About the Author(s)

Marieke Dhont Email symbol
Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom


Dhont, M., 2021, ‘A spring of living waters in a pool of metaphors: The metaphorical landscape of 1QHa 16:5–27’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 77(1), a6726. https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i1.6726

Note: Special Collection: Historical Thought and Source Interpretation, sub-edited by Johann Cook (Stellenbosch University).

Project research number: pf170010

Original Research

A spring of living waters in a pool of metaphors: The metaphorical landscape of 1QHa 16:5–27

Marieke Dhont

Received: 09 Apr. 2021; Accepted: 07 May 2021; Published: 21 July 2021

Copyright: © 2021. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This research article focuses on the use of the water metaphor in column 16 of the Hodayot. Previous scholarship has often concentrated on the garden metaphor in this section, particularly on its intertextual links with the book of Isaiah. By drawing on contemporary metaphor theory, in particular blending theory, I show how the author of the Hodayot creates poetry through a multiple blended network of garden and water metaphors, and how aspects of the linguistic form of the poem, in particular the phrase מבוע מים חיים‘well of living waters’, can be read as an expression of this blend. The aim of this study is to contribute (1) to the study of the Hodayot and its poetic practices, against older dismissals of the poetic quality of the Hodayot, and (2) to our understanding of semantic constellations and the conceptual world of ancient Judaism.

Contribution: This article fits within the scope of HTS’s theme ‘Historical Thought and Source Interpretation’ as it contributes to our insights into ancient Jewish thought through the interpretation of a religious source text using metaphor theory.

Keywords: Hodayot; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Qumran poetry; metaphors; blending theory; water.


In the early days of research on the Hodayot, its literary quality was evaluated negatively: the Hodayot have been characterised as ‘quasi-poetry’ (Kraft 1957:17) and ‘rhythmic prose’ (Dombrowski-Hopkins 1981:325; Ringgren 1963:14). It may be as a result of that initial negative position towards the Hodayot that its poetry has not yet received the attention it deserves. Recently, however, the text has started to be studied for what it is: a corpus of thanksgiving hymns that provide novel insights into the poetic imagination of Second Temple Judaism beyond what we knew from the biblical corpus. The Hodayot have challenged and expanded our insights into the techniques and structures of ancient Jewish literary composition. Although much work remains to be carried out in this area, there have been some studies on the parallelism of the Hodayot (e.g. Frechette 2000; Kittel 1981; Williams 1991) and its framework of intertextual references (Delcor 1962; Hughes 2006; Tooman 2011). Studies on its use of metaphors, however, have been sorely lacking. Claudia Bergmann provided a detailed analysis of the birth metaphor in 1QHa 11.6–19, drawing on conceptual metaphor theory (CMT), within the framework of an analysis of the birth metaphor in ancient Jewish literature (Bergmann 2008:164–217). Although Eileen Schuller identified such a gap in the study of the Hodayot from the perspective of metaphor theory already a decade ago (Schuller 2011:149), there has not yet been a systematic exploration of the metaphors used within the Hodayot against the background of current developments in metaphor theory, nor there has been any discussion of how metaphors shape its poetry. Whilst a systematic discussion of metaphors in the Hodayot is evidently beyond the scope of this article and will remain a desideratum, this contribution offers an analysis of the metaphorical formation of 1QHa 16:5–27. In this section, the psalmist thanks God using the garden metaphor: ‘I thank [you, O Lo]rd, that you have placed me by the source of streams in a dry land’. As a result of the elaborate use of the garden metaphor, this section’s connection to the book of Isaiah has been central to discussions of this passage in previous scholarship (e.g. Hughes 2006). However, there is another important metaphor interwoven with the garden metaphor, namely, that of water, which has not yet been fully explored. In this study, I draw on insights from conceptual blending theory (BT), associated with Fauconnier and Turner (2002), to show how the author created a beautifully textured poem on the relationship with God.

The poem

I look specifically at 1QHa 16:5–27a, following the reconstruction of the scroll in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 40 (Stegemann & Schuller 2009). This passage forms the opening of a longer thanksgiving psalm that extends from 1QHa 16:5–17:36 (see Stegemann & Schuller 2009:228). Julie Hughes, in Scriptural Allusions and Exegesis in the Hodayot, divides the whole into three subsections (Hughes 2006:140–143). The first section, 1QHa 16:5–27a, she categorises as Meshalim; the second section, 1QHa 16:27b–17:6a, as a lament; and the third one, 1QHa 17:6b–36, as a psalm of confidence. This division is not only based on the differentiation of genres in the three subsections but also based on the use of imagery in each of the sections, which are said to have been inspired by the book of Isaiah. Hughes considers the poem ‘a meditation upon themes/motifs which occur in Isaiah 40–66’. She explains (Hughes 2006):

Section I elaborates on the themes of the planting of the Lord, water in the desert, the tree(s) of life in the garden of God (primeval and eschatological), and the messianic/remnant motif of the shoot/branch. Section II takes up the motif of the suffering servant. Section III concentrates on the themes of compassion and hope, with the particular motifs of the lawcourt and of the parent. (p. 167)

The present analysis focuses on the first section in which the metaphor of the garden plays an important role. I will show that the creativity of the author goes much beyond the poem being a meditation upon one book. After all, in contemporary Dead Sea Scrolls studies, the notions of scripture and of allusion and intertextuality have radically changed, moving towards the scholarly awareness of textual plurality and textual vitality. In addition, I want to demonstrate how metaphor theory can help us to develop our research further into this direction. I show that this thanksgiving psalm is a wonderfully creative expression of ancient Jewish thought by focusing on the author’s use of water imagery.

Water imagery

A wealth of allusions and intertextual references to other ancient Jewish texts have been identified in this passage (Holm-Nielsen 1960:148–156; Hughes 2006:150–159). Scholarship on column 16 of the Hodayot has focused on its use of the garden metaphor and its links to the book of Isaiah, particularly Isaiah 40–66. Additional ‘key allusions’ to Genesis 2:8–10 and 3:22–24; Ezekiel 31:1–18, and Jeremiah 17:5–8 have also been identified (Hughes 2006:169). Because of the focus on the Hodayot’s intertextuality with ‘biblical’ texts, an anachronistic notion (see e.g. Ulrich 2011) when it comes to the textual context of the Hodayot, the garden imagery has taken the centre stage in the study of column 16 of the Hodayot. The concrete words that are taken as evidence of intertextual links to scriptural texts are mainly related to the garden metaphor: נצר ‘shoot’ (line 7,//Is 60:21), עטמ ‘planting’ (lines 6 and 7,//Is 60:21 and 61:3) and ברוש ותדהר עם תאשור יחד ‘juniper and pine with cypress together’ (line 6,//Is 41:19 and 60:13, which read בְּרוֹשׁ תִּדְהָר וּתְאַשּׁוּר יַחְדָּו). Even though Hughes acknowledges that ‘water is very important in this poem’, she does not go beyond identifying some of the different references to water (Hughes 2006):

The phrases water of life and wellspring of life are each used twice. The first phrase could be translated as ‘living water’ and simply mean water which is flowing, not still. However, we also have the trees of life, and the word ‘life’ is twice parallel to ‘eternal’ and once to ‘holiness’. The phrase eternal trees is also used, probably as a synonym for trees of life. Thus in most cases, if not all, the word ‘life’ connotes a divine quality. In wisdom literature similar terms are used for wisdom and/or teaching/torah. This connotation is confirmed later in the poem, in stanza IB2 [that is, 1QHa 16:17–21], when the speaker likens the words that God has given him to a spring of living water. (pp. 153–154 [italics original])

The water image, in this section of the Hodayot, has been mentioned briefly or in passing only by a few scholars (e.g., Fishbane 1992:9; Thomas 2014:381–382). We get a hint of the importance of the image of water in Hughes’s analysis of the Hodayot; this article explores this topic in more detail. Water imagery plays an important role all throughout the poem, much beyond the few mentions of water that Hughes has identified. In line 5,1 we encounter נוזלים מקור ‘spring of streams’, מבוע מים ‘well of water’ and משקי גן ‘a well-watered garden’; in line 7, מעין רז ‘secret spring’; in line 8, יובל ‘stream’ and מים חיים ‘living waters’; in line 9, מקור עולם ‘eternal spring’; in line 11, יובל ‘stream’, מעין חיים ‘source of life’; in line 14 מי קודש ‘holy waters’; in line 15, מקור חיים ‘source of life’ and נהרות ‘streams’; in line 17, יורה גשם ‘showers of early rain’ and מבוע מים חיים ‘spring of living water’; in line 18, נחל שוטף ‘overflowing stream’; in line 19, למי מריבה ‘waters of strife’; in line 20, במים אדירים ‘in mighty waters’; in line 21, מקור עול ‘fountain of evil’; in line 22, מקורם עם מפלגי ‘their spring with its channels’; in line 24, פלגיו ‘streams’; in line 27, finally, מטר ‘rain’.

We may briefly want to consider why the role of water imagery in 1QHa 16:5–27 has not yet been studied in depth. Earlier Dead Sea scrolls scholarship has often focussed on identifying scriptural allusions. This approach centres on formal links (i.e., corresponding language) rather than on images, ideas or concepts of thought. However, Hindy Najman has convincingly made the point that the emphasis on exact word-by-word citations in Second Temple Jewish texts may lead to overlooking crucial conceptual and thematic links between texts (see Najman 2012, 2017). Because of this focus on language, the use of metaphor in ancient Jewish texts has been studied mainly in terms of its linguistic expression, often just within one text, and only when the form in which the metaphor was expressed was the same in two or more texts would one draw out any intertextual links. Metaphors in ancient Jewish texts have not often been studied as conceptual. This characterises an approach that focuses on ‘biblical motifs’ (e.g. Fishbane 1992). The notion that a literary motif relates to representation is, however, well established. A literary motif is defined as follows:

[A] representative complex theme which recurs within the framework of the Old Testament in variable forms and connections; it is rooted in an actual situation of anthropological or historical nature. In its secondary literary setting, the motif gives expression to ideas and experiences inherent in the original situation, and is employed to reactualize in the audience the reactions of the participants in the original situation. (Talmon 1966:39, to which Fishbane 1992:3 refers)

One may sense some similarities between this understanding of a motif and the modern approach to metaphor. Metaphor theorists have shown that metaphor is more than a linguistic phenomenon: it is an expression of thought (Lakoff & Johnson 1980:3). In such a view, words are mere containers in which thoughts are expressed: the same thought, or the same metaphor, can find different (linguistic) forms of expression. Because of the focus on the form of expression, however, links between similar conceptual metaphors in slightly different linguistic forms in ancient Jewish texts have not yet been as readily discussed. In other words, whilst the notion of the ‘well of living water’ has been studied as a motif, modern advances in metaphor theory invite it to be studied as a metaphor, transcending the level of the text and moving to the level of the water metaphor as a concept in ancient Jewish thought. This becomes particularly relevant and intricate when dealing with complex metaphors and conceptual blending (Fauconnier & Turner 2002), as I will argue is the case in 1QHa 16:5–27. Because in our thanksgiving poem, the garden metaphor has taken a centre stage, and water is an essential element for keeping a garden, they have often been treated as part of the same metaphor, rather than explained within a more complex framework of conceptual blending in which the metaphor of water carries its own meanings as well. Such a conceptual approach, however, would give us a much better understanding of the content of the psalm and the depth of its poetry, its relation to other ancient Jewish literature and within the wisdom tradition at large. This is what I aim to address in this contribution. We first look at the garden as a conceptual frame in column 16 of the Hodayot, before focusing on the notion of ‘the well of living water’ specifically and contextualising this conceptual metaphor within other Second Temple texts.

A few words on metaphors

Without going too deep into metaphor theory at this point, an outline needs to be given on which to build a further analysis of the thanksgiving psalm. Metaphor theory has gained a significant traction since the development of CMT by Georges Lakoff and Mark Johnson in the 1980s (Lakoff & Johnson 1980). They argued that metaphor was not just a literary feature, mostly found in the poetic language, but that metaphor is conceptual, a matter not just of language but of thought and action (Lakoff & Johnson 1980:3–4). According to CMT, we understand one concept or experience (the target domain) in terms of another concept or experience (the source domain). The source domain helps us better to understand the target domain. We try to understand the target domain by mapping certain elements of the source domain onto the target domain, but not others. The classical example is that of argument is war. In this metaphor, we see discourse partners in terms of enemies, the debate as a fight and words as weapons. Yet, other elements related to war, such as the war industry, are not mapped onto the target domain of argument (Lakoff & Johnson 1980:4–7).

In the 1990s and early 2000s, then, Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner developed the notion of conceptual blending, or BT (see Fauconnier & Turner 1998, 2002), which aims not only to explain largely the same linguistic data as CMT but also seeks to unify metaphor analysis with the analysis of other linguistic and conceptual phenomena.2 Both CMT and BT approach metaphor as a conceptual rather than linguistic phenomenon. CMT, however, is limited to two mental representations, a source domain and a target domain, whilst BT allows more, calling them ‘mental spaces’ and conceiving of them as dependent on domains: a mental space is a scenario structured by given domains. Blending theory makes use of a four-space model: two input spaces, associated with the source and target domains of CMT; a generic space that contains the conceptual structures shared by both inputs; and a blend space, where material from the inputs combines and interacts (Fauconnier & Turner 2002:44–50). Furthermore, whilst in CMT the mapping of the target domain onto the source domain is unidirectional, in BT the interaction between the input spaces can go both ways.

Blending Theory is particularly helpful for complex metaphors. Already within the CMT framework, researchers explored the idea that simple metaphors interact to yield more elaborate conceptualisations,3 but BT is particularly suited to analyse this complex interaction of concepts and mappings, as it allows for multiple spaces, and one blend may be the input for another. BT focuses on a metaphor’s ability to combine elements from familiar conceptualisations into new and meaningful ones. We may for example consider this phrase (Grady, Oakley & Coulson 1999:108–110):

The [Sri Lankan] ship of state needs to radically alter course; weather the stormy seas ahead and enter safe harbour.

The Nation-as-Ship metaphor includes several cross-domain correspondences, including national policies and a ship’s course, determining national policies and steering the ship, circumstances affecting the nation and sea conditions. Once through more basic metaphors, the image has been evoked of a large container holding people, or of a society moving forward through space, and/or the idea that political events are partially determined by the (metaphorical) weather, other elements of the input space of the ship are available to be recruited in other expressions of the Nation-as-Ship metaphor and may become as elaborate as our imagination will allow. For example:

With Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader, and Gingrich at the helm in the House, the list to the Right could destabilize the entire Ship of State. (p. 109)

This example demonstrates that metaphors can use more than one simple source-to-target mapping: it introduces the notion of right-hand directionality into the blend of the Nation-as-Ship. The association between right-left polarity and conservative-liberal philosophy is not based on the ship model itself, as it is often encountered in contexts where there is no ship imagery. However, in the above expression, the two are combined in such a way that it allows the reader to infer easily that a strong shift towards conservatism may lead to political instability. This example demonstrates that conceptual metaphors can offer stable structures available for exploitation by the blending process. The purpose of blending, then, is to allow for complex notions to be compressed into a form that can be easily expressed and manipulated.

The garden metaphor

Our poem reflects such a blended space. The psalmist thanks God for having placed him by a secret spring, like a tree, which can grow because of its good access to a source of nourishment. If ‘relationship with God’ and ‘garden’ are the input spaces, in the generic space, we would find elements, such as individual constituents, the need for nurture and the ability to control. In the blend, we find that God is conceptualised as a controlling figure (gardener) who provides essential nurture (water) to his constituents (i.e. the Jewish people conceptualised as trees), which as a result can grow and flourish. This complex metaphor is also found throughout the book of Isaiah. Given the similarity in language between the book of Isaiah and the psalm under investigation, which has been studied in detail elsewhere (see, in particular, Hughes 2006), the psalmist, indeed, seems to have looked to Isaiah for creative inspiration to shape his expression of the metaphor. The prime example, here, is the use of the phrase ברוש ותדהר עם תאשור יחד. However, his creativity goes beyond playing with this metaphor as expressed in Isaiah. We can explore this creativity by looking at the way in which the author blends various metaphors together. After all, the psalmist does not employ a simple metaphor in which the personal relationship with God as the target domain is understood in terms of the source domain of a garden but creates a very complex web of metaphors.

The well of living water

Water, an essential need for any garden, is an element within the mental space of the garden that is projected into the blended space. Yet, water also constitutes its own input: the concept of water in the blend produced by the garden frame can in itself be seen as a blend with a conceptual history of its own, where it appears in contexts outside of the garden metaphor. If we focus on the phrase מבוע מים חיים in 16:17, we can make the following observations: the phrase מים חיים occurs repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible: see Genesis 26:19; Leviticus 14:5, 50; 15:13; Numbers 19:17; Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; Zechariah 14:8; Song 4:15. The reference to water in these verses is often literal,4 and as such, the reference in 1QHa could simply be categorised as an example of the author using the ‘biblical language’. However, in a few instances, it is used metaphorically. For example, in Song 4:15, the term is used as a metaphor describing the girl. Most pertinently, in Jeremiah 2:13, it is used metaphorically in reference to God5:

כִּי־שְׁתַּיִם רָעוֹת עָשָׂה עַמִּי

אֹתִי עָזְבוּ מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים

לַחְצֹב לָהֶם בֹּארוֹת

בֹּארֹת נִשְׁבָּרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יָכִלוּ הַמָּיִם

For my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water,

and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Furthermore, in Jeremiah 17:13, we read:

מִקְוֵ֤ה יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ יְהוָ֔ה

כָּל־עֹזְבֶ֖יךָ יֵבֹ֑שׁוּ

יְסוּרַי בָּאָ֣רֶץ יִכָּתֵ֔בוּ

כִּ֥י עָזְב֛וּ מְק֥וֹר מַֽיִם־חַיִּ֖ים אֶת־יְהוָֽה

O hope of Israel! O Lord!

All who forsake you shall be put to shame;

those who turn away from you shall be recorded,

for they have forsaken the fountain of living water, the LORD.

Else Holt has offered a discussion of water metaphors in the book of Jeremiah (Holt 2005). These metaphors serve to underline that God is the one who gives water, not only in the dry land as a condition for life but also in the fertile land, as opposed to other gods who do not. The water is thus both life-creating and life-sustaining element. Underlying this metaphor of God as water is a convergence of two religious themes regarding God’s character, namely, the image of God as a fertility God and as the God of salvation (Holt 2005:104; compare also the study by Reymond 19586). Holt argues that in using the metaphor of ‘God is Water’, the author of Jeremiah draws on a pool of well-known metaphors, which attracts a cluster of related metaphors (Holt 2005:106) – in other words, she suggests that the imagery of God as water was a conceptual metaphor widely familiar beyond the text of Jeremiah, and that the author employs it within a textual framework in which they creatively blend metaphors.

A similar instance of such a creative blending can be found in the Hodayot. If we look back to column 16, we find the phrase מבוע מים חיים ‘spring of living water’ in line 17 (compare also lines 8–9, which talk about ‘[the living waters,] which served as an eternal spring’, עולם ויהי למקור). Hughes identified two references to Jeremiah 17:8 in lines 8 and 11 of the column 16 of the Hodayot (Hughes 2006:153), but said nothing about the phrase in line 17, even though it brings to mind Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:13. As the verses in Jeremiah both have מָקוֹר rather than מַבּוּעַ, there is no clear formal allusion between this text and the Hodayot. There are no variant readings for מָקוֹר listed in BHS, and Richard Weis was so kind to share with me that in his preparatory work for the Biblia Hebraica Quinta edition of Jeremiah, he found no such variant either.7 In other words, there is no clear indication that the phrase in the Hodayot goes back directly to Jeremiah. Nevertheless, מקור does occur four, possibly five times in this section of the Hodayot: lines 5, 9, 15, 21(?)8 and 22; just not in this specific expression of the ‘well of living water’. The word מבוע appears three times in the Hebrew Bible and always in the expression מַבּוּעֵי מַיִם: in Isaiah 35:7 and 49:10, and in Qoh 12:6. Particularly relevant are the passages from Isaiah, which are eschatological in nature and contrast the desert wilderness with the springs of water (מַבּוּעֵי מַיִם). Samuel Thomas has pointed out that the psalmist’s choice of מבוע might well have been intentional and considers the psalm’s potential link to Jeremiah simply ‘another possibility’ (Thomas 2014:382). Indeed, מבוע appears only six times in the Dead Sea scrolls corpus, of which thrice in the Hodayot and twice in the column under investigation. Lines 5 and 17 both feature מבוע מים. In such a relatively rare word there may be an element of intentionality. The book of Jeremiah is, in fact, part of the referential framework of the Hodayot beyond the mention of living waters. In Jeremiah, it is mentioned that the person who trusts in the Lord (Jr 17:7) shall be כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל־מַיִם וְעַל־יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו, ‘like a tree planted by water, which sends out its roots to the stream’ (Jr 17:8), which is alluded to in verses 8 and 11 of our hymn (Hughes 2006:153). Water is a necessity to flourish.

The concrete realisation of the water metaphor in Jeremiah and the Hodayot, however, is different. In Jeremiah, God is identified as the source of living water, whereas in the Hodayot, God is thanked for placing the author alongside the living water (16:5–7). As a result, the I-person of the psalm evolves, growing from a shoot into an eternal planting (16:7), which provides dwelling and nourishment for other creatures in the garden (16:9–10). Whilst the living water remains hidden from strangers (16:11–15), it turns the recipient into a source himself (16:17). Unfortunately, the many lacunae from line 17 onwards are an impediment to our interpretation of the middle section of the column. The metaphor of water in ancient Jewish texts can thus cover both God’s identity and his presence in the world and its relationship to humanity.

Column 16 of the Hodayot thus features two blending networks (see Fauconnier & Turner 2002:279–298 on multiple blends). In the first network, one input space is the relationship with God, whilst the other input space is the garden; this blend I had briefly described earlier. The second network, which also has the relationship with God as one input space, has water as its other input space. Both networks thus share an input space, whilst the two other input spaces (that of garden and water) have a natural and conventional cross-space mapping that links both spaces as well: water is a crucial element of a garden. This multiple blend is what the psalmist draws on, thus ‘running the blend’ as they compose the poem. In the phrase מבוע מים חיים, we may see how the linguistic form the psalmist employs is the characteristic of blending. Whilst the conceptual metaphor transcends its use in the text of the Hodayot and is a new creation, through the choice of language, the poet is able to connect the use of this metaphor formally to the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. In this rich web of connections, we can catch a glimpse of the extent to which a text can be understood as part of an organic world, much beyond studying the Hodayot as a document of ‘biblical’ intertextuality. Blending theory helps us to grasp how the poet combined elements from familiar conceptualisations into a new and meaningful one. The choice of words is one of the ways in which form can contribute to meaning, one of the benchmarks of poetry, thus demonstrating a fundamental aspect of Hodayot poetry, against the idea that it would merely be ‘rhythmic prose’.

Najman has argued that in order to understand a notion as a concept, ‘we need to understand the broader poetics of that particular concept which is developed across an entire body of literature’ (Najman 2018:1). We are thus invited to look at the metaphorical use of water in relation to flourishing across the entire body of the ancient Jewish literature. I already mentioned a parallel between Jeremiah and our poem: Jeremiah 17:7–8 mentions that the person who has trust in the Lord shall be כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל־מַיִם וְעַל־יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו, ‘like a tree planted by water, which sends out its roots to the stream’ (Jr 17:8). The flourishing tree is a metaphor for the person who trusts in the Lord (Jr 17:7–8), as opposed to the one whose heart turns away from God. This image also brings to mind Psalm 1, where those who study the Torah are עַל פ־ַּלְגֵי מָיִם כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל, ‘like a tree planted by streams of water’ (Ps 1:3). In Psalm 1, it is made explicit what ‘being planted by water’ concretely entails: studying the Torah. In other words, studying the Torah is a basic condition for a righteous life, like water is in a garden. Compare also Proverbs 13:14a, for example, where we read תּוֹרַת חָכָם מְקוֹר חַיִּים, ‘the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life’ and CD 6:4, which presents an interpretation of Numbers 21:18 (part of the so-called Song of the Well, Num 21:17–18) and reads הבאר היא התורה, ‘the well is the law’9 (Fishbane 1992:5–9). The well thus became a symbol for the Torah (Fishbane 1992:7). The same metaphor might well lie behind the addition in LXX Proverbs 9:18,10 where man is warned to abstain from ‘strange water’ and not to drink out of a ‘strange well’, ἀπὸ δὲ ὕδατος ἀλλοτρίου ἀπόσχου καὶ ἀπὸ πηγῆς ἀλλοτρίας μὴ πίῃς. We may also look at the New Testament, for example, at John 4, where Jesus in his conversation with the Samaritan woman by the well of Sychar, says:

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (Jn 4:10)

He adds a bit later: ‘whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14 – compare also John 7:38b: ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’). These last two verses bring to mind the very same image as our column in the Hodayot does: God is the ultimate source who gives access to living water, which a person may imbibe, thus becoming a spring of living water themselves. The New Testament use of the image of ‘living water’ can only be fully understood in light of its various ancient Jewish uses. I think that this wide range of conceptualisations confirms what Holt suggested, namely, that the conceptual metaphor of ‘God is water’ was conventional and widely known (Holt 2005:106), and gave rise to many creative expressions allowing ancient authors to express something otherwise intangible about the relationship to God. After all, complex blends serve as the basis for the functionality of human cognition (Fauconnier & Turner 2002). I suggest that, in column 16 of the Hodayot, the poet incorporates a conceptual frame that is found in various ancient Jewish texts, regardless of the concrete form in which this frame is expressed. Whilst drawing on known conceptualisations of God, the form attests to the psalmist’s creativity as a poet.

In her fascinating paper on the concept of wilderness in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Najman (2018) wrote that the Hodayot frequently give expression to the idea that heaven and earth, divine and human, are insurmountably separated. The concept of wilderness is as follows:

[T]he expression of the limitation of humanity as mortal, as lowly, and as incapable of overcoming that condition. And yet, the poet continues to strive to overcome that essential limitation through song. (p. 7)

Furthermore, she states that:

[T]hrough the gift of divine insight and a revealed pathway (…) humanity can receive relief from the suffering, humiliation and disorientation of the existential exile of which the protagonist speaks. The blessing and hope can generate moments of insight, and those moments come to be described as paradise and fertile space, an oasis, if you will, in the desert. (p. 9)

Column 16 expresses this view, and in doing so, brings to the fore the metaphorical role of water, which is crucial to establishing the human-God connection. Along this line, I would argue that water is a central conceptual metaphor in this Hodayot psalm, as part of a multiple-blended network that shapes the poem and serves conceptually and rhetorically to structure the relationship with God.


Metaphor theory, in particular BT, has helped us better to understand the metaphorical landscape of 1QHa 16:5–27a. Whilst Samuel Thomas investigated passages, in which ‘Qumran sectarian texts employ water metaphors as part of the community discourse’ (Thomas 2014:376), in this article I have argued that the way in which Qumran texts, particularly the Hodayot, use water metaphors should, in fact, be viewed in a larger framework, building upon BT in combination with Hindy Najman’s work on semantic constellations, while also incorporating insights on poetic practices in the Hodayot. I have tried to show that whilst on the one hand, the poet drew on well-known conventional metaphors to express the relationship with God, his personal creativity lies in the way in which he blends the metaphors into a beautiful and rich poem. Much work remains to be carried out to gain insights into the poetry of the Hodayot.

The breadth of the water metaphor may be indicated by the various forms of expression and the various blends in which it appears in the ancient Jewish literature. The pervasiveness of the water metaphor in ancient Judaism has not yet been grasped fully. The hypothesis that the metaphor is conceptual and transcends any notion of being merely ‘biblical’ but draws on a broader conventional framework of ancient metaphors is suggested by the fact that the metaphor is not unique to Judaism either: it is worth noting that this conceptual metaphor also appears in the Qur’an (see, for example, see Al-Khaldi 2014). This observation may invite a comparative study on the conceptual metaphor of water in ancient religious imagination.

The Hodayot and other texts cited above exemplify the expansive range of expressions of this conceptual metaphor in ancient Judaism. In this way, I have tried to show what an approach to texts from the perspective of semantic constellations can mean for the study of metaphors in ancient Jewish texts. The blending of metaphors is at the heart of the poetic practices evidenced in the Hodayot.


The author is grateful to Johann Cook for the invitation to contribute to this volume.

Competing interests

The author declares that she has no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced her in writing this article.

Author’s contributions

M.D. is the sole author of this research article.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

This research work was funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.


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1. In this overview, I accept the few reconstructions by Stegemann and Schuller (2009).

2. For this section, I have drawn on the helpful article by Grady et al. (1999), who argue that CMT and BT are complementary.

3. See also the notion of composite metaphors, for example, in Lakoff and Turner (1989).

4. The use of חיים ‘of life’ in the expression מים חיים to denote flowing water as opposed to still water is an interesting conceptual metaphor in itself.

5. Hebrew text of Jeremiah cited from BHS (Elliger & Rudolph 1990). Translation cited from NRSV with some minor revisions by myself.

6. Reymond focuses on the literal dimension of water and meteorology in the Hebrew Bible; the metaphorical references to water are treated only very briefly and not systematically. Such a study can provide insights into the input domain of ‘water’ in antiquity.

7. Private email correspondence, August 2020. I am very grateful to Richard Weis (see Weis & Tucker forthcoming).

8. The reconstruction is מ]̇קור.

9. Note, however, that the word באר does not appear in column 16 of the Hodayot.

10. I wish to thank Johann Cook for this pertinent reference.

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