I agree with some of Heiser and Browns caution, especially that there are many amateur you tubers out there with very little actual knowledge of Biblical Hebrew trying to use the ancient Hebrew pictograph symbols to find hidden meaning in words or just trying to willy-nilly combine them together and think that they have found some neat hidden meaning in a text. Both examples they showed in the video would fall into this category.
They both seem to be unaware, however, of much of the serious scholarship done on the etymology of Biblical Hebrew words that takes into account the original pictograph characters. for example by people such as Jeff Benner at the Ancient Hebrew Research Center. Brown’s comments that the letters have always only been only syllables and that the meaning of the pictograph bears no resemblance to the meaning of the words just as in Greek frankly shows a bit of ignorance (though I know Brown is a respectable scholar and would not make that claim about him in general).
It’s true that by the time the Bible was written down the characters were much different than the original pictograph characters, and the Biblical authors likely may have had little if any knowledge of the original symbols that words/characters were derived from, however that’s like saying because most modern English speakers have any to little knowledge of Latin, that it’s worthless to study Latin to better understand the meaning of English words even though many English words derive from Latin roots.
Jeff Benner has written a Biblical Hebrew lexicon that you can read for free online here:
It includes most every word in Hebrew Scriptures and demonstrates the value of using the ancient pictograph alphabet to better understand the meaning of the Biblical Hebrew words. It is of course only one tool and needs to balanced by other commonly used methods such as seeing how it is used in context, but nevertheless is a valuable tool for doing Hebrew words studies.
Here’s a chart of what the original characters of the Hebrew alphabet looked like, how they changed over time, what the original symbol was and what it’s usual meanings were: http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet_chart.html
There are 23 characters, each which represent a sound, a symbol (and meaning), and a number.
To form words, first 2 characters were combined to form a parent root. The parent root has a meaning that is related to the 2 characters that combined to form the parent root. Then from the parent roots, 3 letter child roots were formed by adding another character at the beginning, middle, or end of the 2 letter parent root. All of the child roots formed from the parent root were then in some way related to the parent root.
More words were then formed by adding letters to the child root.
It’s also important to know that ancient Hebrew had no abstract words (ie something that you can’t see, taste, touch, or smell). Thus any abstract word was expressed by using a concrete word. For example when God tells Moses he is ‘slow to anger’, the word ‘anger’ doesn’t exist in Hebrew because that’s an abstract concept. Instead God tells Moses he is long of nose. The concrete image for anger was flaring of your nostrils).
Of course like any language not every word fits neatly this way as some were later developed words and/or borrowed from other cultures.
So Brown’s statement that “How many words could you make from less than 30 characters”, sounds convincing, but unfortunately speaking louder and more passionately doesn’t make your statements anymore true.
An example of some obvious words that demonstrate this is Hebrew words for father, mother, or son.
The word for father is ‘av’, which is aleph, bet in Hebrew, and the symbol for aleph is an ox, meaning “strength” the symbol for bet is a tent floor plan meaning “house”. Thus the father is the strength of the home. Also Av is a parent root meaning “tent pole” since the tent pole is the strength of the house (in a nomadic culture that lived in tents), and thus all words with the root “av” have some conceptual relationship to a tent pole.
Mother is ‘eym’ spelled aleph, mem, and aleph is again an ox, and mem is water, so it is strong water. Ancient Hebrews made glue by putting animal skin in water and thus strong water means “glue”, so the mother was seen as the glue of the home.
Son is ‘beyn’, spelled ‘bet’, ‘nun’, bet is the home, and nun is a seed and symbolizes continuance, so the son is the one who continues the family.
Even many of the prepositions are quite intuitive based on the original pictographs. For example, to say roughly the equivalent of our word ‘the’, you add a ‘hey’ to the front of the word. That is actually a symbol of a man with his arm raised sighing and pointing at something. For roughly the equivalent of ‘and’, you add a ‘vav’ before the word and that is a symbol of a tent peg so conveys the idea of contenting two thoughts together.
So again Brown and Heiser are both respectable scholars but they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater here and appear to be simply unaware of some credible scholarship done on the etymology of Biblical Hebrew from the original pictograph characters.
Here is the entry in the lexicon for ‘bara’: http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/ahlb/beyt.html#1254, that I referenced earlier.
Without understanding the original etymology of the word and seeing that the concrete image for bara is to fatten an ox by feeding him grain, you will have much difficulty understanding it’s use in 1 Samuel 2:29 for example:
“Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?”
Look up the word for “making yourself fat” and you will see it is Strong’s Hebrew 1254, ‘bara’, the same word used in Genesis 1, that is translated ‘create’.
The parent root for BaRA is ‘Beyt’, “Resh”, which is a head and a house and means “House of Heads” and was used to describe ‘grain’. Quite interestingly many English words actually still retain resemblance of this 2 letter root: BRead, BRan, BeeR, BaRely, or animals that eat grain: BiRd, BoaR.