Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: βοη

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Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun βοη (boe) describes a loud cry (James 5:4 only). In Homer this noun mostly denotes the collective roar of battle cries but in later authors also of prayer, mourning, joy and so on. It's commonly associated with crowds rather than individuals, and could also describe the roaring of the sea or even be attributed to musical instruments.

Our noun is often thought to derive from the noun βους (bous), cow or ox (see below), but is technically of unclear origin and may be onomatopoeic (imitative of sound), which would link it to the similar onomatopoeic noun βυας (buas), which describes a kind of owl — hence the verb βυζω (buzo), to hoot, which is spelled identical to the verb βυζω (buzo), to be frequent — whose genitive is spelled identical to the verb βυω (buo), to stuff, stow away, or block (as in one's nose), which some suggest is also part of the noun ακροβυστια (akrobustia), foreskin, from ακρον (akron), extremity. As we discuss in our elaborate article on the noun περιτομη (peritome), circumcision had a massive effect on the civilization of mankind — the word civilization means consisting of cities, and high density population centers are only possible when men understand and adhere to common law (see ελευθερια, eleutheria, freedom-by-law). This in turn means that having a foreskin was a mark of being uncivilized and thus unlawful and thus in the bondage of the natural anarchy of the wilderness.

Whatever the technical pedigree of our word, a collective roar appears to have been understood as a collective expression of bondage and frustration. It's the sound of someone who finds himself surrounded by people with whom he shares too few words to properly convey his sentiments (Psalm 22:12), but also the sound of many people who seek to forge these words on the points of intersection of their many void and formless cries. Language is an emergent property of society, a residue that remains when all liquidity has evaporated. Language comes from the roaring interactions of the wordless. From language comes society, from society law, from law cities, and from cities civilization.

Our noun βοη (boe) describes the sound of the wilderness that would become the field (αγρος, agros) in which wild words are seeds that grow into a cultured harvest. The spelling βοη (boe) is Attic (Athens and environs), whereas βοα (boa) is Dorian (Sparta, Crete and Rhodes). This latter Dorian variant may help explain the name Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder (see the link below).

From our noun derive:

  • The verb βοαω (boao), meaning to roar or collectively cry out loud. There are of course many Greek verbs that convey a vocal uttering, but it's this particular verb that is used in Matthew 3:3: "...the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Matthew 3:3), where it translates the Hebrew verb קרא (qara'), to call or name. Naming things was the first activity of Adam (Genesis 2:19-20; see ονομα, onoma, name or noun), which formally set him apart from the animals he named, which in turn necessitated the rise of his species-specific wife Eve.
    This verb is used 11 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
    • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon: the verb αναβοαω (anaboao), which also means to cry out loud, but with an implied reactionary clause: to cry out loud upon some other event, or to cry again and again (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:8 and Luke 9:38 only).
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επιβοαω (epiboao), meaning to cry out to or against a specific person or because of consternation due to a specific event or observation, and so on (Acts 25:24 only).
  • Together with the otherwise unused verb θεω (theo), to run (not to be confused with θεος, theos, god): the verb βοηθεω (boetheo), meaning to run upon hearing a cry, to rush to a crier's aid, run to help. This verb is used 8 times; see full concordance. From this verb come:
    • The noun βοηθεια (boetheia), which describes the help received upon a cry for help, or whatever comes to help upon one's cry. This word was also a generic term that either described medical aid or a medical cure, or auxiliary troops as opposed to regular troops. In the new Testament this noun is used in Acts 27:17 and Hebrews 4:16 only. Luke uses it to describe some kind of mechanical device found on a ship, which is an uncommon deploy, but then again, Luke makes it overly obvious that the story of Paul's journey from Jerusalem to Rome had more to do with Homer's Odyssey that with some actual journey (see our article on Malta).
    • The noun βοηθος (boethos), which describes someone who rushes to a cry for help in order to help (Hebrews 13:6 only).

The noun βους (bous) is the common word for the castrated ox or female bovine, although the plural of our noun would usually refer to cattle in general, or herds that obviously also contained males. To specifically refer to intact male bovines, or bulls, Homer tended to add αρσην (arsen), meaning male, to our noun βους (bous), or use the common word for bull, namely ταυρος (tauros; see below). Our noun is used 8 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and commonly refers to a bovine that knows the yoke and that's been trained to draw a plow or wagon, commonly teamed up with one other ox under a single yoke — see ζυγος (zugos), yoke.

Our noun βους (bous), hence our English words bovine, bucolic (rustic or pastoral) and butter, stems from a hugely old Proto-Indo-European root "gows-", meaning cattle (hence our English word cow). And although that may seem like an open and shut case, it really isn't. The domestication of bovines marked the true beginning of the agricultural revolution — which in effect truly separated mankind from animal kind — and thus of civilization. And since civilization went hand in hand with the development of language, the ox and particularly teams of yoked oxen, came to symbolize formalization and specialization (when a general idea, say "tree", is found to be with diversity, and each variation attains its own name, say "oak" and "beech").

This same principle or formalization and specialization occurs stylized as the process that signifies the second creation day, when the formless waters are split in two by a dividing firmament called heaven, and the waters below the firmament further produce dry land and hence trees and fruit, and the waters above the firmament are heard from no more (Genesis 1:6). Obviously the same thing happens when Jesus hung between the two murderers, one of whom went into oblivion, whereas the other would join Jesus in Paradise, the proverbial garden of fruitful bliss. And again a similar reference is made when Jesus offered his yoke to be learned from (Matthew 11:29). Jesus is the Word, and language is precisely the same as a yoke that forces oxen to assume a joined path, and is in that regard not unlike a very rudimentary fishing net (see δικτυον, diktuon, net).

To the ancients, the idea of tamed, domesticated and yoked bovines was utterly reminiscent of men curbing their natural enthusiasms, and their subsequent arrival upon common words. Even in Biblical antiquity, cows were associated with milk (Genesis 18:8, Exodus 3:8, Deuteronomy 32:14), and milk with a baby's first instructions (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2; see γαλα, gala, milk). When men had created past and future tenses (animals only have the present; past and future are abstractions that are only real to humans who are fluent in a language), and had named not only visible items but also abstract ideas, the minds of men could align and wisdom could be gleaned, and a shared spirit could begin to breathe through them like wine from crushed grapes (see αμπελος, ampelos, vine). It also means that Israel's disastrous Golden Calf (Exodus 32:4, also see 1 Kings 12:28, 2 Kings 10:29), was not so much a statue of some animal, but rather a statue of a Golden Method or even a Golden Orthodoxy (also see χρυσος, chrusos, gold).

When Solomon wrote: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight," he was doubtlessly thinking of the image of oxen pulling a plow in a field. As everybody in the ancient world knew, oxen only pull a straight line when they stop fighting the other ox, and find a common point of rest. Words form in precisely the same way, from compromise and settling in a common point of rest: hence "...and I will give you rest".

The Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Hebrew one. The first letter of the Greek alphabet is the alpha (which, incidentally, is a vowel), which was named after the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, called aleph (which, incidentally, is a consonant). This name, fully אלף ('alep), comes from the identical verb אלף ('alep), to produce thousands (used in Psalm 144:13 only, of צאן, so'n, flock). A much more common derivation of this verb (or another, identical and unused one, as most commentators curiously insist) is אלף ('elep), meaning cattle or oxen; the obvious equivalent of our noun βους (bous). The adjective אלוף ('alup) means docile, familiar or friendly, a signature quality of a friend or close companion (Psalm 55:13).

The noun בקר (baqar) is the regular Hebrew word for cattle and בוקר (boqer) means herdsman. The noun בקר (boqer) is the regular word for dawn. Both stem from the verb בקר (baqar), to seek or inquire, which in turn comes from a root that means to split or divide.

The Hebrew word for calf is עגל ('egel), from the verb עגל ('agal), to be round or go in circles, which is not unlike the verb גיל (gil), to roll or spin (hence the names Galilee and Golgotha), and the noun גיל (gil), a rejoicing. The Golden Calf was also an image of a Golden Rejoicing, which would not seem too alien to some evangelical congregations. The Greek word for calf is μοσχος (moschos), see below.

Noun פר (par) means young bull, and stems from the verb פרה (para), to be fruitful, which relates to the verb פרר (parar), to split, divide and make more, expand or multiply. Likewise, our English word "science" shares its Proto-Indo-European root with the Greek verb σχιζω (schizo), to break, split or divide. Likewise, the noun בן (ben), meaning son, relates to the verb בין (bin), to discern or differentiate. In Hebrew, the sons manifest the diversity within the father, and manifest these as continuously interacting constituents — again a manifestation of the Second Day principle.

The ancients strongly associated their bovines to the miracle of mankind's emergence from the wilderness and subsequent journey onto the cities, and finally the City of God, the New Jerusalem. But the bovines were not alone. Many other farm animals represented elements of man's learning curve:

  • The noun δαμαλις (damalis) described a cow that was just old enough to understand training, and thus could be trained to carry the yoke. It comes from the verb δαμαζω (damazo), to tame or to synchronize, and so does the noun δαμαρ (damar), wife — see our article on γαμος (gamos), marriage, for the significance of this.
  • The noun βουκολος (boukolos) means cowherd, and appears to consists of our noun βους (bous) and the familiar noun κολοσσος (kolossos), which describes the formidable statues of Egyptian gods and kings. This word for cowherd isn't used in the New Testament, but the word for shepherd is ποιμην (poimen), shepherd, which rather resembles the verb ποιεω (poieo), to make, and specifically the derived noun ποιημα (poiema), a thing made, a production.
  • The noun αιξ (aix) means goat and stems from a PIE root that is identical to the root that gave us the word oak. The Hebrew word for oak relates to a verb that means to protrude, אלל ('alal), which also yields words for deer and ram. Verb ερις (eris) means strife. Noun εριφος (eriphos) means kid or young goat. Noun τραγος (tragos) means male goat, from which comes the noun τραγωδια (tragodia), tragedy, literally: Ode To Goat.
  • The noun αρην (aren) means lamb, and looks like it came from the verb αρνεομαι (arneomai), to artificially select, to breed a domestic race.
  • The noun προβατον (probaton) means sheep, and comes from the verb προβαινω (probaino), to make gradual progress with little steps at a time.
  • The word χοιρος (choiros) describes a pig but literally means "with tufts of hair but mostly bald", which in turn referred to having very little experience and hence being panicky stampeding cowards.

The noun μοσχος (moschos) means calf, although in the classics this word, with some poetic license, could be applied to anything young, from human children to young birds and even young shoots or twigs. It occurs 6 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, mostly in association with human merriment (and a slaughtered calf), which ties into גיל (gil), a rejoicing, which relates to עגל ('egel), calf (as we mention above), as well as the name Golgotha.

The origin of this word is unclear. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but since the Hebrew alphabet was imported into Greek, it seems likely that a few key phrases came along with it. The letter מ (mem) is a common prefix that means from, out of, or declares agency (thing or place of). That means our noun could derive from the verb סכך (sakak) or שכך (sakak), meaning to weave booths (hence the name Succoth; meshukot means "from Succoth" and occurs in Exodus 13:20 and Numbers 33:6), in which case a calf would be a creature from the booth; altogether not unreasonable since the Psalmist uses this same verb סכך (sakak), to weave, to describe the formation of a human fetus (Psalm 139:13).

Another candidate for the Semitic origin of our noun μοσχος (moschos) is the noun מסכה (masseka), cast image, from the verb נסך (nasek), to pour or cast (Aaron made the Golden Calf by casting it; Exodus 32:4 uses this verb; also see Exodus 34:17). An identical verb means to weave (obviously related to סכך, sakak), and an identical noun מסכה (masseka) means a woven thing (not unlike the unborn baby mentioned by the Psalmist).

An identical word μοσχος (moschos) means musk, and was imported into Greek from Persia. See our paragraph on the noun ταυρος (tauros), bull (see next) for a closer look at this word.


The familiar noun ταυρος (tauros) means bull (hence the English noun steer). It's vastly old, exists all over the Indo-European language spectrum, and is obvious not dissimilar to the noun θηριον (therion), wild beast. Still, the experts assert that our noun was imported into Indo-European, and that averts the attention to the Proto-Semitic root "tawr", wild bull. From this root comes the Hebrew noun שור (shor), bull. The familiar term "leader of thousands" (שרי אלפים, saray 'alepim — Exodus 18:21), obviously is a play on words and looks closely similar to "bulls of the herds". This noun שור (shor), bull, in turn derives from the verb שור (shur), to excite or be raised in order to oppose (noun שור, shur, describes a wall), which in turn emphasizes the untamed nature of wild aurochs before man began to domesticate cattle.

The verb סור (sur) means to turn aside and is sometimes spelled identical to the verb שור (shur), to raise against. It in turn relates to the verb סרר (sarar), to be stubborn or rebellious, which is a synonym of the verb מרה (mara), to be rebellious, which relates to the verb מרר (marar), meaning to be bitter or strong, from which comes the familiar noun מור (mor) meaning myrrh, a strong smelling perfume (as well as the name Mary).

The noun μοσχος (moschos), meaning calf (see above) is identical to the noun μοσχος (moschos) meaning musk, also a strong smelling perfume, which relates to the verb μυω (muo), to shut or cover, from which come negative words such as the noun μυσος (musos), uncleanness or defilement, and adjective μυσαρος (musaros), foul or dirty, and positive words like μουσα (mousa), muse and μυστηριον (musterion), mystery.

In the classical world, bull calves were commonly castrated to serve as work animals, but obviously some were left intact to sire offspring and replenish the stocks. In the wild, lead bulls would not allow the company of lesser bulls, and drive them away, which means that castration — the removal of the calves' innate nature to lock their horns and compete — allowed their reassumption into bovine society, albeit under a yoke shared with other friendly oxen, who, for whatever reason, have beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more (Isaiah 2:4).

For the connection between swords and horns, see our article on the noun κερασ (keras), horn.

Our noun ταυρος (tauros), bull, is used 4 times; see full concordance.

Associated Biblical names