We cover the first two chapters of Genesis in the first class of each year. The kids figure out pretty fast why Adam and Eve weren’t ashamed to be naked in Eden. Later, while discussing chapter 3, they explain why after Adam and Eve sinned, their nakedness was cause for shame. Of course, naked is naked- right? Or could there be more to it?
Someone corresponded with me recently regarding a post I wrote in 2011 about Semitic triliteral roots. Commenting on the wordplay of the Hebrew Old Testament he said: “…somebody who gave me his Hebrew OT had underlined two words in the early chapters of Genesis. If I remember, they were ‘erom and “erom, one with the light opening and the other with the ayin opening. One means naked, and the other means subtle — and I’d say that the author was saying something there. What do you think?”
I noticed that `arowm derives from a root word, עָרַם `aram Strong’s H6191. `Aram means shrewd, crafty, and…subtle. That was easy! Now I check on instances of `aram in the OT, and in Genesis in particular, because that was where my friend said the words were underlined. Uh-oh, it’s not used at all in Genesis. Huh. That must mean there’s another word that’s close to`aram, and basically means the same thing. I try Strong’s 6190 and 6192: sometimes adjacent words are related. No luck. I go back to`arowm, naked, and try H6173: no luck. H6175, yes: עָרוּם `aruwm, shrewd, crafty, sly, subtle. First use of `aruwm is in Genesis 3:1, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” (KJV) Aaack! the KJV spells ‘subtle’ an older way: subtil. That’s why I didn’t get a word search hit on “subtle.” I may as well check on naked again while I’m at it, but this time just looking at Genesis. Ha! There are two Hebrew words for naked in Genesis:
“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” `arowm, Strong’s 6174, I’ve already looked at that one.
Here is the other naked used three times:
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons…. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” This naked, a shameful naked, is עֵירֹם `eyrom, Strong’s H5903. And here’s an elegant closure: `eyrom’s root is H6191, `aram, shrewd, crafty, subtle. If you are like me and can’t read Hebrew, you can still see how all these related words have the same 3 letters, and differ mostly by the jots and tittles, the vowel points, that affect pronunciation. When you consider that those markings weren’t invented until around 700 A.D, for practical purposes all these similar “words” are more like a single word with an array of vowel changes to clarify particular meanings (sort of like woman and women; or read and read).
So why does all this matter? Well, it’s a wordplay- like this: Adama is Hebrew for ground; Adam is Hebrew for man. So Adam אדם was made of Adama אדמה, see? And both words spring from a common root. Likewise, the name Yitschaq /Isaac יצחק springs from the root word Tsachak צחק, laughter. Sarah laughed at the idea of bearing a son in her old age; and laughed again when Laughter was born.