Since first posting on Hebrew tattoos, I have been innudated with requests for advice for proper spellings, etc. I don’t really mind that much; but I find it quite surprising how many people are thinking of getting Hebrew tattoos. In addition, every once and a while I follow the searches for Hebrew tattoos that brought people to my site to see if I can find more incorrect ones. I did this just the other day and found quite a number of tattoos which had a number of errors. So without further ado, here is another installment of…
Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want
This tattoo is supposed to say “faithful” (from bottom to top), though the vowel pointing is incorrect (there is a segol — the three dots — between the alef and the mem, but no vowel between the mem and final nun). I imagine the word that the poor individual was trying to write was something like ×?Ö¹×žÖ¶×Ÿ, though I am not certain. I personally don’t think it looks very good vertically, and if I was going to put it vertically I would write it top to bottom (as my example). I would put it horizontally as indicated by my “Better” example (I would also lean towards the word ×?×ž×ª if I wanted to indicate faithful).
This tattoo is supposed to say, “Beloved.” The word that the woman was trying to have inscribed on her wrist (I believe) was the Qal passive participle of the biblical Hebrew word for love, ×?×”×‘. The problem is that it was written backwards (remember, Hebrew is written from right to left!). I am also not sure that this is the best word to use if you want to say “beloved,” but that’s neither here nor there.
Now it seems as if “beloved” is a fairly popular Hebrew tattoo. If you are looking for the Hebrew spelling, you have to beware of who you ask. I found this image posted on the Christian Tattoo Association web board as alternatives for someone wanting the Hebrew for “beloved”:
The problem with this advice is that it is riddled with errors:
As it turned out, the fellow who posted this advice recognized his error, but he never did repost a correct version (and you had to read through a lot of posts before you saw his comment about the Hebrew being backwards).
I have been asked a number of times for the correct spelling of “beloved” — with most people wanting the beloved that comes from the Song of Songs (e.g., Song 1:13, 14, 16, 2:3, 8, 9, 10, 16, etc.). In English the term “beloved” is a unisex term of endearment. The word in Hebrew, however, is not. The Hebrew word for beloved, ×“×•×“, is appropriate only if you are referring to a male (the word also means uncle). You shouldn’t really use it if you are referring to a female (which was David Beckham’s mistake). For a female term of endearment roughly equivalent to “beloved” I would probably suggest ×?×”×•×‘×”, which is based on the Hebrew root for love. I find that many Christians want to tattoo “beloved” in the sense of “beloved of God,” i.e., loved by God. For this sense I would probably suggest the passive form of the verb for love in Hebrew: ×?×”×•×‘. This is what I would suggest:
The same fellow that gave advice on the Hebrew for beloved, also gave some incorrect advice on the spelling of “child” in Hebrew on the same web board:
This guy’s track record isn’t that great! I sure hope he isn’t a tattoo artist!
All this goes to show that you should be very careful before you decide to permanently inscribe something on your body in a language that you don’t know. Perhaps the Mishnah is correct in prohibiting tattoos due to their lasting and permanent nature (see m Makkot 3.6).
I recognize by internet standards this is old news, but I have to ask what sort of name is “Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt“? Talk about a mouthful — they’re giving the name “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz” a run for the money! (see Isaiah 8:1). Many newspapers reported that the first name of the new daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie means “Messiah,” while others are a bit more nuanced and report that the name means “something like ‘his gift’ or ‘the peaceful one’ and refers to the Messiah.” While these different proposals each have some merit, when it comes right down to it, the etymology and meaning of the name Shiloh remain obscure.
When it comes right down to it, depending on how you understand this passage, it may create some associations between the name Shiloh and a coming Messiah, or it may refer to a gift or somekind, or it may refer to the place Shiloh — but it is unlikely that it refers to all three. The meaning of the name is best taken as “the peaceful one” or the like and doesn’t necessarily have any messianic connotations.
So the moral of the story is, if you are a rich celebrity and want to give your child a foreign name, make sure to do your research! Of course, if they just picked the name because they liked the sound of it, then that’s their perrogative. If they picked the name because of its meaning, then they would likely be disappointed in realizing that it may not mean what they think.
There are a number of resources for learning Biblical Hebrew about to be published. Whlie I have not had the chance to look at any of these works, the first two books certainly fill a need for students of intermediate Hebrew — especially if they want to work on their own.
A Workbook for Intermediate Hebrew Robert B. Chisholm
Kregel, August 2006.
Designed to engage the Hebrew text and reinforce patterns and principles of Hebrew grammar and syntax, this resource expertly guides intermediate Hebrew students. Answers to all questions are provided, and both a useful parsing guide and glossary are also included.
Graded Reader of Biblical Hebrew: A Guide to Reading the Hebrew Bible Miles V. Van Pelt, Gary D. Pratico
Zondervan, August 2006.
Designed for the student who has completed a year of elementary Hebrew, or the pastor or scholar whose language skills have diminished due to lack of use. A structured introduction to the reading of biblical Hebrew texts. Through these readings, you will be able to review basic Hebrew grammar, become familiar with issues of intermediate grammar, and gain confidence in handling the Hebrew text. The readings chosen for inclusion, which are arranged generally in order of increasing difficulty, span the whole of the Old Testament and represent some of the most important Old Testament texts from the standpoint of biblical history, theology, and exegesis. The many notes that accompany the text include information on grammar, exegetically significant constructions, vocabulary words, idioms, bibliographic information, and more. Parsing exercises are included with each reading, and there is room to write your own English translation.
Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar Russell T. Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi
Kregel, August 2006.
A tested approach to learning biblical Hebrew in an ideal package for the first-year Hebrew student. This clear, accurate, and pedagogically sound textbook emphasizes the basics: Hebrew phonology (sounds) and morphology (forms). This grammar does not use jargon or technical language, but uses terms easily understood and remembered so biblical Hebrew can be used with regularity and authority.
Believe it or not, one of the more frequent Google searches by which individuals happen upon my blog is a search for “Hebrew Tattoos.” This search, which appears to happen once every few hundred visits to my site, leads readers to my tongue-in-cheek post “Posh Hebrew Tattoos, David! (Beckhams Inscribe their Love).” I have also had individuals email me asking advice on Hebrew tattoos, primarily wanting verification about the spelling of this or that word. My own students also ask similar questions (the latest being just last week).
This interest in Hebrew tattoos intrigues me. It obviously piggy-backs on the popularity of tattoos in general, though I suspect that the fact you have high profile celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, Madonna, and Britney Spears with Hebrew tattoos boosts their popularity. And, of course, you have the religious crowd that likes tattoos of a biblical character, whether Hebrew, Greek, or even Aramaic.
At any rate, after reproducing the Google search for “Hebrew Tattoos” you will come across a number of web sites that specialize in tattoos, even ones devoted to Hebrew Tattoos that want to cash in on the craze. Most of these sites have sample pictures of actual Hebrew tattoos. What I found troubling is the number of mistakes in these tattoos. As a public service to any individuals thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, I thought I would highlight some of the mistakes so that others may avoid them in the future.
Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want
This first example of the Hebrew term for “God” makes a simple mistake of confusing Hebrew characters that look similar (of which there are a few!). The bottom letter on the tattoo is a samech (a Hebrew “s”) while it is supposed to be a mem (a Hebrew “m”). Another possibility that Yitzhak Sapir noted in the comments, is that the final letter is the Rashi script for final mem. He suggests that “some Jewish figure who was uncomfortable writing out the name of God changed scripts as a result.” While this is certainly possible, it seems odd that the rest of the tattoo is standard Aramaic square script. I am also not sure how many Jewish tattoo artists are out there who know Rashi’s script! I think my explanation makes a bit more sense. This tattoo is an example of a simple mistake made by someone who was trying to match the letters from a picture or something (I get quite a few papers from students who know a little Hebrew and try to include Hebrew words but they confuse stuff like final mem and samech, resh and dalet, etc.). Either way, if you are going to get a tattoo, it’s probably better to use the same script for the entire thing!
This tattoo, which has a Hebrew word purported by the website I found it on to mean “freedom” (perhaps based on Lev 19:20?) has the vowel points shifted incorrectly to the left. As such it is nonsensical. Moreover, as the comments to this post indicate, in modern Hebrew this word (if correctly pointed) means “vacation” — which I am pretty sure the individual who got the tattoo did not want (especially considering the symbol of the Holy Spirit above it!).
This tattoo, which means “holy to the LORD/Yahweh,” has letters which are either not drawn very carefully or confused (note the difference in width in the second last character in the bottom word; the tattoo has what looks like a dalet or resh, which it should be a vav) as well as incorrect vowel pointing.
This tattoo is supposed to say “in blood” according to the website where I found it. The expression is not biblical Hebrew, but a modern Hebrew phrase for “blood relative” or the like (see the comments by Yitzhak Sapir). Of course, the tattoo is still incorrect since it is missing the silent sheva after the resh (and the resh looks a bit like a yod). (If I was going to write “in blood” in Biblical Hebrew, I would simply do it as I have it on the bottom.)
This tattoo of the name of the God of Israel, “Yahweh,” is fine, though the web page identified it as Aramaic. In fact, this is a paleo-Hebrew script of the divine name.
There is nothing wrong with this Hebrew tattoo. I just thought it’s funny because the word inscribed can possibly mean both “love” as well as “leather” (some scholars suggest that there is a homograph [×?×”×‘×” II] which means “leather” [see KB3]). It arguably occurs in Hosea 11:4 [perhaps] and Song 3:10 [more likely]). Perhaps this can be taken as a warning not to spend too much time in the tanning salons?! (Of course, in modern Hebrew ×?×”×‘×” clearly means love, and as I already noted, there is nothing wrong with this tattoo.)
The lesson here is that you cannot trust pictures of Hebrew tattoos on the internet! Make sure to double check the spelling of the Hebrew word you want tattooed!
Tips for Getting Hebrew Tattoos
If you are thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, consider the following:
First, think long and hard about getting a tattoo because they are permanent (notwithstanding modifying tattoos or erasing them). If you are set on the idea of getting a tattoo, think about getting a temporary one first. Also think about where you put your tattoo. Based on the experience of friends, I wouldn’t suggest getting a tattoo on any place where your body may change drastically as you age (and women, beware of tattoos on your stomach as if you ever get pregnant, your tattoo may be stretched beyond recognition (and it may not go back to its original shape — ask my friend!).
Second, if you are getting a Hebrew tattoo, make sure to double check with someone who knows Hebrew (or Greek if you are getting a Greek one) whether or not you have the proper spelling of the word. It would be a bummer to get a tattoo like those above — the only consolation would be that most people wouldn’t know you have a spelling mistake permanently inscribed on your body!
Third, one thing to decide before getting a Hebrew tattoo is whether or not to just use consonants (as Hebrew was originally written) or use consonants with the Masoretic vowel pointing (the little dots and dashes above and below the consonants). The vowel points were added to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the early centuries of this era by Jewish scribes called the Masoretes. While the vowel points represent an ancient reading tradition, they are not original to the Hebrew text, so you may not want to include them. (I personally wouldn’t include them if only for aesthetic reasons)
Finally, make sure to go to a reputable tattoo shop!
As a side note, I don’t have any tattoos nor any intention of getting one — and I hope that this trend will die down by the time my kids are older! My primary problem with tattoos is that they are too permanent; what you may think is cool when you are younger, you may later regret.
I had some very helpful comments by Robert Deutsch on the tracing of the letters on my Yehukal Seal blog entry. I have updated the image to reflect most of the recommendations, though I have to admit that I cannot make out some of the suggestions on the picture of the seal I am working with — even after magnifying the image and making changes to the contrast and colour balance, etc., with Photoshop. For instance, I just don’t see the upper half of the first lamed, but I think I do see part of the middle bar on the yod (the second letter). At any rate, I did make some of the suggested modifications. (A higher resolution picture would perhaps make it easier to trace).
As I noted in the comments thread to the original post, the (only) purpose of the tracing was to bring the letters — as best as I could discern them from a lo-resolution photograph — into sharper relief so that people who haven’t ever looked at a seal or other inscriptions can use the chart to read the seal. Thus, my purpose was pedagogical, not paleographical.
Robert Deutsch remains convinced that the bulla is from the late 8th or the first half of the 7th century BCE, while Peter van der Veen defends Mazar’s date of late 7th early 6th century BCE. Perhaps we’ll need to get them to debate their evidence to see if some consensus can be reached on the date.
Here is a pretty clear picture of the Yehukal bulla that was discovered by Eilat Mazar in her Jerusalem dig:
(Thanks to Joseph I. Lauer for the link; the picture was published in the Taipei Times)
Here is a tracing of the bulla I made to show the letters in greater relief; note that the first nun begins on the second line and is incomplete and the heh-vav at the end of the second line were difficult to make out in their entirety (Thanks to Ed Cook for the identification of the partial nun).
For those who may know Hebrew, but are unfamiliar with the archaic Hebrew alphabet, here is part of a handout I give to intermediate Hebrew students:
There are a number of good discussions of the seal on the web: Ed Cook perhaps has the best at Ralph the Sacred River. Jim West also has a number of posts on the subject at Biblical Theology blog: here and here. Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests has also posted a good discussion of the seal.
This was in the news yesterday (here, here, and here, among others), but I was too overcome with emotion to post it until today! Jewish soccer star David Beckham and his “posh” wife, Victoria Beckham, got matching Hebrew tattoos on their sixth wedding anniversary. The tattoo is apparently from the Song of Songs 2:16:
×“×•×“×™ ×œ×™ ×•×?× ×™ ×œ×• “My Beloved is mine and I am his”
I have mixed emotions about tattoos. I personally have no desire to get one and I sure hope this tattooing craze is spent by the time my kids grow up (OK, I guess they’re not so mixed!). The problem with tattoos is that they are just too permanent. I wouldn’t like to know what I would have tattooed on my body when I was 18! I’ve had students ask me (with increasing frequency) how to write this or that in Hebrew or Greek for a tattoo. I’ve been tempted to spell whatever they ask as × ×‘×œ (fool!). Perhaps I should just quote Leviticus 19:28 and send them packing: “You shall not… tattoo any marks upon you: I am Yahweh” (I recall seeing this verse actually used as an argument against modern tattoos; I assume that the prohibition was due to some association with cultic practices of Israel’s neighbours rather than tattooing itself).