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Bob MacDonald

The Blue Letter Bible - in spite of the limitations of the numbering system, is quite good for searching roots - does the Bible Gateway allow for Hebrew searches?

For instance I can see at a click in the BLB all uses of a particular Hebrew word and usually its related words - and I can narrow the search to one book with a click and see how often at a glance - so immediately if words occur both in chapter 3 and chapters 38-41 and no where else - I will be on the lookout for the framing of YHWH's response to Job's undoing of his own creation.

The KJV is a great piece of history - really great - but it is not concordant at some critical times - e.g. Job raises leviathan first - not YHWH - as I am sure you know - but English readers wouldn't have a clue when KJV translates it as mourning or something. I think too - though the whole is still in process and will be for months - that there are frame words for each speech except where its degenerates in chapter 26-27

Bob MacDonald

Oh - and I love this post - I wish all blessing to your confirmands - they are a lucky bunch

My face is countenancing you and your approach - keep smiling.


Hi Bob,

I love to smile, as you know.

It is true that KJV could have been more concordant than it was in some cases, without becoming overly obscure.

Furthermore, we've come a fair distance now in our understanding of ancient Hebrew with respect to what was known in the 15 and 16 hundreds.

Thanks for reminding this blog's readers of BLB. For Hebrew, I still use dead-tree concordances and lexica for the most part.



You are changing our mind about the NLT!

This matter of no smiles/laughing is one of two critiques that Cornel West offers of the historical Jesus. Why doesn't Jesus laugh?

Does the NLT offer anything in this regard in the NT?


Hi Daniel and Tonya,

Both of you have great smiles. You can take that to the bank.

No smiling in the NLT New Testament. Boo hoo.

As for Jesus, I think the great Cornel West is being too literal here. It's true that the gospels do not say anything directly about Jesus' facial expression when he said, "Let the children come to me," and they sat on his lap. I'm convinced he would have been smiling.

I learn something new from NLT practically every day. I say that as someone who prefers to read my Bible in the original languages. Even when I disagree with NLT translation choices, it gets me thinking in a good and positive way.


Any relevant thoughts on the laughter of Psalm 2? Though it is the divine laughing at ridiculous mortal thoughts, its still OT laughter.

John Anderson

Great post, thanks.

And I would speculate that the Jacob/Laban narratives are full of (insidiously) laughing characters. Imagine Laban, after having just brought Leah instead of Rachel to the marriage tent. Or Jacob, with his mysterious "rods" in Gen 31, resulting in great wealth.

Not only are these scenes hilarious to me, I am confident there would be some sly smiling going on.


Daniel and Tonya,

There is plenty of laughter *at the expense of* someone else in the Bible. With God as subject, too, as you note. I suppose that makes God's speech "inappropriate" according to modern-day language police. I'm not sure that is a bad thing.

Just the other day, I was talking about what it means to turn the other cheek with 7th graders. What do you when someone slugs you? A tall, beautiful farm girl raised her hand and said, "you slug'em back." Great answer, I said. I then gave contextualized examples of when it is appropriate to fight back, before giving others in which not fighting back is a true sign of strength and a saving grace, or simply a very wise option when you are up against someone far stronger than you.

What I'm saying is, I have trouble with those who make non-violence into an ideology, and yes, laughing at someone's expense is a form of violence. If you are going to do it, you better have good cause.

In a comment over at David Ker's blog once, I listed a bunch of examples of dark humor, potty humor, fat humor, slapstick humor, etc., in the Hebrew Bible. I should resurrect that comment and make it into a post.


Hi John,

There are many examples of narrative in the Hebrew Bible that are supposed to evoke laughter. Like Balaam's ass. Like the books of Jonah and Esther. The Jacob and Esau narrative is full of hilarious moments. Hilarious and dead-serious at the same time.

These authors knew how to write. The authors' great to the x power children, if I'm not mistaken, are well-represented on bestseller lists and in Hollywood. There is a causal nexus there, "original sin" in the positive sense.

Simon Holloway

I am reminded (if I remember it correctly) of an ecclesiastical debate that took place in Eco's "The Name of the Rose", regarding whether or not Jesus ever laughed.

Your point is a good one for, while there are certainly instances that imply smiling (such as any instance that involves laughter), there are no explicit references to that specific facial phenomenon. In fact, a quick look at Jastrow would seem to suggest that the earliest usages of √חוכ would be from the Targum, and they all seem to mean "laugh" there too. I wonder when that word came to mean "smile"?


Hi Simon,

I would guess that √חוכ ended up taking on a specialized meaning of "smiling" as Hebrew came into contact with languages with specific verbs for that very thing. But I don't know that for sure, nor do I know when that would have happened. This is a question to direct to that guy who writes for "Forward" on the history of words in Hebrew, or perhaps someone one who is more knowledgeable still.



Do you have an electronically searchable Jastrow? I know I wish I did.

Simon Holloway

No, that would be handy. I just flick through my print copy.

Bob MacDonald

Job 9:27 and 10 both have this word that could be glossed as 'smile' בלג

I am tempted:
If I say I will forget my complaint
I will abandon my face and smile sweetly
I dread my injuries
I know you will not acquit me

I used smile also for Psalm 39

look at me and I will smile before I go
and there is no me



Hi Bob,

You are not the only one to translate the verb accordingly. Such translation acclimatizes the Hebrew to an idiom in common use in English.

BTW, Ps 39:14 is, as Alter remarks, more Jobean, than you make it out to be. And like Raymond Scheindlin at Job 10:20-21, whose translation of Job is a tour de force, Alter translates the disputed verb as "catch one's breath." I haven't seen the reasoning behind that translation.

J. K. Gayle

Didn't you say once you'd found the Hebrew original of "The Wisdom of Ben Sira"? Of course, it's ostensibly translated into Greek by the son of the son of Sira, also known as Jesus [the Translator]; and here's the single line with the smile (21:20):

μωρὸς ἐν γέλωτι ἀνυψοῖ φωνὴν αὐτοῦ
ἀνὴρ δὲ πανοῦργος μόλις ἡσυχῇ μειδιάσει

Benjamin G. Wright (in the NETS) renders that Greek into English well this way:

A foolish person raises his voice in laughter,
but a clever man will scarcely smile in silence.

Saint John Chrysostom makes one of the earliest big deals out of this kind of wisdom of smile suppression. Here's from his Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (with English translation by Philip Schaff):

And like as by water and the spirit, so by tears and confession are we cleansed the second time; unless we be acting thus for display and vanity: for as to a woman whose tears were of that sort, I should call her justly condemnable, more than if she decked herself out with lines and coloring. For I seek those tears which are shed not for display, but in compunction; those which trickle down secretly and in closets, and in sight of no man, softly and noiselessly; those which arise from a certain depth of mind, those shed in anguish and in sorrow, those which are for God alone; such as were Hannah's, for "her lips moved," it is said, "but her voice was not heard;" however, her tears alone uttered a cry more clear than any trumpet. And because of this, God also opened her womb, and made the hard rock a fruitful field.

If thou also weep thus, thou art become a follower of thy Lord [Jesus Christ]. Yea, for He also wept, both over Lazarus, and over the city; and touching Judas He was greatly troubled. And this indeed one may often see Him do, but nowhere laugh [γελῶντα], nay, nor smile [μειδιῶντα] but a little; no one at least of the evangelists hath mentioned this. Therefore also with regard to Paul, that he wept, that he did so three years night and day, both he hath said of himself, and others say this of him; but that he laughed [ἐγέλασεν], neither hath he said himself anywhere, neither hath so much as one other of the saints, either concerning him, or any other like him; but this is said of Sarah only, when she is blamed, and of the son of Noe, when for a freeman he became a slave. And these things I say, not to suppress all laughter [γέλωτα], but to take away dissipation of mind.

In his Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Saint Chrysostom elaborates thusly:

This my discourse is addressed to women also, who in the presence of their husbands indeed do not dare readily to do this, and even if they do it, it is not at all times, but during a season of relaxation, but here they do it always. Tell me, O woman, dost thou cover thine head and laugh [καὶ γελᾷς, ὦ γύναι], sitting in the Church? Didst thou come in here to make confession of sins, to fall down before God, to entreat and to supplicate for the transgressions thou hast wretchedly committed, and dost thou do this with laughter [γέλωτος]? How then wilt thou be able to propitiate Him?

But, one says, what harm is there in laughter [γέλως]? There is no harm in laughter; the harm is when it is beyond measure, and out of season. Laughter [γέλως] has been implanted in us, that when we see our friends after a long time, we may laugh [γέλως]; that when we see any persons downcast and fearful, we may relieve them by our smile [μειδιάματι]; not that we should burst out violently and be always laughing [γελῶμεν]. Laughter [γέλως] has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometimes be refreshed, not that it may be quite relaxed. For carnal desire also is implanted in us, and yet it is not by any means necessary that because it is implanted in us, therefore we should use it, or use it immoderately: but we should hold it in subjection, and not say, Because it is implanted in us, let us use it.

In light of what Jesus the Translator translates and how Saint Chrysostom reads the Bible,
the thing that makes me smile is what Luke's Jesus says:

Μακάριοι οἱ κλαίοντες νῦν,
ὅτι γελάσετε.

Blessed who're crying now,
Because they'll laugh.


Hi Kurk,

Unfortunately, Ben Sira 21:20 is not extant in Hebrew.

Lots of laughing in the Bible is viewed favorably, but not all. No need to limit commentary to laughter which is uncalled for. Your example from Jesus is well-chosen, though I would maintain the forceful 2nd person plural address:

Those crying now are fortunate:
you shall laugh!

J. K. Gayle

Thanks John. I really like

you shall laugh!


I'm not fond of introducing anthropomorphisms where none existed in the Hebrew. (Your images of Mesopotamian idols is more than sufficient explanation of why monotheistic religions would want to avoid this.)

In addition, removing the luminous aspect removes numerous metaphors and mystical interpretations:

At a peshat level, we lose, for example, the connection with Ex. 34:29 (unless you believe that Moses came down the mountain with a huge grin.)

At a mystical level, we lose the connection to half of the Kaballah -- for example, theological terms such as ohr, maohr, tzimtzum, bittul, kli, sovev, mimalei, and pnimi become incomprehensible.


I agree, Theophrastus. With every one of your points. Thanks for your insights.

Gary Simmons

You know what else doesn't happen much in the Bible? Snoring. LXX Jonah is the only person in the Bible to snore.
Jonah 1:5f, LXX

καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν οἱ ναυτικοὶ καὶ ἀνεβόων ἕκαστος πρὸς τὸν θεὸν αὐτῶν καὶ ἐκβολὴν ἐποιήσαντο τῶν σκευῶν τῶν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν τοῦ κουφισθῆναι ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν· Ιωνας δὲ κατέβη εἰς τὴν κοίλην τοῦ πλοίου καὶ ἐκάθευδεν καὶ ἔρρεγχεν. καὶ προσῆλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ πρωρεὺς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Τί σὺ ῥέγχεις; ἀνάστα καὶ ἐπικαλοῦ τὸν θεόν σου, ὅπως διασώσῃ ὁ θεὸς ἡμᾶς καὶ μὴ ἀπολώμεθα.

I may not have a degree, but occasionally I make a point that I can let my face shine about.


Considering how common snoring is . . .

Thanks for shining your face on us, Gary, in so many ways.

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    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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