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Home > Weekly Columns > Hebrew Thoughts

Hebrew Thoughts
Week of April 26 - May 2, 2015


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Author Bio
KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. Their "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at

Why not consider Greek, Aramaic, Biblical or Modern Hebrew online, it's easier than you think.

BMSoftware, founded by KJ, offer a wide range of biblical, Hebrew, Greek and multilingual software for theological use.

‘ayin 'eye, fountain'
   )AyIa (Strong's #5869)

‘ayin 'eye, fountain' )AyIa (Strong's #5869)

"In the day that you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5, NAS)

)AyIa ‘ayin is both the name of the 16th Hebrew letter and the word for "eye" (Strong's #5869, x887). The letter ) ‘ayin originally represented an "eye", as is quite obvious from the evolution of its character depiction through many ancient alphabets. It is pronounced almost like 'eye-in' but with a guttural throaty sound at the beginning.

The European words for eye retain more than the English and have the historical guttural sound: ojos (Spanish), yeux (French), augen (German). Middle English, though, had ein and eyne. Chinese have yan and the Inuit iye. Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, have near identical words with )AyIa ‘ayin.

)AyIa ‘ayin first occurs in the famous "Fall" passage of Genesis 3 in the "your eyes will be opened" metaphor for knowledge, specifically of "good and evil". Indeed, good and evil are also attached as "good eye and evil eye" in the Bible and Middle Eastern idiom. These idioms were originally less about medieval curses than about ancient generosity or greed. For one's "eye to be evil (rF)A) r‘a‘ Strong's #7489, x83) against your poor brother" (Deuteronomy 15:9) was a reference to lack of giving and evil retention of what was due someone.

Whilst Proverbs 23:6 advises against dining with a man who has "an evil eye", i.e., who is envious, selfish, or stingy, Proverbs 22:9 commends one with "a good (+Ob twbh Strong's #2896, x559) eye" for his generosity to the poor, and guarantees him blessing or provision also (cf. Proverbs 28:27). Though there is one whose "eye is never satisfied" &FbA) sbha‘ (Strong's #7646, x959), whose eye will never have enough of what it greedily desires (Ecclesiastes 4:8, cf. 2:10). The "evil eye" hastens after wealth and does not consider that poverty will befall (Proverbs 28:22).

Seeing with the eyes can also be considered metaphorically as perceiving, or negatively, not being able to see, as in those that "have eyes, but do not see" (Jeremiah 5:21). Equally, to think oneself "wise in your own eyes" is also deemed haughty folly (Isaiah 5:21).

On 22 occasions it is translated by "fountain" or "well" (e.g., Genesis 24.13) perhaps because eyes can "water" or flow with tears. Rabbi Hirsch saw four related etymologies around "appearing, emerging/springing forth, source, eye". Gesenius couldn't decide whether "eye" comes from "to flow", )Iya ‘yn, or "to flow (as tears or water)" came from "eye". In Chinese, eye is also fountain. We speak of eyes "welling up" with tears, or gushing forth like a "fountain" (Jeremiah 9:1,18).

For example, En Gedi or )ya G:dIy ‘yn gedhy (Strong's #5872, x6) is a place by the Dead Sea and literally means "eye/fountain of the goat", possibly a watering place for goats because of its location by an oasis, described as having a vineyard (Song of Songs 1:14) and also in a wilderness (1 Samuel 24:1). Ezekiel 47:10 describes a messianic age of healing water flowing from the Temple and fishermen spreading their nets from En Gedi to En Eglaim )AyIa )EglAyIe ‘yn ‘egh'layim (Strong's #5882, x1) "fountain of calves".

)AyIa ‘ayin also occurs in the phrase (Iy$Oa )AyIa ’yshwn ‘ayin "little man of eye", hence pupil or idiomatically, that which is precious (Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8 and Proverbs 7:2.).

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