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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Words to Your Mother: סלה (selah)

סלה: The pause that refreshes.

In the heading of the article, Wikipedia refers to the Biblical Hebrew word סלה (transliterated as selah or çelâh) as meaning "stop and listen", a term that stresses the importance of the preceding passage. However (as the rest of the article makes clear), this is something of an oversimplification.

The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible refers to çelâh (Hebrew word #5542) as a "suspension (of music), i.e. pause". Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words believes that selah is connected with sālāl (meaning "to lift up"): The instruments would be lifted up to increase their sound while voices were kept silent. Alternatively, it mentions the possibility that selah is connected with shālāh (to rest), but Vine's seems far less confident of that connection. Vine's final word is that selah effectively says "This being so, give heed to what is now to be said", effectively connecting what precedes with what follows, stressing both.

Insight on the Scriptures (volume two) somewhat more bluntly admits that "although it is generally thought to be a technical term for music or recitation, its exact significance is unknown". However, it suggests the meaning of a "pause, suspension, or holding back", saying that "the pause was doubtless used to make the fact or sentiment just expressed more impressive, to allow the full import of the last utterance to sink in".

Hebrew is written from right-to-left, so (if your browser is rendering this properly), the letters should be read in that direction. Character by character, the letters are:

ס: Tameka's

ל: La'medh

ה: He'

Depending on your browser, you may notice an odd effect when you drag your mouse over the text: The English part highlights from left-to-right, but then the highlighting jumps to the right side of the Hebrew text, at which point it begins moving to the left.  Once you highlight past the Hebrew text, the highlighting should appear continuous.  Go ahead and give it a shot.

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