English Hebrew


1. a traveling around from place to place.
2. a long journey including the visiting of a number of places in sequence, esp. with an organized group led by a guide.
3. a brief trip through a place, as a building or a site, in order to view or inspect it.
4. a journey from town to town to fulfill engagements.
5. a period of duty at one place or in one job.

Verb (used without object)

6. to travel from place to place.
7. to travel from town to town fulfilling engagements.

Verb (used with object)

8. to travel through (a place).
9. to send or take (a theatrical company, its production, etc.) from town to town.
10. to guide (someone) on a tour.


תּוּר. = seek out, spy out, explore

יְתוּר  a searching

(perhaps orig. turn (to or about), Assyrian tāru, turn about, back, taiāru turning back, also merciful, and mercy; Arabic تَارَ و) (tāra (w)) go about (rare), تَوْرٌ (tawrun))

1. seek out, select: לָתוּר לָהֶם מְנוּחָה Nu 10:33, Dt 1:33, Ez 20:6.

2. spy out, explore: Nu 13:2, 16, 17, 21, 25, 32; 14:7, 34, 36, 38. explorers, spies: Nu 14:6.

3. go about, figurative Nu 15:39; 1 K 10:15 2 Ch 9:14, usually merchants Ju 1:23, they made a reconnaissance at Bethel. Pr 12:26 the righteous searches out, or is a guide to his friend.

תּוֹר  or תֹּר plait, turn Arabic (tāratun) period, succession. Plural תּוֹרִים plaits (of hair?) Ct 1:10. תּוֹרֵי זָהָב verse 11 plaits, circlets of gold, Est 2:12.


Linguists have great difficulty with this word. They define it as a mass of building standing alone and insulated, usually higher than its diameter, but when of great size not always of that proportion. Or, a building or part of a building that is exceptionally high in proportion to its width and length. Or, to rise or extend far upward, as a tower; reach or stand high: The skyscraper towers above the city. It probably appears very large or occupies a commanding position.

These are definitions of its structure, not its purpose.

The purpose is seen in additional definition as a tall, slender structure used for observation or signaling. Thus it has a military function.

To me, a great mystery attaches to the total lack of functionality in the definition. This mystery is pervasive from the Oxford English Dictionary, to all other dictionaries I have examined.

The fundamental function of a tower is one of surveillance and reconnoitering, to inspect, observe, or survey. The purpose is to search out the surrounding land, to spy, to explore with one's eyes. All other definitions are secondary borrowed senses.

This cognate identity to the Semitic word is thus found not only in its function, but also remembered in its pronunciation.

Before 900 Middle English tour, earlier tur, tor continuing Old English torr, from Old French tor or tur. This may be seen in Welsh turrau, a tower, Irish tor, a castle, and Gaelic torr, a tower or castle.

The word may also be seen in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian torre, a tower. One source says that these words in the Romance languages may possibly be from a pre-Indo-European Mediterranean language. In light of the other sources this is highly doubtful. The source is not in some pre-IE language; the source is in a Hebrew influence on the languages of the Mediterranean and of Europe.

Scandinavian languages have "n" inflection on the word: Danish tarn, Dutch toren, Finnish torni, Latvian tornis, Norwegian tarn, Swedish torn, all meaning tower or castle.

Ancient Greek had tursis, a tower. Latin forms were turriger, tower-bearing, turris, tower, especially as used in military operations, and turritus, turreted, furnished with towers, towering.


Of the twenty-three occurrences of tūr in the OT, more than half are found in Num 13 in the sense of "spying out, reconnoitering" the land of Canaan preparatory to conquering it. "Careful examination" would thus seem to capture the basic meaning of the root, a meaning that is especially clear in Eccl 1:13; 2:3; 7:25, where an intense search for wisdom is such an important preoccupation in the mind of the author.


offers much greater insight into the word from its conjugation, and by offering more of its historical roots.

תּוּר to spy out, search out, explore.

Syriac (= he contemplated, meditated) , Chr.-Pal. Samarian turn (=he considered, understood), Arabic tara (= he went around), tarah (=once, sometimes, at times), Akkadian taru (=to turn about, turn back), taiaru (= turning back, also `merciful'). Accordingly the original meaning of this base was `to turn about'. From this meaning developed that of `to spy out, explore'.

—Qalin: he went about; he spied out, explored; he sought out, found out how to do something.

— Hiphal: he spied out, he made a reconnaissance.

— Pial: he showed the way; he made a tour.

— Pual: was visited by tourists.

Related to Aramaic = cord, brim.

Related Akkadian forms are:

turru (= string)

tūra - 1) again , once more , a second time 2) anyway , nevertheless , yet

turru (tuāru) - to send back

tāru - to return (v.i.), to return (v.t.), give back

turrūtu - a turn, a turning, a reversion

Traditional Etymologies

The Dictionaries will invariably state that this word comes from an IE word for turning, as in a lathe.
Middle English, a turn, from Old English turnian, tyrnan and Old French torner "a turn, a shift on duty," tour, tourn "a turn, trick, round, circuit, circumference," from torner, tourner "to turn," from L. tornare "to polish, round off, fashion, turn on a lathe," and turnen, to turn in a lathe, from tornus, lathe, from Greek tornos, torneuō: to work with a lathe-chisel, to turn round, as an auger.

This word has nothing to do with a "turning around in a lathe." The word expresses visual or physical movement around geography.

List of References

BDB: Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1951. Now available electronically from Logos Bible Software, as Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic edition, Logos Research Systems, Oak Harbor, WA, 2000.

SEC: Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, J. Strong, Abingdon Press, New York, 1890. Now available on line from multiple sources, such as BIBLESOFT, 22014 7th Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98198.

OED: Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971. Now available on line from Online Subscription Department, Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016.

TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Moody Press, 1980. Now available on line from multiple sources, such as BIBLESOFT, 22014 7th Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98198.

Klein: Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Jerusalem, 1987.

The Word: Isaac Mozeson, SPI Books, New York, 1989

I offer no references for words that come from various other languages, and that can be traced by browsing the World Wide Web.