"The root chash is the basis of terms such as nachash and lachash, which pertain to different types of divination." (Frankiel, 173) According to Gesenius and Robinson, Nun is interchangeable with other liquids such as Lamed, Mem and more rarely Resh. (Gesenius, 635) Rashi on his exegesis of Leviticus 19:16 says “since all letters the pronunciation of which are of the same place in the organs of speech may interchange with each other”. And in Aloysius Fitzgerald paper, The interchange of L,N, and R in Biblical Hebrew he confirms with earlier examples that not only OT Hebrew but other ancient Semitic languages interchange the above letters to often grant poetic import or nuances of meaning to permitted words.

With this is mind, I need to know if the words 'lachash' (לָחַשׁ): to whisper and 'rachash' (רָחַשׁ): to bring forth or devise, help to contextualize 'nachash' (נָחַשׁ): serpent (from its hiss/whisper/enchanter) in Gen 3, which is translated as serpent opposed to 'hiss' or 'whisper' in most English texts.

I am aware of a continual tradition that aligns the nachash with the evil inclination/yetzer ha'ra in the Eden account (making connections such as 'châshab' (חָשַׁב): to think, invent imagine, because of its shared root and like definitions: but not only this. So I would like to know if the above terms can serve as synonyms, why or why not?

Thank you.

  • Due to further research I found that the connections I asked about were tenable. What was said in answers about 'roots' was mostly correct, but parsing Hebrew words from digram roots is not prohibited, just uncommon. Also, in Hebrew lexicography Qal verbs do serve as the sources for derivative nouns, and when they don't a still more primitive root noun could exist. Lachash and rachash serve to show that nachach as a prim root has relation to these terms via analogy by alteration of form, which contextualizes how 'sepent' in Gen 3 can be seen. See Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar: §39, §81 (1909).
    – Source
    Nov 23, 2016 at 17:58

3 Answers 3


The root of the masculine noun נחש (snake or lizard) is נ-ח-ש not ח-ש.

The root ל-ח-ש as a verb in the kal construction meaning to whisper is not derived from ח-ש, meaning either to feel, perceive or to be hasty, when in verb form.

The word רחש meaning to devise is Aramaic, not Hebrew.

Trigram roots in Hebrew do not in general bear any semantic or etymological relation to digram sub-roots. Shared digram sub-roots between words does not indicate any semantic closeness. There are specific exceptions but נחש, לחש, רחש are not.

The fact that letter order can in a few instances be changed without losing a specific meaning in one context does not mean that you can then go back and change the letter order in different contexts without changing the meaning.

The fact that specific letters in some words sometimes interchange between Aramaic and Hebrew, or between different periods of the Hebrew language does not mean that you can apply such switches in the reverse direction without corrupting the meaning.

The fact that two or more Hebrew words sound similar to non-native speakers of a Semitic language does not mean that these words are similar or sound similar to native speakers of Semitic languages whose ears are tuned to listen for the consonants for the meaning.

The first verse of Gen 3 says (NIV)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made...

That is, in context, the verse makes it very clear that the נחש is one of the animals, that is, a snake.

  • 2
    A very good answer. I would add only that the potential derivation of three-radical roots from two-radical bases belongs to proto-Semitic or pre-Semitic. It is not productive in Hebrew or any of the other daughter languages. Thus, it has no relevance for the exegesis of Gen 3,1.
    – fdb
    Nov 16, 2016 at 11:51
  • @Abu I appreciate that you have taken the time to respond. I see that the verb form of נחש is the primitive root of the masculine noun used in gen 3, and this was partly why I asked. But I suppose my next question would be, apart from the strict rendering of nachash as a literal serpent, does its verb form provide any further nuance to other allowable definitions as a noun? Thanks.
    – Source
    Nov 17, 2016 at 6:28
  • @Source נחש as a noun and verb appear to be homonymic. AFAIK there is no research that suggests that they are in any way polysemic. That is, they are just two different words.
    – user17080
    Nov 17, 2016 at 7:10
  • @Abu Yes I understand the limitations of current research. Because both the verb and noun share the serpent as a homology, I can't agree that they are homonymic. And because the 'hiss' is what permits the noun to have a serpentine quality, and because it is derived from the verb, a monosemic interpretation seems restrictive. But I appreciate your view.
    – Source
    Nov 17, 2016 at 8:52
  • 1
    @Source The "hiss" of a snake is English language imagery that does not exist in Hebrew. In Hebrew the snake's sound is נשיפה, like heavy breathing. Here is a beautiful little article by Prof Yair Zakovitch of TAU , lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=16205 , that makes just the connections that you are suggesting, but at the thematic level. I am sure that if there were a supportable linguistic connection he would have pointed it out, but there really isn't.
    – user17080
    Nov 17, 2016 at 10:58

As regards your question, maybe could be useful to you to read an answer I posted about 8 months ago (Why is עֲרוּמִּ֔ים (Gen 2:25) translated "naked," and in the very next verse its singular form, עָר֔וּם (Gen 3:1), is translated "crafty/shrewd?"). Even if it does not answer exactly to your question, I believe it contains some interesting points that brings to light a number of pivotal concepts useful for your current research.


Hebrew words are based on root radicals and grammatically inflecting those radicals.

There only a few Hebrew characters that are meaningful as prefixes to root radicals. [ר] is not one of those characters.

These are the prefixes capable of inflecting a root radical

  • {מת} {ית} {הת} {את} {ת} {נ} {מ} {י} {א}

There are suffixes that inflect a root radical and {ב} is not one of them. To relate {חשב} to {חש} would be ridiculous.

Without writing a grade textbook, let's focus on

  • prefix {נ} imbues simple passive

{חש} does not mean {whisper} as you understand it in English. It's more like {goad, prod, induce, seduce, hint} - which is why it also means to hurry someone.

Let's not focus on the snake/serpent, but on the root radical {חש}. Therefore,

  • {נחש} would mean being a target of goading, prodding, inducement, hinting.
  • depending on vowelization, subjecting/targeting someone to such.
  • which would idiomatically imply witchcraft, listening to spirits and voices - as in Genesis 44:5,15.

Therefore, you have a point - the serpent does have something to do with the word {חש}. Because that is what the serpent did to {חוה XaVaH}(aka Eve) - subjected her to goading and suggestions (and perhaps, to hurry her ambitions).

There are non-inflecting prepositional prefixes like {ל}.

Prefix {ל} corresponds somewhat to English prepositions {to, for, of} imbuing a word as an infinitive.

  • {לחש} would be {to goad, prod, induce, hurry}

And interesting note is {לחש נחש} is what is known in English as {snake charmer or snake-charming} - Eccl 10:11, Jerem 8:17.

Whereas, in Isa 3:3 {לחש} is used for someone cunning and comprehends {persuasion, persuasive compulsion}.

In Isa 26:16, {לחש} is used when people will pour unto G'd {persuasive/compelling prayer}.

Perhaps, it is not so much as {חוה XaVaH} was being {לחש} by the {נחש}. She was being a {לחש נחש} - one who seduced the {נחש serpent} because either

  • the serpent was the target of seduction
  • or the serpent was the medium of seduction
Gen 3:1 says
  • והנחש היה ערום מכל חית השּׂדה אשׁר עשׂה יי אלהים
  • and the serpent was {deceitful, void, naked} from among creatures of the field which was made by Hashem Elohim.

{ערום} means

  • naked
  • devoid, frivolous
  • deceit

And so, which is it? They are all spelled and vowelized the same way. Why did translators willy-nilly decide that Genesis 3:1 {ערום = deceitful}, and in other places {ערום = naked} ???

Maybe they all mean the same thing. A product sold on TV could be empty and devoid of actual usefulness and therefore deceitful. A charlatan, empty of actual knowledge (like myself apparently perhaps; or like those who willy-nilly downvote me).

More likely, the serpent was a charlatan who pretended to know what he was talking about, and goaded {חוה XaVaH} into eating from the tree. The serpent was not actually "cunning" or "crafty" - but was a deceitful farce, an empty naked promise.

  • I appreciate your nuance, and you give me much more to consider. I find it interesting how your answer can be so different from the others, and this makes me question which conventions are most fitting. Does Gen 3 suggest that the 'serpent' could have been a symbol for Eve's self-will via the use of (חש)?
    – Source
    Nov 18, 2016 at 10:00
  • The question was about the formation of three-radical stems from two-radical roots. Your answer is about inflectional prefixes and prepositions. That is an entirely different issue.
    – fdb
    Nov 18, 2016 at 10:16
  • {נחש} is used in other places in the Bible to not mean {serpent}. e.g., in Gen 44, Joseph claims to have discernment skills of discerning a man like himself {נחש ינחש איש אשר כמני}. English bibles translate that as Joseph practicing sorcery is wrong. Whereas in Numbers 23, {נחש} is used as {sorcery = listening to voices/spirits} forbidden for Israel. So when do you decide {נחש} is passive-inflection of {חש} when is not? They are probably the same word.
    – Cynthia
    Nov 18, 2016 at 10:21
  • @Cynthia do you agree with Abu Munir that the nounal form and verb form of (נחש) hold distinctly different detached meanings? Why or why not. From what I see you saying is that though Numbers 23 and Gen 44 use 'nachash' as both a noun and verb, because they hold core traits pertaining to (חש) they are likely synonymous. Is this correct?
    – Source
    Nov 18, 2016 at 13:46
  • 2
    I'm going to have to -1 this as not useful for two reasons. First, there are a bunch of entirely novel conclusions here yet you don't provide sources for any of the assertions you base them on. This sort of thing needs a lot more third party referencing. Secondly, you claim that nearly every other translation in existence is translating things "willy-nilly". This is kind of absurd given how documented their processes are. You seem to have glossed over contextual clues other translators considered important. You can disagree about their renditions, but that doesn't make them willy-nilly.
    – Caleb
    Nov 21, 2016 at 12:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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