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

Herman Meester crazymulgogi at gmail.com
Tue Apr 4 17:11:53 EDT 2006

2006/4/3, Albert & Julia Haig <albert_and_julia at yahoo.com.au>:

> 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?

Looking for a word that was used in Antiquity in a Semitic language,
which would "reference the mind very specifically", is imho. not the
ideal approach.
The problem is not Hebrew, but rather English. The word "mind" does
not, for example, have a Dutch counterpart that would "reference the
mind very specifically" either. We could say "geest", which could also
mean "spirit", which is not "mind", or "gedachte" which is rather
"thought", or "hersenen", which means "brains".

We could say then, that such a word in Hebrew, "exactly referring to
"mind" ", can't exist. By definition we need more than one word to
express this concept (-if concepts can exist without words in the
first place!). On the other hand, of course, we need several words in
English to express the entire range of meaning of, say, Hebrew "lev":
mind, heart, etc.

BTW I think your "heart" argument is good; in Antiquity, at least in
the Hellenistic age I can be sure, the heart was often considered to
be the place where thoughts come from. I mean, not simply as a
metaphor, but literally. The purpose of the brains was generally not
understood. Cf. Egypt where they got rid of the brains for

Also I think that "soul" (ψυχη) and "mind" (νους) are not just two
words to be used interchangeably for "mind".

Herman Meester,
R.dam Netherlands

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