In Biblical Hebrew, some letters of the alphabet can be swapped, i. e. replaced by phonetically close letters.
For example, the ninth letter, Teth, ט, corresponds to the t of the Latin alphabet. Teth means « snake » because of its shape. This letter can be switched with the sibilant ז (z) or צ (ts), and with the letter Taw, ת (th), which is the 22nd and last letter of the alphabet, and which means « writing sign ».
Permutation allows word games, which then generate other word games, giving rise to new meanings or altering those already known.
Let’s give an example.
The word תֵּבֵב, tevah, means « box », but also « ark ».
Noah built a tevah out of gopher wood (Gen 6:14).
And it was in a rush tevah that Moses, a newborn child, was placed (Ex. 2:3).
With the letter צ (ts), tevah gives tsavah, צָבָה, « to gather to fight », and again « to swell up ».
Noah’s Ark, by a slight shift of meaning, can thus embody a general assembly of the life forces fighting the flood. It also evokes a kind of belly that swells, as living beings destined to be saved penetrate into it…
By switching with the letters ז (z) and ט (t) things get tricky. The verb טָבַח tavaha has the meaning « to sacrifice, to kill cattle ». The word טַבָּח tabah means « the one who kills ». The verb זָבַח, zavaha, means « to cut, immolate, sacrifice » and the word זָבַח tavah: « victim, sacrifice ».
By simple permutation, the ark then evokes a huge oblation. We know now that this whole noachical affair turned out well. But the ark could have been shipwrecked. It would have been a disaster, the ultimate sacrifice: all the eggs of life in the same wooden basket.
We can also cut the last and weak letter of the word, ה. Then we get טָב, tav, « good », as in טָבְ אֵל « God is good ».
A rich assortment of meanings, convergent or contrary, through the magic of permutations. Language conducive to innuendoes, or even misunderstandings, depending on the attention, acuity available.
In Latin, it is the word arca that is supposed to translate tevah, and which gave in French « arche ». Arca means first of all « chest, wardrobe ». Hence the adjective arcanus, « hidden, secret », and the name arcanum, « secret », which is found with the French « arcane ».
Arca also means « coffin, prison, cell, cistern, tank ». But, strangely enough, it never means « ark ».
Arca refers to the verb arceo, « to contain, to confine, to retain ». But also: « to keep away, to divert, to spread ». This double meaning can well apply to Noah’s Ark.
Coerceo means « to contain, to repress ». Exerceo: « to tame, to exercise ». The adjective arctus, « locked, tightened, tightened » is part of the same family as is the verb arto, « tighten, press, reduce ».
« The world encloses (coercet) and encloses everything with its embrace (complexus) » said Ciceroi. Complexus is embracing, kissing, embracing. This word means ‘struggle’ as well as ‘love’, the hand-to-hand combat and the carnal embrace.
For anyone interested in the mysteries of the world, it is useful to start with the words that carry them, hide them and transport them.
These words are also like an arch, an arch of meaning, floating and precarious, through the flood of nonsense, or sometimes, a prison or a tomb.
To translate Tevah, the Septuagint translators chose to take a Greek word borrowed itself from Egyptian. They translated tevah by the word κιϐωτός, « cash register, box ». This word refers to κιϐώριον: « water lily flower », but also « cup », and even « tomb ». The word « ciborium » comes from there.
The word chosen by the Septuagint to embody both Noah’s Ark, the cradle of Moses and the Ark of the Covenant, then comes from a very ancient botanical and religious metaphor, the lotus flower (the « Egyptian water lily »).
The seeds of the sacred lotus hold the record for longevity (dormancy). A team of researchers successfully germinated a seed about 1,300 years old from the dry bed of an ancient lake in China.
Some words also germinate long after their dormancy.
In ancient Egypt (3500 BC), the lotus was a symbol of the creation of the world and an allegory of rebirth after death. The lotus flower was worthy to be offered to the God who had overcome death, Osiris.
In India, and also in China, the lotus is considered worthy of offering to the gods.
The lotus grows in the mud, which feeds it. It does not float on the water like the water lily, it emerges clearly out of the water. That is why it is an allegory of the resurrection.
The tevah floats on the flood. The lotus stands really above the water.
Times are changing. We now need a new Noah, and a new ark. This new ark will not just be a tevah (i.e. a big box). It will not just help a (very limited) subset of mankind to « float » in order to survive, like the old Noah’s Ark did.
This new ark will be more like a lotus, and it will help raise all of mankind above the water, like a wind of God did, a long time ago…
i « Mundus omnia complexu suo coercet et continet » (Nat. 2, 48).