that in the old testament the word “elohiem” is used, which is a masculine plural, so: gods….

  8. one of the words used is elohim, which is *grammatically* plural (im being the masc plural suffix). But as several have said grammatical gender is not to be abused to make feminist/anti feminist statements.

  9. While elohim is grammatically a plural form, it behaves like a singular when used to designate God.

    For example, the start of Gen. 1:1 reads

    bərêšîṯ bārâ ʼĕlōhîm…

    in-beginning create-PERFECT-3.SG.M. god-PL…

  10. In Hebrew, both biblical and modern, God is referred to as masculine, as can be seen by the pronouns as well as by the declined prepositions (as in ‘bo’ – in him, as opposed to ‘ba’ – in her), and by other declinations, such as the possessive declinations in nouns (‘be-tsalmo’ – in his image, as opposed to ‘be-tsalma’ – in her image). Maybe some feminist groups would refer to God as feminine, but normally God has always been grammatically referred to as masculine. (In Hebrew there are just two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine).

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