Betzalel and the Tree of Knowledge: A Lesson in Biblical Translation and Biblical Etymology (Part 3)

Today is our last post in the three part series about the special qualities Betzalel the chief artisan of the Tabernacle and its vessels received from God when He appointed him for this divine mission as recorded in Exodus 31:3.

The last of the three qualities listed is KNOWLEDGE and the word is “Da’at” in the original Hebrew. So how do the different Bible translations translate this word and what is the actual meaning of this fascinating Hebrew word?

In the old Latin translation, this word was translated as ‘scientia’ and this is the origin of the English word ‘science.’ But, the original Latin meaning of this word is actually ‘knowledge’ and not ‘science’ as we know it today. Interestingly, in Hebrew both the word for ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ share the same root Y-D-A and so does the Hebrew word for ‘information’ (‘May’da’).

Some of you may recognize this Latin word -‘scientia’ – because of its appearance in the well-known Latin phrase ‘Scientia potentia est’ which means in English ‘knowledge is power’ – which is actually derived from King James translation of Proverbs 24:5 (“A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.”)

The original Hebrew for ‘a man of knowledge’ is ‘Ish Da’at’ – exactly the same Hebrew word as the quality we are discussing now. But the verse in Proverbs is not the only place this Hebrew word appears in the Bible.

In fact, if you were to ask a native Hebrew speaker where in the Bible the word ‘Da’at’ appears, he or she would probably reply: “Be-sefer Be’reshit!” (Hebrew for “in the book of Genesis!”). Most native Hebrew speakers would say that it would be found in the story of the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ or in Hebrew ‘Etz Ha-da’at Tov Va-ra’.

And now we can understand what the Bible really means when mentioning the quality of ‘knowledge’ – we are not talking here of simply knowing things but rather the ability ‘to know the difference between Good and Evil’ and that explains the importance of God’s gift to Betzalel:
“And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” (Exodus 31:3)