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Related to Are there any jokes in the torah?, what puns exist in Tanach?

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Close and merge into the other? Every possible answer here can be an answer there also (though not vice versa). (See also meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/959) – msh210 Oct 24 '12 at 4:11
I think the types of humor are distinct enough for separate questions, but I won’t object if others disagree & want to merge. – J. C. Salomon Oct 24 '12 at 17:20
up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Ibn Ezra, in his commentary to Bereishis 2:25, gives the following examples:

Bereishis 2:25-3:1:

כה וַיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם עֲרוּמִּים, הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ; וְלֹא, יִתְבֹּשָׁשׁוּ.

א וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן.

One means "naked," and one means "cunning."

Shoftim 15:16:

טז וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְשׁוֹן--בִּלְחִי הַחֲמוֹר, חֲמוֹר חֲמֹרָתָיִם; בִּלְחִי הַחֲמוֹר, הִכֵּיתִי אֶלֶף אִישׁ.

One means "donkey," and one means "many heaps."


ד וַיְהִי-לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים בָּנִים, רֹכְבִים עַל-שְׁלֹשִׁים עֲיָרִים, וּשְׁלֹשִׁים עֲיָרִים, לָהֶם; לָהֶם יִקְרְאוּ חַוֹּת יָאִיר, עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּאֶרֶץ הַגִּלְעָד.

One means "donkeys" and one means "cities."

He also asserts in his commentary to Shemos 22:5 that this is another example of a pun:

ד כִּי יַבְעֶר־אִישׁ שָׂדֶה אוֹ־כֶרֶם וְשִׁלַּח אֶת־בְּעִירֹה וּבִעֵר בִּשְׂדֵה אַחֵר מֵיטַב שָׂדֵהוּ וּמֵיטַב כַּרְמוֹ יְשַׁלֵּֽם׃
ה כִּֽי־תֵצֵא אֵשׁ וּמָֽצְאָה קֹצִים וְנֶֽאֱכַל גָּדִישׁ אוֹ הַקָּמָה אוֹ הַשָּׂדֶה שַׁלֵּם יְשַׁלֵּם הַמַּבְעִר אֶת־הַבְּעֵרָֽה׃

In the first verse, they all are related to the word "animal," while in the second it refers to fire.

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Nice! I can’t believe I completely forgot about ‘arum in Bereishis. – J. C. Salomon Oct 24 '12 at 1:41

This article, by Professor Gary Rendsburg of Cornell University, provides a number of examples of puns (some of them bilingual) from throughout Tanakh. As you can see from the final page, it is an article within a collection that deals explicitly with this issue.

My personal favourite from the ones that he cites, and he cites many, is a Hebrew/Greek bilingual pun in Proverbs 31:27. Rather than say צופה הליכות ביתה ("she watches over the ways of her household"), a more unusual form of the verb, צופיה, is used, and one which allows the author to pun on the Greek word for wisdom (sofia).

Most importantly, the article is replete with references to other texts (many of them by the same author, though not all of them), which explore other more specific examples of biblical Hebrew wordplay.

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For those wondering, the word σοφίης (~sophias) shows up in the Iliad 15:412, which is (roughly, +-200 years) around the time of Shlomo. So it isn't at all unreasonable that he would know the word. – Double AA Feb 5 '13 at 6:21

Moshe rabbeinu made a couple, according to Rashi:

Shmos 32:18 וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת גְּבוּרָה, וְאֵין קוֹל, עֲנוֹת חֲלוּשָׁה; קוֹל עַנּוֹת, אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ.

(The dagesh on עַנּוֹת drives the point home.)

Bamidbar 21:9 וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת Which, according to Rashi, was a bit of a pun.

Yeshaya 5:7 וַיְקַו לְמִשְׁפָּט וְהִנֵּה מִשְׂפָּח, לִצְדָקָה וְהִנֵּה צְעָקָה. Rashi explains מִשְׁפָּט/מִשְׂפָּח and צְדָקָה/צְעָקָה are used because they sound similar.

I've always been enamored with Bamidbar 19:17: וְנָתַן עָלָיו מַיִם חַיִּים, אֶל-כֶּלִי. I'm waiting to be at a meal with a person name Kelly, who asks someone (not next to her) to pass the Mayim Chaim (brand of soda pop). When the person passes it over the man sitting next to Kelly, he will place it on his head, reciting this verse.

I also like Bamidbar 22:30 הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר-רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

I hear it as "Hello?! Am i not your donkey?! ..." This works for any הֲלוֹא, but i like that one best.

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I think you are thinking of 5:7 – Double AA Jul 9 '14 at 17:01
@DoubleAA Yes, that was it. It also explains why i was confused. I wasn't sure if the pun was צְדָקָה/צְעָקָה or not. Well, there are two puns in there, hence my confusion. I updated my post. Thank you! – please delete me Jul 9 '14 at 18:30

Here are two of my favorite:

Bamidbar 24:10–11: והנה ברכת ברך זה שלש פעמים׃ ועתה ברח־לך אל־מקומך; you have continually blessed (barekh) them three times. Now flee (b’raḥ) to your place.

Devarim 11:16–17: ועבדתם אלהים אחרים … ואבדתם מהרה; lest you serve (va‘avadtem) strange gods … you will quickly be banished (va’avadtem).

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These are only puns for people who don't pronounce Hebrew properly. The original speakers of those lines as well as the first readers of the text were certainly not in that category. – Double AA Oct 23 '12 at 19:58
Puns exist when pronunciations are similar, not only when they’re identical. – J. C. Salomon Oct 23 '12 at 20:19
True, but I think our notion of what sounds are similar may be somewhat skewed. ח is probably much closer to ה than to כ. – Double AA Oct 23 '12 at 20:42
Note that ח and כ are classically considered to be pronounced by different parts of the mouth (unlike e.g. ע and א). Anyway, any evidence these were intended as puns? – msh210 Oct 24 '12 at 2:31
Although I think the definition of pun here is being loosely applied. It's more style than pun. I think. – Seth J Feb 27 '14 at 13:22

What of Bereishit 29:10 and 11?
וַיַּשְׁקְ, אֶת-צֹאן לָבָן אֲחִי אִמּוֹ. וַיִּשַּׁק יַעֲקֹב, לְרָחֵל And he watered the sheep of Lavan, his uncle. And Jacob kissed Rachel

The verbs here are very similar (only the vowels change). This makes it both a pun and a trap for bad baalei kriah.

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This reminds me of the almond/diligent play on words in Jeremiah 1:11/12. – A Blue Thread Feb 6 '13 at 0:28
This is similar to Esther 2:6, where the word הגלה appears three times, each with a different pronunciation. – Ypnypn Feb 6 '14 at 22:03
Any evidence these were intended as puns? – msh210 Feb 26 '14 at 18:35

I'm wondering if אברהם gave 7 sheep to אבימלך as witness that the wells belong to אברהם (Breishis 21:30), and then אברהם and אבימלך swore their treaty, and באר שבע is named because of the swearing (שבועה). I wonder if אברהם picked 7 animals because the word שבע with a סגול sounds like שבע with a פתח, and it's just a play on words.

Also ובן משק ביתי הוא דמשק אליעזר (Breishis 15:2). Depending on how you translate the words בן משק and דמשק, if they aren't related on a pshat level, but are put together because they sound similar, that may be a play on words.

Edit: I thought of another possibility. יצחק is named so because of the laughing of אברהם and שרה, which are different but share the meaning "laughing". Then שרה says "שחוק עשה לי", a different type of laughter. Then ישעמאל is מצחק - something that is also a very different type of laughter.

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See R' S. R. Hirsch on the meaning of שבע, and why the word is used for “seven” and “oath”; he relates this homonym to the word אלה, which also means “oath” but is more obviously related to אל, “God”. To Rav Hirsch, your first example is symbolism, not a pun. – J. C. Salomon Feb 10 '14 at 0:05

Ex 13:14 ויהי בשלח פרעה את העם ולא נחם אלהים דרך ארץ פלשתים כי קרוב הוא כי אמר אלהים פן ינחם העם בראתם מלחמה ושבו מצרימה

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Any evidence this was intended as a pun? – msh210 Feb 26 '14 at 18:35

Are not the names of most of Jacob's sons technically puns?

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What brothers? Any evidence their names were intended as puns? – msh210 Feb 26 '14 at 18:33
How about Reuben? רָאָה יְהֹוָה בְּעָנְיִי so I'm going to call him רָאָבְּנְ. Its the same sort of pun as "who's that making noise under those leaves? It's Russel! – Clint Eastwood Feb 26 '14 at 18:38
@Clint In your example about Russell there is no Russell; it's a joke. – Double AA Feb 26 '14 at 21:26
That sort of wordplay joke is known as a pun. – Clint Eastwood Feb 26 '14 at 21:42
@ClintEastwood Right. The case in your answer isn't a joke. How could it be a pun? – Double AA Feb 26 '14 at 22:37

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