Skip to content


תְּבוּנָה – understanding

Semantic Fields: Knowledge   
Author(s): M. Patrizia Sciumbata
First published: 2009-09-16
Last update: 2024-06-30 (Raymond de Hoop, Paul Sanders)
Citation: M. Patrizia Sciumbata, תְּבוּנָה – understanding,
               Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database (, 2009 (update: 2024)


Grammatical Type: n.f.
Occurrences: 42x HB (4/11/27); 8x Sir; 1x Qum.; 0x inscr. (Total: 51)

  • Torah: Exod 31:3; 35:31; 36:1; Deut 32:28;
  • Nebiim: 1 Kgs 5:9; 7:14; Isa 40:14, 28; 44:19; Jer 10:12; 51:15; Ezek 28:4; Hos 13:2; Obad 1:7, 8;
  • Ketubim: Pss 49:4; 78:72; 136:5; 147:5; Job 12:12, 13; 26:12; 32:11; Prov 2:2, 3, 6, 11; 3:13, 19; 5:1; 8:1; 10:23; 11:12; 14:29; 15:21; 17:27; 18:2; 19:8; 20:5; 21:30; 24:3; 28:16;
  • Ben Sira: 4:24A; 14:20A; 14:21A; 15:3A,B, 15A,B; 44:3B,Mas; 45:5B; 50:27B;
  • Qumran: 11Q5 26:14.

A.1 Jer 51:15 is in reality a doublet of Jer 10:12: it should therefore not be counted as an independent occurrence. In this case there are 41 biblical attestations.

A.2 In Hosea 13:2 the occurrence is in the form + sf. 3 (תְבוּנָם), a form which in itself could be:
a) An abbreviation for תְבוּנָתָם (BDB: 108; HAL, 1548; GK, §91e; BL, 599 §74h; cf. BHQ 13, 70*). A similar phenomenon can be seen also in Ps 49:15 (וְציּרָם = וְצוּרָתָם) and Gen 40:10 (נִצָּהּ = נִצָּתָהּ);
b) A northern dialectal variant (Rudolph 1966:237, cited in HAL, 1549a).
In favour of the latter hypothesis and against that of a textual error (see below) or of an abbreviation are set two further data (Sciumbata 1996-97:163): 1) the existence of the doublets תמור (Sir)/תְּמוּרָה (BH); תמות (Sam. Hebrew)/תְּמוּתָה (BH) and of the Samaritan Hebrew form תתוב, ‘repentance’, renders probable the existence of dialectal masculine variants for the pattern taqtul: the two examples from Samaritan Hebrew make one consider that northern variants are involved; 2) the same occurrence in Hosea, whose language is suspected of northern infiltration, would confirm this situation. It can also be said that, if the translations (see below) depend on a different Vorlage (תַּבְנִת), it is possible to postulate a simplification of a lectio difficilior which was not understood. To strengthen the hypothesis of the masculine form against that of textual corruption there is also a greater awareness of the special meaning of תְּבוּנָה obtained from the research in structural semantics developed by Sciumbata (1996-97; see further below Text Doubtful B.1.

A.3 In Obad 1:7 the phrase אֵין תְּבוּנָה בּוֹ is according to some to be omitted as a gloss, and according to others to be transferred to v. 8 (Bewer 1911:33; BHS). According to Bewer it can be kept in its place, as part of the old oracle which is quoted by the prophet (Bewer 1911:36-7).

A.4 In Prov 28:16 the LXX with προσόδων seem to have had in front of them a Vorlage תְּבוּאוֹת, ‘revenue’, instead of תְּבוּנוֹת (cf. BHS). One should note that in Sir 15:3A there is an identical error (see below, A.5).

A.5 Sir 15:3A presents the reading תבואה, which is cancelled and corrected with תבונה (which is the reading of ms B).

A.6 In Sir 15:15B presents in the body of the text the reading אמונה in place of תבונה of ms. A (the reading accepted by the Greek text): תבונה is, however, given in the adjacent margin.

B.1 The figure of 44 occurrences furnished by Fox (1993:151) is totally incomprehensible.

Text Doubtful

B.1 The form תְבוּנָם in Hos 13:2 seems to have been variously interpreted by the translations. The LXX (κατ’εἰκόνα), followed by Pesh ܒܕܡܘܬܗܘܢ݂ (bdmwthwn) and Vg (secundum imaginem), seem to have had a different Vorlage in front of them: כְּתַבְנִית, ‘according to the image (of the idols)’. The same is true for TgJ (כדמותהון, ‘according to their own image’).1 The Babylonian Talmud, San. 63b, also interprets the text in the same way. Harper (1905:395) accepts the reading תְּבוּנָה, only with a sarcastic meaning. The MT, nevertheless, makes perfect sense, especially taking account of the fact that a northern dialectal variant of תְּבוּנָה is involved, in the sense of ‘ingenuity, genius in handicraft and art’ (Sciumbata 1996-97:163 and see above). The verse would then say: ‘And now they continue to sin, with their silver they make themselves molten images according to their ingenuity’. The reading of the Ancient Versions can be interpreted as a simplification of a lectio difficilior.


In Job 26:12 K תְובֻנָת֗וֹ has been corrected by Q תְבוּנָתוֹ.

Orthographic Variants

In Job 32:11 the orthographic omission of the ו for the plural ending is noteworthy: in the other instances it is always present.2

Distribution by Functional Languages

a) Biblical Hebrew:3

  • ABH: 1x, Deut 32:28.
  • EBH1: 5x, Exod 31:3; 35:31; 36:1; 1 Kgs 5:9; 7:14.
  • EBH2: 29x, Isa 40:14, 28; 44:19; Jer 10:12 (=51:15); Ezek 28:4; Obad 1:7, 8; Pss 49:4; 78:72; 136:5; Prov 2:2, 3, 6, 11; 3:13, 19; 5:1; 8:1; 10:23; 11:12; 14:29; 15:21;17:27; 18:2; 19:8; 20:5; 21:30; 24:3; 28:16.
  • EBH3: 1x, Hos 13:2: *תְּבוּן.
  • LBH2: 1x, Ps 147:5.
  • LBH3: 4x, Job 12:12, 13; 26:12; 32:11.
  • Total EBH: 36 (Jer 51:5 is a doublet)
  • Total LBH: 5

b) Ben Sira:

  • 8x, Sir 4:24A; 14:20A; 14:21A; 15:3A,B, 15A,B; 44:3B,Mas; 45:5B; 50:27B

c) Qumran:

  • QH2: 1x, 11Q5 26:14 (DJD IV)

A.1 The Qumran text is a liturgical hymn of praise to the Creator, with quotations from Jer 10:12 and Ps 136:5.

A.2 For the explanation of this distribution see below Lexical/Semantic Fields A.2.

1. Root and Comparative Material

A.1 The noun is derived from the root byn, connected with the substantive bayin, ‘intermediate space’, which is used as a preposition (Ringgren 1973:621). The original meaning seems to be that of ‘to separate, distinguish’, which is found in the semantic developments in various Semitic languages (Ringgren 1973:621). The root is attested in a large part of North-West Semitic and South Semitic (THAT 1:306; HAL, 117b).

A.2 Ancient Hebrew: Next to תְּבוּנָה, there are attested the verb בין in the binyanim qal, niph, hiph, polel, hitpolel; the substantive בִּינָה, ‘discernment, understanding’, and the adjectival participles נָבוֹן and מֵבִין. The proper name Yabin is also connected to the root בין (THAT 1:306). At Qumran מבונן, ‘instructed’ and the substantive נבונה also appear (Ringgren 1973:629). The particles בין, ‘between’, and בנים (in the expression אישׁ הבנים, ‘challenger’? Ringgren 1973:621; HAL, 118, 134), as far as etymology is concerned, are connected but belong to a different semantic strand.

A.3 Mishnaic Hebrew: The verb הבין, the participle מבין, and the substantives בינה and תבונה are attested.

A.4 Ugaritic: There is the verb bn, ‘to know, understand’.

A.5 Amorite: The form ya-bi-ni-im presupposes *byn, ‘to distinguish’ (see DRS, 62).

A.6 Aramaic: DRS, 62: a) Biblical: בִּינָה, ‘understanding’; b) Palmyrene: a form ybn(w)n (aph. impf. 3 pplm) is attested from byn, ‘make clear, precise’; c) in Palestinian Jewish Aramaic are attested ʾ abāntāʾ, ‘understanding’, bayyēn, ‘make understand’; in Mandaean: ban, ‘separate, explain’; e) Syriac: the verbs bayyen, ‘to show, point out, to give instruction, understanding, to discern’, and ’etbayyan, ‘to notice, take notice of, regard, consider, understand, have discretion’; the substantives buyyānā’, ‘understanding, intelligence’; mbynnʾ, mtbynnʾ, mtbynnwtʾ (Payne Smith); f) Neo-Syriac (Urmia): *mabyin, ‘to appear’; binä, ‘thought, understanding’ (DRS, 62).

A.7 Arabic: DRS, 62: a) bāna, ‘to be separate from, be clear, evident’; b) Thamudic: there is a form bnt (3 from *bn, ‘be clear, evident’.

A.8 South Arabian: byn, ‘depart, go away’ (DRS, 62).

A.9 Ethiopic: DRS, 62: a) Geez bayyana, ‘to distinguish, notice’; b) Amharic: bäyyänä ‘to decide, decree’; c) Tigre: ban, ‘alone, separately’, bänbän, ‘different, separate’; d) Tigrin baynu (+ suff.), ‘alone’.

2. Formal Characteristics

A.1 The same verbal substantive with preformative t can be associated, according to the meaning, with various binyanim (Joüon-Muraoka, GBH, §88Lo): תְּבוּנָה seems to derive from byn in hiph. on the pattern taqtul.4 The u of תְּבוּנָה and analogous nouns seems to derive from a closed o, and hence from a primitive a (Joüon-Muraoka, GBH, §§29bN; 88Ls).

A.2 The morphological forms attested are:; constr. + suff.;; constr. + suff. There is a form תְּבוּנֹתֵיכֶם in Job 32:11 (with the Masoretic interpretation as a plural) and תבונתיה in Sir 14:21. In Hos 13:2 there is a + 3 suff., from a not otherwise attested *תְּבוּן.

B.1 According to Joüon and Muraoka (GBH §88Ls) the pattern taqtol (from taqtul) has no examples of masculine nouns. However if the form *תְּבוּן is really to be considered as a dialectal form of תְּבוּנָה (see above, Introduction A.2), this statement should be corrected.

B.2 The plural תְּבוּנוֹת is considered by some to be a plural of intensity, by others a singular with a final abstract termination in וֹת– (HAL, 1548; GK, §124:1e). According to Dahood (1965:296ff; see also 1970:379) the form תְּבוּנוֹת in Pss 49:4 and 78:72, on the model of some occurrences of חָכְמוֹת, is equivalent to a Phoenician termination: but the idea seems somewhat improbable (HAL, 1548). Above all the situation of some of the occurrences of חָכְמוֹת should be separated from those of the plural תְּבוּנוֹת: for the latter all that can be said is that in some occurrences one should presuppose the crystallization of the plural as an autonomous lexeme to indicate ‘intelligent actions, maxims, etc.’ (Sciumbata 1996-97, see below, Exegesis A.1). The pl. does not elsewhere have any other semantic peculiarity except of an intensive type (see, e.g., Isa 40:14; cf. also Fox 1993:152).

3. Syntagmatics

A.1 Constructions with particles:

  • וְאֶת־הַתְּבוּנָה: 1Kgs 7:14;
  • וְלֹא־תְבוּנָה: Isa 44:19;
  • אֵין תְּבוּנָה: Obad 1:7; in Deut 32:28 with the insertion of בָּהֶם in the middle;
  • בִּתְבוּנָה: with and without suffix: Exod 31:3; 35:31; Jer 10:12 = 51:15; Ezek 28:14; Ps 136:5; Job 26:12; Prov 3:19; 18:2; 24:3; Sir 14:20; 44:3; with the noun in the pl. Ps 78:72; Sir 50:27; 11Q5 26:14; in Sir 14:21 בתבונתיה occurs;
  • לַתְּבוּנָה: with and without suffix: Isa 40:28; Ps 147:5; Prov 2:2, 3; 5:1;
  • עַד־תְּבוּנֹתֵיכֶם: Job 32:11;
  • כִּתְבוּנָם: Hos 13:2.

A.2 תְּבוּנָה occurs as subject, object, accusative of material (1 Kgs 7:14; the accusative is required by the verb, Joüon-Muraoka, GBH, §125d), second component of a construct chain, means, in a prepositional phrase of topic (Exod 31:3), movement to a place, dative or indirect object, relation, time, and manner.

A.3 The lexeme תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, shows solidarity with the class of human beings, to whom it refers: in Obad 1:8 the reference to the mountain of Esau is metaphorical for the Edomites. The lexeme תְּבוּנָה, ‘ingenuity’, shows solidarity with the class of human beings and with God.

A.4 תְּבוּנָה ‘intelligence’ is subject of

  • אַיִן, ‘there is not’: Deut 32:28; Obad 1:7; Prov 21:30;
  • נצר, ‘to watch’: Prov 2:11;
  • נתן (קוֹל), ‘to give (voice)’: Prov 8:1.

A.5 In 1 Kgs 7:14 the article (a unique occurrence) should be noted: it specifies the kind of תְּבוּנָה which is involved (the artisan-technical kind).

A.6 The lexeme תְּבוּנָה, ‘ingenuity’, can be the object of the verb נתן (with subject YHWH: Exod 36:1). In the post-exilic period the same construction passed to בִּינָה, which in its turn also inherited this meaning from תְּבוּנָה.
The lexeme תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, can be the object of

  • נתן, ‘to give’ (with subject אֱלֹהִים): 1 Kgs 5:9;
  • חסר, ‘to lack’: Prov 28:16, in the syntagma חסר תְּבוּנוֹת, ‘to lack intelligence’;
  • שׁמר, ‘to keep’: Prov 19:8, Sir 15:15;
  • אבד hiph., ‘to extreminate’: Obad 1:8;
  • פוק hiph., ‘to obtain’: Prov 3:13.

A.7 In relation to the substantive תְּבוּנָה, ‘ingenuity’, מלא piel also occurs in Exod 31:3, with subject YHWH and תְּבוּנָה in a prepositional phrase of topic; niph 1 Kgs 7:14 with תְּבוּנָה as accusative of material.5

A.8 In Exod 31:3-4 and 35:31-32 the aim of חָכְמָה, תְּבוּנָה, and דַּעַת, ‘skill, ingenuity and technical knowledge’, is לַחְשֹׁב מַחֲשָׁבֹת לַעֲשׂוֹת…, ‘to conceive thoughts to do …’ In Exod 36:1 the aim of חָכְמָה and תְּבוּנָה, ‘skill and ingenuity’, is לָדַעַת לַעֲשֹׂת, ‘to know how to do …’ In Deut 32:28-29 the function of תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, together with עֵצוֹת, ‘sense, advice’, is synthesised by the phrase לוּ חָכְמוּ יַשְׂכִּילוּ זֹאת יָבִינוּ לְאַחֲרִיתָם, ‘if they were wise they would understand this, they would give attention to their end’.

A.9 The expression בִּתְבוּנָה + נטה, עשׂה, etc. + שָׁמַיִם (Jer 10:12; Ps 136:5; Prov 3:19; 11Q5 26:14) becomes a traditional cliché, which survives until Qumran (in spite of the disappearance of תְּבוּנָה as a functional lexeme, see below Lexical/Semantic Fields A.2).

A.10 In 1 Kgs 5:9 the adverb הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד placed after תְּבוּנָה (תְּבוּנָה הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד) should be understood as depending on the verb נתן (GK, §131e; BDB, 915 hiph 1.e).

A.11 There are the following lexical syntagms:

  • חָכְמָה וּתְבוּנָה: the syntagm, which can also be broken up by the introduction of particles or of other elements, appears in Exod 36:1; 1 Kgs 5:9; 7:4; Ezek 28:14; Jer 10:12; Prov 2:2, 6, 11; 3:13, 19; 5:1; 8:1; 21:30; 11Q5 26:14. The syntagm expresses a concept of complete ability (in the case of תְּבוּנָה, ‘ingenuity’), or knowledge of a theoretical-speculative kind (in the case of תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’), combining (merismus) a lexeme belonging to the class of concepts with one belonging to the class of faculties (according to the description of the meaning provided by Sciumbata 1996-97, see below Lexical/Semantic Fields A.1. The same considerations apply to the parallelisms or the other contextual antonymies between the two lexemes. In Prov 10:23 and Sir 14:20-21a it seems that חָכְמָה depends on תְּבוּנָה.
  • חָכְמָה וּתְבוּנָה וְדַּעַת: in Exod 31:3; 35:31 and 1 Kgs 7:14 (with or without the addition of particles) the three-part expression should be translated as ‘skill, ingenuity and technical knowledge’, and describes the completeness of artistic-technical ability in all its varied aspects. In Prov 21:30 there appears אֵין חָכְמָה וְאֵין תְּבוּנָה וְאֵין עֵצָה, ‘there is no learning, nor intelligence, nor knowledge’.
  • דַּעַת וּתְבוּנָה is a relatively frequent syntagm (Isa 40:14; Prov 2:6; 2:11; 3:19; 17:27). It appears in the negative in Isa 44:19: וְלֹא דַעַת וְלֹא־תְבוּנָה. In this case too there is a combination of a lexeme which refers to information possessed and one which indicates a faculty (merismus). In Qumran Hebrew the syntagm is replaced by דעת ובינה (4Q158 1-2:8; 4Q405 17:3; 11Q17 5:1).
  • עֵצָה וּתְבוּנָה (Job 12:13).
  • מצוה ותבונה (Sir 15:15A): according to Sciumbata 1996-97, when understood in the light of Sir 45:5 the syntagm expresses the legalistic connotation assumed by תְּבוּנָה3 in Ben Sira (see below Exegesis A.1). While taking up the jargon lexeme of the didactic current of the wisdom movement, which designated its own corpus of teachings and values, Ben Sira reinterpreted it in a legalistic sense, in the wake of Deut 4:6, where, however, בִּינָה appears. According to Sciumbata Ben Sira is aware of the post-exilic substitution of בִּינָה for תְּבוּנָה, which is the reason why in respect to that text he makes, by hypercorrection, a deliberate lexical restoration. Elsewhere too this author tends to re-establish the old variant of בִּינָה.
  • תורת חיים ותבונה (Sir 45:5): The same comments made for the previous syntagm apply.
  • אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה/תְּבוּנ֣וֹת, ‘an intelligent man’: Prov 10:23 (in contrast/antonymy with כְּסִיל); 11:12 (plural); 15:21 (in contrast/antonymy with חֲסַר־לֵב); 17:27; 20:5. The adjectival syntagm (DBHE, 792) could also occur in Obad 1:8 (BDB), if אִישׁ has been omitted here by scribal error.
  • דֶרֶךְ תְּבוּנוֹת: Isa 40:14.
  • מי תבונה: Sir 15:3B.
  • תְבוּנוֹת כַּפָּיו: Ps 78:72.
  • רַב־תְּבוּנָה: Prov 14:29.
  • חֲסַר תְּבוּנוֹת: Prov 28:16.

A.12 Other contextual relations:

a) With terms from the lexical field:

  • In Deut 2:2-3 the antonymy is between חָכְמָה, תְּבוּנָה, and בִּינָה (the verse provides a lexical repertoire of synonyms).
  • In Sir 15:3A,B there is a parallelism with שֶׂכֶל, ‘wisdom’ (= ‘sageness’). The combination has not appeared in biblical Hebrew and should be considered as one of the elements of the late language present in Ben Sira (in spite of his attempt to maintain the classical style, especially as regards the lexicon of ‘knowledge’: Sciumbata 1996-97:168): שֶׂכֶל in fact takes the place of חָכְמָה in this meaning in the late language (and in fact the more frequent parallelism in biblical Hebrew is between חָכְמָה and תְּבוּנָה).
  • In Isa 40:28 it is said that there is no חֵקֶר of the תְּבוּנָה, ‘ingenuity’, of God.
  • In Isa 40:14 there is parallelism between אֹרַח מִשְׁפָּט, דַּעַת, and דֶ֥רֶךְ תְּבוּנ֖וֹת.
  • In Prov 11:12 and 15:21 the antonym of אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה/תְּבוּנוֹת is חֲסַר־לֵב, ‘he who lacks intellect’. In Prov 17:27 the same syntagm is parallel to יוֹדֵעַ דָּעַת.

b) With other vocabulary:

  • עֵצָה (Prov 21:30; Job 12:13), עֵצוֹת (Deut 32:28).
  • רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים: in Exod 31:3 and 35:31 it is said that Bezalel is full of the spirit of God as regards skill (חָכְמָה), ingenuity (תְּבוּנָה) and technical knowledge (דַּעַת). The spirit of God is being considered as something which instills and empowers these human qualities.
  • מְזִמָּה (Prov 2:11);
  • לֵב in Prov 15:21 and רֹחַב לֵב in 1 Kgs 5:9 indicate the seat of the intellectual faculty (the same happens with other lexemes in the lexical field). Sometimes לֵב is used metonymically to indicate the whole activity which takes place there.
  • In Job 12:12 there is an equivalence between תְּבוּנָה and אֹרֶךְ יָמִים: a cultural fact is involved, not implied in the linguistic meaning of תְּבוּנָה.

B.1 According to Alonso Schökel (DBHE, 792) the syntagms בִּתְבוּנָה and כִּתְבוּנָם should be translated adverbially (‘diestramente, hábilmente, magistralmente’). In reality, according to the reconstruction of Sciumbata, complements of means and manner are involved, in which the artistic-technical lexical unit is implied (‘with his ingenuity’, ‘according to their ingenuity’).

4. Ancient Versions

A. Septuagint (LXX):

  • ἀνδρεία/ἀνδρία, ‘manliness, manly spirit’: Prov 21:30;
  • ἔννοια, ‘reflection, cogitation’: Prov 2:11;
  • ἐπιστήμη, ‘understanding, skill, knowledge’: Exod 36:1; Deut 32:28; Job 12:12; 26:12; Sir 45:5;
  • λόγος, ‘speech, utterance, discussion, saying’: Prov 5:1;
  • νουθέτησις, ‘admonition, warning’: Prov 2:2;
  • παιδεία, ‘training and teaching, education, mental culture, learning’: Sir 4:24;
  • σοφία, ‘wisdom, cleverness, skill, intelligence, practical wisdom, learning’: 1 Kgs 5:9; Prov 18:2; Sir 15:3; 50:27;
  • σύνεσις, ‘faculty of quick comprehension, sagacity’: Exod 31:3; 35:31; 1 Kgs 7:41; Job 12:13; 32:11; Pss 49:4 (=48:3); 78:72 (=77:72); 136:5 (=135:5); 147:5 (=146:5); Prov 2:2, 3, 6; 24:3; Obad 1:7, 8; Isa 40:14; Jer 51:15 (=28:15); Sir 14:20; 44:3;
  • φρόνησις, ‘practical wisdom, prudence in government and affairs’: 1 Kgs 5:9; Isa 40:28; 44:19; Jer 10:12; Ezek 28:4; Prov 3:13, 19; 8:1; 10:23; 14:29; 19:8;
  • φρόνιμος, ‘intelligent, sensible’: Prov 11:12; 15:21; 17:27; 20:5;
  • No equivalent: Hos 13:2; Prov 28:16; Sir 14:21; 28:16.

A.1 ἀνδρεία/ἀνδρία, which renders תְּבוּנָה in Prov 21:30, also translates כִּשְׁרוֹן in Qoh 2:21; 4:4; 5:10.

A.2 ἔννοια also translates בִּינָה, דַּעַת, מְזִמָּה, and שׂכל. The use of the word to render תְּבוּנָה in Prov 2:11 is probably due to the attempt to find a synonym for מְזִמָּה which occurs in the first hemistich of the verse.

A.3 ἐπιστήμη also translates בִּינָה, דֵּעַ, דֵּעָה, דַּעַת, מַדָע, חָכְמָה, הַשְֹכֵּיל, שֶׂ֫כֶל, and שִׂכְלוּת. Though ἐπιστήμη too may be used in an artistic-technical context as well as an epistemological one, its exploitation to translate תְּבוּנָה in the meaning ‘ingenuity’ is partial. The substantive, which is used in Job 12:12, is not repeated in Job 12:13 (where σύνεσις is used).

A.4 The rendering of תְּבוּנָה by λόγος in Prov 5:1 is interesting (Pesh here depends on the Greek). In this verse תְּבוּנָה is the designation for the word of the teacher (‘incline your ear to my intelligence’; Sciumbata 1996-97:160). It would be a matter of the individual intuition of a translator, seeing that the fact is not repeated in the other occurrences of the same type. The same phenomenon is however, encountered with νουθέτησις in Prov 2:2 and with παιδεία in Sir 4:24.

A.5 In Prov 2:2b νουθέτησις occurs twice, inasmuch as the hemistich is divided into two synonymous phrases. The Greek term does not translate any other Hebrew substantives.

A.6 In Sir 4:24 παιδεία seems to be an attempt to provide a synonym for חָכְמָה in the first hemistich of the verse.

A.7 σοφία also translates בִּינָה, דַּעַת, חָכְמָה, מוּסָר, מַחֲשֶׁ֫בֶת, and שֶׂ֫כֶל.

A.8 σύνεσις also translates בִּינָה, נָבוּן, הָבִין, גְּבוּרה, דַּעַת, מַדָע, מִנְדַּע, חָכְמָה, טַעַם, הַשְֹכֵּיל, שֶׂ֫כֶל, and מַשְׂכִּיל. The substantive is also used, though not uniformly, for the lexeme תְּבוּנָה in its artistic-technical sense.

A.9 φρόνησις also translates בִּינָה, דַּעַת, מַדָע, מִנָדַּע, חָכְמָה, לֵב, עָרְמָה, רוּחַ, שֶׂ֫כֶל, and הַשׂכֵּיל. In Prov 19:8 it occurs twice, inasmuch as it also renders לֵב.

A.10 ἀνὴρ φρόνιμος6 translates the syntagm אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה/תְּבוּנוֹת.

A.11 As can be seen, תְּבוּנָה is rendered in the LXX by at least nine different substantives (for the cases of textual uncertainty see below), the larger part of which are used in their turn to translate other terms from the lexical field of knowledge or from the wisdom lexicon. However, the most frequent translation is by σύνεσις and φρόνησις, the only words that are used in the versions of Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus (the last with two exceptions).

A.12 The parallel texts Jer 10:12 and 51:15 are translated differently, respectively with φρόνησις and σύνεσις.

A.13 There is a textual problem in Hos 13:2, where κατ’εἰκόνα εἰδώλων appears for Heb. כִּתְבוּנָם.
The rendering presupposes a Vorlage תַּבְנִית, as a simplification of a lectio difficilior which was not understood (see above Introduction A.2 and Introduction: Text Doubtful B.1).

A.14 There is also a textual problem in Prov 28:16, where the Greek diverges from the MT: the reading προσόδων presupposes תְּבוּאוֹת, ‘revenue’.

A.15 There is also a textual problem in Sir 14:21. Here LXX has ἐν τοῖς ἀποκρύφοις, ‘in her secrets’ for Heb. ובתבונותיה. Taking account of the rendering of Pesh for this passage ܫܒܝܠܐ (šbilā’, see below), Segal (1958:93) maintains that the correct Hebrew reading should be בנתיבותיה, ‘on her paths’ (תבונותיה would be a corruption due to the influence of the previous verse). The Greek should hence have ἀτραποῖς (the translation of נְתִיבוֹת in Job 24:13), which was in its turn the object of textual corruption.

A.16 In Sir 15:15 πίστις presupposes אמונה, a reading which does not fit the context (Segal 1958:96).

b. Aquila (αʹ):

  • φρόνησις, ‘practical wisdom, prudence in government and affairs’: Deut 32:28; Isa 40:14; Pss 48:4; 78:72 (=77:72); Prov 2:11; 18:2.

A.1 The fact that in all the attestations of Aquila which we have תבונה is translated by φρόνησις, unless it is to be attributed to chance, conforms to the desire of this translation to keep close to the original language.

c. Symmachus (σʹ):

  • κρίσις, ‘separating, distinguishing decision, judgement’: Isa 40:14;
  • σύνεσις, ‘faculty of quick comprehension, sagacity’: Ezek 28:4; Ps 48:4; Prov 28:16;
  • φρόνησις, ‘practical wisdom, prudence in government and affairs’: Isa 40:14; Ps 78:72 (=77:72); Prov 2:11;
  • No translation equivalent: Job 32:11.

A.1 In Isa 40:14 two renderings by Symmachus seem to be attested (κρίσις and φρόνησις).

A.2 In Job 32:11 Symmachus has ἐφρονεῖτε.

d. Theodotion (θʹ):

  • σύνεσις, ‘faculty of quick comprehension, sagacity’: Ezek 28:4; Pss 48:4; 78:72 (=77:72); Prov 8:1; Job 32:11;
  • φρόνησις, ‘practical wisdom, prudence in government and affairs’: Isa 40:14; Prov 2:11; 5:1.

e. Peshitta (Pesh):

  • ܒܘܝܢܐ (buyyānāʾ ), ‘understanding, intelligence’: Exod 31:3; 1 Kgs 7:14; Job 12:12, 13;
  • ܚܟܝܡ (ḥakkim), ‘wise, intelligent’: Prov 14:29; 17:27; 20:5;
  • ܚܟܡܬܐ (ḥekmtāʾ ; emp.), ‘wisdom, knowledge; skill’: Ps 136:5; Prov 18:2; Job 26:12;
  • ܡܐܡܪܐ (mēʾmrāʾ ), ‘speech, discourse’: Prov 5:1;
  • ܣܘܟܠܐ (sukkālāʾ ), ‘intelligence, understanding, intellect’: Exod 35:31; 36:1; Dt 32:28; Isa 40:14; 40:28; Jer 51:15; Ezek 28:4; Obad 1:7; Pss 49:4; 78:72; 147:5; Prov 2:2, 3, 6, 11; 3:13, 19; 8:1; 10:23; 21:30; 24:3; Sir 4:24;
  • ܣܟܘܠܬܢܐ (sakkultānāʾ ), ‘understanding, intelligent, prudent, capable’: Obad 1:8; Prov 11:12; 15:21;
  • ܣܟܘܠܬܢܘܬܐ (sakkultānutāʾ ), ‘understanding, intelligence’: 1 Kgs 5:9 (=3 Kgs 4:29); Sir 15:3; 14:20;
  • ܪܥܝܢܐ (re‘yānāʾ ), ‘mind, intellect’: Prov 28:16;
  • ܬܪܥܝܬܐ (tarʿitāʾ ), ‘mind, intelligence’: Jer 10:12;
  • No equivalent: Hos 13:2; Isa 44:19; Prov 19:8; Sir 14:21; 45:5;
  • Unclear: Job 32:11; Sir 44:3;
  • Large omission in text: Sir 15:15; 50:27.

A.1 In the Pesh תבונה is most frequently rendered by ܣܘܟܠܐ (sukkālāʾ ). Also connected to this same lexeme are ܣܟܘܠܬܢܐ (sakkultānāʾ ) and ܣܟܘܠܬܢܘܬܐ (sakkultānutāʾ ).

A.2 In Prov 2:3 ܣܘܟܠܐ (sukkālāʾ ) occurs twice, as the translation both of בינה and of תבונה.

A.3 ܚܟܡܬܐ (ḥekmtāʾ ), ‘sapientia’ is for Brockelmann (LS) an autonomous lexeme vis-à-vis the m. ܚܟܡܬܐ (ḥekmtāʾ ) ‘παιδεία eruditio’. Less correctly Payne Smith 141-142 considers ܚܟܡܬܐ (ḥekmtāʾ ) the emphatic form of ܚܟܡܐ (ḥekmāʾ ), ‘wisdom, counsel’, with a difference of meaning vis-à-vis the absolute.

A.4 In Prov 5:1 the use of ܡܐܡܪܐ (mēʾmrāʾ ) probably depends on the λόγος of the LXX (see above LXX A.4).

A.5 Isa 44:19 has ܐܬܪܥ݂ܝܘ (ʾetra‘‘iu), ‘have thought’. The phrase has been changed in Syriac.

A.6 Prov 19:8 has ܗܝܡܢܘܬܐ (haymānutāʾ ), ‘truth, faithfulness’.

A.7 The adjective ܚܟܝܡ (ḥakkim) translates the syntagms אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה and רַב־תְּבוּנָה.

A.8 Hos 13:2 has ܕܡܘܬܐ (dmutāʾ ), ‘form, shape, figure’; cf. Introduction A.2 and Introduction: Text Doubtful B.1.

A.9 In Sir 14:21 ܫܒܝ̈ܠܐ (šbileʾ ), ‘paths’, occurs (pl. of ܫܒܝܠܐ [šbilāʾ ]), which for Segal (1958:93) represents the correct Hebrew reading (בנתיבותיה); see above LXX A.15.

A.10 In Sir 44:3 the phrase is completely rewritten, but ܣܟܘܠܬܢܘܬܗܘܢ (sakkultānuthon) seems to correspond perfectly to תְּבוּנָה.

A.11 Sir 45:5 has ܒܘܪܟܬܐ (burktāʾ ), ‘blessing’ (in the text in the pl. ܒܘܪ̈ܟܬܐ [burkātāʾ ]).

A.12 Job 32:11 has ܛܠܩ݁ܬܘܢ (ṭalleqton), ‘you have finished’, corresponding to תְּבוּנָה.

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

  • ביונא and ביונתא, ‘understanding’: Prov 2:2K, 3K, 11K; 8:1K; 14:29K; 18:2K; 19:8K; 21:30K; 24:3K; 28:16K; Job 32:11K;
  • בינא and בינתא, ‘understanding’: Job 12:12K, 13K; Ps 49:4K; Prov 2:6K; 3:13K, 19K; 5:1K;
  • דמתביין, ‘who discerns’: Prov 10:23K; 11:12K; 15:21K; 17:27K; 20:5K;
  • סוכלתנו; סוכלתנותא, ‘intelligence, intellect’: Exod 32:3O,PsJ,N 35:31O,PsJ,N; 36:1O,PsJ,N; Deut 32:28O,PsJ,N; 1 Kgs 5:9J; 7:14J; Isa 40:14J, 28J; 44:19J; Jer 10:12J; 51:15J; Ezek 28:14J; Obad 1:7J, 8J; Job 26:12K; Pss 78:72K; 136:5K; 147:5K;
  • מנדעה, ‘knowledge’: Job 26:1211QTgJob;
  • No equivalent: Hos 13:2; Prov 28:16.

A.1 The syntagm אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה is translated as דמתביין hitp. ptc. בין, ‘to reflect upon, to understand’.

A.2 For כדמותהון, ‘according to their image’, in Hos 13:2, cf. Introduction A.2 and Introduction: Text Doubtful B.1.

A.3 In Prov 28:16 the edition of Lagarde has הונא, ‘sense’, while the MS Villa-Amil no.5 of Alfonso de Zamora (Diez Merino 1984) has תובנא (Healey 1991:56).

A.4 The targumic renderings are particularly significant:
a) בינא/בינתא (it could be a loan from the Hebrew to translate תְּבוּנָה and בִּינָה as designations of wisdom instruction) re-echoes the post-exilic substitution of Hebrew בִּינָה for תְּבוּנָה.
b) The other lexeme which replaces תְּבוּנָה in LBH is שֶׂכֶל, cognate of the Aram. סוכלתנו (and the Aramaic could be a contributing factor for that replacement, in addition to other influences internal to the linguistic structure).
c) The exceptional rendering by מנדעה, ‘knowledge’, in 11QTgJob at Job 26:12 should be noted.

g. Vulgate (Vg):

  • disciplina, ‘teaching, instruction, training’: Sir 45:5;
  • intellectus, ‘the faculty of comprehension, understanding, intellect’: Exod 36:1; Ps 78:72 (=77:72);
  • intelligentia, ‘the faculty of comprehension, understanding’: Exod 31:3; 35:1; 1 Kgs 7:14; Job 12:13;
  • prudens, ‘knowing, skilled, experienced’: Prov 11:12; 15:21; 17:27;
  • prudentia, ‘acquaintance with a thing, knowledge, skill’: Deut 32:28; 1 Kgs 5:9 (=3 Kgs 4:29); Isa 40:14; Jer 10:12; Ezek 28:4; Obad 1:7, 8; Pss 49:4 (=48:4); 147:5; Prov 2:2, 3, 6, 11; 3:13, 19; 5:1; 8:1; 10:23; 14:29; 18:2; 19:8; 21:30; 24:3; 28:16; Job 12:12; 26:12; 32:11; Sir 44:3;
  • sapiens, ‘wise, knowing’: Prov 20:5;
  • sapientia, ‘wisdom, good sense, discernment, intelligence’: Isa 40:28; Ps 136:5; Sir 15:3;
  • No equivalent: Isa 44:19; Hos 13:2; Sir 14:21 (=14:23);
  • Unclear: Sir 4:24 (=4:29);
  • Different text: Sir 14:20 (=14:22); 15:15 (=15:16);
  • Omission in text: Sir 50:27.

A.1 The most frequent Latin equivalent is prudentia.

A.2 The syntagm אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה is translated by the adjective prudens (for the most part vir prudens) or sapiens (homo sapiens in Prov 20:5).

A.3 The different treatment reserved for תבונה in Job 12:12-13 in LXX also appears in Vg, where it is translated respectively by prudentia and intelligentia.

A.4 In Isa 44:19 the phrase וְלֹא דַעַת וְלֹא־תְבוּנָה becomes neque cognoscunt neque sentiunt, with the correspondence between the substantive דַעַת and the verb cognoscunt on the one hand and of תְּבוּנָה with the verb sentiunt, ‘to perceive (physically and mentally)’, on the other.

A.5 In Sir 4:24 (=4:29) three Latin words correspond to תבונה (et sensus et scientia et doctrina).

A.6 The translation of תְּבוּנָה by disciplina in Sir 45:5 catches the designative level of the lexeme, which refers to the words taught by the wisdom teacher.

A.7 For the translation quasi similitudinem idolorum in Hos 13:2, cf. above Introduction A.2 and Itroduction: Text Doubtful B.1.

A.8 The translation et in absconsis illius in Sir 14:21 clearly depends on the Greek text; see above LXX A.14.

5. Lexical/Semantic Fields

A.1 In the work on structural semantics (carried out following the methodology elaborated by the Romanian linguist Eugenio Coseriu) which Sciumbata (1996-97) has devoted to the lexical field of the substantives for ‘knowledge’ and to the reciprocal relations and linguistic boundaries between the lexemes in the paradigmatic structure, the semantic specificity of תְּבוּנָה and the history of its diachronic vitality have been precisely identified.
תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, is located at the positive pole of the lexical field and hence enters into polar opposition with פְּתַיּוּת, ‘silliness, lack of knowledge’, תִּפְלָה, ‘senselessness, irrationality’, and כְּסִילוּת, ‘obtuseness’. This last is its exact polar opposite in that it expresses the lack of the mental faculty which is open to knowledge, understood on the theoretical-speculative level, that is to say as information which is possessed or learned. There is not a direct antonymy with פֶּ֫תִי, ‘silliness, lack of education’, insofar as this lexeme belongs to the jargon of the didactic-sapiential strand. As for הוֹלֵלוֹת/הוֹלֵלוּת, ‘insipience, ignorance’, שִׂכְלוּת/סִכְלוּת, ‘stupidity’, סֶכֶל, ‘stupidity’, כֶּסֶל II, ‘obtuseness’, lexemes are involved which Sciumbata maintains are coinages of Qoheleth. He makes a refinement of the language in this domain, to exhibit without ambiguity the central issue implicit in his book, namely the epistemological polemic against the traditional strand of the sapiential movement (cf. Sciumbata 1996). Qohelet achieves this goal by avoiding the lexicon connected with the sapiential current against which he polemizes: these lexemes are not opposed paradigmatically to תְּבוּנָה, because this latter has no living use in post-exilic times.
The positive pole of the lexical field is structured (even if not in all the functional languages) on three dimensions, lexical sub-groups characterised by a common semic feature. The dimensions (theoretical-speculative, pragmatic-behavioural and methodological) represent three ways in which the feature ‘knowledge’ is understood in ancient Hebrew. The theoretical-speculative dimension, a semic feature shared by תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, understands knowledge as a theoretical matter, which can be expressed in the form of information or faculties (thus giving rise to two further lexical sub-divisions: see below). Hence תְּבוּנָה is opposed to the group of lexemes characterised by the feature ‘pragmatic-behavioural dimension’, in which the seme ‘knowledge’ is understood as the possession of a quality which guides one to act (involved are חָכְמָה, ‘wisdom’, שֶׂכֶל, ‘judgement, sense, good sense’, הַשְֹכֵּ(י)ל ‘judgement, sense, good sense’, עָרְמָה, ‘shrewdness’, שֶׂכֶל, ‘wisdom’), and to the group characterised by the feature ‘methodological dimension’, in which knowledge is taken as an aim to reach (for the substantives this dimension is poorly developed and concerns only חֵקֶר, ‘investigation’, a poetic word).
As has been said, within the group of lexemes which belong to the theoretical-speculative dimension there is a further sub-division between those characterised by the feature ‘information’ (חָכְמָה, ‘wisdom (= learning)’, דַּעַת, ‘knowledge’, דֵּעָה, ‘knowledge’, מַדָע, ‘knowledge’, לֶקַח, ‘instruction’) and those characterised by the feature ‘faculties’: among these latter תְּבוּנָה ‘intelligence’ is located. Among the faculties some are understood (‘marked’) by the functions they display and others by the effect which their possession produces: תְּבוּנָה, which is a cognitive faculty of the functional kind, is therefore opposed from this point of view to טַעַם, ‘reason’, and תּוּשִׁיָּה/תֻּשִׁיָּה, ‘acumen, lucidity of thought, farsightedness’. The remaining semes peculiar to the substantive are of being an intellectual faculty which is ‘general’ and ‘of understanding’.
To summarise, תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, indicates the intellectual faculty of man which allows him to understand. Its most immediate antonym, in EBH, is בִּינָה, ‘discernment’ (intellectual faculty of perception and distinction), which, even when it neutralises some of its features by indicating ‘intelligence’ generally retains traces of this identity. If some trials of interchange between תְּבוּנָה and בִּינָה are made in different contexts in EBH, the difference of the semantic intentionality conveyed will quickly be noticed. Only in one case (Prov 2:3, a text which is a true and typical inventory of the sapiential lexicon) do תְּבוּנָה and בִּינָה occur in the same context, effectively as synonyms.
For other lexemes תְּבוּנָה which belong to specialised languages (sub-systems), see below Exegesis.

A.2 In the research developed by Sciumbata 1996-97 the diachronic vitality of תְּבוּנָה is also delineated, on the basis of the following considerations:7
a) תְּבוּנָה has a major distribution in EBH (36 occurrences). Here it appears already in ABH and in the poetic as well as the narrative layers of the language. In LBH there are five attestations, poetic or poetic-sapiential. For the rest, the relatively high frequency in Ben Sira (8x) is counter-balanced by the almost total absence from Qumran Hebrew (1x).
b) In many post-exilic texts the meanings and the constructions of תְּבוּנָה are inherited by בִּינָה and שֶׂכֶל, which occur in the contexts in which EBH would have used תְּבוּנָה.
c) A general late morphological substitution is attested between the taqtul on one side and qi:l/qu:l on the other (fem. forms: cf. Bendavid 1967-71, 2:445, §28). The replacement of תְּבוּנָה by בִּינָה ends by becoming automatic even for quotations (CD 5:17, 4Q504 8 recto 5), and is particularly clear in technical-craft and creation contexts (2 Chron 2:12; Job 38:4; 39:26; 4Q503 51-55 1 3). Among other things, בִּינָה which previously had a poetic character clearly became a more common term in the post-exilic texts.
d) Close examination of the attestations of תְּבוּנָה in LBH gives the following results:

  1. In Job the meanings and the contexts of the four occurrences show that the choice of תְּבוּנָה is due either to the imitation of the terminology of the wisdom groups to which the three friends belong or to a stereotypical cliché in the context of references to creation. A comparison with the diffusion of בִּינָה in the book (9 occurrences) and a careful scrutiny of its meanings and constructions (not attested in EBH, but shared with other post-exilic texts) reveals that the author of the poem has accepted the morphological and semantic substitution between the two terms.
  2. Ps 147:5 is a reminiscence of Isa 40:28. The general context is related to creation which explains the choice of a lexeme which was by now obsolete.
  3. In Sira the frequency of the attestations is explicable by his adherence to the literary genre of Proverbs to which he aspires and by the patina of archaism which the term secures for him. Ben Sira takes great care to avoid the automatic replacement of תְּבוּנָה by בִּינָה, which is encountered in other post-exilic texts, so much so that he seems to commit an error of hypercorrection in 15:15a, where he defines with תְּבוּנָה the legal corpus of Israel which in Deut 4:6 (a text which is equally late) is defined by בִּינָה.
  4. The unique Qumran attestation is in reality a quotation of Jer 10:12 and Ps 136:5.

e) The comparison with Qohelet is illuminating: in contrast to Ben Sira he is in polemic against the didactic and traditionalist groups and in contrast to the author of the poem of Job he does not imitate them even for the sake of a literary stratagem: in his lexicon there is no longer any place for תְּבוּנָה.
f) The comparison with the frequency which the other lexemes of the lexical field have in the Qumran texts compared to the biblical text (in particular בִּינָה and שֶׂכֶל should be observed) excludes the suspicion that the lack of attestations may be due to a lack of thematic opportunity.
g) Only חָכְמָה has less occurrences in the Qumran texts, and in fact it is a matter of another lexeme which loses active life after the exile.
In summary, from the distribution of the occurrences and from the analysis of their character it is concluded that תְּבוּנָה (in all its meanings) belongs to the lexical structure of EBH, where it appears in the narrative register as well as in the poetic one (beginning already in ABH). The two post-exilic authors who use it (the author of the poem of Job and Ben Sira) make a scholarly salvage operation, from among the most frequently occurring lexicon in the wisdom literature, lexicon that is connected to the issues developed by the intellectual tradition, like the problem of knowledge, the ways of obtaining it and its relations with faith in the God of Israel. As for Ps 147:5 and 11Q5 26:14 they are rather some stereotypical clichés on God the creator, which drag תְּבוּנָה behind them, as mnemonic remembrance. The heirs of תְּבוּנָה in LBH are בִּינָה and שֶׂכֶל (and then the translation with בינא, ביונא and סוכלתנו in the Targumim is not by chance).
In the Mishnah there is only a single attestation of תְּבוּנָה: Abot 2:7, where it is probable that the lexeme has been called up by the didactic-sapiential aura of the saying: מרבה ישׁיבה מרבה חכמה מרבה עצה מרבה תבונה, ‘the more schooling the more wisdom, the more counsel the more understanding’ (Danby).

B.1 The Targumim treat תְּבוּנָה and בִּינָה as synonyms. They translate them normally with סוכלתנו and derived forms, while in the wisdom texts (with an implicit recognition of the peculiarity of the meanings which come into play) they have recourse to a loan or calque from Hebrew: ביונא.

B.2 Regarding 1 Kgs 5:9, the statement of Gray (1977:146) turns out to be totally unfounded, when he says that תְּבוּנָה and רֹחַב לֵב (which is a hapax) appear only in late sources, a fact which together with other factors makes him think of a late dating for the passage in question.

6. Exegesis

A.1 The meanings reconstructed for תְּבוּנָה in ancient Hebrew, in the light of the structuration and functioning of the whole lexical field of the substantives for ‘knowledge’, are the following (Sciumbata 1996-97:153-70; 319-22; 394-95): תְּבוּן, ‘ingenuity’: Hos 13:2. It is possible that we are dealing with a dialectal variant of תְּבוּנָה.

  1. תְּבוּנָה1, ‘intelligence’ (intellectual faculty whose function is to allow one to understand). Occurrences: Deut 32:28; 1 Kgs 5:9; Isa 44:19; Obad 1:7, 8; Prov 2:6; 10:23; 11:12; 14:29; 15:21; 17:27; 18:2; 20:5; 21:30; Job 12:13; Sir 4:24A; 44:3B,Mas. The clear-cut distinction of meaning from בִּינָה should be noted, to understand the reasons for lexical choices made by the authors in the various contexts. Thus, in Deut 32:28 (כִּי־גוֹי אֹבַד ‏עֵצוֹת הֵמָּה‏ וְאֵין בָּהֶם תְּבוּנָה, ‘since they are a nation which has lost its sense, and there is not in them any intelligence’) it is not a matter of ‘discernment’ (NJPS, which also translates in this way elsewhere), namely a faculty of perception or distinction, but of the faculty of understanding (what is to be done: cf. also Zorell 887, whose definitions ‘animadversio, attentio... habitus seu virtus animadvertendi animadvertenda’ seem to be misguided by the etymological lens with which the meaning is interpreted).
  2. תְּבוּנָה2, ‘ingenuity, genius’ (mental, creative faculty in handicraft and art: we are dealing with a usage of the specialized language of the technical artisan sector). Occurrences: Exod 31:3; 35:31; 36:1; 1 Kgs 7:14; Isa 40:28; Jer 10:12; Ezek 28:4; Pss 136:5; 147:5; Prov 3:19; Job 26:12; 11Q5 26:14. The artisan-technical linguistic context which is typical of this lexeme is clear in the narrative occurrences in Exodus and Kings. The poetic language of Prophets, Psalms and Proverbs uses it in creation contexts, making a parallel between the artistic genius or cleverness of man and that of God.8 The creation context becomes topical for תְּבוּנָה, to such an extent that it is the principal cause of its recovery in late Hebrew, down to the Qumran texts. In Hos 13:2 the lexeme appears in the masculine תְּבוּן. This technical meaning, even if not recognised as specifically sector-related, is noted by all the lexica (and by the modern translations), though not always in its precise nuance. Schökel speaks of ‘destreza, habilidad, maestría, pericia’ (DBHE, 792); Ringgren 1973:628, ‘Geschicklichkeit im Beruf’ (linking to it Hos 13:2 as well); HAL, 1548, ‘Geschick’.9 An exception is represented by Benno Jacob (1992:842): ‘Bezalel possessed the gift of orignality, a divine inspiration here defined as the ability to visualise and execute’.
    The professional technicalisation of תְּבוּנָה (like other terms too of the lexicon of ‘knowledge’) occurs also in other contexts: song in Chronicles, medicine in Ben Sira.
  3. תְּבוּנָה3, ‘intelligence’ (lexeme of the didactic-wisdom jargon, designating the corpus of instructions and values taught by that tradition). Occurrences: Prov 2:2; 5:1; Sir 14:20A, 21A; 15:3A,B; 15:15A; 45:5B. The reference is to the teachings and the words of the teacher, mostly of an ethical-behavioural kind. In the jargon of the traditionalist sapiential strand many other lexemes of the lexical field of ‘knowledge’ undergo this treatment (the same applies to תְּבוּנָה4 and תְּבוּנָה5), obliterating the semantic peculiarity of each one: the superimposed technical sense is prevalent. The translation by ביונא in the Targumim on the wisdom texts, a term which can be considered as a loan from the Hebrew (see above Ancient Versions: Targum A.4) and which is equally used in the same contexts for בִּינָה, seems to render this technical development which is basically untranslatable.
  4. תְּבוּנָה4, ‘intelligence’ (lexeme of the didactic-wisdom jargon, designating a virtue obtained by training with the teachers of the current, understood to take the place of the natural faculty of man). Occurrences Prov 2:3, 11; 3:13; 19:8; 24:3; Job 12:12. There is here a lack of distinction from בִּינָה with the same meaning.
  5. תְּבוּנָה5, ‘Intelligence’ (name given tout court to the metaphysicalization of the teaching of the didactic-traditional sapiential current; an identical phenomenon happens with חָכְמָה and בִּינָה). Occurrence: Prov 8:1. According to Dahood (1970), the personification of תְּבוּנָה appears also in Ps 136:5. In reality we have repeated the cliché on the creation of the heavens thanks to divine ingenuity/genius.
  6. תְּבוּנָה6, ‘intelligent manifestations, actions, words etc’. The semantic transition of the plural to indicate the effects or the manifestations of the concept expressed by the singular noun occurs also with חָכְמָה and בִּינָה (for this phenomenon, cf. Joüon-Muraoka, GBH, §136g; Fox 1993:152). Occurrences: Pss 49:4; 78:72; Job 32:11; Sir 50:27B.

A.2 Michael Fox has made some attempts at a definition of the meaning of תְּבוּנָה, also in opposition to בִּינָה:

One may have tebunah and do things in tebunah, but tebunah is not an action done to something. (Fox 1993:151)

tebunah designates the pragmatic, applied aspect of thought operating in the field of action; it aims at efficacy and accomplishment. Binah is the conceptual, interpretive activity of thought, operating in the field of meaning; it aims at perception and comprehension. (Fox 1993:152)

A little later he maintains that it is a matter rather of common sense than of the exercise of the intellect. Despite the vagueness and confusion of these statements, Fox’s is one of the few serious attempts to provide descriptions of the meaning of the lexicon of ‘knowledge’ on the linguistic level, without confusing it with a summary of the connections, equivalences and contextual senses. Its explicit attempt to escape from the fetters of contextual descriptions of meaning fails nevertheless for the lack of a rigorous method of linguistic research.

A.3 William McKane (1970) shows a fine semantic sensibility in regard to the lexicon of knowledge. In his reconstruction of the wisdom movement he speaks of the lexicon of ancient wisdom which is resemanticised in the book in a religious sense. Independently of the validity of this reconstruction, the semantic definitions often hit the nail on the head. He describes חָכְמָה and תְּבוּנָה in Chapter 2 of the book as ‘mental virtues of sagacity and penetration, inculcated by an educational process which addressed itself to the right shaping and maturing of intellectual attitudes’ (McKane 1970:281).

B.1 The distinctions made by Rashi between חָכְמָה, תְּבוּנָה, and דַּעַת in the manual contexts of Exodus are of a rationalistic (and in part theological) kind. In the comment on Exod 31:3 regarding תְּבוּנָה he says: מבין דבר מלבו מתוכ דברימ שׁלמד, ‘it would be a matter namely of the capacity to draw conclusions on the basis of learned knowledge’. Umberto Cassuto (1967:402) is located on the same line when he specifies that it is a matter of ‘the capacity to deduce one thing from another and to find a way of solving any problem that may arise in the course of the work’. It is curious that Rashi does not mention in this context the technical use which is made of the three terms, since in the comment in Prov 3:19 he recognises the agreement between the three faculties which God uses there and those of Bezalel in Exodus and of Hiram in 1 Kgs 7:14.

B.2 BDB treats many of the words of the lexical field according to an identical scheme. For תְּבוּנָה (and בִּינָה) it distinguishes three applications (BDB, 108): 1) the act; 2) the faculty; 3) the object of knowledge. A fourth meaning is given, with the personification of the term (cf. also Gordis 1978 on Job 32:11). This division does not grasp, except partially, the real lexematic articulation of תְּבוּנָה.

B.3 HAL, 1548, limits itself to the provision of ‘glosses’ or ‘labels’ in the German language (‘Einsicht, Klugheit, Geschick’), which turn out to be rather vague and do not allow the identification of the specific semantic content of the lexeme with respect to other ‘synonyms’.

B.4 Zorell, ‘animadversio, attentio, habitus seu virtus animadvertendi animadvertenda, prudentia, intelligentia’ (887), seems to have been carried off course in his definitions by the attempt to describe the meaning according to the etymological perspective.

B.5 It is a practice of many commentators and lexicographers to speak of a connection with wisdom thought (see as a representative Ringgren 1973:628). In reality תְּבוּנָה (like the other terms of its lexical field) belongs to the everyday language (Whybray 1974; Fox 1993; Sciumbata 1996-97 and 1999) and only for thematic reasons does it recur in the so-called wisdom texts. If in certain circles the practice was established of defining with the lexemes of the lexical field of ‘knowledge’ a given corpus of teaching, the contents of this corpus cannot be identified tout court with its linguistic meaning.

7. Conclusions

In the semantic reconstruction provided by Sciumbata 1996-97, it is concluded that תְּבוּנָה, in all its meanings (see Exegesis A.1), belongs to the vocabulary of pre-exilic Hebrew, where it appears in the narrative register as well as in poetry. The post-exilic occurrences are due to the recovery (polemical in Job, from imitation in Ben Sira) of the didactic-wisdom terminology, or to stereotypical clichés related to creation. The reasons for the decline of תְּבוּנָה in late Hebrew are to be seen in the morphological replacement of the pattern taqtul on the one hand by qi:l/qu:l on the other. Its uses and its semantic content are taken up in LBH by בִּינָה and שֶׂכֶל.

A.2 תְּבוּנָה, ‘intelligence’, and בִּינָה, ‘discernment, intelligence’, are not interchangeable synonyms. Apart from a different viewpoint on the semantic information which they transmit they are distinguished by their different distribution: בִּינָה is in standard Hebrew a poetic term, and only in the post-exilic period does it descend into the language of prose.


For the abbreviations see the List of Abbreviations.

Bendavid 1967-71
Abba Bendavid, Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew, 2 vols., Tel Aviv: Dvir (Hebrew).
Bewer 1911
Julius A. Bewer, Obadiah and Joel, in J. M. Powis Smith, William H. Ward and J.A. Bewer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah and Joel (ICC), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Briggs and Briggs 1906-07
Charles A. Briggs and Emilie G. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 2 vols. (ICC), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Cassuto 1967
Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Jerusalem: Magnes.
Cathcart and Gordon 1989
Kevin J. Cathcart and Robert P. Gordon, The Targum of the Minor Prophets: Translated with a Critical Introduction, Apparatus and Notes (ArBib, 14), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Dahood 1965
Mitchell Dahood, Psalms 1-50: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB, 16), Garden City: Doubleday.
Dahood 1970
Mitchell Dahood, Psalms 101-150: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB, 17), Garden City: Doubleday.
Diez Merino 1984
Luis Diez Merino, Targum de Proverbios: Edición Príncipe del Ms. Villa-Amil no. 5 de Alfonso de Zamora, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Instituto ‘Francisco Suárez’.
Fox 1993
Michael V. Fox, ‘Words for Wisdom: תבונה and בינה; ערמה and מזמה; עצה and תושיה’, ZAH 6:149-69.
Gordis 1978
Robert Gordis, The Book of Job: Commentary, New Translation and Special Studies, New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Harper 1905
William R. Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea (ICC), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Healey 1991
John F. Healey, ‘The Targum of Proverbs: Translated, with a Critical Introduction, Apparatus and Notes’, in Céline Mangan, John F. Healey, and Peter S. Knobel, The Targums of Job, Proverbs, and Qohelet (ArBib, 15), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Hurvitz 1982
Avi Hurvitz, A Linguistic Study of the Relationship between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel: A New Approach to an Old Problem, Paris: Gabalda.
Hurvitz 1995
Avi Hurvitz, ‘Continuity and Innovation in Biblical Hebrew: The Case of “Semantic Change” in Post-Exilic Writings’, in Takamitsu Muraoka (ed.), Studies in Ancient Hebrew Semantics, Leuven: Peeters, 1-10.
Jacob 1992
Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus, Hoboken, NJ: Ktav.
McKane 1970
William McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach (OTL), London: SCM.
Ringgren 1973
Helmer Ringgren, ‘בִּין, בִּינָה, תְּבוּנָה’, ThWAT 1:621-29.
Rudolph 1966
Wilhelm K. F. Rudolph, Hosea (KAT, XIII/1), Gutersloh: Mohn.
Sanders 1965
James A. Sanders (ed.), The Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11 (11QPsa) (DJD, IV), Oxford: Clarendon.
Sciumbata 1996
M. Patrizia Sciumbata, ‘Peculiarità e motivazioni della struttura lessicale dei verbi della “conoscenza” in Qohelet: Abbozzo di una storia dell’epistemologia ebraico-biblica’, Henoch 18:235-49.
Sciumbata 1996-97
M. Patrizia Sciumbata, Il campo lessicale dei sostantivi della “conoscenza” in ebraico antico, Università degli Studi di Firenze, doctoral thesis.
Sciumbata 1999
M. Patrizia Sciumbata, ‘Dalla linguistica alla storia della cultura: La natura, l’organizzazione e lo sviluppo diacronico del campo lessicale dei sostantivi della “conoscenza” in ebraico antico e il loro significato per la comprensione degli scenari intellettuali dell’antico Israele’, Materia giudaica 6:2-8.
Segal 1958
Moshe Ts. Segal, ספר בן סירא השלם כולל כל השרידים העבריים שנתגלו מתוך הגניזה והחזרת הקטעים החסרים, עם מבוא, פירוש ומפתחות, 2nd ed., Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik.
Stec 1994
David M. Stec, The Text of the Targum of Job: An Introduction and Critical Edition (AGJU, 20), Leiden: Brill.
Whybray 1974
Robert N. Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament (BZAW, 135), Berlin: de Gruyter.


Functional Languages of Ancient Hebrew (1998; revised 2001)
ABH Archaic Biblical Hebrew Gen 49:3-27; Exod 15:1-19; Num 22:2-24:25; Deut 32; 33; Judg 5; 1 Sam 2:1-10; Ps 68
EBH1 Historical-Narrative Language Torah (except ABH and EBH4); Former Prophets; Ruth; Inscriptions (first half of the first millennium)
EBH2 Poetical Language 2 Kgs 19:21-35; 2 Sam 22:1-23:7; Classical Prophecy; Lam; Prov; Pss (except post-exilic ones); [Jer, Ezek and Lam are chronologically exilic, whereas Hag, Zech, Mal, Joel, Isa 40-66 and probably Prov 1-9, 30-31 are chronologically post-exilic; however these sections are considered typologically pre-exilic]
EBH3 Language of Hosea Hosea
EBH4 Juridical-Cultic Language Exod 20:1-17; 20:22-23:33; 34:10-26; Lev; Deut 5:6-21; 12-26; 27:14-26 (Ezek, whose language is at the same time poetic and of juridical-cultic type, can be considered in this section)
LBH1 Historical-Narrative Language Jonah; Job 1-2; 42:7-17; Qoh; Est; Dn; Ezra; Neh; 1-2 Chr; inscriptions of the second half of the first millennium
LBH2 Poetical Language Cant; Pss 103; 117; 119; 124; 125; 133; 144; 145; doxologies 41:14; 72:19-20; 106:47-48; disputed: Pss 104, 106, 107, 109, 111, 112, 113, 116, 126, 135, 137, 143, 146, 147, 148
LBH3 Language of Job Poetry of Job
BSH Late Hebrew of Ben Sira Ben Sira
QH1 Language of the exegetical and para-biblical literature at Qumran Pešarim, Paraphrases, Apocrypha
QH2 Qumranic Poetical Language Apocryphal Psalms; Hodayot; 1QS X:1-XI:22; 1QM X:8-XII:18; XIII:2b-18; XIV:4b-18; XV:7b-XVI:1; XVI:15-XVII:9; XVIII:6b-XIX:8; Hymns and Sapiential Works; Blessings; Curses; Liturgical Works
QH3 Qumranic Juridical-Cultic Language Rules; Liturgical-Ritual Works; Halakhic Texts; War Scroll; Temple Scroll; Damascus Document; Rules of the Community etc.


  • Translated from Italian by Graham I. Davies. The section on the Peshitta benefited from the collaboration of Giovanni Lenzi, a Syriac specialist and a monk of the Piccola Famiglia dell’Annunziata.

  1. Cf. BHS; HAL, 1549; Harper 1905:395; Cathcart and Gordon 1989:58. 

  2. Mandelkern erroneously gives the ו for Job 32:11 in his concordance. 

  3. For the functional languages, see Sciumbata 1996-97:153-54; and the Appendix above. 

  4. Cf. Fox 1993:51, who discerns a reflexive meaning in the lexeme. 

  5. Joüon-Muraoka, GBH, §125d; BDB, 108. 

  6. Absent in HRCS1 and noted in HRCS2

  7. Sciumbata applied the dating criteria for linguistic phenomena defined by Avi Hurvitz; cf. Hurvitz 1982 and 1995. 

  8. Already the Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 55a, made a connection between the three gifts made by God to Bezalel and the same three qualities which according to Prov 3:19-20 God displayed at the moment of creation; see also Rashi on Prov 3:19. 

  9. Whybray (1974) seems undecided: on p 138 he speaks of ‘manual skill’, while on p 139 of ‘creative skill such as that of an artificer’. 

Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database