A New Analysis Of A Key Hebrew Term -- By: David K. H. Gray

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:1 (NA 2007)
Article: A New Analysis Of A Key Hebrew Term
Author: David K. H. Gray

A New Analysis Of A Key Hebrew Term

The Semantics Of Galah (‘To Go Into Exile’)

David K. H. Gray

*Original Footnote numbering retained within the current footnotes.


This study is an attempt to update James Barr’s work on the semantics of biblical language by analysing one Hebrew term: גלה II (galah II) ‘to go into exile’. The article criticises existing entries in theological dictionaries, as well as providing a new analysis. The writer is one of the researchers on the Key Terms of Biblical Hebrew project. The project should benefit others who would like to dig deeper into the meaning of Hebrew terms as they are used in the Old Testament.

1. Introduction

The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament1 analyses גלה (galah) in two sections. The first is termed ‘theological’ and contains galah’s use in the sense of ‘to uncover, reveal’. The second, henceforth II, is termed ‘secular’ and contains galah’s use in the sense of ‘to go into exile’. This arbitrary distinction typifies early top-down word studies, particularly those carried out by many of those who contributed to Kittel’s word-books. This movement, and the theological word-books it spawned, has been much criticised, not least by James Barr in his monumental work The Semantics of Biblical Language.2 The study that follows is an analysis of galah II using the principles of modern linguistics, including cognitive linguistics, which is an attempt to find out how the brain’s cognitive processes organise information.

The Key Terms of Biblical Hebrew project (henceforth KTBH)3 uses this as its theoretical basis, and is therefore attempting a bottom-up approach in order to determine the meaning of Hebrew words in their context. As one of the researchers on KTBH my purpose is to show how this approach solves some of the problems in word studies. The use of frames and (more artificially) semantic domains, as ways of organising information in our minds, is the basis of cognitive linguistics. Top-down approaches that start with theological ideas and premises and work down to the text are much less productive than methods that look at how words are actually used in their various contexts. The following study shows that galah II has ‘theological’ meanings. Conversely galah I has ‘secular’ meanings, such as ...

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