[b-hebrew] Re: nephesh mot

Dr. Joe Sprinkle jsprinkle at crossroadscollege.edu
Sat Aug 23 17:36:07 EDT 2003

> Dear Michael,
> The nephesh is in the blood.

> I think the life force is in the blood, like electricity.
> When it flows the person/object is alive,
> otherwise he's/it's  dead.
> Liz

Dear Liz.  If the NEPHESH is in the blood like electricity, then it is not
merely the blood, but is something over and above the physical body with its
blood. Electricity is immaterial. It sounds to me as if what you say comes
close to what Michael says.

More generally, the sense of NEPHESH in Lev 17:11 is not necessarily the
sense everywhere, which is why the term can mean corpse, self, and throat in
addition to its other various meanings.

Dear Michael,

I agree that the sense "life" comes close the sense of "soul," but it reads
too much into the text to identify the two terms.  In any case the NEPHESH
of man is not distinguished between the NEPHESH of animals, whereas in
traditional Christian theology, animals lack a "soul."

My point more generally is that this word seems to have a wide range of
meanings contextually.  As I try to trace the word's hypothetical history,
the following is a reasonable guess:  NEPHESH it starts with the concrete
meaning of "throat/gullet."  By synecdoche (a part representing the whole)
gullet can stand for the body.  That develops two ways: the meaning of
"self" (Bless the LORD, O my NEPHESH -- though the original meaning of
gullet is not entirely left behind here) or "person" or "entity," and can
refer more concretely to the body, especially a dead body (rendered "corpse"
or similar).  But since throat is associated with eating, the meaning
"appetite" could naturally follow by metonymy.  Likewise the throat is
associated with breathing, so again by metonymy the associated meaning
"breath" is a natural development.  But since breath is associated with
life, the meaning "life" naturally follows from the meaning "breath."  But
since the gullet is also the seat of the feelings, the sense of "emotion,
feelings" follows as well.

It is an interesting word with a very broad semantic range and no English
equivalent. For instance, the New American Standard Bible translates it in a
plethora of ways: any 1, anyone 2, anyone* 1, appetite 7, being 1, beings 3,
body 1, breath 1, corpse 2, creature 6, creatures 3, dead 1, dead person 2,
deadly 1, death 1, defenseless* 1, desire 12, desire* 2, discontented* 1,
endure* 1, feelings 1, fierce* 2, greedy* 1, heart 5, heart's 2, herself 12,
Himself 4, himself 19, human 1, human being 1, hunger 1, life 146, life* 1,
lifeblood* 2, lives 34, living creature 1, longing* 1, man 4, man's 1, men*
2, mind 2, Myself 3, myself 2, number 1, ones 1, others 1, ourselves 3, own
1, passion* 1, people 2, people* 1, perfume* 1, person 68, person* 1,
persons 19, slave 1, some 1, soul 238, soul's 1, souls 12, strength 1,
themselves 6, thirst 1, throat 2, will 1, wish 1, wishes 1, yourself 11,
yourselves 13

All this reflects its broad usage.  And any particular usage can be debated
as to which nuance is intended.


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