English - Idea

Hebrew -

#3045 - יָדַע - To Know (yada)

דֵּעָה - #1844  - Knowledge (dea)

When I first opened this word, I did not know the depth I would encounter in the study of its origin. The word Idea is only a small window to a rich linguistic heritage that gave birth to the Semitic and Indo-European languages. As with many of the words we examine in this study I must limit myself to a small slice of human history. Time does not permit me to engage in a much more profound study. This word, its derivatives and cognates, covers a broad range of application.

English Meaning

1. any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity, to know.
2. a thought, conception, or notion: That is an excellent idea.
3. an impression: He gave me a general idea of how he plans to run the department.
4. an opinion, view, or belief: His ideas on raising children are certainly strange.
5. a plan of action; an intention: the idea of becoming an engineer.
6. a groundless supposition; fantasy.
7. philosophy: a concept developed by the mind; a conception of what is desirable or ought to be ideal.
8. a likeness, a mental image.

Hebrew Meaning

a. know, learn to know, good and evil Gn 3:22.

b. perceive Gn 19:33, 35.

c. find out and discern 14:38; 23:22

d. discriminate, distinguish, S 19:36.

e. know by experience, Jos 23:14.

f. recognise, admit, acknowledge, confess Je 3:13; Is 59:12 ψ 51:5.

g. consider, Ju 18:14.

h. know a person, be acquainted with Gn 29:5, Ex 1:8, Jb 42:11.

i. know a person carnally, Gn 4:1, 17, 25; 24:16; 38:26.

j. know how to do a thing, be able to do it often.

k. have knowledge, be wise, Ec 9:11.

m. knowledge, opinion, Jb 32:6.

Semitic Background

From Akkadian Dictionary: id: to know, to be cognizant, to be acquainted with, to experience, to know sexually.

Other Semitic dictionaries: Aramaic יְדַע, (yida˓), Phoenician ידע; Ethiopic (˒aydə˓a), indicate, announce, narrate; Assyrian id, know.

Note how close in pronunciation the Ethopic (˒aydə˓a) is to the modern idea. Also note the Akkadian id shows the initial sound as the vowel "i", just as in idea.

The two Hebrew guttural letters, א, aleph and, ע, ayin, fit exactly in the same position in ths ancient alphabet list as they do in the modern English. Linguistic scholars universally agree that the modern Western alphabet came through Greece from the Phoenicians. However, I rarely hear a linguistic scholar admit that the Phoenician language was very nearly the Hebrew language except for a few minor dialectically differences. Because of the sacred adherence to the Hebrews as a special people of God, even held by godless scholars, they do not seem able to break down the barrier that shows these two languages so closely related. We know from the biblical accounts that the Hebrew tribes had a close cultural relationship with the Canaanites, who were, again, linguistically and otherwise, so closely associated with the Phoenicians. It would be just as accurate to say that the modern alphabet came from Hebrew. But it would be better to say that the modern alphabet came from a Semitic source common to these different Semitic languages. We do not know the ultimate origin of that Semitic source.

As a result of this alphabet coincidence I have asked if the guttural sounds were once pronounced as our modern phonemes, somewhere in the distant past. Then the "i" and "j" of the Hebrew might very well have also followed more closely our pronunciation. Did those two letters, which are now represented in English in the same alphabetic position, sound the same as they do today? Then yohd might be pronounced as "i" instead as "y". In fact, this Hebrew letter until today is pronounced interior to a word as "i", as in English sea. The letter for Hebrew yohd falls in the position of the modern English alphabet "i", just prior to the letter "l". Note that English has both "i" and "j". I am told by the internet source at Wikipedia that

Yodh (also spelled Yud or Yod) is the tenth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew Yud י, and Syriac and Arabic . Its sound value has an IPA [j] in all languages for which it is used; in many languages, it also serves as a long vowel, representing IPA [iː].

This Semitic letter gave rise to the Greek Iota (Ι), Latin I, Cyrillic І, Coptic iauda, and Gothic eis.

From this line of reasoning and evidence the initial "j" of yohd might have been pronounced as "i" to give us idah = to know.

Thus we come to the similarity of the Indo-European idea and the Semitic idah, both meaning to know.


Notes On Indo-European Background

The word idea has roots in the Indo-European and Semitic words for knowledge and sight. In the course of time this word evolved out of Greek and Roman use to the form we know today in English. As a result it shows the modifications in pronunciation and meaning that came with its cultural heritage. An idea of this evolution may be summed up by remarks made by John Calorusso of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. In a paper written in a volume entitled Current Trends in Caucasian, East European, and Inner Asian Linguistics: Papers in Honor of Howard I. Aronson, John Benjamins Pub Co (November 2003), for his linguistic colleagues, More Pontic: Further Etymologies Between Indo-European and Northwest Caucasian he said:

The application of Hamp's law . . . explains a split in the behavior of */w-/ in Greek: some reflexes show /hu-/ while others words simply drop */w/. The cases of simple *w-dropping are instances of single initial */w/ in Greek, lost without leaving an aspirated onset, such as in

"spring" [as in season] (PIE *wes-r-), Greek (w)ear, (Armenian garun, Latin ver, Lithuanian vasara, Sanskrit vasantah), or in

"to do" "work" (PIE *wer-g-, *wor-g-), Greek (w)ergon, (English work, Armenian gorc, Avestan verez-), or in

"to know", "idea" (PIE *wey-d-, *woy-d-, Greek eid-on, oid-a, id-men, English wit, Sanskrit veda, Latin vid-, Armenian git-).

[I have slightly edited this statement to clarify the points.]

PIE means Proto Indo-European. Eric P. Hamp is an American linguist, born in 1921, and long associated with the University of Chicago.

The loss of the "v" ("w") created many modern words, including idea. Originally this word meant to know. Note that English still retains wit. We understand wit to mean the seat of consciousness, the mind, the faculty of thinking and reasoning, mental capacity, understanding, reasoning, and intellect.


Sanskrit Influence

The Sanskrit (Sanscrit) has a complex verb system with many different forms expressing linguistic nuances. It is not my purpose to provide a tutorial in this complex system. I only provide some of the meanings of the words associated with idea. We encounter many examples of how the "v" ("w") was dropped in other languages. One can see how easily (v)ideo becomes ideo.

The closest we get directly to idea is found here.

dhii = imagination, intellect, thought, mental attitude, intelligence, reflection, opinion, notion, intention, knowledge, mind, art, science, wisdom, understanding.

dhiiti = thought

An apparent connection with the concept that an idea has birth in a flash of mental light is found in this word:

indh = To kindle, light, set on fire, to be lighted, to blaze, flame.

On the other hand vid now appears strongly.

vaidyutaanala = fire of lightning

vidyut = lightning

vidyuddiipa = light

vidyullataa = lightning-flash

vid (with its many verb inflections)

= to know, understand, perceive, learn, become or be acquainted with, be conscious of, have a correct notion of, with infinitive = to know how to).

= to know or regard or consider as, take for, declare to be, call.

= to mind, notice, observe, remember.

= to experience, feel.

= to wish to know, inquire about, to make known, announce, report, tell.

= to teach, explain.

= to recognize or regard as.

= to feel, experience

= knowing, understanding, a knower.

= knowledge, understanding.

When the "v" is dropped from this root we have remaining the "id" of idea.


Greek Background

Late Latin idea (in Platonic sense), and Greek look, semblance, form, appearance, configuration, shape, figure, species, kind, class, sort, nature, (in Platonic philosophy). A general or ideal form, type, model, from the root: to see meaning to know, the word being thus analogous in derivation and original sense to Latin species: to see, perceive, behold, sight, look, view.

Following are illustrations of the use of the Greek word, and its many inflections and conceptual patterns.

eidos: = that which is seen, form, shape, figure kind, sort, nature:

The look of a thing, as opposed to its reality, gnmn exapats' ideai, outward appearances cheat the mind, from Theognis: Greek elegiac poet, 5th century.

ephroneon diphasias ideas, they conceived two modes of acting; ta orgi' esti tin' idean echonta, what is their nature or fashion, from Herodotus: Greek author, 484-430/420BC.

kainas ideas eispherein, to bring in new fashions, from Euripides: Greek playwright, c. 480-406 BC.

pasa idea thanatou, every form of death, from Thucydides: Ancient Greek historians and author, 460-404 BC.

Homer: eidos aristos, etc.

    = a form, sort, particular kind or nature, Herodotus, etc.

    = a particular state of things or course of action, Thucydides.

    = a class, kind, sort, whether genus or species, Plato, etc.

1. to see, perceive, behold, Homer, etc.; after a noun, thauma idesthai, a marvel to behold, oiktros idein, Aeschylus.

2. to look at, eis pa idesthai, to look him in the face.

3. to look so and so, achreion idn, looking helpless.

4. to see mentally, idesthai en phresin "to see in his mind's eye," Homer.


1. Latin videor, to be seen, appear, eidetai astra = they are visible, appear. (Note the result if the "v" of the Latin video is dropped = ideo.

2. To appear or seem to be, touto moi kalliston eidetai einai; also with infinitive omitted, toge kerdion eisato; also, eisat' imen, he made a show of going.

3. In strictly middle sense, eeisato phthongn Politi, she made herself like Polites in voice.

*eid: = see, to be seen: but oida, in present sense, to know.

eidon: = see, perceive, behold, ophthalmoisi or en ophthalmoisi idesthai, see before the eyes.

    = look, idein es, look at or towards; eis pa idesthai, look him in the face.

    = see mentally, perceive, idesthai en phresin, 'to see in his mind's eye.

oida: = I see with the mind's eye, i.e. I know,

    = hmeis idmen, the first we know of, 

    = eu or sapha, eu tod' isthi, know well, be assured of this,

    = agria oide, has fierceness in his heart,

    = athemistia id, had lawlessness in his heart,

    = ei moi pia eidei, if he were kindly disposed towards me,

    = charin eidenai tini, acknowledge a debt to another, thank him, 

    = iduiisi prapidessi, with knowing mind.

The important concept behind this word is that one sees with the mind, not with the eyes. We can trace linguistic history, and the many people who used this word and its derivatives: (W)eidomai, Weidos, Latin videre with Greek (W)oida, compare Sanskrit vda, Gothic wait, OE wt = 'know'. Sanscrit root vid-, vēda,= know; vindāmi = find; cf. vēdas, sacred book; Greek root id, Wid-, in eidon = saw; oida = know; German wissen; English wit, wot. See also Latin: inf. viderier, vidĕ, to see, perceive, with the eyes.


Latin Background

The word idea is found in Latin, together with no dropped "v" as in video.

idea, feminine, = idea, a (Platonic) idea, archetype.

idoneus, adjective [Sanskrit root indh-, idh-, to kindle; properly bright, conspicuous].

idiota , masculine, = idits, an uneducated, ignorant, inexperienced, common person: quidni et tu idem illitteratum me atque idiotam diceres? Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99 BC- ca. 55 BC)

idiotae, the common throng, the fickle mass, Quintus Tullius Cicero (102 BC 43 BC).

ideo, adverb, [this for this]. An appearance in sleep, vision, apparition. A likeness, image, statue.

iduo, according to Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, a Roman grammarian and Neoplatonist philosopher who flourished during the reigns of Honorius and Arcadius (395423) stated that this was an Etruscan word, dividere, from the root vid; whence viduus and divido.

Here we see the first example of a tie to the root, vid.

videns , masculine, a seer, prophet (ecclesiastical Latin): eamus ad videntem, Vulgate 1 Reg. 9, 9 : Samuel videns, id. 1 Par. 9, 22: Gad videns et Nathan propheta, id. 2 Par. 29, 25 et saep.

videō vīdī, vīsus, vidēre [VID-], to see, discern, perceive.

Note how these approximate the Greek words if the "v" is removed.

et casūs abies visura marinos, i. e. to experience, V.--To see, look at, observe, note.

quin tu me vides? see what I have done! i. e. is not this creditable?

me vide, look at me, i. e. take courage from me.

Figurative: of the mind, to see, perceive, mark, observe, discern, understand, comprehend, be aware.

1. To look at, look to, consider, to think or reflect upon (cf.: reputo, considero): duae condiciones sunt: utram tu accipias, vide, Plaut. Bacch. 4, 9, 118.

2. To look out for, see to, care for, provide: atque idem (sapiens) ita acrem in omnis partis aciem intendit, ut semper videat sedem sibi ac locum sine molestiā vivendi, Cic. Tusc. 4, 17, 38.

3. To take care, see to it, make sure, with final clause: navem idoneam ut habeas, diligenter videbis, Cic. Fam. 16, 1, 2.

4. To see, i. e. reach, attain, obtain, enjoy.

From these examples we see how the Latin word emphasized the mental capacity to understand, to see with the mind.


From Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament

This root, occurring a total of 944 times, is used in every stem and expresses a multitude of shades of knowledge gained by the senses. Its closest synonyms are bn "to discern" and n'kar "to recognize." The root is found in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and the Qumran materials. In addition to "know," the KJV uses the archaic forms "wot" and "wist."

y'd is used of God's knowledge of man (Gen 18:19; Deut 34:10) and his ways (Isa 48:8; Ps 1:6; 37:18), which knowledge begins even before birth (Jer 1:5). God also knows the fowl (Ps 50:11).

y'd is also used for man's knowledge and for that of animals (Isa 1:3).

The participle occurs in phrases describing skill in hunting (Gen 25:27), learning (Isa 29:11-13), lamentation (Amos 5:16), sailing the sea (2 Chron 8:18), and playing an instrument (1 Sam 16:16).

In certain contexts it means "to distinguish." "To know good and evil" (Gen 3:5,22) is the result of disobeying God. To distinguish between these is necessary for the king (2 Sam 19:36). A child cannot distinguish between the left and right hands (Jonah 4:11) nor between good and evil (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:15). The context of the latter passage and the similar statement in Isa 8:4 may indicate that the reference is to a child's not being able to distinguish what is beneficial and harmful. While ordinarily gained by experience, knowledge is also the contemplative perception possessed by the wise man (Prov 1:4; 2:6; 5:2; Eccl 1:18).

y'd is used to express acquaintance with a person in such statements as "do you know Laban?" (Gen 29:5; Ex 1:8; 2 Sam 3:25). The Pual participle designates kinfolk (2 Kings 10:11; etc.) and acquaintances (Job 19:14; Ruth 2:1; etc.). y'd is also used for the most intimate acquaintance. God knows Moses by name and face to face (Ex 33:17; Deut 34:10). He knows the Psalmist's sitting and arising (Ps 139:2).

y'd is also used for sexual intercourse on the part of both men and women in the well-known euphemism "Adam knew Eve his wife" and its parallels (Gen 4:1; 19:8; Num 31:17,35; Judg 11:39; 21:11; 1 Kings 1:4; 1 Sam 1:19). It is used to describe sexual perversions such as sodomy (Gen 19:5; Judg 19:22) and rape (Judg 19:25).

In addition to knowledge of secular matters y'd is also used of one's relation to the divine, whether acquaintance with other gods (Deut 13:3,7,14) or with Jehovah (1 Sam 2:12; 3:7). The heathen do not know God (Jer 10:25) and neither does Israel, according to the prophets (Jer 4:22). The plagues of Egypt were sent so that the Egyptians might know that Jehovah is God (Ex 10:2; etc.). He will destroy (Ezek 6:7) and restore Israel so that they may know that he is God (Isa 60:16). The prophet Ezekiel, in particular, uses the phrase "that you may know" in his threats (Ezek 6:7,10,13,14; 7:4,9,27 etc.).

d'a. Knowledge. This feminine noun is translated gnsis in the LXX, and scientia in the Vulgate. The Lord is a God of all knowledge (Job 36:4; 1 Sam 2:3). The wicked question his knowledge (Ps 73:11). He is the object of man's knowledge, and Isaiah envisions an earth full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isa 11:9). The prophet preaches knowledge (Isa 28:9) and the ideal ruler rules by it (Jer 3:15). The noun may be only another form of da'at (see below). The masculine noun då is quite similar.

da'at. Knowledge, cunning (ASV and RSV Similar). This feminine noun is from the root y'd "to know." The root expresses knowledge gained in various ways by the senses. The noun occurs ninety-three times in the Old Testament, most frequently in the wisdom literature, with forty-one instances in Prov, ten in Job, and nine in Eccl. It is used forty-two times in the Qumran materials and is also used in Ugaritic and Akkadian.

da'at is a general term for knowledge, particularly that which is of a personal, experimental nature (Prov 24:5). It is also used for technical knowledge or ability such as that needed for building the tabernacle and temple (Ex 31:3; 35:31; 1 Kings 7:14). da'at is also used for discernment (Ps 119:66). Both deeds committed unintentionally (Deut 4:42; 19:4; Josh 20:3,5; bl da'at) and mistaken opinions are "without knowledge" (l̊ da'at, Prov 19:2).

da'at is possessed by God (Job 10:7; Ps 139:6; Prov 3:20), from whom nothing can be hidden (Ps 139:1-18). He teaches it to man (Ps 94:10; 119:66; Prov 2:6). It appears parallel with wisdom (μkm) and understanding (tbn), instruction (msr), and law (tr). Wisdom is used in series with "science" (madd, Dan 1:4) and is the opposite of "folly" (̊iwwelet, Prov 12:23; 13:16; 14:18; 15:2). Hence da'at is the contemplative perception of the wise man (Prov 1:4; 2:6; 5:2; Eccl 1:18).

da'at is also used for moral cognition. Thus the tree in the Garden of Eden was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9,17). By eating its fruit man came to know in a way comparable to the knowledge of God (see above). This important reference may also be taken as the figure of speech known as merism to indicate objective awareness of all things both good and bad. In this sense the sinful pain did become like God (Gen 3:22). Cassuto says, "Before they ate of the tree of knowledge, the man and his wife were like small children who know nought of what exists around them" (U. Cassuto, Genesis, vol. I, p. 112).

Particularly distinctive is the prophetic concept of "knowledge of God" (da'at̊elhm) which is particularly prominent in Hosea (Hos 4:1,6; 6:6; cf. Prov 2:5). Knowledge of God is derived from those outstanding historical events in which God has evidenced and has revealed himself to chosen individuals such as Abraham and Moses. These revelations are to be taught to others, "Knowledge of God" appears in parallel with "fear of the Lord" (yir'at YHWH Isa 11:2; cf. Isa 58:2; Jer 22:16) as a description of true religion. The man who has a right relation with God confesses. him and obeys him. To do justice and righteousness and to judge the cause of the poor and the needy is to know God (Jer 22:15-16). On the other hand where there is no knowledge of God there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery and destruction upon a people (Hos 4:6; cf. Isa 5:13). Knowledge of God is more pleasing to him than sacrifice (Hos 6:6). The prophetic view of the messianic age is of a time in which the knowledge of God covers the earth as water covers the sea (Hab 2:14; cf. Isa 11:9).

yidd-n. Wizard (KJV and some modern translations); fortune-teller (Berkeley Version, AR); familiar spirit (JPS, NEB); spirit (NEB, NAB); magician (JB); and sorcerer (JB), Since the root of yiddn is the verb y'd "to know," implied in the title, therefore, is esoteric knowledge not available to the ordinary person.

yidd-n always occurs parallel to b (witch, q.v.). It may be a description of an ̊b or it may be thc masculine counterpart. (Similarly, "witch" and "wizard" are a feminine and masculine pair in English.) As the Hebrew word yiddn is related to knowledge, so the English word "wizard" is related to wisdom.

God forbad his people to consult the yidd-n (Lev 19:31; 20:6,27; Deut 18:11) as well as other diviners. Despite the fact that Saul outlawed them, he still consulted an b "spirit" according to 1 Sam 28. How the Israelite kings dealt with these spiritists was a significant factor in characterizing the king as good or evil (2 Kings 21:6; 23:24; 2 Chron 33:6). Isaiah spoke of them with utter scorn (Isa 8:19; 19:3).

mda: Kinsman. The LXX follows the Kethib, rendering this feminine noun as gnrismos "acquaintance," from a Piel participial form. The Vulgate and English versions follow the context where Boaz is a kinsman (Ruth 2:1; cf. Ruth 2:20; 3:2,12; 4:3). mda is used figuratively in Prov 7:4, paralleling sister, to describe wisdom.

mda'at. Kindred, kinsman. The LXX renders this feminine noun as gnorismos "acquaintance," but the Vulgate translates propinquus "kindred." The English versions follow the Vulgate and context (Ruth 3:2; cf. 2:20; 4:3). For the Levirate marriage custom, see Gen 38; Deut 25:5; Matt 22:23, and cf. y'bam.

madda: Knowledge, science, thought. This masculine noun is used in contexts with wisdom knowledge (2 Chron 1:10-12). The Hebrew children surpassed others in knowledge (Dan 1:4,7; KJV and ASV, "science"; RSV, "learning"). It is paralleled with that done in secret, hence "thought" (Eccl 10:20). It also occurs in Sir 3:13; Sir 13:8. J.P.L.

madda: Why? wherefore? on what account? (ASV and RSV are similar.) BDB and KB suggest that it is a contraction of m yadawhat being known," i.e. "from what motive." It is variously translated in the LXX by ts, dia t, hna t, hna t toto, t hot, hs t. Hence, this interrogative adverb is used to inquire about a motive (cf. Gen 26:27), as an indirect question (cf. Ex 3:3), or as a rhetorical device, as in Isa 5:4ff, "When I looked for good grapes, why did it only yield bad?" (NIV).