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

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/k/k-r-a-n-i-o-n.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun κρανιον (kranion) means skull, or more specifically the brain box, hence the English word cranium. It stems from the unused noun καρα (kara), meaning head, top or peak, which in turn derives from the widely attested Proto-Indo-European root "ker-", which mostly yields words that have to do with horns (see below).

In the New Testament, our word is used consistently as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Golgotha. In Latin this name became Calvary. It occurs 4 times; see full concordance.


The noun κερασ (keras) means horn and stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root "ker-" as the above. This root is also suspiciously similar to the Hebrew noun קרן (qeren), meaning horn, which comes from the verb קרן (qaran), which either means to have horns, or to radiate — this is the verb that describes how Moses' face radiated when he came from the mountain (Exodus 34:29), which is why medieval artists depicted Moses commonly as having horns.

It's not clear whether the Hebrews saw horns as rays, or rays as horns, or whether the PIE language basin got this word from the Semites or vice versa (which would probably mean that one of the two lost its own native word for horn), but PIE does not have the ray-clause, and instead equates the horn with the top of the head; hence the word κρανιον (kranion), cranium, which literally means place of the horns, even though humans have no (visible) horns — which in turn means little: we are made in God's image, and God has wings (Psalm 91:4), and hence, so do we (and see for a solution of this conundrum our article on the noun αγγελος, aggelos, angel).

But in the PIE basin (and particularly in the Latin branch), horns became proverbial not simply for strength and courage, but rather as point of intersection of the opposing wills of contesters (in rhetoric, the horn of an argument was its most salient point). Where the Hebrew language emphasizes the importance of cooperation and synchronicity of players (hence the link between horns and the light of reason), the PIE language basin emphasizes competition and combat, and horns became symbolic for, well, the locking of horns and the volatile mix of clashing intensions, wills and desires.

For obvious reasons, the ירך (yarek), or genitalia, of both men and women were considered the seat of the will, and so the horn also acquired a sexual connotation, and came to signify a cuckhold (that's the husband of a promiscuous wife). The husband would be described as growing horns (becoming horny, presiding over perpetually mixed bloodlines), whilst someone else's offspring would grow within his wife, for him to provide for.

The Hebrews made trumpets from horns, and used them to incite people into collective action. The Indo-Europeans associated horns with the overstepping of boundaries. The overlap lies in the extension of the range of one's own control into that of another, which is precisely what language is designed to do, and language is the vehicle of reason, the substance of which is light.

To the Indo-Europeans, divinity was a power-related affair, and sex with gods nearly always had to do with violence and rape. The founder of Rome, Romulus, was conceived when the god of war, Mars, raped Rhea Silvia. Adding insult to injury, Rhea Silvia was a Vestal Virgin, devoted to Vesta, the goddess of home, hearth and family (after 30 years of service, a Vestal Virgin was commonly married to a Roman nobleman, but obviously not if she had been raped). In Greece, Athena was considered a perpetual Virgin — and in antiquity, a people was feminine (see אמם, 'amam, mother or people) and the king or his extended government was masculine — who lent her kingless maturity to the πολις (polis), city (hence English words like polite and civilized), and ultimately the democracy and its ideal: ελευθερια (eleutheria), or freedom-by-law, with the law being understood as an "emergent property" of feminine society rather than imposed by some masculine ruler.

This hugely revolutionary idea, of the law as emergent property rather than kingly dictate, was translated into the familiar image of the Virgin to be with Child (see παρθενος, parthenos, virgin), which later authors applied to Mary, whose pregnancy with Jesus Christ explained both the similarities and the differences between Mars, the Greek god of war, and YHWH, the Hebrew "Man of War" (Exodus 15:3; the word for war used here is לחם, laham, which also means bread, hence the name Bethlehem, which means both House of War and House of Bread; also see our article on αρτος, artos, bread).

In modern times, the Biblical metaphor that depicts God as the groom and humanity as Bride is regarded through the pink lens of romantic prudence, but in antiquity this union had a very strong sexual implication that was discussed without shame or reservation. The 100 liters of myrrh oil (מור, mor) that Nicodemus brought to the grave of Christ (John 19:39) marked the consummation of marriage (and that's the "burial custom of the Jews" the text speaks of; Jews never embalmed their dead like the Egyptians did, as the majority of commentators appear to suggest). And the euphemistic "glory" of the Lord, that entered the "tent of meeting" like a pillar of smoke, well, that's a euphemism for God ejaculating his Spirit into mankind (see our article on the כבד, kabed, of the Lord).

All of this would suggest that the familiar image of the Cornucopia (the overflowing heavenly "horn" or the ejaculating heavenly "penis") factually tells of an overflowing mind — and it also suggests that human minds have genders just like our bodies do (while one's mental gender has nothing to do with one's physical gender): a feminine mind is a mind that desires to receive seed, whereas a masculine mind is a mind that desires to spread seed. That in turn suggest that the few Bible texts that appear to outlaw homosexuality (but see our article on αρσενοκοιτης, arsenokoites, male-bedder), much rather outlaw debate between male-minds (that's the kind of debate in which nobody listens, and where victory is more important than the matters discussed), and endless inflationary speculations between female minds (that's the kind of conversation that goes all over the place without support from actual facts).

It also suggests that the Horn of Salvation of the House of David (Luke 1:69) is the alphabet (see our article on the name YHWH), that the horns of Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:13-17) are the meanings of dreams (see our article on οναρ, onar, dream), and that the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah, the future temple mount, reflects the beginning of the spread of literacy in the human world (and see our article on the name Isaac for a brief look at this difficult scene).

Note the obvious similarity between the verb קרן (qaran), to radiate, and the verb קרא (qara'), to call near (hence the name Quran). Another verb that means to radiate is הלל (halal), hence the familiar term Hallelujah, which may have helped form the quintessentially Greek name Hellas (see our article on that name for the details of this).

Our noun κερασ (keras), horn, is used 11 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:

  • The noun κεραια (keraia), meaning something like horniness or hornishness, which in the classics could describe anything pointy, protruding or horny (from insect antennae to big wooden beams, bones, branches, mountain tops, the points of the lunar crescent and projecting landmasses such as the "horns" of Africa and Europe on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar). This word occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:17 only, both times in Jesus' assertion that heaven and earth would fail before one κεραια (keraia) of the law would. This is traditionally explained to refer to something very small, also because of the reference to the ιωτα (iota), which is the smallest Greek letter. This is nonsense, of course, as size and importance are absolutely unrelated (Matthew 13:32). Instead, the reference to the ιωτα (iota) is probably a reference to the Hebrew י (yod), or יד (yad), meaning fist, which together with the κεραια (keraia) refer to the two basic building blocks (the bow and arrow, if you will, or consonant and vowel, or hammer-and-sickle) of the Law: assertions of self-contained truths (יד, yad) and commands that span the will of the commander and the effect in the commanded (κεραια, keraia).
  • The noun κερατιον (keration), little horn, which is a diminutive of κερασ (keras), horn. In the classics, this word is used to describe most any smaller horn-like thing, and on rare occasions the cucumber-shaped fruits, or pods, of the carob-tree, which were and are still grown for animal food. Our noun occurs in the New Testament in Luke 15:16 only, where it indeed denotes food for pigs. Still, the story in which this word occurs is highly allegorical, and the little horns that the pigs were eating, while the prodigal son kept watch over them while starving, possibly also refers to the art of writing that the Semites had perfected and now formed the backbone of the Roman Empire (see our article on the name Legion). The prodigal son was not only hungry, he was also lonely, and while missing the solid social bonds of his Semitic home, he began to yearn even for the watered down version of the pagans (Matthew 5:47). Note that the name Cornelius is Latin for Little Horn.

From a specialized sub-cluster of the same PIE root "ker-" that yielded the nouns κερασ (keras), horn, and κρανιον (kranion), skull (see above), the verb κεραννυμι (keranummi) means to mix or blend, mostly of liquids (Revelation 14:10 and 18:6 only).

The unused verb φυρω (phuro) also means to mix but mostly speaks of mixing granular substances, although there is obvious overlap as from the latter follows the noun φυραμα (phurama), clay (or dough), whereas from the former comes κεραμος (keramos), also meaning clay (see below).

In our article on the adjective αζυμος (azumos), unleavened, we argue that the feast of Pascha — πασχα (pascha), technically from the Hebrew פסח (pesah), lameness, but obviously relatable to the Greek verb πασχω (pascho), to experience — was essentially a world fair in which people from all over the known world would come to see and be seen: to experience the many ways of being human, the many normalcies that are really arbitrary and the shared values that mark the essence of humanity. That means that Pascha was really the Great Mixing (Exodus 12:38).

From our verb κεραννυμι (keranummi), to mix, derive:

  • Together with the particle of negation α (a): the adjective ακεραιος (akeraios), meaning unmixed or rather un-mixing or non-confrontational— and this word is spelled identical to a variant of ακερος (akeros), meaning hornless. Our adjective ακεραιος (akeraios) does not so much refer to some perceived state of purity but rather to a state of non-confrontational peacefulness. Contrary to common intuition, there's no good-versus-bad correlation between pure-and-mixed. As we note in our article on the adjective καθαρος (katharos), pure or clean: "Purity is a tricky word and sounds much more virtuous than it really is. Very few things in nature comprise only one element, and these are materials that don't react with anything, and are thus not very useful. Noble gases and metals like gold are "pure" and thus inert, which means that they are chemically dead, and their molecules drift like little useless pips in the vast bustling economy of give and take that makes our planet a living one."
    Likewise, "holy" things are nothing but very specialized things (like a very special tool for only very special occasions), whereas common things are, well, common things (like a hammer or an adjustable spanner). In any economy, both specialized and multi-purpose items are virtuous and essential, and the vice creeps in only when holy things are defiled and profane things are sanctified. There is nothing as holy (αγιος, hagios) as the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, yet the New Testament was written in Koine (κοινος, koinos), that is common or profane Greek (also see our article on the adjective δεξιος, dexios, right). Whether it's virtuous to be confrontational (horny) or docile (hornless), depends entirely on the situation at hand. As Jesus himself says: sometimes you have to be as horny as a serpent, and sometimes as hornless as a dove. Our adjective occurs in Matthew 10:16, Romans 16:19 and Philippians 2:15 only.
  • Again together with the negating α (a): the adjective ακρατος (akratos), meaning unmixed or unmitigated. In the classics this word could describe wine that wasn't watered down (pure or strong wine), the pureness of a hue (pure black), or of uncompromised conditions, qualities or even intentions and emotions (usually violent or obsessive). Most curiously, our adjective looks like the spitting image of an imaginary word that would have derived from the verb κρατεω (krateo), to hold safely in one's power, and particularly the noun κρατος (kratos), a holding on (hence the "-cracy" part of words like democracy). As we explain in our article on these words, they don't describe force and coercion but rather a mastery and even intimacy. This in turn explains that our adjective ακρατος (akratos) denotes an absence of intimacy and gentle mastery and rather describes an unwavering separateness. Our adjective occurs in Revelation 14:10 only, in the curious and pseudo-paradoxical phrase "pure blend" or "unmitigated mix" (which, like the word Pacha, demonstrates that purity comes from diversity, rather than polarization).
  • The noun κεραμος (keramos), which technically may describe anything mixed but which in practice referred to either raw pottery clay, or anything made from baked clay (hence the English word ceramic): jars, pottery, roof tiles (which is what our noun describes in its only occurrence in the New Testament: Luke 5:19 only). Note that anything made from clay was notoriously (even proverbially) brittle and prone to break.
    This noun also came to denote the place where potters made pottery (the workshop called pottery), and may have influenced the formation of the Latin verb cremo, to burn (hence the English verb to cremate). This in turn may have helped to shape the image of hell as a place of fire: in Hebrew thought this would be a place of light, purification and formation (or jars, bread and metal alike), whereas in the Indo-European mind, this would be a place of death, destruction and endless war. Or in other words: Paradise and Hell may be the same place, but a place of death to the impure, and a place of life amidst the angels to the pure (Daniel 3:25, see Daniel 12:2).
    Right after God dictated to Moses the Ten Commandments, he added the Eleventh Commandment — or even summed up the Ten in One Big One, not unlike the one Jesus submitted in Matthew 7:12: "treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets" — namely: "You shall make an altar of earth for Me" (Exodus 20:24), using the noun אדמה ('adama), or agricultural clay-red earth (hence both the name Adam and the noun דם, dam, hence the name Akeldama or Field of Blood).
    From this noun in turn derive:
    • The noun κεραμευς (kerameus), meaning ceramist: a "clayer", someone who worked with clay, a potter or tile maker. Since earthenware was proverbially brittle, in the Greek classics, our noun could also refer to anything frail or uncertain. It occurs in Matthew 27:7, 27:10 and Romans 9:21 only, most spectacularly to describe the Potter's Field, or Akeldama. From this word in turn comes:
      • The noun κεραμικος (keramikos), meaning ceramics: things made of clay or by a "clayer" (Revelation 2:27 only).
    • The substantially used adjective κεραμιον (keramion), meaning clay-made or a clay jar (Mark 14:13 and Luke 22:10 only).
  • Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συγκεραννυμι (sugkerannumi), meaning to blend together or mix jointly (1 Corinthians 12:24 and Hebrews 4:2 only).

The fascinating term κρασπεδον (kraspedon) describes the fringe, hem or edge of a garment, and was also used metaphorically to describe the ragged edges of a country or an army, or those of a mountain. In the Septuagint, this noun translates the plural noun גדלים (gedilim), the tassels of twisted thread that were to be attached to the four corners of people's garments (Deuteronomy 22:12). These were obviously not minor ornaments as the word גדלים (gedilim) derives from the same verb גדל (gadel), to be strong or great, from which comes the noun מגדל (migdal), tower, and thus the name Magdalene.

Another word used for these tassels (also translated by our Greek noun) is ציצת (sisit), as used in Numbers 15:38-39, where it is explained that the tassel, plus a blue ribbon, was designed to remind of the commandments of YHWH, and take one's attentions away from the desires of one's heart. Related noun ציץ (sis) means flower or blossom, and our noun ציצת (sisit), meaning tassel, relates to flowers blooming, or rather dropping their leaves so as to turn into a fruit. The petals of flowers may be compared to rays emanating from a light source, which relates our word to the verb קרן (qaran), to radiate, as mentioned above.

Where our noun κρασπεδον (kraspedon) formally comes from is not wholly clear, but any Greek speaker would certainly have assumed that it had to do with the noun κρας (kras), a poetic form of καρα (kara), head, from which came κρανιον (kranion), skull, as mentioned above. The second part of our noun would surely have been recognized as πεδον (pedon), ground or base, from πους (pous), foot. Our word literally means head-foot or top-base: place where the head is based — which perhaps suggests that the Lord's commandments promote reason.

Our noun κρασπεδον (kraspedon) is used 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.

Associated Biblical names