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In Ezekiel 9:4, the man clothed in linen is ordered to go through the city putting a protective mark on the foreheads of the faithful.

When I asked what the mark was, my professor said that it was a tau. When I asked why a tau, he shrugged and said that it was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and looked like a table.

What was the mark really? Someone else said that in the original the mark could have been a plus or an x. I hate confusion. What was the mark and why that character?

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I wonder about OP's teacher... Be that as it may, the explanation is fairly simple. Here's the Hebrew and English for Ezekiel 9:4

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ [אלו] אֵלָ֔יו* עֲבֹר֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֔יר בְּת֖וֹךְ יְרֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְהִתְוִ֨יתָ תָּ֜ו עַל־מִצְח֣וֹת הָאֲנָשִׁ֗ים הַנֶּֽאֱנָחִים֙ וְהַנֶּ֣אֱנָקִ֔ים עַ֚ל כָּל־הַתּ֣וֹעֵב֔וֹת הַֽנַּעֲשׂ֖וֹת בְּתוֹכָֽהּ׃

wayyōmɛr YHWH ʾēlå̄w ʿăḇōr bəṯōḵ hå̄ʿīr bəṯōḵ yərūšå̄lå̄yim wəhiṯwīṯå̄ tå̄w ʿal-miṣḥōṯ hå̄ʾănå̄šīm hannɛʾɛ̆nå̄ḥīm wəhannɛʾɛ̆nå̄qīm ʿal kål-hattōʿēḇōṯ hannaʿăśōṯ bəṯōḵå̄h

The Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” NASB

I've put the key bit in bold: it says (fairly) literally "put a taw on the foreheads...".

So that's why the teacher said it was a ת = taw = last letter of the Hebrew alephbet -- because that's the instruction that's given in Ezekiel 9:4!

But why an "X" or a "+"? Because that's the letter-shape of the letter taw in Ezekiel's time, in the so-called "paleo Hebrew" alphabet. You can see the shape well in this "letter" (ostracon) from Lachish (this is #2):

Lachish Letter 6

The letter taw has been circled in red (I don't think I've missed any).

So in answer to OP's question:

What was the mark and why that character?

The mark really was a paleo-Hebrew taw, because that's what the LORD instructed the the "man clothed in linen" to do.


As was pointed out to me, a properly literal translation would be something like: "Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and taw a taw on the foreheads...", since the verb here, for "put a mark" is I תָּוָה, see BDB, p. 1063a for more.

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    Also, the introduction to Gesenius's grammar provides a facsimile of the Siloam Inscription, which provides another excellent example of paleo-Hebrew. – Joseph Feb 11 '17 at 3:43
  • + The Wikipedia entry for the Siloam inscription includes photographs of the original, which makes a good reference for the line drawing Joseph provided. It's helpful to have the comparison; the advantage of the Lachish example is that it is pen (stylus) and ink (i.e., more like Ezekiel 9), rather than lapidary incision. – Dɑvïd Feb 11 '17 at 9:23
  • Interesting. To some of my fellow students, the mark looks like a cross, but the prof said it couldn't be since they didn't know about crosses back in Ezekiel's day. A cross would be interesting, but he is probably right. – Ted DeRose Feb 16 '17 at 20:13
  • @TedDeRose See p. 391 in this account of Wilhelm Vischer for one interpreter who found in the paleo-Hebrew tav an anticipation of the mark of the cross, in his linking of Genesis 4 + Ezekiel 9 + Revelation 7. – Dɑvïd Feb 17 '17 at 10:09
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    Perhaps phrase "x marks the spot" is more timeless than I realized. – James Shewey Mar 3 '17 at 21:19

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