Hebrew terms

Loren Haarsma (lhaarsma@retina.anatomy.upenn.edu)
Sun, 14 Jun 1998 17:19:00 -0400 (EDT)

I'm hoping that someone who has studied Hebrew can help with a
translation issue.

Archeology has shown that Ancient Near Eastern "cosmology" pictured the
earth and the sky sandwiched between primeval waters which were split
into the "waters below" ("the Deep") and the "waters above" (with "the
firmament" holding back the waters above the sky).

There are a number of passages in the Old Testament -- particularly in
Job, Psalms, and Proverbs -- where the New International Version
translates a Hebrew term as "clouds," but where the context strongly
suggests that the author had in mind, not ordinary clouds, but rather
the "waters above the firmament." (There is a partial list of passages
below. There are also many other passages translated as "clouds" where
the context strongly suggests that the author had in mind ordinary

Question: Does Old Testament Hebrew use the same word for both "the
waters above the firmament" and for "clouds"? The context and usage in
various passages suggest that the writers understood a difference
between them. But perhaps they did use the same term, or used several
terms interchangeably. Does someone know the answer?

Here are some passages where the context suggests that the term
translated as "clouds" in the NIV was intended to refer to the waters
above the firmament.

Job 20:6
Job 26:5-10
Job 38:9
Job 38:34
Job 38:37
Proverbs 3:20
Proverbs 8:28
Genesis 49:25
Deuteronomy 33:13

And possibly:

Job 22:14
Job 35:5
Job 36:28-29
Psalms 97:2
Psalms 104:3
Psalms 135:7
Psalms 147:8

The Genesis and Deuteronomy passages also make me wonder about the
Hebrew term translated as "dew" in the NIV. (The context seems to
suggest that the blessing to Joseph's descendents was to extend -- to
put it colloquially -- "from the very tippy-top to the very bottom.")

Related question: Does Old Testament Hebrew use the same term(s) for
ordinary seas and for the waters below the earth ("the Deep"). Does it
use such terms interchangeably?

Here are some passages where a Hebrew term translated as "waters" seems
to refer to "the waters above" or to "the Deep," and not to "ordinary"

Psalms 24:2
Psalms 29:3
Psalms 33:7
Psalms 74:13
Psalms 104:3,6,7
Psalms 136:6
Psalms 148:8
Proverbs 8:29
Proverbs 30:4

And possibly:

Job 28:25
Job 38:30
Psalms 46:3
Psalms 93:4

Any help would be appreciated. If you know of an expert to whom you
could forward these questions, or if you know of a good reference, that
would be helpful, too.

Loren Haarsma