Hills Mountains

The original question was:
In Genesis 7 God first refers to the high hills being covered, and then to the mountains being covered. Do high hills and mountains have the same meaning in this context?

Answer by John Mackay

The King James Version of Genesis 7:19-20 reads:
Verse 19: And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
Verse 20: Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Checking the Hebrew for “hills” and “mountains” in verses 19 and 20 shows the same word ‘har’ is used for both. Checking on har in a Hebrew dictionary such as Strong’s shows this word has been given Strong’s reference number 2022. The most famous occurrence of this word is in Har Mageddon often pronounced with a silent H so you hear Armageddon referring to the final battle at Mt Megiddo, referred to in Revelation 16:16. Har is a reference to a significant hill or mountain.

The usage range of har is similar to our use in English where a hill becomes a mountain when it passes 1,000 feet, but the 1,000 feet is our arbitrary definition.  See the movie The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain for a funny view of racial conflict caused between the English and the Welsh by the widespread but artificial definition of when a hill becomes a mountain.

In this case word usage follows the pattern set by KJV translators whose ‘rule’ was to aim for a more beautiful sound flow by avoiding the use of the same word twice if it was possible. English can become boring when you try to make it technically precise by repeating identical words. Yet when verbal alternatives are valid and available which fit the context i.e. high hill/mountain, every listener appreciates the interest retaining word flow while not missing any needed information. Good speakers will always use this rule.

Some modern translations of these verses render the Hebrew word har as “mountain” in both verses.

One more item: As in English you also see variants in the translation spelling so Horeb is the same as Hareb. And to say Mt Horeb is technically unnecessary but history of usage wins the victory in all languages. A good example in English to show this is the name of River Avon. One of those words is redundant. Listen to the background tale: When the conquering Romans asked the Gaels what this river was they replied Avon, but river is a Roman word and Avon is the Gaelic word for river, as it seems the Gaels thought the Romans didn’t know what the thing with running water was so they old them.  Now we say River Avon when what is really being said is River River.  Funny, eh?

The best one I have come across is in Scotland, and is called by the original Gaelic speaking Scots an Uamh-Binn, by the late arrived English a “cave”, and by the raiders and cave hiders from centuries ago, the Vikings, a “smoo”. So for those who like words you can tag it Uamh smoo cave – literally cave cave cave, i.e. same word in three languages and you can appreciate the how effective what God did at Babel really was.

For more information see the question:
NOAH’S FLOOD OR CREATION? What is Psalm 104 about? Answer here.

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About The Contributor

John Mackay