When the ocean springs burst forth: Some quick notes on the Hebrew terminology

When the ocean springs burst forth: Some quick notes on the Hebrew terminology


בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה נִבְקְעוּ֙ כָּֽל־מַעְיְנֹת֙ תְּה֣וֹם רַבָּ֔ה

On this very day, all the springs of the great deep burst forth. (Gen 7:11)

Even before the Flood account speaks of waters from heaven, it mentions these waters that came from “the great deep.” But this brings up a load of questions:

  • What are these “springs”?
  • What does it mean that they “burst forth” (NIV), or “burst open” (NAS), or “were broken up” (NKJV)?
  • What is the “great deep”? Does that refer to the whole oceans, or rather to some kind of subterranean waters (or aqueducts, etc)?
  • Why does it speak of all the “springs of the great deep” (bursting forth)?

I’m not trying to answer all these important questions, so this will have to serve as the limit of my prose take on these matters. For this post I’m just putting forth some notes on some of these key terms.

But actually, for context, let me first quickly give my current thinking on these matters, as it should help to explain the direction I’m taking in terms of focus with some of the notes below:

My current understanding: The oceans burst forth onto the dry land

That may seem like a boring take compared to some other options, but in any case:

  1. Least controversial here and so not my focus in these notes: There are good reasons to take “the great deep” (tehom rabbah) to be referring to the ocean depths, that is, to the seas. I am not saying that excludes other possibilities, but this one should not be excluded by any means. Particularly with the modifier ‘great’; there is indeed no greater body of water than the major oceans of the earth, and the ancients of course knew this. It also seems they did not often do deep ocean shipping, but rather their ships would more often than not skirt not too far off the coasts if they could help it (I think that is true anyways). Speaking of the tehom and in particular of the great tehom may have been a way to in particular focus on the greatest (and for them I think: mysterious) greater ocean depths.

  2. Hebraic or overall Semitic ‘spring’ language is not necessarily what we are used to, and in particular: ‘springs’ (mayan / mayanot) may come to refer to any water source that originates somewhere and causes a continuous gush or flow of waters from that source, without having to necessarily match the limited sense we are used to when we hear the words “spring” or “well.” More often than not our limited sense does match theirs (particularly with tens of named ‘springs’ in Scripture), but there are cases where a rushing river (better: nahal / wadi, or roughly speaking, a seasonal ‘river’) can be described in part with the word ‘mayan’ or spring. In these cases, it does not necessarily have to be specified where exactly those waters ultimately originated.

  3. Such “springs” don’t necessarily have to be well defined with regards to what their “source” actually is, or what underlying mechanism caused them to gush forth. That has often been our focus, and I believe many of our popular suggestions certainly have biblical support that can fit them as well (such as subterranean notions).

  4. That baka’, while certainly able to support the “break up” ideas, can also be used simply as a way of saying a water source burst forth. This may even be idiomatic. Like a river torrent that gushes forth onto the land. To be clear, there are still may cases where baka’ is used where for instance a rock actually did split or break up, which caused a gush of water. But I am claiming sometimes that break up aspect is never in view. What’s more, outside of water flow scenarios, there are other uses of this word where not literal “breaking up” is every possible, i.e. where it clearly only speaks of something bursting forth powerfully (like light, or a rush of men into battle).

As found by morph search in LBH on נטה lemma (), then under Analysis tab, grouped by “Sense,” which value I think was set by the Bible Sense Lexicon



  • to extend (thrust out): 35
  • to stretch out (28)
  • to incline (ear) (26)
  • to be stretched out (25)
  • to incline (14)
  • to pitch / spread out (13)
  • to deviate (13)
  • to turn (10)
  • to pervert (8)
  • to extend (make available) (5)
  • to outstretched (4)
  • to mislead (deceive) (4)
  • to cause turn away (4)
  • to support (political) (3)
  • to lead (guide) (3)
  • to be spread out (3)
  • to lead astray (2)
  • to cause to turn away (2)
  • to bend (an object) (2)
  • - (2)
  • to run (extend) (1)
  • to plot (1)
  • to lie (bodily position) (1)
  • to hurl (1)
  • to guide (course) (1)
  • to bow (1)
  • to bend (1)
  • to be extended (1)

Natah occurrences spread per biblical book.

Incline Tent: 13

LHB: “to pitch <=> spread out”: 13

וַיַּעְתֵּ֨ק מִשָּׁ֜ם הָהָ֗רָה מִקֶּ֛דֶם לְבֵֽית־אֵ֖ל וַיֵּ֣ט אָהֳלֹ֑ה בֵּֽית־אֵ֤ל

  • Gen 12:8, preceded וַיַּעְתֵּ֨ק: וַיַּעְתֵּ֨ק מִשָּׁ֜ם הָהָ֗רָה מִקֶּ֛דֶם לְבֵֽית־אֵ֖ל וַיֵּ֣ט אָהֳלֹ֑ה בֵּֽית־אֵ֤ל

Measuring line: קו