[b-hebrew] "Mind" in Hebrew and Aramaic

Albert & Julia Haig albert_and_julia at yahoo.com.au
Mon Apr 3 03:53:07 EDT 2006

Hello everyone! This is a "transfer" of a thread from B-Greek to B-Hebrew, after the discussion turned from primarily addressing matters Greek to matters Hebrew and Aramaic. The starting point was Mark 12:30 and the fact that four items are listed which we are to love God with, instead of three as in Deu. 6:5. There was then some discussion about whether this represented a non-literal exegetical reflection on the original text (i.e. "midrash" or something similar), or whether it was an attempt to make clear to native Greek-speaking readers that the mind was intended (since "heart" conveys the sense of mind in Hebrew but not so much in Greek). Anyway, I made the mistake of saying that there was no Hebrew word for mind, but that heart (lev) was used. Someone far more knowledgable on this subject than I then responded with this list:

> Hebrew words for mind include (without taking time for a search): 
> yetser maHshavot ('organ for thoughts' 1or2Chronicles)
> Heshbon ('calculation', 'ability to think' DIALOGISMOS BenSira 9,15, 
   I happen to have a copies at hand at the moment) 
> da`at ('knowing', especially in contexts refering to the 
   ability to know, Qumran serex ha-YaHad column 1. Cf. madda`, 
   modern for 'science'.)
> hon (see Even Shoshan milon/DICTIONARY [not Bible concordance] for 
   rabbinic uses)
> tvuna, bina ('understanding, discernement', 
   again, in contexts where the ability is in focus rather than the 
   results or quality, e.g. BenSira 15:15, 44:3)
> ra`yonot ('thoughts')
> maHshavot ('thoughts')
> and of course, 
   lev//levav 'heart' in contexts of thinking.
> sexel 'understanding', in contexts where the ability to think is in 
   focus, led to a medieval development of a technical term that is 
   'mind, mental' today in modern Hebrew.  

OK. So there are more words that can mean mind in Hebrew than just lev. But it seems to me that (a) none of these words reference the mind very specifically and (b) the overwhelming predominance of references in the OT to the mind per se use lev. However, in Greek, there are a number of words that much more directly refer to the mind than does kardia (i.e. nous, dianoia, psuche). Hence, a Greek speaker might not see so clearly, if they read "heart, soul, and might", that the mind was involved; whereas to a Hebrew speaker it would be more obvious. My explanation for the addition to Mark 12:30, therefore, is that it represents an attempt to clarify the text for Greek speakers.

But this is all complicated by the fact that 1st century Palestinian Jews were probably speaking Aramaic. An examination of OT Aramaic certainly leaves one with the impression that the word lev was used to mean "mind" most, if not all, of the time. But, as has been pointed out, OT Aramaic only represents a very small subset of Aramaic. Furthermore, the Peshitta of Mark 12:30 distinguisheds heart from mind, and I am informed that the word for mind there is ra`yon, "thought", as in the list above. So the question becomes, was this kind of development of the shema` in which "heart" and "mind" were distinguished something that was (or might have been) already present in Rabbinic discussions about this verse, or is it more likely a concession on the part of Mark to his Greek-speaking audience? Any further suggestions?

All the best,

Dr Albert Haig

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