From Hebrew To Greek Names Of The Torah (judith Green, The Hebrew University Of Jerusalem)


The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, Italy, 15th c.

ΓΕΝΕΣΙΣ (Genesis) The Greek word for “creation” is the name given to the first book of the Hebrew Bible, whose first word is בראשית, (bereshit), meaning “In the beginning…”.  In fact, the traditional Hebrew names for the books are simply the first full word of the text, not really a “title”, whereas the Septuagint gives them true titles. The root ΓΕΝ- (gen-) is the source of the words gene, generate, generic, genealogy, genetics, etc.  However, the first Greek words of Genesis in the LXX are ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ (en archee), “in the beginning”, exactly as in the Hebrew text.  Knowing this gives you a clue to the significance of the prologue of the Gospel of  John: “In the beginning  (ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ) was the Word and the Word was with God.” John 1:1.  Was John perhaps re-interpreting the opening of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the sky and the earth”?  A new creation?

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Crossing the Red Sea and Miriam dancing. Chludov Psalter, which is one of the few surviving 9th c. Byzantine manuscripts from the period of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire. The book contains the Psalms in the arrangement of the Septuagint, and the responses to be chanted during their recitation, which follow the Liturgy of Hagia Sophia, the Imperial church in Constantinople.


ΕΞΟΔΟΣ (Exodus)

The Exodus, “way out” of the Israelites from Egypt.  Prefix ΕΞ- out + ΟΔΟΣ path, way.  The prefix is famliar from the English words exit, exile, exhibit, exhale, etc.  Even ΟΔΟΣ, the word for street or path, has its English cognates, such as “odometer”, which measures the way.  The illustration  shows Miriam, sister of Moses, leading the Israelites through the Red Sea with song and dance: Ex. 15:20, “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”

In Hebrew, the book is called שמות, shemot, which simply means “names”, according to the principle we mentioned in Part One of naming the books according to the first words:  “Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt…”


The Tabernacle in the Wilderness; illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible.  When Moses and the Israelites finished the work of building the Tabernacle, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and God’s presence filled the Tabernacle. When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, and when the cloud did not lift, they would not set out.

ΛΕΥΙΤΙΚΟΝ (Leviticus)

Having to do with the duties of the Levites, members of the tribe of Levi who administered the Temple rituals.   The book of Leviticus describes the laws and rituals of the Temple in detail. Lev. 10:8:  “And the Lord spoke to Aaron saying, ‘Do not drink wine or strong drink, you and your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting…and teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.’ ”

In Hebrew, the book is called ויקרא, vayyiqra, “And (the Lord) called to Moses…”.

Moses speaking to God at the Tent of Meeting. An illustrated World Chronicle of the 14th c. from the Abbey of Fulda, Bohemia

ΑΡΙΘΜΟΙ (Numbers)

The Greek word for number is ΑΡΙΘΜΟΣ, ΑΡΙΘΜΟΙ,  in the plural.  God tells Moses, in the wilderness of Sinai, to number those able to bear arms— all the men “from twenty years old and upward,” and to appoint princes over each tribe, and there follows an exact numbering of the tribes and their chiefs of staff.  In Hebrew, it is simply called במדבר, Bemidbar, “In the Desert”, where God requested the numbering.  There follows very precise counting, tribe by tribe, of the eligible men, the total sum being 603,560!

An important note from Dr. Eli: Judith Green the author of this article is also the principle author of Biblical Greek course that is being offered now through eTeacherBiblical. To explore the possibility of taking a course in Biblical Greek, please, click HERE.

Distances to various Holy Land locations from Mt. Nebo, Jordan, where Moses stood and viewed the Promised Land (Deut.34:1).


ΔΕΥΤΕΡΟΣ = SECOND,  ΝΟΜΟΣ = LAW.  The second law?  In the LXX, the Hebrew word Torah is translated by the Greek nomos, which has the sense of custom or tradition, rather than law. However, this was translated into Latin as lex, = law, which is perhaps a contribution to the mistaken notion that Torah = law and legalism.

The fifth book of the Pentateuch is, in Hebrew, דברים , Devarim, from the opening phrase Eleh ha-devarim, “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan”,  Deut. 1:1 in Rabbinical Hebrew it is known also as Mishneh Torah, which really means a repetition, or copy, of the law, just as in the Septuagint title.  The book does include, along with much new matter, a repetition or reformulation of a large part of the laws found in the book of Exodus.

As we said before, translation is always interpretation.  Consider the effect of assigning meaningful titles to identify and separate the Books of the Pentateuch, whereas in the original scroll there were no titles, although a space equal to 4 lines is left between each of the Five Books of Moses. The reading of Torah itself in the synagogue was divided was into 54 portions, one for each Sabbath (occasionally, 2 are combined).  This is not reflected in the LXX text.

An important note from Dr. Eli: Judith Green the author of this article is also the principle author of Biblical Greek course that is being offered now through eTeacherBiblical. To explore the possibility of taking a course in Biblical Greek, please, click HERE.

Samaritan High Priest and Old Pentateuch Scroll, Nablus, West Bank. Part of a stereograph from ”Views of Palestine” (1905).

What is the meaning of “Pentateuch”?  Ὁ ΠΕΝΤΑΤΕΥΧΟΣ

We have learned that the word “Pentecost” is Greek for the Fiftieth (Day), i.e., the day of the Jewish Festival of Weeks, the fiftieth day after the holiday of Passover.  The word for “five” in Greek is πεντε (pente), as in pent-agon, which is also the first part of the Greek title for the Five Books of Moses, the “Pentateuch”:  penta- + teuchos, which is a “scroll”, as you can see in the image of the ancient Samaritan Pentateuch.  To this day, Jews always read the Five Books of Moses in the synagogue from a parchment scroll, which has been hand-written in special ink by a certified scribe.

But why do we use a Greek word for the Hebrew Bible?  The Hebrew Bible was translated, supposedly by Seventy Jewish Sages, from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt, at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC.  The large Jewish community was Greek-speaking, along with the city’s Greek inhabitants, and most people also spoke demotic Egyptian. This translation of the bible was read aloud to the public in the synagogue, indicating that at least some of the Jews in the diaspora knew Greek better than Hebrew or Aramaic!  The Greek version of the Hebrew Bible is called the “Septuagint”, which, to makes things even more complicated, is a Latin translation of the Greek word for 70; hence you may often see it written as LXX = 70, which was supposedly the number of translators working on the project in the court of the Hellenistic ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

When the writers of the New Testament quote from the Bible, they are generally relying upon this Greek version, a direct translation of the Hebrew which, by the time of Jesus, included not just the Five Books of Moses, but also the Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, etc., in several editions and versions.  Acquaintance with the language of the Septuagint brings you directly into the world of the Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean, by means of not only the language but also the theology, which shaped the expression of the New Testament.  In fact, the Septuagint is not just a straight translation of the Hebrew text as we know it now, but is a witness to alternative, older Hebrew texts which have disappeared; also, as we know, every translation is also an interpretation.

An important note from Dr. Eli: Judith Green the author of this article is also the principle author of Biblical Greek course that is being offered now through eTeacherBiblical. To explore the possibility of taking a course in Biblical Greek, please, click HERE.


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  1. Shel Haas

    In the beginning was not the translation until the Middle Ages when the word originated from the English and German Bereshit actually meant “before man built his shelter”, The Old Testament was compiled when man changed from cuneiform to the Ancient Hebrew and that happened long after the time of Moses!

  2. Leonard Logan

    Shara Hernandez has nailed it! It was for this cause You have spared ( or saved until now ) Me.

  3. Jo Ann Abreu

    I enjoyed reading the article and it added more insight into the names of the first five books of the Bible. Thank you for the article.