I’ve been taking a Hebrew Aleph-Bet Class lately (did you know the word “alphabet” derives from Hebrew?), and it’s been really fun. I’ve learned about six letters now and wanted to pass on a story about the letter tav from last week’s lesson:
Tav is the /t/ sound* and means “mark”, “check mark” or “owner’s mark”. Each Hebrew character comes from the drawing of a physical object that uses the given sound, so that’s why /t/ is represented with a tav, which besides being a letter is also a separate noun.
To the Phoneticians the check mark used to look something like this: x
Over time, it changed to something like this: +
And in Hebrew the letter has continued to change. A tav now looks like: ?
Back to the +, you may recognize that the English t is also very similar to this, as is the symbol of the cross. Our t did evolve from this letter (having come first through other languages like Greek and Latin) and has the same sound.
In the Bible, there are only two instances where the word tav (which, remember, means “mark”) is used**. They are both in Ezekiel 9 and it just so happens that at this time, the letter would have looked like: +. In Ezekiel 8, people are doing some really really detestable things, and God has decided to destroy them. But, God is just and He decides to put a mark (a tav) on the people who do not like the evil in their midst. These people are saved by the tav on their foreheads:
Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. The Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.” So they started with the elders who were before the temple. (Ezekiel 9:3-6)
How cool is it that the symbol used to mark those found righteous in this passage happens to look like a cross?! I’d say it’s very cool!
*it can also be a /?/ or /s/ sound
**Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance only lists two usages of this word (#8420). There are several other places where the English word “mark” is used, although they have different meanings and usages.