The Ancient Hebrew Culture

The ancient Hebrews often lived as nomads in the wilderness much like the Bedouins of the Near and Middle East today. Their lifestyle revolved around their herds and flocks which required constant movement in search of green pastures.

Many people mentioned in the Bible lived this nomadic lifestyle including: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. Here we will look at the various aspects of this ancient culture.

As the Hebrew language is closely related to this lifestyle,
we will also show the connection between their words and culture often missed because of a lack of cultural understanding
Tents being put up in the desert
Genesis 13:2-3 says:  "And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the south even to Beth'el, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Beth'el and Ha'i."
Hebrew Thought

In the world, past and present, there are two major types of cultures: the Hebrew (or eastern) culture and the Greek (or western) culture. Both of these cultures view their surroundings, lives, and purpose in ways which would seem foreign to the other. With the exception of a few Bedouin What appears to be a picture of the temple mount in Jerusalemnomadic tribes living in the Near East today, the ancient Hebrew culture has disappeared.

What happened to this ancient Hebrew thought and culture? Around 800 BCE*, a new culture arose to the north. This new culture began to view the world very much differently than the Hebrews. This culture was the Greeks.

Around 200 BCE the Greeks began to move south causing a coming together of the Greek and Hebrew culture. This was a very turbulent time as the two vastly different cultures collided. Over the following 400 years the battle raged until finally the Greek culture won and virtually eliminated all trace of the ancient Hebrew culture.

The Greek culture then in turn influenced all following cultures including the Roman and European cultures, our own American culture and even the modern Hebrew culture in Israel today.

As 21st Century Americans with a strong Greek thought influence we read the Hebrew Bible as if a 21st Century American had written it. In order to understand the ancient Hebrew culture in which the Tanakh* was written in, we must examine some of the differences between Hebrew and Greek thought.

*The word
Tanakh is simply another way of saying Old Testament.  The word Tanakh is actually an acronym for the three divisions of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The three sections are the Torah (Pentateuch or Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets) & Ketuvim (Writings). 


stands for "Before the common era." It is expected to replace B.C., which means "Before Christ." (Don't stop! Keep reading!) B.C. and B.C.E. are also identical in value. Most theologians and religious historians believe that the approximate birth date of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus) was in the fall, sometime between 4 and 7 B.C.E.


CE stands for "
Common Era."
It is a new term that is eventually expected to replace A.D.  A.D. is an acronym for "Anno Domini" in Latin or "the year of the Lord" in English. (Keep reading!) A.D. refers to the approximate birth year of Yeshua ben Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ). C.E. and A.D. have the same definition and value. 2000 C.E. = 2000 A.D.

The term "common" simply means that this is the most frequently used calendar system:  the Gregorian Calendar. There are many religious calendars in existence, but each of these are normally in use in only a small geographic area of the world -- typically by followers of a single religion. *
(*note: I put this information in just to say...."Our world is aware of what is going on around you!")
The earth

Groups in favor of CE/BCE:
The Ethic of Reciprocity (the Golden Rule) suggests that one should not intentionally cause pain to other humans. We should treat others as we would wish to be treated. Since only one out of every three humans on earth is a Christian, some theologians felt that non-religious, neutral terms like C.E. and B.C.E .would be less offensive to the non-Christian majority. Forcing a Hindu, for example, to use A.D. and B.C. might be seen by some as coercing them to acknowledge the supremacy of the Christian God and of Jesus Christ.

Although C.E. and B.C.E. were originally used mainly within theological writings, the terms are gradually receiving greater usage in secular writing, the media, and in the culture generally. This is another way of saying that we/they are being "politically correct" -- we want to communicate ideas while being civil and considerate to people of all religious traditions.

However, there is nothing to prevent a person from defining C.E. and B.C.E as "Christian Era" and "Before the Christian Era" if they wish. (The Abbreviations Dictionary does exactly this.)  Now, back to Ancient Hebrew Culture...


Abstract vs. Concrete Thought

What looks like a water color painting with unclear  images of men hanging on crosses

arrowThis is abstract art! It is a picture of Calvary...Three crosses and what appears to be men on the crosses! I wanted you to get the mind-set of the difference between the two cultures!

Abstract vs. Concrete Thought

Greek thought views the world through the mind (abstract thought). Ancient Hebrew thought views the world through the senses (concrete thought).

Concrete thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted and/or heard. All A bubbling stream surrounded by treesfive of the senses are used when speaking, hearing, writing, and reading the Hebrew language. An example of this can be found in Psalms 1:3, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither." In this passage we have concrete words expressing abstract thoughts, such as a tree (one who is upright, righteous), streams of water (grace), fruit (good character) and a unwithered leaf (prosperity).

Abstract thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that can not be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or heard. Hebrew never uses abstract thought as English does. Examples of abstract thought can be found in Psalms 103:8, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger, abounding in love.” As you noticed I said that Hebrew uses concrete and not abstract thoughts, but here we have such abstract concepts such as compassionate, gracious, anger, and love in a Hebrew passage. Actually these are abstract English words that translated the original Hebrew concrete words. The translators often translate this way because the original Hebrew makes no sense when literally translated into English.

Let us take one of the abstract words above to demonstrate how this works. Anger, an abstract word, is actually the Hebrew word  Hebrew characters for the word nose /a.p/awph which literally means “nose,” a concrete word. When one is very angry, he begins to breath hard and the nostrils begin to flare. A Hebrew sees anger as “the flaring of the nose (nostrils).” If the translator literally translated the above passage “slow to nose,” it would make no sense to the English reader, so Hebrew characters for the word nose  ," a nose, is translated to “anger” in this passage.


Appearance vs. Functional Description

Greek thought describes objects in relation to its appearance. Hebrew thought describes objects in relation to its function.

A deer and an oak are two very different objects and we would never describe them in the same way with our Greek form of descriptions. The Hebrew word for both of these objects is   Hebrew characters for the words strong leader/a.y.l/ayil because the functional description of these two objects are identical to the ancient Hebrews.  Therefore, the same Hebrew word is used for both. The Hebraic definition of   Hebrew characters for the words strong leader is "a strong leader."

deer tree

A deer stag is one of the most powerful animals of the forest and is seen as "a strong leader" among the other animals of the forest. Also the oak tree's wood is very hard compared to other trees such as the pine which is soft and is seen as a "strong leader" among the trees of the forest.

Notice the two different translations of the Hebrew word   Hebrew characters for the words strong leader in Psalms 29.9. The NASB and KJV translate it as, "The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve," while the NIV translates it as, "The voice of the LORD twists the oaks." The literal translation of this verse in Hebrew thought would be, "The voice of the LORD makes the strong leaders turn."

When translating the Hebrew into English, the translator must give a Greek description to this word which is why we have two different ways of translating this verse. This same word is also translated as a "ruler" in 2 Kings 24:15, a man who is a strong leader.

Another example of Greek thought would be the following description of a common pencil, "It is yellow and about 8 inches long." A Hebrew description of the pencil would be related to its function such as, "I write words with it." Notice that the Hebrew description uses the verb "write" while the Greek description uses the adjectives "yellow" and "long." Because of Hebrew's form of functional descriptions, verbs are used much more frequently than adjectives.


I pray this gives you insight as to how our Greek/Western/American thinking has influenced our understanding and misunderstanding of Scriptures. As Apostolic/Christians it is essential for us to understand the roots of our faith. (And this is a start!) We must gain an understanding of the concept of abstract and concrete in the thinking processes.

We must remember that we are attuned to sensory perception that was created by God Himself. We are impacted by what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Our faith, therefore, is not some abstract mental exercise. For in Him we live, and move, and have our being ... learning ever learning!

"As the deer panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." Psalm 42:1

Deer standing in a stream surrounded by trees and mountains

Sha'aloo shalom Yerushalayim
Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem! (Psalm 122:6). ...


In His service, bj

Written by Billye Jeane Mercer

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