Cognates and Loanwords


Often, when faced with a difficult Biblical word, we can turn to cognate languages to aid in deciphering it. Below is a collection of terms whose meaning might be elucidated by looking to Akkadian, Egyptian or Persian.


  •  אַדְמָתוֹ – The phrase "וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ" in Devarim 32:43 is difficult from a syntactic perspective. Who is the subject of the verb "כִפֶּר" – Hashem, the nation, or the land?  Who or what is the object?  How do the words "אַדְמָתוֹ" and "עַמּוֹ" relate to each other?
    • While RashiDevarim 32:43About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki1 suggests that the verse should be read as if written, "וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ ועַמּוֹ", that Hashem will make expiation for both the land and people, RalbagDevarim Beur HaMilot 32:43About R. Levi b. Gershom suggests that it be understood as if written "וְכִפֶּר אדמת עַמּוֹ",‎2 that Hashem will purify the land of His nation.  Ibn EzraDevarim 32:43About R. Avraham ibn Ezra offers a third possibility, "וכפר עמו [על] אדמתו",‎3 that the nation itself will expiate the land.
    • Tur Sinai4 has suggested that the word "אַדְמָתוֹ" is related to the Akkadian, "adamaֿtu", used in poetic passages to mean "red blood". Hashem will expiate not the land of His nation (which is not otherwise mentioned in the verse), but their blood that has been spilled.  This clause of the verse is thus intrinsically tied to the earlier clause, "דַם עֲבָדָיו יִקּוֹם". 
    • In contrast to most of the above explanations, Y. Avishur5 suggests a reading that does not entail adding or deleting letters/words from the verse, proposing that the phrase means "וכפר דמעות עמו,"‎6 similar to the Akkadian, "dimtassa ikkapar".  After avenging the nation's blood, Hashem will wipe away (כפר = מחה), the nation's tears.
  • אֱלִיל – The noun "אֱלִיל" is generally translated as idol, but the etymology of the word is unclear. RashiYirmeyahu 14:14About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki and R"Y KaraYirmeyahu 14:14About R. Yosef Kara suggest that it might come from the word "אַל" meaning nought. In contrast, V. Hurowitz7 and H. Tawil8 propose that it might be related to Akkadian, with Hurowitz connecting it to Enlil, head god of the Sumerian pantheon, and Tawil relating it to the Akkadian "ulalu", meaning worthless. The latter possibility might explain various verses in which the normal translation of idol is less fitting:9
    • Yirmeyahu 14:14: "שֶׁקֶר הַנְּבִאִים נִבְּאִים בִּשְׁמִי.. וְלֹא דִבַּרְתִּי אֲלֵיהֶם חֲזוֹן שֶׁקֶר וְקֶסֶם [וֶאֱלִיל] (ואלול)" - Yirmeyahu claims that the visions of false prophets are lies and things of nought.
    • Zekharyah 11:17: " הוֹי רֹעִי הָאֱלִיל עֹזְבִי הַצֹּאן" – Zecharyah speaks of worthless shepherds who abandon their sheep.
    • Iyyov 13:4: "אַתֶּם טֹפְלֵי שָׁקֶר רֹפְאֵי אֱלִל כֻּלְּכֶם" – Iyyov tells his friends that they are like physicians of no value, for their attempts to comfort are futile.
    • Tehillim 96:5, " כִּי כׇּל אֱלֹהֵי הָעַמִּים אֱלִילִים" Though this verse is often understood to mean, "all the nations' gods are idols," a smoother translation might understand "אֱלִיל" here, too, as an adjective: "all the nations' gods are worthless".
  • בִּירָה – Though today the word "בִּירָה" is used to refer to a capital city, in Biblical Hebrew the word generally means simply castle or fortress.  It might be related to either the Akkadian "birtu" (a castle), or to the Persian "bâru" (a rampart or bulwark). Ibn Ezra, thus, points out that in Megillat Esther, a distinction should be made between "שׁוּשַׁן" or "הָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן", which refers to the city, and "שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה" which refers to the fortified castle complex.
  • בִּיתַן – This word appears only in the Book of Esther, always in the context of the garden. It appears to relate to the word "בית", house, and might come to highlight that the garden spoken of was close to the palace (R"Y Kara). Alternatively, the word might be related to the Akkadian "bitanu", which can mean "interior" or "inner quarter of a house or temple" or might refer to a specific building in a palace complex (See CAD, "bitanu").10 Cf. Rashi who translates: "orchard" and the GR"A who suggests: "garden pavilion".
  • בְּרִית – Though all agree that "בְּרִית" refers to a covenant, the etymology of the word is debated. Some11 have suggested that it comes from the root ברה‎12‎ and relates to the shared meal that often accompanied the treaty, while others posit that it might relate to the verb ברא used in Yehoshua 17:15 and Yechezkel 23:47, meaning "to cut".13  H. Tadmor14 also brings the opinion that the word relates to the Akkadian "biritu" which means bond or tie, or, alternatively to the Akkadian "birit" which means "between" (and might refer to the covenantal ceremony of passing between pieces of a slaughtered animal). To see how each possibility might relate to various aspects of treaty-making, see Treaties in Tanakh and the Ancient Near East.
  • דגל – In Akkadian, the verb "dagalu" means to look upon or gaze, with the noun "diglu" meaning sight or view.15  This meaning might bear light on Shir HaShirim 2:4, "הֱבִיאַנִי אֶל בֵּית הַיָּיִן וְדִגְלוֹ עָלַי אַהֲבָה", where the standard meaning of דגל as "banner" is somewhat awkward. Applying the Akkadian cognate, however, would render the sentence, "And his gaze upon me was love / loving."16
  • דן – In Akkadian "dannutu" relates to strength and can refer to power, harshness, or a fortress.  Rabbi Gad Dishi17 has suggested that this meaning might illuminate several verses in Tanakh in which the more common definition of "to judge" or "execute judgement" is less fitting:
    • Bereshit 6:3: "לֹא יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם" – In this verse, Hashem might be saying that He will not strengthen the demigods born from the union of the "sons of God" and "daughters of Adam".  He will not allow them an immortal lifespan, as they, too, are partly made of human flesh. As such, they will live no longer than 120 years. See בני הא־להים and בנות האדם for other understandings of the verse and the story as a whole.
    • Bereshit 14:14: "וַיִּרְדֹּף עַד דָּן" – It is unclear what location is referred to by the marker "עַד דָּן". RadakBereshit 14:14About R. David Kimchi suggests that it either refers to the future location of the tribe of Dan and is so called after its future name18 or that there is another place with the same name.19 It is possible, however, that "דָּן" here simply means fortress and the verse is saying that Avraham chased the kings back to their fortifications and then returned home.
    • Bereshit 30:6: "וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל דָּנַנִּי אֱלֹהִים וְגַם שָׁמַע בְּקֹלִי".  It is difficult to understand why Rachel would be saying that Hashem "judged" her at the moment of granting her a child.20  If, however, "דָּנַנִּי" is related to the Akkadian "dunnunu",21 Rachel might simply be thanking Hashem for empowering and strengthening her in granting her wish.
    • Devarim 32:36: "כִּי יָדִין י״י עַמּוֹ וְעַל עֲבָדָיו יִתְנֶחָם" – Hashem's judging of the nation in the first clause of the verse appears at odds with the continuation which speaks of Hashem's compassion on the people. As such, many commentators22 understand the verse to mean that Hashem will avenge His nation (i.e. judge their enemies, not them). Alternatively, in light of the Akkadian, it might mean that Hashem will empower the nation.  This works well with the end of the verse which explains the necessity of Hashem's intervention: "כִּי יִרְאֶה כִּי אָזְלַת יָד וְאֶפֶס עָצוּר וְעָזוּב".  Since the nation has lost its power, Hashem will return it.23 
    • Zekharyah 3:7: "וְגַם אַתָּה תָּדִין אֶת בֵּיתִי" – This is one of the tasks given to Yehoshua, the high priest in the period of the return to Zion. RashiZekharyah 3:7-8About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki and RadakZekharyah 3:7About R. David Kimchi suggest that in these words, Yehoshua is told to oversee/judge the Beit Hamikdash or priests.24  If one applies the Akkadian meaning of strength, however, it is possible that Hashem is telling Yehoshua to back and strengthen the house of Zerubavel, the political leader of the time (alluded to in the next verse, "כִּי הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת עַבְדִּי צֶמַח").25
  • יֵשׁ – The word "יש" is commonly understood as a particle relating to ownership or being. V. Hurowitz26 notes that the Akkadian equivalent is "basu", often translated as "there is" but also meaning "to exist". This verb has a noun form, "busu", which means possessions or valuables. As such, he suggests that it is possible that the Hebrew "יש" might similarly function as both a noun and verb.  This understanding might elucidate the meaning of several verses:
    • Mishlei 8:21: "לְהַנְחִיל אֹהֲבַי יֵשׁ וְאֹצְרֹתֵיהֶם אֲמַלֵּא" – Commentators who read "יֵשׁ" as a verb are forced to posit that the verse is assuming an unspoken noun.  Thus, for example, RadakShemuel I 7:2Melakhim II 9:30Yeshayahu 2:16Mishlei 8:21About R. David Kimchi explains, "יש לי מתנה טובה להנחיל אותה לאוהבי".‎27  V. Hurowitz, instead, explains that the the word "יֵשׁ" is parallel to "אוצרות", and functions here as a noun, meaning valuables.
    • Mishlei 13:23: רׇב אֹכֶל נִיר רָאשִׁים וְיֵשׁ נִסְפֶּה בְּלֹא מִשְׁפָּט – V. Hurowitz suggests that perhaps here, too, "יֵשׁ" should be defined as wealth. If so, the verse might be highlighting the changing fortunes of people. The work of even the poor might produce much food, while a person's wealth might dissipate.28
  • כַּוָּנִים – This word appears in both Yirmeyahu 7:18 and 44:1929 and, due to the context of idolatry in both verses, is understood by RadakYirmeyahu 7:18Amos 5:26About R. David Kimchi and ShadalYirmeyahu 7:18Yirmeyahu 8:18About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto to refer to some type of food/cake offering.30  This meaning is supported by the Akkadian cognate, "kamaֿnu", which refers to sweet cakes which were used in the worship of Ishtar.31  This fits well with the full phrase "לַעֲשׂוֹת כַּוָּנִים לִמְלֶכֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם‎" as Ishtar is also known as "queen of the heavens" (מְלֶכֶת = מַלְכַּת).32 [Ishtar is further associated with the star Venus so even if one takes a more simple reading of "מְלֶכֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם", it might refer to her specifically.]
  • לִבָּה - In Yechezkel 16:30, the prophet rebukes the people "מָה אֲמֻלָה לִבָּתֵךְ...  בַּעֲשׂוֹתֵךְ אֶת כׇּל אֵלֶּה מַעֲשֵׂה אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה שַׁלָּטֶת.". Rashi and many others assume that "לִבָּתֵךְ" is a feminine form of the word "לב", meaning heart, and that "אֲמֻלָה " is related to the word "אומלל" meaning weak.  Hashem blames the nation's sins on their frailty of their hearts which is so easily swayed.  No where else, though, is there a feminine version of the word "לב", leading others to suggest that perhaps "לִבָּתֵךְ" is connected to the Akkadian "libbatu", meaning anger.33  If so, Hashem is saying how he is filled (אֲמֻלָה = מלא) with anger against the people.
  • למד – This root generally refers to learning or teaching.  The verb appears in Shir HaShirim 8:2, "אֶנְהָגְךָ אֲבִיאֲךָ אֶל בֵּית אִמִּי תְּלַמְּדֵנִי" where it is commonly understood within the metaphoric understanding of the book to refer to instruction in Torah and mitzvot.34 It is less clear, though, what it would mean according to the simple sense of the verse.  S.M. Paul35 notes that in Akkadian, "lamadu" can refer to sexual knowledge. [He compares it to the root "ידע" (and the Akkadian equivalent idu) which can also connote both intellectual and sexual knowledge, noting the relationship between learning/teaching (למד) and knowing (ידע).] Accordingly, the beloved would be speaking of her hopes to engage in relations with her lover.\
  • מַבּוּל – Though generally translated as "flood", the exact etymology of the word "מַבּוּל" is debated. RashbamDayyakot LeRashbam Bereshit 6:17About R. Shemuel b. Meir suggests that it stems from the root "נבל",‎36 meaning to wither and fall,37 referring to the destruction wrought,38 while Ibn EzraBereshit First Commentary 6:17About R. Avraham ibn Ezra claims that it relates to the root "בלל", intermingling or confusion, the result of the deluge. R. D"Z HoffmannBereshit 6:17About R. David Zvi Hoffmann brings an additional possibility, that מַבּוּל might come from the root "יבל", meaning to lead, flow or stream. None of these are without difficulty, and it is possible that the word is related to Akkadian, where bubbulu39 means inundation.40 
    • Outside of the flood story, the word "מַבּוּל" appears only once, in Tehillim 29:10, "י״י לַמַּבּוּל יָשָׁב וַיֵּשֶׁב י״י מֶלֶךְ לְעוֹלָם".  It is not clear, however, what role the word plays in context and what the verse is trying to express. C. Cohen41 suggests that perhaps "לַמַּבּוּל" is related to the Akkadian phrase lam abubi which literally means "before the Flood", and is understood as "from time immemorial".  If so, the two halves of the verse are parallel.42
  • מַבְלִיגִיתִי – This word is a hapax legomenon, appearing only in Yirmeyahu 8:18: "מַבְלִיגִיתִי עֲלֵי יָגוֹן עָלַי לִבִּי דַוָּי".  Many commentators43 connect it to the verb "בלג", and from context, understand it to be a noun meaning strength or restraint.44  In contrast, Y. Avishur45 suggests that it is the feminine form of "מבליג" which is parallel to the Akkadian "balaggu", referring to either a musical instrument or song.  The verse would mean "and my instrument turned for me into grief", similar to Iyyov 30:31, "וַיְהִי לְאֵבֶל כִּנֹּרִי".
  • מֵרֵעֵהוּ – The root "מרע" appears in several places in Tanakh, in Bereshit 26:26,46 Shofetim 14-15, Shemuel II 3:8 and Mishlei 19:7.  In each case, commentators define it as a friend or companion.  The context of Bereshit 26, however, might make one question whether this is the most fitting translation there as well. The verses speak of the covenant between Avimelekh and Yitzchak, stating "וַאֲבִימֶלֶךְ הָלַךְ אֵלָיו מִגְּרָר וַאֲחֻזַּת מֵרֵעֵהוּ וּפִיכֹל שַׂר צְבָאוֹ". Why would Avimelekh bring both his military commander and a mere "friend" to negotiate? V. Hurowitz47 suggests that perhaps "מֵרֵעֵהוּ" in this verse is equivalent to the Akkadian "merhu", meaning שר הרועים. Avimelekh brought two important officers with him, not one of his friends.48
  • נהה – In both Yechezkel 32:8 and Mikhah 2:4, this root means wail or lament.49  However, this definition is more difficult to apply to Shemuel I 7:2, "וַיִּנָּהוּ כׇּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל אַחֲרֵי י״י".  What would it mean that the nation "lamented after Hashem"? MenachemShemuel I 7:2About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki and RadakYirmeyahu 7:18Yirmeyahu 8:18Amos 5:26About R. David Kimchi suggests that the verse might mean that the nation cried and mourned as they repented of their ways.50 M. Weinfeld51 offers a different explanation in light of Akkadian, suggesting that "נהה" is related to the Akkadian "ne'u", meaning "to turn to". The verse states simply that the nation turned back to Hashem.
  • נְחֹשֶׁת – Throughout Tanakh, "נְחֹשֶׁת" means copper, yet this meaning is difficult in Yechezkel 16:36: "יַעַן הִשָּׁפֵךְ נְחֻשְׁתֵּךְ וַתִּגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתֵךְ".  From context, most commentators understand the phrase "הִשָּׁפֵךְ נְחֻשְׁתֵּךְ" to be parallel to "וַתִּגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתֵךְ." Thus, RashiYechezkel 16:36About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki and RadakYechezkel 16:36About R. David Kimchi suggest that "נְחֻשְׁתֵּךְ" means the women's edge or bottom, pointing as evidence to the verse "וְחָרָה נְחֻשְׁתָּהּ" (Yechezkel 24:11) and the Mishnaic phrase52 "נחשתו של תנור" which speak of the bottom of a vessel.53 I. Gluska54 agrees that the two halves of the verse are parallel, but suggests that the word "נְחֻשְׁתֵּךְ" should be understood in light of its Akkadain cognate, "nahsati/u", meaning a women's menstrual flow.
  • סֻלָּם – Though often translated as "ladder,"55 the word סֻלָּם is actually a hapax legomenon (appearing only in Bereshit 28:12) whose exact meaning is unknown.  The word might stem from the Hebrew root סלל which relates to a path or ramp, or alternatively to the Akkadian "simmiltu" which means a stairway. The latter possibility has led many scholars to suggest that what Yaakov saw in his dream was actually a ziggurat, a stepped Mesopotamian temple which was believed to connect heaven and earth.56  If so, it is possible that the image of Hashem at the top of the "סֻלָּם" held no deep message, but was simply a representation of Hashem in His glory, sitting in His temple,57 similar to Yeshayahu's vision of Hashem on His throne.58
  • פֹּת – Yirmeyahu 3:17 reads, "וְשִׂפַּח אֲדֹנָי קׇדְקֹד בְּנוֹת צִיּוֹן וַי״י פׇּתְהֵן יְעָרֶה".  The meaning of the word "פׇּתְהֵן" is unclear. Ibn EzraYeshayahu 3:17About R. Avraham ibn Ezra59 and RadakYeshayahu 3:17About R. David Kimchi suggests that it refers to a woman's private parts, which Hashem is to unveil.60 Ibn EzraYeshayahu 3:17About R. Avraham ibn Ezra and ShadalYeshayahu 3:17About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto also bring the alternative possibility that the word פֹּת is parallel to "קׇדְקֹד", with Ibn Ezra relating it the word "פאה" (head of hair) and Shadal to the Aramaic "אפותא," meaning forehead.  A closer cognate might be the Akkadian "putu", also meaning forehead.61
  • צִיצִת – The word צִיצִת appears in both Bemidbar 15:38-39, "וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם" and Yechezkel 8:3, "וַיִּקָּחֵנִי בְּצִיצִת רֹאשִׁי" and has been understood either to refer to a tassel62 or to be related to the verb "צוץ", meaning to gaze.63 It is also possible that the word relates to the Akkadian, "sissiktu", meaning fringe or hem.64 This connection might shed light on the role and symbolism behind the mitzvah of tzitzit:
    • In Akkadian, tying or cutting "sissiktu" plays a role in legal contexts, where knotting a hem symbolizes marriage (or other agreements) and cutting it marked divorce.65  This might suggest that the knotted strings at the end of tzitzit symbolize the "marriage" of Hashem and Israel.
    • In the ancient near east, hems were also a means of personal identification and impressing them onto a clay tablet could serve as a seal and signature, marking ownership.66 This matches R"Y Bekhor ShorBemidbar 15:38-39About R. Yosef Bekhor Shor's understanding of the commandment, "כי הציצית כמו חותם שבכסותו, שעושין לעבד סימן שהוא משועבד לרבו."
    • S. M. Paul67 further notes that in Akkadian texts, grasping a hem of a garment (sissikta sabatu) often symbolizes submission and a show of allegiance to the god / king whose garment was grasped.  This opens the possibility that in Tanakh, too, the action holds the same connotation and might bear on various episodes in Tanakh which speak of the grasping of cloak hems:
      • Shemuel I 15:27: "וַיִּסֹּב שְׁמוּאֵל לָלֶכֶת וַיַּחֲזֵק בִּכְנַף מְעִילוֹ וַיִּקָּרַע" – Many question whether it is Shaul or Shemuel who holds and tears the cloak in this verse. In light of the context of supplication and submission in Akkadian texts, R. Brauner68 concludes that in this verse it must be Shaul holding onto Shemuel's cloak, in a show of subservience after having admitted to his wrongdoing.69 
      • Shemuel I 24:4-5: "וַיִּכְרֹת אֶת כְּנַף הַמְּעִיל אֲשֶׁר לְשָׁאוּל בַּלָּט" – If grasping a corner is a sign of allegiance, it is possible that David's cutting off the hem of Shaul's garment in this verse was symbolic of his cutting of ties and loyalty to the king (representing a "divorce" from him).
      • Zekharyah 8:23 – The chapter describes how in the future many foreigners will turn to God and "יַחֲזִיקוּ עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים מִכֹּל לְשֹׁנוֹת הַגּוֹיִם וְהֶחֱזִיקוּ בִּכְנַף אִישׁ יְהוּדִי לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה עִמָּכֶם". In light of the Akkadian, the verse appears to be stating that the foreigners will show their allegiance to the nation of Israel.70
    • תַּחַשׁ‎71 – This word appears almost exclusively in the context of the coverings of the Mishkan and its vessels, where it is usually accompanies the word "עוֹר", suggesting that it is related to animal skins.‎72  It appears once more, in Yechezkel 16:10, "וָאֶנְעֲלֵךְ תָּחַשׁ". 
      • Color –The SeptuagintShemot 26:14About the Septuagint, Aramaic TargumimShemot 26:14About Targum Onkelos and several opinions in Yerushalmi Shabbat 2:3:373 suggest that it is a color,74 supported by the context of many verses in which it appears where it is associated with other colored coverings. S. Ahituv and H. Tadmor75 agree, suggesting that the word is cognate with the Akkadian dušû or duḫšû, a yellowish-orange color.
      • Hide – In contrast, many medieval commentators suggest that it refers to the hide of an animal (and/or the animal itself).76 This might be supported by its usage in Yechezkel 16 where it is found amongst a list of other materials (rather than colors). B. Noonan77 supports this meaning from Egyptian, suggesting that תחש might be related to the Egyptian ṯḥs, a type of Egyptian leather.


It has been suggested that several words in Tanakh, especially rare words which appear primarily within narratives that relate to Egypt, might be loanwords from Egyptian. As such, looking to the Egyptian equivalents might shed light on their meaning. Additionally, even in cases where a word might not be Egyptian in origin, recognizing the Egyptian backdrop and usage of certain phrases might further elucidate their meaning.

Egyptian Loanwords

  • אַבְרֵךְ – This word appears but once in Tanakh, in Bereshit 41:43, which describes how, after Yosef's appointment as second in command, he rode in a chariot and the people called before him: "אַבְרֵךְ". Ibn EzraBereshit First Commentary 41:43About R. Avraham ibn Ezra connects the word "אַבְרֵךְ" to the root "ברך", suggesting that all cried before Yosef, "I will kneel and bow".  ShadalBereshit 41:43About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto, quoting Gesenius, reaches a similar conclusion, but by suggesting that the proclamation is a loanword from Egyptian meaning to bow one's head.78 More modern scholars have proposed other Egyptian connections suggesting that the word might relate to ı͗ b-r.k , meaning "attention!" or i.brk, meaning "do homage".79
  • אָח – Due to the context of burning fire, most agree that this word, appearing only in Yirmeyahu 36:22-23, refers to either a brasier/firepot or the fuel that burns inside it.  Commentators dispute the etymology of the word, with Ibn Kaspi Yirmeyahu 36:22About R. Yosef ibn Kaspisuggesting that it relates to brotherhood, as all gather in unity around the fire,  and MalbimYirmeyahu Beur HaMilot 36:22About R. Meir Leibush Weiser positing that it relates to the word "אָחוּ", suggesting that when dried, this was used for burning.  It is likely, however, that the word is a loanword from Egypt, where 'h means brasier.80
  • אָחוּ –This word appears three times in Tanakh, in Bereshit 41:2 and 18 (in the context of Paroh's dream, "וַתִּרְעֶינָה בָּאָחוּ") and in Iyyov 8:11 (יִשְׂגֶּה אָחוּ בְלִי מָיִם). According to many, the word "אַחִים" in Hoshea 13:15, "כִּי הוּא בֵּין אַחִים יַפְרִיא" is simply a plural form of the same root.81 Based on context, most commentators understand the word to refer to grass/reeds or an area in which these grow.82  Shadal Bereshit 41:2About R. Shemuel David Luzzattosuggests that it is an Egyptian loanword and more modern scholars83 concur, noting that the Egyptian equivalent, Ꜣ ḫw,  originally referred to the land affected by the annual inundation of the Nile and later to pasture in general.
  • אַחְלָמָה – The identity of this stone from the Choshen (mentioned in Shemot 28:19 and Shemot 39:12) is debated. Some relate it to the Egyptian ḫnm(t),84 understood to be a stone with a reddish-orange hue, such as red jasper.  For other possible identifications and further discussion, see Stones of the Choshen.
  • אָסְנַת – Bereshit 41:50 identifies the wife given to Yosef as "אָסְנַת בַּת פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אוֹן".‎85  The name is generally understood to mean "she belongs to (the goddess) Neith".86
  • בֹּחַן‎87 – Yeshayahu 28:16 speaks of an "אֶבֶן בֹּחַן" which will be placed as a foundation in Tzion.  The word "בֹּחַן" is a hapax legomenon whose meaning is debated.  RashiYeshayahu 28:16About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki and RadakYeshayahu 28:16About R. David Kimchi relate it to the word "בַחַן" in Yeshayahu 32:14 (אַרְמוֹן נֻטָּשׁ הֲמוֹן עִיר עֻזָּב עֹפֶל וָבַחַן), a fortress or watchtower, suggesting that an "אֶבֶן בֹּחַן" is a particularly strong or massive rock. Ibn KaspiYeshayahu 28:16About R. Yosef ibn Kaspi, in contrast, assumes "בֹּחַן" relates to the verb "בחן", and refers to a tried and tested stone.88 B. Noonan89 raises a third possibility, that "בֹּחַן' is borrowed from the Egyptian bḫn, meaning greywacke, a type of sandstone used heavily in construction.
  • חַרְטֻמִּים – The word חַרְטֻמִּים appears first in Bereshit 41:8 and then several more times throughout the early Exodus narratives and twice more in Daniel.90
    • From context, it is understood by many commentators to mean diviner or magician.  ShadalBereshit 41:8About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto cites several scholars who, instead, suggest that it stems from the root "חרט" and referred to those Egyptian wisemen or priests who were experts in hieroglyphics, and thus in symbol interpretation.91
    • Shadal also points to scholars who suggest it is loanword from Egypt. Cf. T. Lambdin92 who notes those who have associated it with the root ḥr-tp, the title of a priest or magician, but is skeptical of the identification.93 A.S. Yahuda94 suggests a different etymology, that the words is composed from two Egyptian words "ḥry", meaning "he who is upon (in charge of)" and "dm", meaning papyrus scroll or books.  The word would refer to the learned men in charge of the (magical) books.  Though such an expression is not attested to, the word "ḥry" appears frequently in titles.
  • יְאֹר – In Tanakh, the יאור refers primarily to the Nile, but also to other rivers.95 RambanBereshit 41:2About R. Moshe b. Nachman suggests that it stems from the word "אור" (similar to the meaning of נהר), pointing to several verses in which אור might refer to rain (or water).96 ShadalBereshit 41:1About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto, however, already notes that the word is likely Egyptian in origin, where the original Egyptian name for the Nile was itrw (meaning: "great river"), but is later attested to without the t, as ı͗ rw, from which "יְאֹר" might be adopted.
  • לֶשֶׁם – The identity of this stone from the Choshen is disputed. T. Lambdin97 suggests that the Hebrew לשם might be related to the Egyptian nšm(t), identified by some as the bluish-green feldspar (amazonite). See Stones of the Choshen for more.
  • נֹפֶךְ –This stone is mentioned with regards to the Choshen (Shemot 28:18 and Shemot 39:11), the stones of Gan Eden (Yechezkel 28:13), and also in Yechezkel 27:16, in the context of the merchandise of Aram. It is not clear, however, to which stone is referred. T. Lambdin98 suggests that "נֹפֶךְ" might relate to the Egyptian mfkt, referring to a greenish-blue stone such as turquoise or perhaps malachite.99 For discussion, see Stones of the Choshen.
  • פּוֹטִיפַר / פּוֹטִי פֶרַע – Potiphar (Bereshit 39:1) is possibly an abbreviation of the name Potiphera (Bereshit 41:45),100 a name attested to In Egyptian sources as pꜣ-dj-pꜣ-rꜥ,101 meaning "He whom Re (the sun god) has given."102  Alternatively the name relates tot he Egyptian Pa-diu-par, meaning "given of the house" with padi meaning "give" and "Par" being a house (as in the name Paroh, below). If so it might relate to his function as a steward o f the house.
  • פַּרְעֹה – The title Paroh comes from the Egyptian pr-ʿꜢ, meaning "the great house" and originally referred to the palace itself, but already in the Old Kingdom period was used to refer to the king.103 
  • צׇפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ – In Bereshit 41:45, Yosef is given a new name by Paroh, "צׇפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ". Commentators debate whether this is a Hebrew translation of the original Egyptian name or if Tanakh is preserving the Egyptian itself.
    • Assuming the former, many104 follow OnkelosBereshit 41:45About Targum Onkelos in understanding the name to mean "revealer of mysteries," assuming that "צׇפְנַת" relates to the root "צפן," to hide.105
    • Others look to the Egyptian, with Steindorf106 suggesting that it relates to D̲(d)-pnt(r)-ĕf-ʿnḫ and means "the god speaks and he lives". Some have argued against this suggestion, noting that this type of name has never been found in Egyptian sources without the inclusion of a particular deity.107  This leads R. Englebach108 to suggest that צׇפְנַת is a metathesis of צתנף (zatnap) which is Egyptian for “who is called”, i.e. Yosef who is called "iP’ʿnḫ”- one who lives.109
  • שְׂכִיּוֹת – This word appears but once in Tanakh, in Yeshayahu 2:16, "וְעַל כׇּל אֳנִיּוֹת תַּרְשִׁישׁ וְעַל כׇּל שְׂכִיּוֹת הַחֶמְדָּה". Many commentators connect it to the noun "מַשְׂכִּית", a word whose meaning is also disputed and is understood by some110 to refer to images (from the root ש/סכה, to see), and by others111 to a stone floor covering (from the root ש/סכך).  When applied to Yeshayahu, the verse might speak of beautiful images (see RadakYeshayahu 2:16About R. David Kimchi), or perhaps to paved palaces (see RashiBereshit 41:40Yeshayahu 2:16Yechezkel 16:36Zekharyah 3:7-8Mishlei 8:21Shir HaShirim 8:2About R. Shelomo Yitzchaki and ShadalYeshayahu 2:16About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto). T. Lambdin,112 however, suggests that שְׂכִיּוֹת is actually a loanword from the Egyptian skty which means boat.  If so, the two halves of the verse are parallel.
  • תַּחַשׁ‎ – See the discussion above (under Akkadian cognates).
  • תֻּכִּי – This word appears in the context of Shelomo's imports from his navy in Tarshish mentioned in Melakhim I 10:22.113  Targum YonatanMelakhim I 10:22Yirmeyahu 3:17About Targum Yonatan (Neviim)114 translates the word as "טַוָסִין" or peacocks. If so, it might be related to the Tamil,115 tōkai, referring to the plume of a peacock. Others suggest that it might be a loanword from Egyptian, tꜢ -ky.t, meaning an African ape.116
  • Measurements – It has been suggested that the names of the following measurements might be borrowed from Egyptian:117 איפה (a dry measure of volume) from ı͗ p.t, הין (a liquid measure) from hnw, זרת (a span) from ḏr.t or gr.t (meaning hand) and קב (a measure of capacity) from qb.
  • Plants and fabrics The names of many plants and fabrics might also be Egyptian origin.118 Several examples follow: בד (linen) from bdꜢ, גמא (reeds) from qmꜢ (or gmy), הֹבֶן (ebony), from hbn, זפת (pitch) from sft, סוף (seaweed or reeds) from ṯwf (or ṯwfy), referring to papyrus thickets, ערה (a type of reed), from ʿr, קיקיון (perhaps a castor oil plant), from kꜢ kꜢ (or kyky), שיטה (accacia) from šnd.t, שושן‎119 from ššn, and שש (fine linen) from šs.

Egyptian Terminology

  • וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כׇּל עַמִּי – In Bereshit 41:40, Paroh tells Yosef that he will be in charge of his house, and "וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כׇּל עַמִּי". As the common translation of "kiss" does not seem applicable, commentators look for alternative translations.
    • Rashi Bereshit 41:43About R. Shelomo Yitzchakisuggests that the word means to provide, referencing Bereshit 15:2 "בֶן מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי", while RashbamBereshit 41:40About R. Shemuel b. Meir suggests that it relates to "נשק" (ammunition), and that Paroh was speaking of a military role to be played by Yosef.
    • A. S. Yahuda120 suggests that, in light of Egyptian terminology, one may actually maintain the prevalent understanding of "יִשַּׁק" as kiss, pointing to several Egyptian texts in which the expression to "kiss the food" is used metaphorically in ceremonial speech to refer to feeding. 
    • N. Shupak121 adds that the reference to a "mouth" (וְעַל פִּיךָ) might be an allusion to a specific Egyptian title, "mouth of the king", a description of an officer who served as advisor to the king, or alternatively, to the title "chief mouth of the king", an officer appointed to supervise various projects in times of emergency.
  • אֲשֶׁר עַל הַבַּיִת – In Bereshit 43:15 and 19, we read of "הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר עַל בֵּית יוֹסֵף".  Paroh similarly tells Yosef: "אַתָּה תִּהְיֶה עַל בֵּיתִי"  (Bereshit 41:40). This, too, is a known position in Egypt, where the title ḥry-pr means "he who is over the house" and referred to a high dignity.122 The person who was in charge of the kings house was tasked (among other things) with the collection of taxes from agricultural produce and the storing of grains,123 and as such the title is very fitting for Yosef.
  • אָב לְפַרְעֹה – In Bereshit 45:8, Yosef tells his brothers that he was placed as an "אָב לְפַרְעֹה".  A. S. Yahuda suggests that this is a Hebrew translation of a known Egyptian title. In Egypt the word it ntr, father of the god, was a priestly title borne by various officers, including viziers.  As Paroh was considered a god, those who served him could be given the designation "the god's father".


  • בִּירָה – See the discussion above under Akkadian cognates that this word might related to either the Akkadian "birtu" (a castle), or to the Persian "bâru" (a rampart or bulwark).
  • דָּת – This word only appears in the later books of Tanakh and is likely a loan word from the Persian where "dâta" means law or decree.124
  •  כַּרְפַּס – This word is a hapax legomenon, appearing only in Esther 1:6. It might be a loan word from Persia, originally from Sanskrit, where "karpâsa" refers to cotton or fine linen (BDB, "כרפס"). Alternatively, the word refers to a color, perhaps green (Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, relating it to the green vegetable named "כַַּרְפַּס" (celery or parsley). Cf. Bavli Megillah 12a and R"Y Kara that "כַַּרְפַּס" might be composed of two words, "כרים של פסים", striped pillows.
  • הַפַּרְתְּמִים – This word appears only in the books of Esther and Daniel125 and commentators question whether it is a loan word from Persia (Rashi, Ibn Ezra) or a Hebrew word (Hoil Moshe). Modern scholars assume the former, connecting it to the Old Persian "fratama", meaning "first" (BDB, "פַּרְתְּמִים"). As such, the word might be equivalent in meaning to the term "הַיֹּשְׁבִים רִאשֹׁנָה בַּמַּלְכוּת" (Esther 1:14), referring to important governors (see Rashi).
  • פִּתְגָם – This word appears only in Kohelet 8:11 and Esther 1:20. It might be a loan word from Persian where "patigâma" refers to a command, matter, or edict. It might have made its way into Hebrew via the Aramaic, פִּתְגָמָא, a matter, which appears in both Daniel and Ezra (BDB, "פִּתְגָם").
  • פַּתְשֶׁגֶן – The word "פַּתְשֶׁגֶן" appears only in the book of Esther and is likely a Persian loanword which made its way into Hebrew via the Aramaic "פַּרְשֶׁגֶן", mentioned in Ezra 4:11 (BDB, "פַּרְשֶׁגֶן")