E 0211         CROSS

The word " cross " is of uncertain, but Indo European origin .

H 0778             ש ר ק

Concept of root : cross

Hebrew word


English meanings

ש ר ק


board, beam, cross-bar

Related English words

cross, from Latin

Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


      ש ר ק


board, beam, cross-bar

q . r . sh


crux, gen. crucis



c r . c




c r . s





k r . ts






(Christian) cross;


k . r s ;

k r . s



Proto-Semitic *QARASH --- *CRUX, *CRUCIS Latin



The basic concept is that of the two pieces of wood that are put together crosswise. In Latin the word stands for the total construction of the cross, in Hebrew it is used a.o. for a cross-bar, but also for a vertically standing pole or plank.
The verb qarà (root Q.R.Y) deals with the making of various wooden structures from prepared pieces, such as beams, bars, boards and planks.
If the bar is not fixed crosswise with another piece, it is also indicated without an S : " ק ו ר ה , korà".


The Cross is The Religious Symbol of Christianity. Crucifying, unknown to the Jews, was a purely Roman system of making execution of death sentences more cruel. The communis opinio is that modern European words for cross have been derived from the Roman, Latin word "crux, gen. crucis".


Besides the religious importance, the words for "cross" have a considerable number of very trivial meanings, so trivial that it is hard to believe that people would have derived those from their main religious symbol. There are limits to desacration. The conclusion must be that those words have their independent ancestors and that the religious meaning naturally concurred in what was the meaning of these same terms.


One should also take into account that the Cross not immediately has become the symbol it is today. Nor did it start out as a cross as such. First a design of the Greek letters Χ (KHI) and Ρ (RHO) was used. These were the first two of the word "Χριστος", not a Cross. By chance these letters , put together and stylised, came to look a bit like a cross. But it just was used to symbolize the Victory of the Lord. Then in the 4th century a lamb was placed near this cross-like image, to symbolize the saving death of Christ. Two centuries later the bust of a young man was substituted for the lamb. Change after change led in the seventh century to the establishment of the Cross of the Crucifixion, that in the year 691 CE became an official symbol. Still the Crucifix showed Christ alive and fully clothed. It took four more centuries to come to the actual image.


Obviously long before all this happened, people in the street needed simply a word for "cross", independent from the use of crosses by the Romans and the history of Christianity. There is no Germanic word known, different from "cross" and its sisters, that had this simple meaning. Some indicate "gallows", in Gothic "galga" , Old High German "galgo" and Middle Dutch "galge". But a "galga" was basically just a vertical pole, and with the Roman cross it had in common only that it was an instrument of execution of death sentences. Thus in early Christianity its name was even used to indicate the Cross of the Crucifixion, but its main function remained that of "gallows". We must add that the shape of the Cross was not even the actual one, but was like a letter T . So there was no logic in using the word "cross" or in German "Kreuz" before the Cross as a Symbol had been really developed.


Some scholars see the original reality and meaning of the Latin "crux, crucis" as that of a vertical pole, just like the old Germanic "galgo". This may be right and would bring things nearer to the original Hebrew "qeresh".


At that time, with the symbol known and its image generalized in religious use, and in miniature worn by people on the chest, it had in religious circles still its Latin name and no translation was even really necessary. But with in local languages related words available, these were bound to merge with the official Latin one. Yet not everywhere they merged. In Norwegian there is still the distinction between "kors" and "kryss". "Kors" that stands for the Christian Cross and "kryss" for any other type of cross.


  • Hebrew "qeresh", the word of this entry, is a crossbar, an essential piece to build a cross together with a vertical pole. But is is not a complete cross, that is called a "tselav" in Hebrew.


  • Proto-Semitic. This root is found in Ugaritic, with the related meaning of " tabernacle". Akkadian "karāshu = to separate, split, to cut wood" and "qarshu = joint; slice of bread", with an identical root, seem related, as a "board" can have received this title in Hebrew as being a "cut off piece of wood". The evidence is limited, but Proto-Semitic probably had this root "*ק ר ש , Q R SH" in the senses of "cutting wood (with precision)" and "(well) cut piece of wood, board". But seen the use of " S " instead of " SH " in Arabic, also "*Q R S" is possible.


  • English this time did not get its word "cross" from French "croix", but from Middle Irish. The Irish became Christians before the English. Then the English sent their preachers, like Willebrordus and Bonifacius into the Continent to convert the peope. The Irish used the word "croch" and later "cross". Also here it is not all too clear how they would change a clear and simple Latin word so much.


  • Indo-European. It has been tried to link "cross" with all sorts of words indicating curves and curving, like Old Indian "kruñcatu", but one of the certainties is that there was a straight vertical pole for crucifying. Another certainty is that todays meaning as a pair of poles or boards fixed at right angles, was not the original one. In Old Middle Dutch the traverse beam, today called crossbeam , was simply named " cruce". The straight pole was : "des crucen stake (the cross's stake), des cruces boom (the cross's beam)" or "cruceboom (crossbeam)". Variations of the name for the crossbeam were "cruse, cruus, cruyse, cruys". The general opinion is that the Germanic words have come from Latin "crux", that originally did not have the modern meaning of "cross". Consequently there is only Latin to go by. Further indications for cognates in other Indo-European language groups lack. Thus the comparison remains between Semitic and Latin.





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 23/11/2012 at 15.48.37