In modern Hebrew, כרוב means "cabbage", besides the biblical meaning "cherub". Are these meanings related in any way?

  • 4
    Why would cherub and cabbage be related? – OmarL Jan 21 '19 at 10:31

The pair of modern Hebrew words homonyms "כְּרוּב", meaning "cherub" and "cabbage", have completely unrelated etymologies. And the first meaning is much older.

The word "כְּרוּב" for cherub of course goes back to the Biblical Hebrew "כרוב", probably pronounced something like /kəˈruːv/. That word is 3000+ years old,1 and derives from a proto-Semitic root which means roughly "one who blesses", with cognates like Akkadian "𒅗𒊑𒁍" (ka-ru-bu), so the root is thousands of years older still.

There is no Biblical Hebrew word for cabbage, because cabbage was brought to the Levant by the Romans.2 The name the Romans used for it was "brassica", but almost nobody ended up with that name;3 almost all near Eastern cultures ended up borrowing Greek κράμβη (/ˈkram.be/, assuming it was borrowed via Ptolemaic Egypt). And that's where the modern Hebrew word pronounced /ˈkʁuv/ ultimates comes from.4

1. It's in the Yahwist portions of Genesis, after all.

2. Of course there are significantly older cultivars of the same species, and wild varieties are even older. But those aren't "cabbage"; we have different—and unrelated—names for them, like "kale", and so did the Romans, Greeks, Celts, etc.

3. Even the Romance languages mostly use words descended from a different Latin word that meant "stalk".

4. The direct source is Aramaic "krb'", as fdb's answer explains.

  • Thank you for the answer, I was wondering about this for quite a while. Is there any explanation about what 'to be blessed' means in ancient hebrew? Is it to be provided for, fortunate, favored by someone? – Ellie Stewart Jan 21 '19 at 9:35
  • @EllieStewart When you get back to 5000-year-old proto-languages, the meanings are inherently pretty vague. Also, there are other words glossed as "bless"—like the ancestor of בְּרָכָה, and presumably if proto-Semitic had some distinction between two kinds of blessing or it wouldn't have had two different words that survived into most daughter languages, right? – abarnert Jan 21 '19 at 9:40
  • @EllieStewart But as for the specific connotations of all of the various related words for blessing in Biblical Hebrew, I think you might want to ask a community of biblical scholars rather than linguists. – abarnert Jan 21 '19 at 9:45
  • Thanks! That's really intersting, indeed. I asked here because I was looking for the possible origin of the word, not the interpretation by those who study the Bible. This clarified things a bit. – Ellie Stewart Jan 21 '19 at 9:49

To complement abarnert’s answer: The Modern Hebrew word for “cabbage” is borrowed from Aramaic krbʼ (occurs at least twice in the Talmud, and frequently in Syriac).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.