Q&A: What are some great nuggets from the Bible that you would miss if you don’t understand Hebrew, ancient idioms, and ancient poetry?

Coincidentally, that is the subject of a book that I’m writing at the moment.

My favourites are verbal expressions by people that sound startlingly modern, almost colloquial. The following are just a few examples, in my own translation (to convey their vernacular flavour to the ears of native Hebrew speakers):


Abraham berating God about proposing to wipe out all of Sodom and Gomorrah if there are fifty righteous people in them (Gen. 18:25)

חלילה לך מעשות כדבר הזה, להמית צדיק עם-רשע

Heaven forfend that you do something like this! To kill a righteous person with an evildoer?

Abraham then negotiates Him down to 45, then 40, then 35…—all the way down to ten, wearing Him down in classic Middle Eastern negotiation style.
(By the end, you can tell that God has virtually lost the will to live):

ויאמר לא אשחית, בעבור העשרה

[Alright, alright!] I won’t destroy for the sake of ten.


Pharaoh scolding Abram for presenting his wife Sarai as his sister (Gen. 12:18):

מה-זאת עשית לי; למה לא-הגדת לי, כי אשתך היא. יט למה אמרת אחותי היא… ועתה, הנה אשתך קח ולך.

What have you done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she’s your wife? Why did you say ‘She’s my sister’? … Now, here’s your wife, take [her], and go!


The angel telling off Sarah like a little girl for her reaction to the news that she would be bear a son (Gen. 18:15):

ותכחש שרה לאמור לא צחקתי, כי יראה; ויאמר לא, כי צחקת.

And Sarah denied it, saying: ‘I didn’t laugh—I was just fearful.’ 

‘No. You laughed’, he said.


Pharaoh meeting Joseph for the first time (Gen. 41:15)

ואני שמעתי עליך לאמור, תשמע חלום לפתור אותו

And I’ve heard it said about you, [that] you can understand a dream [and] decipher it


Achish, king of Gath, to his courtiers, on seeing David foaming at the mouth, pretending to be mad (I Sam. 21:15-16):

הנה תראו איש משתגע, למה תביאו אותו אליי? כי חסר משוגעים אני,כי-הבאתם את-זה, להשתגע עלי

You see that? That there is a raving lunatic! Why did you bring him to me? Am I lacking mad men that you bring this one to me to go nuts on me?

and last, but not least:


Michal, King David’s wife and a born princess, sneering at him for having danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant as it was being transported to its new abode in Jerusalem (II Sam. 6:20):

מה נכבד היום מלך ישראל אשר נגלה היום לעיני אמהות עבדיו כהגלות נגלות אחד הרקים

How dignified was the King of Israel today, when he revealed himself in front of the his servants’ handmaids, like a common fool?

Most people have no idea how much they miss by not reading the Hebrew Bible…

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