[b-hebrew] Meaning of the words "sons" and "daughters"

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Jun 23 11:19:28 EDT 2006

It has been suggested here that the Hebrew words bn "son" and bt "daughter"
are also used to refer to s/d-in-law and grand-s/d.  Further, those making these
claims have been asked to provide evidence for these claims.  The evidence
they provided has been less than satisfactory.

Karl, for example, suggested Ruth 2:22 and 3:1 as examples of bt in reference
to "daughter-in-law."  But Boaz in Ruth 2:8 also calls Ruth "my daughter."  The
fact is that the words bn/bt in Hebrew double as words for "boy"/"girl."  Boaz's
address is a reference to Ruth as "my girl", or perhaps in English it would work
better as "my child."  Naomi's use of the word in reference to Ruth is
not proven
by these verses to be anything different.  What this means is that
bn/bt have two
meanings: 1) son/daughter, 2) boy/girl.  The second meaning can be used in a
wider sense.  For example, "bnot yerushalaym" of Song of Songs.  In this
case, when used with an ethnic, tribal or geographical term, the word refers to
the men/women of that ethnic/tribal/geographical area.  It is the second word,
which is a collective that gives the bn/bt its wider meaning.

It is for this reason that examples such as Gen 46 are problematic.  Jacob is
not just a person -- it's an ethnic term.  Jacob's children, grandchildren, etc.
are not just his "children" but they are "bnei yisrael."  That is,
Jacob, in being
not just a person, but also a tribal/ethnic term, allows the term bn/bt to carry
a wider sense.  It is the second definition above of bn/bt that is invoked, not
the first, and there is no proof of bn/bt meaning grand-s/d or s/d-in-law.  Gen
46 is also problematic for another reason, the text doesn't say "all of Jacob's
sons and daughters were 33," but rather "all the souls of Jacob's sons and
daughter's were 33."  The grandsons/daughters can be included in the term
"souls", leaving "Jacob's sons and daughters" to refer only to his direct
immediate sons/daughters.  Other terms in Gen 46, such as yocey yreko
(Gen 46:26) or "banaw wbney banaw itto, bnotaw wbnot banaw wkl zar(o"
(Gen 46:7) suggest that Gen 46 is not using bn/bt to refer to grand-s/d or
anything beyond immediate sons and daughters and this is why it must
resort to other terms to include other people.

Because of the tribal/ethnic double meaning of Jacob or most of the names
in Genesis, and perhaps the whole Pentateuch, it is unlikely to me that any
conclusive proof can be derived from the Pentateuch for bn/bt (meaning 1)
referring to something beyond immediate sons and daughters.

It is also clear Genesis rarely mentions the daughters being born.  This is
clear from the lineage from Adam down to Noah, where women are mentioned
(Lemekh's two wives, for example), but the only hint we have of them being
born is the generic "wayoled banim wbanot" in Genesis 5 throughout, even
for people mentioned earlier as having given birth to only a few sons (such
as Adam, whose only sons being mentioned by name are Cain, Abel, and

In light of all this, it seems unlikely to assume that because Genesis doesn't
mention Jacob's other daughters besides Dinah, that he had only one
daughter, or that the term "bnotaw" in reference to Jacob must refer to more
than his immediate daughters (although, as said before, Jacob's function as
a tribal name complicates this issue).

Yitzhak Sapir

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