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גאל – to redeem (as kinsman), buy/claim (back)

Semantic Fields: Deliverance   
Author(s): Alison Gray
First published: 2007-08-01
Last update: 2024-07-01 (Raymond de Hoop, Paul Sanders)
Citation: Alison Gray, גאל – to redeem (as kinsman), buy/claim (back),
               Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database (, 2007 (update: 2024)

For a fuller discussion of the lexical field ‘Deliverance’ as a whole, see on this site the Overview of SAHD entries for ‘Deliverance’ words by Graham I. Davies.


Grammatical Type: vb qal and niph.
Occurrences: 103x1 HB (qal: 28/31/36; niph.: 7/1/0); 1(2?)x Sir; 16x Qum; 1(?)x inscr. (Total: 120 [121/122?]).

  • Torah – qal: Gen 48:16; Exod 6:6; 15:13; Lev 25:25 (2x), 26, 33, 48, 49 (2x); 27:13 (2x), 15, 19 (2x), 20, 31 (2x); Num 5:8; 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27 (2x); Deut 19:6, 12.
  • Torah – niph.: Lev 25:30, 49, 54; 27:20, 27, 28, 33.
  • Nebiim – qal: Josh 20:3, 5, 9; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kgs 16:11; Isa 35:9; 41:14; 43:1, 14; 44:6, 22, 23, 24; 47:4; 48:17, 20; 49:7, 26; 51:10; 52:9; 54:5, 8; 59:20; 60:16; 62:12; 63:9, 16; Jer 31:11; 50:34; Hos 13:14; Mic 4:10.
  • Nebiim – niph.: Isa 52:3.
  • Ketubim – qal: Pss 19:15; 69:19; 72:14; 74:2; 77:16; 78:35; 103:4; 106:10; 107:2 (2x); 119:154; Job 3:5; 19:25; Prov 23:11; Ruth 2:20; 3:9, 12 (2x), 13 (4x); 4:1, 3, 4 (5x), 6 (4x), 8, 14; Lam 3:58.
  • Sir – qal: 51:8 (and 12?).
  • Qum: 4Q158 14 i 5; 4Q176 3:2, 8-11:4, 7, 10; 4Q185 1-2 ii 10; 4Q251 14:2, 16:5; 4Q266 10 i 9; 4Q367 3:7 (2x]; 4Q381 24a+b.5, 4Q385 2:1; 4Q411 1 ii 8; 4Q471a 3; 11Q5 18:15.
  • Inscr: 15.006:2 Khirbet Beit Lei Burial Cave Inscription A (uncertain).
  • Text doubtful: Sir 37:19; 51:12(e); CD 14:16; 4Q168 1:4; 4Q284a 1:7; 4Q420 1a ii-v 6; 4Q504 22:3.

Text Doubtful

A.1 Sir 37:19 mss B and C have the qal part. גואל but Bmg and D have יאל niph., as follows: יש חכם לרבים נחכם ולנפשו הוא נואל ‘a person may be wise and be a source of wisdom to many, yet for himself be foolish’, which may make better sense. This can be explained simply by mss B and C misreading נ as ג and could be supported by ἄχρηστος in the LXX, although the first part of the verse is different, and similarly by ܣܟܠܐ (sklʾ), `fool(ish)' in Pesh. The Vg is different again: vir peritus multos erudivit et animae suae suavis est (reading נאוה? Cf. Song 6:3), although there are variant readings, insuavis and inutilis. which align themselves more with the LXX.

A.2 Qumran:

a) CD 14:16 ג[ואל] seems likely and is supported by the parallel passage in 4Q266 10:9.
b) 4Q168 1:4 [יגא]לך seems to be a citation of Mic 4:10 where יהוה is the subject.
c) 4Q284a 1:7 is a passage on harvesting and it is unclear whether גאל means ‘redeem’ or ‘defile’. Abegg, Bowley, and Cook (2003) list this passage under גאל (I) ‘redeem’, which is supported by García Martínez and Tigchelaar who translate the verse as ‘He may not redeem them with [...]’ (DSS.SE, 641). The direct object is also unclear, due to missing text, but could be figs (התאנים from line 4). DJD xxxv:132 argues that the passage describes olive-pressing and the extraction of olive oil: ‘let him b[y] no [mean]s defile them by opening them before he pours [them into the press].’ The argument is dependent to a large extent on the analysis of the previous lines, which are also unclear. But the context of this passage does support the idea of purity and the issue of insiders and outsiders, which would suggest that this is not a case of ‘redeem’.
d) 4Q420 1a ii-v 6 seems to be a niph. נגא[ל ...] occurring with צדק ‘by righteousness he is redeemed’, the subject being נאמן ‘one who is reliable’. From the context this seems likely.
e) 4Q504 22:3 is another case where the meaning is indeterminate: ...]אשר גאלה\[..., ‘who redeems/defiles her’ (DJD vii:166). Both the ה and the ל are also partially effaced.

A.3 It is interesting to note that in Sir 51:12(e) Geniza ms B has an instance of גאל ישראל, ‘redeemer of Israel’. Although the passage of which it forms part is not in the Greek, it may nevertheless be ancient (cf. Skehan and Di Lella 1987:569-570).

A.4 Frank M. Cross read וגאלתי ירשלם, ‘and I will redeem Jerusalem’, in l:2 of Inscription A from Khirbet Beit Lei (Cross 1970:299-302), but a number of scholars read this line differently (see AHI-1, 15.005:2, 15.006:2; HAE, 242-246 [BLay (7):1]).

Qere/Ketiv: none

1. Root and Comparative Material

A.1 In the OT גאל is attested in the qal 95x. Of these instances, almost half are the active participle as a substantive, twelve of which occur as גֹּאֵל הַדָּם, ‘avenger of blood'. גאל is also attested in the niphal (8x). The nouns גְּאֻלָּה (14x) and גְּאוּלִים (1x) are cognate. There are 3 occurrences of a name in the HB that is probably cognate, יִגְאָל (Num 13:7, 2 Sam 23:36, 1 Chron 3:22). A further PN, גאליהו, which does not appear in the HB occurs 8 times in pre-exilic Hebrew inscriptions (see AHI-1: 321, AHI-2: 149, for references). There is also an uncertain occurrence of the verb in an inscription from c. 700 (see Introduction A.4 above).

A.2 The root גאל is peculiar to Hebrew among the Semitic languages and became a loan-word in Samaritan Aramaic and post-biblical Jewish Aramaic (Stamm 1971:385).

A.1 גאל has a parallel in Babylonian paṭāru (‘to loose, release’), a term used in Babylonian law for the duty or obligation to buy back lost family property or enslaved people, but also used more generally for buying slaves and prisoners (Stamm 1971:386). The Israelite concept of ‘redemption’ (buying back people or property in the legal sense) differs from the Babylonian in respect of its basis in Israel’s relationship to Yahweh. Since all land belongs to Yahweh, it is merely ‘on loan’ to the people and they must therefore always retain the right to repurchase it (Lev 25:23f.). In the same way, an Israelite must not remain a slave for a long time (Lev 25:42) because he is a descendant of those whom Yahweh freed from the Egyptians (Stamm 1971:386).

B.1 It is generally agreed that גאל (I) is totally unrelated to its homonym גאל (II) (niph.), meaning ‘to be (ritually) defiled’ (possibly a by-form of געל),2 contra Johnson, who suggests that in both words there is the basic idea of ‘covering (up) an object’ (1953:72), the first being ‘to protect’ by covering, and the second ‘to cover’ in the sense of soiling.

2. Formal Characteristics

Verb: ʿAyin-Guttural, triliteral root.

3. Syntagmatics

A.1 The human subject of גאל qal may be:

a) in a cultic context – אִישׁ, ‘a man / someone’ (Lev 27:31; 4Q367 3:7); הַמַּקְדִּישׁ, ‘one who consecrates’ (Lev 27:15, 19, 20); subj. not specified (Lev 27:13; 4Q251 14:2);
b) in a socio-legal context – גֹּאֵל, ‘next of kin’ (Lev 25:25; Ruth 3:13 [3x], 4:4[4x], 6[2x]); מִן הַלְוִיִּם, ‘(one) of the levites’ (Lev. 25:33: for the superiority of this interpretation to ‘from the levites’ see Milgrom 2001:2202-03); אָח, ‘brother’ (Lev 25:48); דּוֹד, ‘paternal uncle’, בֶּן־דּוֹד, ‘uncle’s son’ (Lev 25:49); מִשְּׂאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ מִמִּשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, ‘one of his family of his own flesh’ (Lev 25:49); אָנֹכִי ‘I’ referring to Boaz (Ruth 3:13); אֵין זוּלָתְךָ, ‘no-one except you’ + inf. (Ruth 4:4); impv. to Boaz (Ruth 4:6); מֶלֶךְ, ‘the king’ (Ps 72:14) understood from v. 1 (in DCH ii:294 Clines lists this mistakenly under Yahweh as subject); חכם, ‘wise man’ (Sir 37:19 acc. mss B and C); subj. not specified (Lev 25:33; Ruth 4:4).

A.2 The direct objects following גאל qal in cultic and socio-legal contexts are: בְּהֵמָה טְמֵאָה, ‘unclean animal’ understood from v. 11 (Lev 27:13; 4Q251 14:2); בַּיִת, ‘house’ (Lev 27:15); שָׂדֶה, ‘field’ (Lev 27:19, 20); מִמַּעַשְׂרוֹ ‘some of his tithe’ (Lev 27:31; 4Q367 3:7); אֵת מִמְכַּר, `what has been sold’ (property) (Lev 25:25); אָח, ‘brother/kin’ understood from v. 47 (Lev 25:48, 49 [2x]); נֶפֶשׁ, ‘soul’ (lives/souls of the poor) (Ps 72:14), (his own life/soul) (Sir 37:19 acc. mss B and C); 2 sf. referring to Ruth (3:13[4x]); חֶלְקָה, ‘portion of land’ (Ruth 4:4[5x], 6); גְּאֻלָּה, ‘right of redemption’ (Ruth 4:6).

A.3 The prepositions in these cases used with גאל qal are: לְ + 1sg. sf. ‘for myself’ (Naomi’s next-of-kin); לְ + 2sg. sf. ‘for yourself’ (Boaz) (Ruth 4:6); מִן ‘from’ + תּוֹךְ, ‘injury’ (Ps 72:14), + ,חָמָס ‘violence/wrong’ (Ps 72:14).

A.4 גאל qal may also have an abstract subject: חֹשֶׁךְ וְצַלְמָוֶת, ‘darkness and deep darkness’ (Job 3:5). The object in this case is יוֹם, ‘day’ of Job’s birth in v. 3 (Job 3:5).

A.5 גאל qal is also used with a divine subject:

a) הַמַּלְאָךְ ‘angel’ (Gen 48:16); יהוה understood from context (Pss 103:4; 106:10; 107:2, Isa 52:9; 63:9; Jer 31:11; 4Q185 1-2 ii 10; 4Q381 24a+b.5); יהוה (Isa 44:23; 48:20; Mic 4:10; 11Q5 18:17; Sir 51:8).
b) A divine subject is implied when the speaker is יהוה (Exod 6:6; Isa 43:1; 44:22; Hos 13:14; 4Q158 14i:5; 4Q176 3:2); and in speech addressed to God: יהוה (Exod 15:13; Pss 74:2; 77:16; Lam 3:58) and petitions to God (Pss 69:19; 119:154).

A.6 In these contexts גאל qal takes as direct objects: אֹתִי, ‘me’ (Jacob) (Gen 48:16); בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘sons of Israel’ (Exod 6:6); sf. ‘Israel’ understood (4Q158 14i:5); עַם, ‘people’ (Exod 15:13, Ps 77:16; 4Q385 2:1); נֶפֶשׁ, ‘soul/life’ (Ps 69:19); עֵדָה, ‘congregation’ (Ps 74:2); sf. referring to אָבוֹת, ‘ancestors’ from v. 7 (Ps 106:10); sf. referring to גְּאוּלֵי יהוה, ‘the redeemed of the LORD’ (Ps 107:2); 1sg. sf. referring to the Psalmist (Ps 119:154); sf. referring to יַעֲקֹב / יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘Jacob’ / Israel’ (Isa 43:1; 4Q176 3:2); יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘Israel’ (Is 44:22); sf. ‘Israel’ understood from context (Is 63:9); יַעֲקֹב, ‘Jacob’ (Is 44:23; Jer 31:11); עֶבֶד יַעֲקֹב, ‘servant Jacob’ (Is 48:20); יְרוּשָׁלִָם, Jerusalem (Isa 52:9; AHI-1 15.006:2); חַיִּים, ‘life’ (Ps 103:4, Lam 3:58); sf. referring to אֶפְרַיִם, ‘Ephraim’ understood from v. 12 (Hos 13:14); בַּת־צִיּוֹן, ‘daughter Zion’ (Mic 4:10); כל עמו ‘all his people’ (4Q185 1-2 ii 10); יהודה, ‘Judah’ (4Q381 24a+b.5); עני, ‘the poor/humble’ (11Q5 18:17); sf. referring to חוסי בו, ‘those seeking refuge in him (Yahweh)’ (Sir 51:8).

A.7 גאל qal with a divine subject takes the preposition לְ introducing the object יהודה, ‘Judah’ (4Q381 24a+b.5); בְּ, ‘with, by means of’(instrumental) + וּבְמִשְפָּטִים נְטוּיָּה זְרוֹעַ גְּדֹלִים, ‘an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement’ (Exod 6:6); + זְרוֹעַ, ’with a strong arm’ (Ps 77:16); and בְּ ‘in, with’ (of accompaniment) + חֶסֶד, ‘kindness’/‘mercy’ (Exod 15:13); + אַהֲבָה, ‘love’ (Is 63:9); + חֶמְלָה, ‘compassion’ (Is 63:9); or the preposition מִן, ‘from’ + מָוֶת, ‘death’ (Hos 13:14); + כָּל־רַע, ‘all harm’ (Gen 48:16; Sir 51:8); + שַׁחַת ‘pit’ (Ps 103:4); + כַּף/ יַד אוֹיֵב, ‘hand of enemy’ (Ps 106:10; Mic 4:10); + צָר, ‘trouble’ (Ps 107:2; 4Q381 24a+b.5); + יַד חָזָק מִמֶּנוּ, ‘the hand of the one stronger than him’ (Jer 31:11); [+ ידם ‘their hands’ referring to Egyptians (4Q158 14i:5); + [ים]יד זר ‘the hand of the foreigners’ (11Q5 18:17).

A.8 The subject of גאל qal is unspecified in 4Q411 1 ii 8: [ה]וגאל בצהל ‘and redeemed with rejoicing’; and in 4Q471a 3: גאלנו ‘he has redeemed us’, although in both cases it is likely that the subject is יהוה.

A.9 A number of times the qal act part. גֹּאֵל is used as a substantive for both human (a–f) and divine (g–k) subjects:

a) When a human גֹּאֵל is the subject, the following verbs occur with it: בוא, ‘to come’ (Lev 25:25); גאל ‘to redeem’ (Lev 25:25); היה, ‘to be’ (Lev 25:26); היה, [understood] (Num 5:8); מות hiph., ‘to kill’ (Num 35:19[2x], 21); פגע, ‘to meet’ (Num 35:19, 21); מצא, ‘to find’ (Num 35:27); רצח, ‘to kill’ (Num 35:27); רדף ‘to pursue’ (Deut 19:6, Josh 20:5); עבר, ‘to pass by’ (Ruth 4:1); אמר, ‘to say’ (Ruth 4:6, 8); שחת, pi. ‘to destroy’ (2 Sam 14:11, Ruth 4:6 hiph.); יכל, ‘to be able’ (Ruth 4:6[2x]); סור, ‘to turn aside’ (Ruth 4:1); ישב, ‘to sit down’ (Ruth 4:1); רבה, hiph. ‘to multiply’ (2 Sam 14:11); שלף, ‘to take off’ (Ruth 4:8).
b) A human גֹּאֵל is the object of the verbs שׁאר, hiph. ‘to leave remaining/ spare’ (1 Kgs 16:11); דבר, (pi.) ‘to speak’ (Ruth 4:1); and שׁבת hiph., ‘to let be lacking/ withhold’ (Ruth 4:14).
c) A human גֹּאֵל occurs as nomen regens with הַדָּם, ‘avenger of blood’ (Num 35:19, 21, 24, 25, 27[2x]; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9; 2 Sam 14:11) and as nomen rectum with מִיַּד, ‘from the hand of’ (Num 35:25); בְּיַד, ‘into the hand of’ (Deut 19:12), ‘by [means of] the hand of’ (Josh 20:5).
d) A human גֹּאֵל occurs in the following nominal clauses: אִם אֵין לָאִישׁ גֹּאֵל, ‘if the man did not have a kinsman’ (Num 5:8); גֹּאֵל אָֽתָּה, ‘you [Boaz] are next-of-kin’ (Ruth 3:9); גֹּאֵל אָנֹכִי, ‘I [Boaz] am a near kinsman’ (Ruth 3:12); יֵשׁ גֹּאֵל, ‘there is a kinsman’ (Ruth 3:12); בעל אשׁר אין לו גואל, ‘an owner who has no kinsman’ (4Q251 16:5); [ולבתולה אש]ר̇ אי[ן] ל[ה] ג̇ואל, ‘and for the girl who has no redeemer’ (4Q266 10i9).
e) The prepositions used in the above verses are: לְ of possession + sf (Num 35:27); + היה, ‘to be’ (Lev 25:26); of direction ‘to’ + אמר, ‘to say’ (Ruth 4:3); מִן (of direction) from the גֹּאֵל (Num 35:12 [הַדָּם understood]; Josh 20:3); partitive ‘one of our kinsmen’ (Ruth 2:20); הָאִישׁ + מִגֹּאֲלֵנוּ (partitive מִן) ‘a man from (among) our nearest kin’ (Ruth 2:20); מִיַּד, ‘from the hand of’ (Num 35:25); בְּיַד, ‘in the hand of’ (Deut 19:12; Josh 20:5); ‘by the hand of’ (Josh 20:9); בֵּין, ‘between’ + הַמַכֶּה וּבֵין גֹּאֵל הַדָּם, ‘the slayer and the avenger of blood’ (Num 35:24).
f) The only adjective used to describe a human גֹּאֵל is קָרוֹב, ‘near’ (Lev 25:25; Ruth 2:20, 3:12).
g) When a divine subject is the גֹּאֵל the following verbs occur: קום, ‘to stand’ (Job 19:25); ריב, ‘to plead/contend’ (Prov 23:11 - subject is presumably God, Jer 50:34); אמר, ‘to say’ (Isa 54:8; 4Q176 8-11:10); בוא, ‘to come’ (Isa 59:20); רחם, ‘to have pity’ (4Q176 8-11:10); it is the indirect object of ידה hiph. (Sir 51:12).
h) A divine גֹּאֵל occurs as nomen regens only with יִשְׂרֵָאֵל, ‘of Israel’ (Isa 49:7; Sir 51:12).
i) A divine גֹּאֵל occurs in the following nominal clauses: גֹּאֲלֵךְ קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרֵָאֵל, ‘your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel’ (Isa 41:14; 54:5; 4Q176 8-11:7); גֹּאֲלֵנוּ … קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרֵָאֵל, ‘our redeemer… is the Holy One of Israel’ (Isa 47:4); כּי אֲנִי יְהוָה מוֹשִׁיעֵךְ גֹּאֲלֵךְ, ‘that I am the LORD, your Saviour and your redeemer’ (Isa 49:26, 60:16); אֵל עֶלְיוֹן גֹּאֲלָם, ‘the most High God is their redeemer’ (Ps 78:35); ,יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, ‘the LORD of hosts’ (Isa 44:6; 47:4); גֹּאֲלֵנוּ מֵעוֹלָם שְׁמֶךָ, ‘our redeemer from of old is your name’ (Isa 63:16); גֹּאֲלָם חָָזָק, ‘their redeemer is strong’ (Prov 23:11; Jer 50:34); גֹּאֲלִי חָי, ‘my redeemer is alive’ (Job 19:25).
j) Nouns in apposition to a divine גֹּאֵל are צוּרִי, ‘my rock’ (Ps 19:15); יהוה, ‘the LORD’ (Ps 19:15; Isa 41:14; 43:14; 44:24; 48:17; 49:7; 54:8; 63:16); אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב, ‘the mighty one of Jacob’ (Isa 49:26).
k) The pass.part. of גאל (גְּאוּלִים) also appears as a substantive in the following cases: as the subject of אמר, ‘to say’ (Ps 107:2); הלך, ‘to walk’ (Isa 35:9); and עבר, ‘to cross over’ (Isa 51:10); as an object of גאל, ‘redeem’ (Ps 107:2); as nomen regens with יהוה ‘the ones redeemed of the LORD’ (Isa 62:12; Ps 107:2). [for גְּאוּלַי in Isa 63:4 see the entry for גְּאוּלִים (noun).

A.10 The subject of גאל niph. may be: הַבַּיִת אֲשֶׁר־בָּעִיר, ‘house in a walled city’ (Lev 25:30); אָח (from v. 47), ‘brother’ (Lev 25:49 [+ אוֹ־הִשִׂיגָה יָדוֹ, ‘if his hand reaches’, i.e. if he is able to redeem himself]; 25:54); שָׂדֶה, ‘field’ (Lev 27:20); בְּהֵמָה הַטְּמֵאָה, ‘unclean animal’ referring to בְּכוֹר, ‘first-born’ (beast) from previous verse (Lev 27:27); לאֹ + כָּל־חֵרֶם אֲשֶׁר יַחֲרִם אִישׁ, ‘anything devoted to the ban’ (Lev 27:28); לֹא + כָּל־מַעְשַׂר בָּקָר וָצֹאן, ‘all tithes of cattle and sheep’ (from v. 32) and תְּמוּרָתוֹ, ‘its substitute’ (Lev 27:33); שׁבִי יְרוּשָלָםִ /שׁבִיָּה בַּת־צִיּוֹן , ‘captive Jerusalem’/ ‘captive daughter of Zion’ understood from v. 2 (Isa 52:3; 4Q176 8-11:4); and probably נֶאֱמָן, ‘a reliable one’ (4Q420 1a ii-v 6), understood from l:5.

A.11 Prepositions used with גאל niph. are בְּ + אֵלֶּה ‘these [ways]’ (Lev 25:54); and probably + צדק, ‘righteousness’ (4Q420 1a ii-v 6); עַד + מְלֹאת, ‘until the fulfilment’ of the year (Lev 25:30); לֹא בְכֶסֶף, ‘without money’ (Isa 52:3).

4. Ancient Versions

a. Septuagint (LXX) and other Greek versions (αʹ, σʹ, θʹ):3


  • ἀγχιστεύς, ‘nearest of kin’:4 1 Kgs 16:11; Isa 59:20σʹθʹ; 60:16αʹ; Ps 78:35αʹ; Job 19:25θʹ; Prov 23:11αʹσʹθʹ; Ruth 3:9, 12 (2x), 4:3, 6, 8, 14;
  • ἀγχιστεύς + τοῦ αἷματος, ‘entitled to avenge a kinsman’s death’: 2 Sam 14:11;
  • ἀγχιστευτής, ‘nearest of kin’: Ruth 4:1;
  • ἀγχιστεύω(ν), ‘to be near in blood-relationship, to act as nearest of kin’: Gen 48:16αʹ; Lev 25:251st, 26; 27:15αʹ?; Num 5:8; 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27 (2x); Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9; Isa 35:9αʹσʹ; 47:4αʹ; 52:3αʹ; 54:5αʹ; 59:20αʹσʹ; 63:16αʹ; Jer 31:11αʹ; Pss 19:15αʹ; 72:14αʹ; 103:4αʹ; 107:2αʹ(1st); 119:154αʹ; Job 3:5θʹ; Ruth 2:20; 3:13(4x); 4:4(5x), 6(3x); Lam 3:58αʹ;
  • ἀγχιστεύω(ν) + τὸ αἷμα / τοῦ αἷματος, ‘the blood-relation entitled to avenge his kinsman’s death’: Num 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3; 2 Sam 14:11;
  • ἀντιλαμβάνομαι, ‘to grasp, help’: Isa 49:26;
  • ἀντιποιέομαι, ‘to lay claim to’: Job 3:5σʹ;
  • ἐγγίζω, ‘to draw near, be close by’: Lev 25:33αʹ?σʹ?; Jer 50:34αʹσʹ;
  • ἐκλαμβάνω, ‘to welcome’: Job 3:5;
  • ἐκλύω με, ‘to free me’: Job 19:25;
  • ἐξαιρέω, ‘to take (out)’: Isa 60:16; Jer 31:11;
  • λυτρόω middle, ‘to release, redeem’: Exod 6:6; 15:13; Lev 25:252nd, 33, 38, 48, 49 (2x); 27:13 (2=1), 15, 19 (2=1), 20, 31 (2=1); Isa 35:9; 41:14, 43:1, 14; 44:22, 23, 24; 52:3; 62:12; 63:9; Jer 50:34; Hos 13:14; Mic 4:10; Pss 69:19; 72:14; 74:2LXX,αʹσʹ; 77:16; 103:4; 106:10; 107:2 (2x); 119:154; Prov 23:11; Lam 3:58;
  • λυτρωτής, ‘redeemer’: Pss 19:15; 78:35;
  • μολύνω, ‘to stain, soil’: Job 3:5αʹ;
  • ῥύομαι, ‘to rescue’: Gen 48:16; Isa 35:9θʹ; 44:6; 47:4; 48:17, 20; 49:7; 51:10; 52:9; 54:5, 8; 59:20; 63:16;
  • σώζω, ‘to save, keep alive’: Sir 51:8;
  • ὑπερμαχέω, ‘to defend, fight on behalf of’: Ps 78:35σʹ.


  • ἀγχιστεύω(ν) passive or ἐγγίζω passive: Lev 27:33αʹ;
  • λυτρόω middle, ‘to release, redeem’: Lev 25:49, 27:20, 27, 28;
  • λυτρόω passive, ‘to be ransomed, redeemed’: Lev 25:30, 54; 27:33; Isa 52:3.

A.1 λυτρόω (‘to release on receipt of ransom’, ‘redeem’, LSJ, 1067a) is clearly the most frequently used verb to translate גאל in the LXX. It is interesting to note that among the other Hebrew verbs translated by λυτρόω and ῥύομαι (‘to set free, redeem, deliver’; ‘to protect’, LSJ, 694) are those defined by Sawyer as the semantic field ofהוֹשִׁיעַ , namely נצל (hiph.), חלץ (pi.), מלט (pi.), פלט (pi.), and פצה.

A.2 ἀγχιστεύω (‘to be next-of-kin’, LSJ, 17a) is used in each of the ‘technical’ contexts of גֹּאֵל, for the duties of kinsman and the avenger of blood, and is used exclusively for גאל.

A.3 λυτρόω is used across the whole range of literature, bearing no distinction between socio-legal, cultic or religious contexts. ῥύομαι, however, is only used outside of the technical legal and cultic contexts.

A.4 It is interesting that there is a distinction made in the LXX, which is not expressed in Hebrew, between the present part. ὁ ῥυόμενος (Gen 48:16; 59:20), with one example anticipating future deliverance, and the aorist ὁ ῥυσάμενος (Isa 44:6; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5, 8), which seems to be a deliberate reference to past deliverance (i.e. the exodus).

A.5 The Minor Versions (namely αʹ, σʹ, and θʹ) show a tendency (most pronounced in αʹ and least so in σʹ, who has a range of equivalents) to use ἀγχιστεύω(ν) or ἀγχιστεύς (the words used in Ruth for ‘kinsman’), rather than λυτρόω or ῥύομαι, even for God. This accords with the aim of Aquila’s revision of the LXX in particular to have a single equivalent for each Hebrew word, but to achieve this it seems to have been necessary in some contexts to stretch the meaning of the verb ἀγχιστεύω beyond its usage elsewhere. It may also reflect a development in Judaism, associating God more closely with the kinsman-redeemer figure, thus emphasising the familial connection with his people. A similar tendency can be seen in early Christianity, with references to God as ‘father’ and Paul’s emphasis on adoption into God’s family (cf. Rom 8:15, 9:4; Gal 4:5). σʹ (Isa 47:4; 49:7, 26) and θʹ (Isa 47:4) were sometimes content to replace a more general expression with a word from the λύτρον-group.

A.6 גאל seems to be translated by words which have the idea of removing from danger, e.g. ἐξαιρέω, whereas פדה seems to have a broader range of meaning. It is translated by verbs which emphasise an exchange in the ransom, e.g. ἀλλάσσω, ἀπολυτρόω, but it also shares the general sense of liberation and rescue from danger, e.g. σώζω.

b. Peshitta (Pesh):


  • ܚܘܕܬܐ (ḥwdtʾ), ‘renewal, restoration’5 + ܕܡܐ (dmʾ), ‘blood’: 2 Sam 14:11;
  • ܟܣܐ (ksʾ) Pael, ‘to cover, hide’: Job 3:5 (perhaps, along with the Vg, reading גאל as גאל II ‘defile’);
  • ܦܨܝ/ܦܨܐ (pṣʾ/pṣy) Pael, ‘to save, liberate’: Jer 31:11; Hos 13:14; Pss 106:10; 119:154;
  • ܦܪܩ (prq), ‘to remove, release from, save’: Gen 48:16; Exod 6:6; 15:13; Lev 25:252nd, 26, 33, 48, 49 (2x); 27:13 (2x), 15, 19 (2x), 20, 31 (2x); Isa 35:9; 41:14; 43:1; 43:14; 44:6, 22, 23, 24; 47:4; 48:17, 20; 49:7, 26; 51:10; 52:9; 54:5, 8; 59:20; 60:16; 62:12; 63:9; Jer 50:34; Mic 4:10; Pss 19:15; 69:19; 72:14; 74:2; 77:16; 78:35; 103:4; 107:2 (2x); Prov 23:11; Job 19:25; Lam 3:58; Sir 51:8;
  • ܩܪܝܒ (qryb), ‘near’: Lev 25:251st; Num 5:8; 1 Kgs 16:11;
  • ܬܒܥ (tbʿ) Peal, ‘to follow, urge, ask’: Ruth 3:13 (4x); 4:4 (5x), 6 (4x), 8, 14;
  • ܬܒܥ (tbʿ) Peal, ‘to avenge’ + ܥܝܪܬܐ (ʿyrtʾ), ‘vengeance’ Ruth 2:20; 3:9, 12 (2x); 4:1, 3;
  • ܬܒܥ (tbʿ) Peal, ‘to avenge’ + ܥܝܪܬܐ ܕܡܐ (ʿyrtʾ dmʾ), ‘vengeance of blood’ Num 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9.


  • ܦܪܩ (prq) Ithpe., ‘to be redeemed, liberated’: Lev 25:30, 49, 54; 27:20, 27, 28, 33; Isa 52:3.

A.1 Although ܦܪܩ (prq) is the most common verb used to translate גאל in the Peshitta, along with many others in the semantic field, there are some interesting variations which are worth noting. ܦܨܝ/ܦܨܐ (pṣʾ/ pṣy) ‘to save, deliver’ is used to translate גאל on three occasions when it follows another ‘deliverance’ word (Ps 106:10; Jer 31:11; Hos 13:14) or another ‘legal’ term, e.g. ריב (Ps 119:154). However, this is not consistent (cf. Isa 49:26, 60:16, 63:9, etc.).

A.2 In several instances where the other versions use another familial term, emphasising the relational aspect of גאל (ἀγχιστεύω(ν)/ קריב/ propinquus), the Peshitta uses ܩܪܝܒ (qryb), which can also mean ‘kinsman’ (Payne Smith, CSD, 519) (Lev 25:25; Num 5:8; 1Kg 16:11).

A.3 The occurrences of גאל in Ruth are consistently translated by ܬܒܥ (tbʿ) ‘to seek, demand; require, claim, avenge’ (Ruth 3:13 [4x]; 4:4 [5x], 6 [4x], 8, 14; [+ ܥܝܪܬܐ (ʿyrtʾ) = ‘vengeance’: Payne Smith, CSD, 412] Ruth 2:20; 3:9, 12 [2x]; 4:1, 3) rather than ܩܪܒ (qrb), which would perhaps seem more likely (cf. A.2 above). This is evidently based on the use of the same verb (with ܥܝܪܬܐ ʿyrtʾ) to translate גֹּאֵל in the context of the avenging of blood (הַדָּם: Num 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9). ܬܒܥ (tbʿ) seems to carry with it something of the force of דרשׁ in BH (cf. Gen 42:22). It is interesting to compare ܬܒܥ ܥܝܪܬܐ ܕܡܐ (tbʿ ʿyrtʾ dmʾ) with the rendering by תבוע אדמא / תבע (Num 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Deut 19:6, 12) in TgN and TgPsJ.

A.4 The use of ܚܘܕܬܐ + (ܕܡܐ) (ḥwdtʾ [+dmʾ]) ‘renewal, restoration’ to translate גֹּאֵל הַדָּם in 2 Sam 14:11 emphasises the restoration of blood required by the family, which is the right of the kinsman to claim.

c. Targum (Tg: O/N/PsJ/Frg/J/K):


  • גא(י)ל, ‘avenger’:6 Num 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3,5,9; 2 Sam 14:11;
  • פרוק (subst.), ‘redeemer’: Lev 25:26N; Num 5:8N;
  • פר(י)ק (subst.), ‘redeemer’: Lev 25:251st: O,PsJ, 26; Num 5:8O,PsJ; Isa 41:14; 43:14; 44:6,24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:8; 54:5,8; 59:20; 63:16; Jer 50:34;
  • פרק, ‘to redeem’: Gen 48:16O,N,PsJ; Exod 6:6O,N,PsJ; 15:13O,N,PsJ,Frg;7 Lev 25:252nd: O,N,PsJ, 26N,PsJ, 30, 33O,N,PsJ, 48O,N,PsJ; 27:13O,N,PsJ, 15O,N,PsJ, 19O,N,PsJ,Frg, 31O,N,PsJ,Frg; Isa 35:9; 43:1; 44:22,23; 48:20; 52:9; 62:12; Mic 4:10; Pss 19:15; 69:19; 72:14; 74:2; 77:16; 78:35; 103:4; 106:10; 107:2 (2x); 119:154 ; Ruth 2:20; 3:9, 12 (2x), 13 (4x); 4:1 (2x), 3, 4 (5x), 6 (4x), 8 (2x), 14; Lam 3:58;
  • קריב ‘near, related’: Lev 25:251st: N; 1 Kgs 16:11;
  • שׁיזב Shaph., ‘to save, rescue’: Isa 49:26; 51:10; 60:16; 63:9; Jer 31:11; Hos 13:14;
  • תב(ו)ע, ‘claimant, avenger’: Num 35:12N,PsJ, 19N,PsJ, 21N,PsJ, 24N,PsJ, 25N,PsJ, 27N,PsJ; Deut 19:6N,PsJ, 12N,PsJ.


  • פרק Ithpe., ‘to be redeemed’: Lev 25:30O,N,PsJ, 49O,N,PsJ, 54O,N,PsJ; 27:20O,N,PsJ, 27O,N,PsJ,Frg, 28O,N,PsJ, 33O,N,PsJ,Frg; Isa 52:3.

A.1 In the Targums, whenever גאל is juxtaposed with another word for ‘liberation’ or ‘rescue’, פרק is used for that verb and גאל is consistently translated by שׁיזב (‘to save, rescue’, DJPA1, 546), e.g. ישׁע hiph. (Isa 49:26; 60:16; 63:9), פדה (Isa 51:10-11; Jer 31:11; Hos 13:14), with the exception of Ps 69:19, where both גאל and פדה are translated by פרק.

A.2 It is interesting that in TgO and TgJ the root גאל is only retained (presumably as a loan-word) in the context of blood vengeance.

d.Vulgate (Vg):


  • do, ‘to give’:8 Lev 27:13;
  • eruo, ‘to rescue, release’: Gen 48:16;
  • iure propinquitatis emo, ‘right of kindred, buy it’: Ruth 4:4;
  • libero, ‘to make or set free’: Isa 35:9; 51:10; Jer 31:11; Sir 51:8, Ps 69:19 (VgPsG);
  • obscuro, ‘to hide, conceal, obscure’: Job 3:5;
  • propinquus, ‘relative, kinsman’: Lev 25:25; 1 Kgs 16:11; Prov 23:11; Ruth 2:20; 3:9, 12; 4:1, 3, 8;
  • proximus, ‘nearer, nigher’: Lev 25:26; Num 5:8;
  • redemptor, ‘one who releases a debtor, redeemer’: Isa 41:14; 43:14; 44:6,24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:8, 26; 54:5, 8; 59:20; 60:16; 63:16; Jer 50:34; Pss 19:15; 78:35; Job 19:25; Lam 3:58;
  • redimo, ‘to buy back, repurchase’: Exod 6:6; 15:13; Lev 25:25, 31, 33, 48; 27:15, 19, 31; Isa 43:1; 44:22,23; 48:20; 52:9; 62:12; 63:9; Hos 13:14; Mic 4:10; Pss 69:19; 72:14; 74:2; 77:16; 103:4; 106:10; 107:2; 119:154;
  • successor familiae, ‘successor in the family’: Ruth 4:14;
  • suscipio, ‘to take up, undertake’: Ruth 3:13.

גֹּאֵל הַדָּם

  • cognatus occisi, ‘relative of the killed one’: Num 35:12, 21;
  • propinquus occisi, ‘kinsman of the killed one’: Num 35:19;
  • propinquus sanguinis, ‘blood relative’: Num 35:24;
  • ultor [+ sanguinis], ‘blood avenger’: Num 35:25, 27; Josh 20:3,5;
  • proximus [+ cuius sanguis], ‘nearest’: Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:9; 2 Sam 14:11.


  • redimo, ‘to buy back, repurchase’: Lev 25:30, 49, 54; 27. 20, 27, 28, 33; Isa 52:3.

A.1 The predominant verb used by the Vg to translate גאל is redimo ‘to buy back, redeem’, although more general terms of liberation and rescue are also used (eruo, libero). It is interesting that the Vg consistently avoids using the familial term propinquus/ proximus for God, preferring redemptor, with the remarkable exception of Prov 23:11. However, Jerome may have followed one of the Minor Versions here, which, as already noted above (LXX A.5), use ἀγχιστεύς of God in this verse.

5. Lexical/Semantic Fields

A.1 Verbs found in parallelism with גאל are קנה ‘buy/acquire’ (Ps 74:2) and פדה ‘to set free’ (Jer 31:11, Hos 13:14).

A.2 A number of different verbs and phrases are associated with גאל:

a) In Ruth 4:8 קנה, ‘to buy/acquire’ appears to take the place of גְּאַל־לְךָ אַתָּה אֶת־גְּאֻלָּתִי in v. 6, when Naomi’s next-of-kin offers his right of redemption to Boaz (cf. also Ps 74:2 above). קנה also corresponds to גאל in Exod 15:13, 16. פדה, ‘to ransom’ in Lev 27:27 is either being used synonymously with גאל or is a particular term for the redemption of first-born.
b) As one would expect, many other ‘deliverance’ words also occur in close proximity to גאל, namely פדה, ‘to set free’ (Ps 69:19), ישע (hiph.), ‘to defend, help’ (Ps 106:10, Isa 63:9), נצל (hiph.), ‘to deliver’ (Exod 6:6, Mic 4:10, Sir 51:8, 11Q5 18:17).
c) In the context of the exodus rescue יצא (hiph.) ‘to bring out’ (Exod 6:6), נחה, ‘to lead’ and נהל, ‘to guide’ (Exod 15:13) also occur alongside גאל.
d) In socio-legal contexts, ריב, ‘to plead one’s cause’ (Ps 119:154, Lam 3:58) is closely related to גאל.
e) In passages concerning rescue from oppression, קרב, ‘to draw near’ (Ps 69:19), נחם (pi.), ‘to comfort’ (Isa 52:9),רחם ‘to have pity’ (4Q176 8-11:10) are all associated with גאל.
f) In a speech by יהוה, גאל is in collocation with קרא, ‘to call’ (Isa 43:1).

A.3 The nouns associated with גאל are רֵעֵהוּ, ‘his friends’ (1 Kgs 16:11), and גְּאוּלִים in apposition with עַם־הַקֹּדֶשׁ, ‘the holy people’ (Isa 62:12).

A.4 The titles of God associated with גאל are קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘the Holy One of Israel’ (Isa 41:14; 43:14; 47:4; 48:17; 54:5; 4Q176 8-11:7); מֶלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘the King of Israel’ (Isa 44:6; 47:4; Jer 50:34); יהוה צְבָאוֹת, ‘the LORD of hosts’ (Isa 44:6; 47:4); יֹצֶרְךָ מִבֶּטֶן, ‘the one who formed you from the womb’ (Isa 44:24), קְדוֹשׁוֹ, ‘his Holy One’ (Isa 49:7); מוֹשִׁיעֵךְ, ‘your saviour’ (Isa 49:26; 60:16), אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב, ‘mighty one of Jacob’ (Isa 49:26; 60:16), אָבִינוּ, ‘our father’ (Isa 63:16).

A.5 Antonyms: מכר, ‘to sell’ occurs several times in both socio-legal (Lev 25:25 [2x], 33; Ruth 4:3) and cultic (Lev 27:20, 27, 28) contexts. גאל is used in contrast with מכר, which confirms the idea of גאל meaning to ‘purchase’ or ‘re-purchase’ something which has been sold. Surprisingly, perhaps, the same word also occurs once in a theological context, in Isa 52:3, where God says to Israel חִנָּם נִמְכַּרְתֶּם וְלֹא בְכֶסֶף תִּגָּאֵלוּ, ’for nothing you were sold and without money you shall be redeemed’. This seems to suggest that גאל usually involves a monetary transaction, but Israel’s case is an exception (see Exegesis A.10 below). In 4Q185 1-2:ii.10 (Wisdom literature) גאל is used in opposition to הרג, ‘to kill’ in a warning to those who hate wisdom, comparing them to God’s people whom he will save. In 4Q251 14:2, part of the legal commentary based on Lev 27, קרב, ‘to bring near’ (i.e. present as an offering) is used in opposition to גאל in the context of cultic sacrifice.

6. Exegesis

A.1 a) גאל, ‘to re-purchase, reclaim’ (qal and niph.), in the particular context of cultic laws in Lev 27 (and related Qumran texts 4Q251 14:2; 4Q367 3:7), refers to the redemption of gifts to the sanctuary. The following may be re-claimed after one fifth has been added to their value: unclean animals not fit for sacrifice (v. 13), the first-born of an unclean animal (v. 27), a field which has been consecrated (v. 19), a house which has been consecrated (v. 15) or a tithe of the land which is the Lord’s (v. 31). However, a tithe of herds and flocks (v. 33) and a consecrated field which has either been sold or left un-redeemed by the original owner (v. 20) may not be redeemed. In addition, anything devoted to the ban (חרם) belongs exclusively to God and may not be redeemed (v. 28). In each case, the only person who is able to ‘re-claim’ an offering is the original owner.
b) There is an interesting clarification of Lev 27:13 in the legal commentary, Halakhah A (4Q251 14:2). Whereas the MT may be regarded as ambiguous (superficially) as to whether (אִם) an unclean animal may be offered for sacrifice, it is made quite clear in the Qumran text that it must be redeemed (see DJD xxxv:42 and Levine 1989:195).
A.2 a) גאל, ‘to reclaim as kinsman’ occurs in the Holiness Code (Lev 25) and in the narrative in Ruth 2-4. The adjective קרוב in Ruth 2:20, 3:12 places the emphasis on kinship, which is also reflected by the translations of the subst. part. propinquus, proximus (Vg), cf. Num 5:8 and 1 Kgs 16:11 (קריב TgJ), where the subst. part. seems to mean little more than ‘relative’. It is in Ruth that we find instances of גאל (qal) with an intransitive sense ‘to act as one’s kinsman’ (BDB, 145) in the context of claiming property as inheritance. Since גֹּאֵל appears as a title for someone (e.g. Ruth 3:9, 12, etc.) the relational quality seems to assume priority over the verbal aspect of redemption and is thus the foundation for the subsequent action. It is the familial relationship that provides the basis for the obligation or right to claim or acquire property or people, either on behalf of one’s kin or by claiming the inheritance for oneself.
b) The people who can act as גֹּאֵל for someone are listed in Lev 25:49: a man’s uncle, uncle’s son, or anyone left who is of his flesh in his family (i.e. blood-related). It is also possible for a man to be without a גֹּאֵל (Lev 25:26, Num 5:8, 4Q251 16:5, cf. CD IX 13-16 based on Num 5:8 which has בעל rather than גאל), but he may redeem himself (גאל niph.: Lev 25:49) if he has acquired the means to do so, כְּדֵי גְאֻלָּתוֹ, (Lev 25:26).
c) In a passage about distribution of wealth the Damascus Document 4Q266 10:i.9 teaches that the community will provide for the [girl] who has no גואל.

A.3 גֹּאֵל הַדָּם is used several times (in the asylum laws in Num 35:19, 21, 24, 25, 27 [2x], and also in Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9; 2 Sam 14:11) and is usually translated as ‘the avenger of blood’ (BDB, 145; NRSV). It seems, therefore, to some scholars, that another responsibility or right of the kinsman is to restore the blood of the family which has been lost (Stamm 1971:386; Johnson 1953:68). This idea is emphasised particularly in Pesh 2 Sam 14:11 (see Peshitta A.4 above). Thus the avenger is the subject of verbs such as מות hiph., רצח and רדף. TgN and TgPsJ, translate it as תבע אדמא (תבע, ‘to seek, demand, claim’, DJPA1, 574b) and Pesh translates it by ܬܒܥ (ܥܝܪܬܐ) (tbʿ [ʿyrtʾ]), ‘seek (vengeance for)’. These both emphasise the concepts of family obligation and claiming possession which are essential to גאל. When something belongs to someone they have a claim to it, either by themselves or with the help of one’s kinsman (גֹּאֵל).

A.4 גאל (qal pf.), ‘to act as kinsman’ with God as subject, is used several times in the context of the exodus (Exod 6:6; 15:13; Isa 51:10; 63:9; Pss 74:2; 77:16; 78:35; 106:10; 4Q158 14i:5) and could be translated in several different ways. In Ps 74:2 גאל is in collocation with קנה, ‘to acquire/buy’ (obj. עדתך), which seems to have overtones of payment and is perhaps more akin to the human socio-legal usage of גאל (Lev 25). The same association of גאל with קנה occurs in otherwise identical expressions referring to early Israel in Exod 15:13 and 15:16. Even when payment is not mentioned, the use of גאל for buying someone out of slavery (Lev 25:48) may provide a useful background to the context here of release from slavery in Egypt. God fulfilled the role of Israel’s kinsman at the exodus, setting them free from slavery. גאל can easily take on the sense ‘to save’ or ‘liberate’ here, although this ignores the connotation of God ‘acquiring’ or ‘claiming’ his people, which may be underlying the choice of גאל rather than (or alongside) ישׁע hiph. or נצל hiph. This does not preclude, however, the possibility that the meaning of גאל could have developed by association with other salvation words.

The use of גאל to describe the king’s action towards the poor in Ps 72:14 needs special attention. It is the only use of the verb with a human subject which lies outside the cultic and socio-legal contexts, and with which the preposition מִן is connected (on Lev 25:33 see Syntagmatics A.1.b). Both these characteristics link Ps 72:14 with some of the occurrences of גאל where it has a divine subject (which is not surprising in view of the overlap of royal and divine characteristics in the Bible): e.g. Gen 48:16; Hos 13:14; Ps 103:4; Sir 51:8. The proximity of less specific words in the salvation-group should also be noted (נצל hiph. and עזר in Ps 72:12, ישׁע hiph. in 72:13). The same questions as above arise about how far the semantic components of ‘kin’, ‘release from slavery’ and ‘payment’ may be alluded to here. In any case this occurrence of the wider meaning of גאל in a royal psalm (which is presumably pre-exilic) is evidence that it does not represent a late, exilic, development (see also A.11, A.12 and B.3).

A.5 גאל seems to have a particular force in Deutero-Isaiah. The subst. part. גֹּאֵל is used as a title of God thirteen times. גֹּאֵל also occurs alongside other titles of God: קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘the Holy One of Israel’; מֶלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל, ‘the King of Israel’; יהוה צְבָאוֹת, ‘the LORD of hosts’; קְדוֹשׁוֹ, ‘his Holy One’; מוֹשִׁיעֵךְ, ‘your saviour’; אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב, ‘mighty one of Jacob’. It occurs six times with the phrase כֹּה אָמַר יהוה, ‘thus says the Lord’ (Isa 43:1,14; 44:6,24; 48:17; 49:7), and six times on the lips of God in promises of help 41:14, of redemption from sins (44:22), of triumph over enemies (49:26), of compassion (54:8). It is significant that the only instance of גֹּאֵל as nomen regens is with Israel (Isa 49:7) – God is exclusively Israel’s גֹּאֵל.

A.6 גאל qal is used in an eschatological hymn of praise (Isa 44:23, 48:20, 52:9), which suggests the author has made a connection between the first exodus, the first ‘redemption’ or liberation, and the hoped-for future redemption, as well as hopes for the second liberation from the Babylonian exile (cf. Stamm 1971:390).

A.7 Several times God’s ‘redemption’ of Israel and his title ‘Redeemer’ are linked to creation (43:1, 44:6,24, 54:5) – since God created His people, Israel, they belong to him, and so he has the right to redeem them, or to claim them back (cf. Stamm 1971:391). In this context the qal pass. part. גאלים occurs in Isa 51:9-11. Verse 9 is an appeal to God as Creator of the world to rescue them. גאלים in v. 10 refers to those who were ‘saved’ at the Red Sea, and is followed by פדוים in v. 11, looking forward to ‘the redeemed of the Lord’ returning to Zion from the Babylonian exile.

A.8 The occurrences of גאל in Trito-Isaiah have a similar meaning to those in Deutero-Isaiah, in the context of future deliverance (59:20, 60:16). It also occurs in conjunction with אָבִינוּ, ‘our father’, with reference to the past.

A.9 גאל occurs in several verses in a quasi-forensic context, which seem to be related to other socio-legal uses of גאל referring to the actions of a kinsman, namely the responsibility to protect and help a family member in times of need, including in a court trial (e.g. Job 19:25). גאל is used of God four times with ריב, ‘to contend, conduct a (legal) case’ (BDB, 936) in Jer 50:3; Ps 119:154; Prov 23:11; and Lam 3:58. In each case ריב is used with its cognate noun, hence the NRSV rendering ‘to plead a cause’.

A.10 גאל niph., ‘to be reclaimed’ in Isa 52:3 (cf. 4Q176 8-11:4) is set in response to the community lament in 51:9f. and is a promise of liberation, in preparation for a summons (52:11) to depart from captivity. The legal sense of גאל is being used figuratively here, in opposition to מכר, to mean ‘reclaim’ (cf. Lev 25). Since Israel was not ‘sold’ in a proper legal transaction to Babylon, no ransom price is due from God, their rightful owner, for their ‘redemption’. This usage of גאל seems to suggest that its meaning can ‘overlap’ between the socio-legal and theological spheres. Isa 52:3 is a clear case of sharing the meaning of the socio-legal context, but excluding the monetary exchange.

A.11 The use of מִן with גאל aligns it more closely with other ‘deliverance’ words, e.g. נצל hiph., מלט pi., and חלץ pi. This use of גאל does not seem to be a radical departure in meaning from its meaning in references to the exodus, although it is slightly more developed (cf. use of מִן with גאל in a passage on the exodus in the Reworked Pentateuch, 4Q158 14:i.5). The understanding of God as kinsman, who claims Israel and bails them out in times of trouble, is not excluded from the meaning of גאל with מִן e.g. Ps 106:10, where גאל seems to parallel ישׁע hiph. The other examples of גאל + מִן imply a sense of rescue from oppressive powers and threats to life for the people as a whole or individuals within it (Jer 31:11; Hos 13:14; Mic 4:10; Pss 72:14; 103:4; 107:2; 4Q381 24a+b.5; 11Q5 18:17).

A.12 The use of מִן does perhaps suggest a physical or metaphorical removal from trouble, rather than a restoration to the original owner, although the idea of liberation from the hand or power (יַד / כַּף) of enemies (in all but two instances above) seems to suggest a transference of ownership. Hos 13:14 is an early example of גאל and פדה being used with מִן (not later than 8th century BCE; see also B.3). This contradicts assumptions that the use of מִן with גאל was a later development.

A.13 An unusual connection is made in 4QPseudo-Ezekiel between גאל and ברית in a speech by יהוה, declaring that he is the one who redeemed his people לתת להם הברית, which could either be rendered ‘in order to give them the covenant’ or ‘by giving them the covenant’. If one compares the language of Ezekiel 37:23-28. it seems that God will save (ישׁע hiph., v. 23) his people in order that his ancient promises of ruler, land, covenant and temple may be fulfilled. If it is an instrumental use of לְ, it would be a rather surprising development that re-establishing covenant had become a vehicle of redemption.

B.1 The role of a man’s גֹּאֵל has been understood by some scholars to be to restore balance and wholeness to his family.9 However, although this description fits with a number of examples (e.g. where something is ‘bought back’ for a family member) it seems to ignore the cases where גאל could mean pre-purchase rather than re-purchase (Ruth 4:3 and Jer 32:7), and also see below on גֹּאֵל הַדָּם, where the underlying idea does not seem to be one of ‘Wiederherstellung’.

B.2 Job 3:5 seems to express the idea of גאל as ‘claiming back’. It is the only example of גאל being used with an abstract subject (‘gloom/darkness’) and some argue either that it is a unique usage of גאל, or that it should be read as the homonym גאל (II)/ געל, ‘to soil/ defile’, which may fit better with the rest of the verse. This would support Johnson’s argument for a single original root of both גאל (I) and גאל (II)/ געל, meaning ‘to cover’, which is supported by Pesh ܟܣܐ (ksʾ) Pael, ‘to cover, hide’ and Vg obscurare, ‘to hide, conceal, obscure’ which seems to contain the idea of ‘cover’ (cf. LXX ἐκλάβοι). However, Stamm points to a different ‘core meaning’ of גאל in the idea of something being restored to its rightful owner. He translates it: ‘einfordern sollen ihn Finsternis und Dunkel’ for the forces of darkness and chaos are older than the light (cf. Gen 1:2) and therefore have a claim on his life (1971:390). This view seems to be supported by the previous verse and to be more akin to the idea expressed by גֹּאֵל הַדָּם (similarly Blau 1956:244-45).

B.3 Verses containing גאל with מִן ‘to rescue from slavery, adversity, death’ with God (or the king) as the subject have been treated by both Stamm (1971:392-93) and Jepsen (1957:161-62) as instances of גאל which are outside of the ‘normal’ usage, and show a semantic development away from its ‘original’ meaning (Gen 48:16; Jer 31:11; Hos 13:14; Mic 4:10; Pss 103:4; 106:10; 107:2, and one without מִן in Ps 69:19). The list unaccountably omits Ps 72:14. Even if one follows Stamm and Jepsen in regarding this group as exhibiting a widening of the meaning of גאל from its original legal context, the development should not be regarded as post-exilic in origin, as a plausible case can be made for an earlier date for three of the occurrences concerned. Ps 72 is a royal psalm (see above A.4), Gen 48:16 has generally been assigned to an older layer of the Jacob-narrative (traditionally E) rather than the Priestly layer, and Hos 13:14 is part of a judgement oracle which there is no compelling reason to deny to the eighth-century prophet (cf. Davies 1992:285, 295). In Gen 48:16, which Ringgren (1977:353) considered to be ‘perhaps the oldest passage using the root gʾl’, גאל also seems to be an unusual choice for ‘rescuing’ or ‘liberating’ from harm, as this is the only occurrence of גאל in Genesis. However, since Jacob had no human גֹּאֵל when he was in need, it was God who rescued him, both from his uncle (Gen 31) and from his brother (Gen 32-33). The emphasis here seems to be on the familial relationship, but under different circumstances from those we find in Leviticus and Ruth. Jacob was not in debt and did not need ‘redeeming’ in the socio-legal sense, but rather needed rescuing from danger, or protecting from harm (cf. Johnson 1953:75-77). For גאל as an element of pre-exilic personal names, most of them explicitly theophoric, see Root and Comparative Material A.1 above.

7. Conclusion

A.1 The meaning of גאל seems to comprise three ‘semantic components’:
    a) ‘to act (or fulfil one’s duty) as kinsman’;
    b) ‘buying’ (cf. the parallelism of גאל with קנה, and opposition with מכר) and
    c) ‘claiming ’.
These appear variously in its different uses, as below.

A.2 The socio-legal contexts of Lev 25, Ruth and Jer 32 make clear the connection between the responsibility of a kinsman and the acquisition or re-purchase of property, possessions or people, when one of their family is in financial trouble. The kinsman’s actions effect a transfer of ownership, by claiming something back for its rightful owner.

A.3 The particular cultic use of גאל in Lev 27, which is concerned with re-purchasing things dedicated to God, does not have the kinship aspect to its meaning, but is a development of a) and b), meaning ‘to buy back’ or ‘re-claim’ a gift, when the subject is the original owner of the offering.

A.4 The particular use of גאל in a construct relationship with הַדָּם seems to bring out the idea of ‘claiming’, which is the responsibility of a kinsman, so that גֹּאֵל הַדָּם could almost be translated ‘claimer of blood’, which is another development of (b).

A.5 The use of גאל in references to the exodus and other cases where God is the subject in contexts of deliverance (individual and national), could equally be rendered by the general meaning ‘to act as kinsman’ (a) or by a more particular meaning ‘to re-claim’ (b) e.g. from alien ownership or ‘to deliver’ (from trouble). It is often difficult and sometimes unnecessary to separate these meanings in individual contexts. The particular actions of God to help his people in a time of need are understood from the perspective of his close ‘kin’ relationship with Israel (cf. juxtaposition of אָב with גאל in Isa 63:16), which is emphasized in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah in relation to God as creator. The particular uses of גאל with ריב in legal contexts could mean ‘to defend’ or ‘to bail someone out’, understood within the general responsibilities of a kinsman.

A.6 The uses of גאל with the preposition מִן seem to define its meaning more specifically as ‘to rescue from’, i.e. removal from threats of enemies, danger or death. Again, the idea of kin-relationship (a) is not absent, even if not explicit. This usage of גאל with מִן also shows a parallel to other ‘salvation’ words.

A.7 The use of the subst. act. part. גאל often functions as a title, used for both humans, meaning ‘nearest relative bearing the kinship responsibility’ (a) and for God, meaning ‘the closest kin to Israel’ and also ‘redeemer’ in the sense of ‘deliverer’ from slavery and oppression. Although גאל is never used intransitively with a divine subject, the subst. active participle (without a subsequent verb), seems to draw out the intransitive sense of the verb and emphasises the fundamental relational aspect to this verb’s meaning.


For the abbreviations see the List of Abbreviations.

Abegg, Bowley, and Cook 2003
Martin G. Abegg, James Bowley, and Edward Cook The Dead Sea Scrolls Concordance, vol. 1, Leiden: Brill.
Blau 1956
Joshua Blau, ‘Über homonyme und angeblich homonyme Wurzeln’, VT 6:242-48.
Cross 1970
Frank M. Cross, ‘The Cave Inscriptions from Khirbet Beit Lei’, in: James A. Sanders (ed.), Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 299-306.
Davies 1992
Graham I. Davies, Hosea (New Century Bible), Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; London: Marshall Pickering.
Gray 2011
Alison Gray, ‘גאל’, ThWQ 1:556-59.
Hubbard 1997
Robert L. Hubbard, ‘גאל’, NIDOTTE 1:789-94.
Jepsen 1957
Alfred Jepsen, ‘Die Begriffe des “Erlösens” im Alten Testament’, in: P. Althaus et al. (eds.), Solange es »Heute« heißt: Festgabe für Rudolph Hermann, Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 153-63.
Johnson 1953
Aubrey R. Johnson, ‘The Primary Meaning of √גאל’, in: Congress Volume: Copenhagen 1953 (SVT, 1), Leiden: Brill, 67-77.
Levine 1989
Baruch A. Levine, Leviticus (JPS Torah Commentary), Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
Milgrom 2001
Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27 (AB, 3), New York: Doubleday.
Ringgren 1977
Helmer Ringgren, ‘גאל’, TDOT 2:350-55.
Sawyer 1972
John F.A. Sawyer, Semantics in Biblical Research: New Methods of Defining Hebrew Words for Salvation (SBT 2nd series, 24), London: SCM.
Skehan and Di Lella 1987
Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira (AB, 39), New York: Doubleday.
Stamm 1940
Johann J. Stamm, Erlösen und Vergeben im Alten Testament, Bern: Francke.
Stamm 1971
Johann J. Stamm, ‘גאל – erlösen’, THAT 1:385-96.


  1. DCH ii: 293, mentions 104x for the HB, and 96x for the qal, but DCHR ii: 315, gives the number of 103x, and 95x for the qal, which agrees with the findings in Accordance and SHEBANQ

  2. Cf. Stamm 1971:385; Ringgren 1977, 351; HALOT, 169b. 

  3. The three versions Aquila (αʹ), Symmachus (σʹ), and Theodotion (θʹ) are given according to FieldI and FieldII. Their testimony is indicated by their sigla (if applicable including a reference to LXX). In all the other cases the textual references are to the LXX. 

  4. The English renderings of the Greek are based on GELS, s.v.; LEH3, s.v. 

  5. The English renderings of the Syriac are based on Sokoloff, SLB, s.v. 

  6. The English renderings of the Aramaic are based on Jastrow, DTT, s.v.; and checked against Sokoloff, DJBA, s.v. and Sokoloff, DJPA, s.v. 

  7. TgFrg is in Exod 15:13 acc. to mss Paris Bibliotheque nationale Hebr. 110, and Vatican Ebr. 440, Folios 198-227; in the other texts only acc. to the latter ms. 

  8. The English renderings of the Latin are based on Lewis & Short, LD, s.v. 

  9. Stamm 1971:386; Johnson 1953:70; Jepsen 1957:158. 

Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database