Could the nature of human wind be the origin
of the meaning given to ruah and the basis for the significant place it
had in Hebrew anthropology? The differentiation of internal 'organs' came
more from the identification of localizable felt events than the recognition
of anatomical organs. It is likely the Hebrew had a general knowledge
of internal anatomy, but not having much medical knowledge, he found it
of little use. An awareness of body experience may be the origin of vocabulary
reflecting a Hebrew's interpretation of himself. The modern mind must
re-live man's self-discovery at this earlier stage in order
to comprehend the actual nature of the concrete, synthetic thinking of
the ancient Hebrew.
This study also makes use of the view that the
Hebrew anthropological terms had more linguistic unity than popular accounts
and to some extent scholarly accounts tend to recognize. With N in particular,
studies have concentrated on finding for a given passage the best concept
or word with which to accurately understand or translate N. The tendency
has been to establish a list of meanings in one's own language in to which
uses for N could fit. H.W. Robinson developed three categories that covered
all cases: A. Principle of Life -- 282 instances, B. Physical -- 249 instances,
C. Personal -- 223 instances. (from Christian Doctrine of
Man, p. 16) Johnson remarked on Robinson's classification, "The present
writer would agree that each of these meanings may be distinguished in
certain passages, but finds the meaning of the term as a whole far too
fluid to be able to accept so definite a classification." (p. 8,
n. 2) Others that followed Robinson may not have constructed so rigid
a classification, but the precedent was set. Becker in Het begrip
nefesi in het Oude Testament attempted
an exact classification using five categories.
The New Bible Dictionary gives
'possessing life' as the primary meaning for N and notes it was identified
with the blood and indicated 'the life principle'. It cites numerous instances
in which N had a psychical reference that covered various states of consciousness
including 1) the seat of physical appetites 2) a source of emotion 3)
an association with will and moral action. The individual or person, the
self, and a dead body are other meanings given.
Brown, Driver, and Briggs's A Hebrew
and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
based on Briggs's "The Use of Nephesh in the Old Testament"
gives a slightly different list of meanings. N was ‘that which breathes'.
N could refer to 1) a living being 2) a living being whose life resides
in the blood 3) the man himself 4) the seat of emotions and passions such
as desiring, abhorring and rejoicing 5) the seat of appetites such as
hunger and thirst and 6) occasionaly mental acts.
The New Bible Dictionary and Brown,
Driver and Briggs's Lexicon are only examples of the general perspective expressed throughout the body
of literature useful to the reader who is seeking a beginning knowledge
of N. Although there are differences in definitions given, the more popular
sources agree on most of the main points. Life, life principle, possessing
life, or vital force are the primary meanings given. That N was connected
with the blood is always mentioned, though some prefer to emphasize a
connection with the breath. Each exposition states that N referred to
the self or person and identifies it as the 'seat of emotions' and 'seat
This tendency to establish categories reflects the
influence of structural linguistics from early decades of this century
which gave a static, descriptive analysis of the lexical elements of language
and how they were combined by certain grammatical rules into sentences.
Like structuralism in psychology at the turn of the century, this approach
to language reflected the empiricistic tradition in philosophy and the
atomic model in chemistry. The structuralist school in the new discipline
of experimental psychology operated out of the framework that sensory
elements of mental experience combined to form sense experience analogous
to the discovery that chemical elements combined to form new molecules.
The empiricistic view that perceived combinations of sensory elements
were the building blocks for knowledge antedated each of these developments.
(See N. Chomsky's lecture on "The Past" in Language and
Mind for his view of the history of linguistics.)
This multi-discipline trend had its effect upon studies
of the Biblical languages which attempted to classify and categorize various
definitions of a word. Unfortunately, the method of elucidating categories
created two related problems. For one, the unity among various uses was
lost; for another, certain uses were forced into a category in which they
did not accurately fit -- at least as far as the Hebrew was concerned.
The way N is commonly defined today suffers from these problems. Its field
of meaning has lost not only its original cohesive unity but its fluidity
to encompass the multitude of ways N was originally used. This study assumes
a rediscovery of the Hebrew view of N would restore its semantic unity
and fluidity. Whereas several others have emphasized categories into which
various uses for N can be catalogued, the emphasis of this study is upon
developing the unity which overarches all OT instances of N, while at
the same time demonstrating its fluid diversity.
The term 'synthetic thinking' as described in the English
translation of Wolff's book needs to be developed further in order to
obtain a more accurate understanding of this 'grasping of a totality'.
Wolff was correct when he noted in his preliminary remarks that "different
parts of the body enclose with their essential functions the man who is
meant." (P. 8) The reference in Is. 52:7 to 'beautiful feet' does
indicate that the runner is 'swift of movement' and therefore 'good with
his feet'. In a poetic, artistic manner this reference to 'beautiful feet'
created for the Hebrew the familiar image of a messenger -- the hot-line
of 3,000 years ago. It captured a 'beautiful event' -- the receiving of
good tidings through the communication network of that day. However, could
not the telephone of today be referred to in a way similar to the runner's feet? 'How beautiful
is the phone of him who brings good tidings.' The feet and the phone are
both vehicles of communication. One might not use modern English in quite
this manner, but has not one had similar feelings about the phone after
receiving a call from a close companion who is a great distance away?
It is not a known English expression, but it is the same kind of poetical
expression as is found in Is. 52:7. Moreover, the English word 'hand'
can be used in the same fashion. 'How beautiful is the hand of the woman
who gives herself in marriage.'
The ancient Hebrew viewed the 'essential functions'
of a part of the body with imagery more expressive than Wolff has indicated.
The functioning referred to actually opened up into basic statements about
the Hebrew view of man and even his relation to God. In the words of J.
Robinson, "...all words pertaining to the life and constitution of
man are to be seen as designating or qualifying this fundamental relation
of man to God." (p. 16) This characteristic of the Hebrew perspective
for N is what distinguishes tsynthetic thinking' from the English use
of hand. The 'essential functions' which were circumscribed by 'the naming
of a body part' encompassed more than, for instance, activities of a 20th-Century
Western hand; they could even be statements about how man 'functioned'
in the world. This kind of 'grasping of a totality' by which reference
to a body part was able to make a statement about man is the distinguishing
characteristic of 'synthetic thinking'.
Anthropological words such as N were not limited semantically
to body organs and a comment on how they functioned physically or for
that matter just emotionally. The functions of N conveyed something about
man himself, his nature, his life situation. N conveyed information about
man just as a mants name communicated something about his nature. "For
as his name is, so is he, Nabal is his name and folly [naball is with
him." (I Sam. 25: 25b) Similarly, when children were born, they were
given names that had certain significance for the Hebrew parents. "And
as her N was departing (for she died), she called his name Benoni [son
of my sorrow] but his father called his name Benjamin [son of the right
hand or son of happy omen]." (Gen. 3518) Likewise, naming man N,
as occurred in the writing of Genesis, communicated a certain significance
to the 'whole man'. N, as linked to a 'body organ', gave certain significance
to the whole. The 20th Century Western mind might want to here employ
the word 'symbol' instead of 'significance'; however, today a symbol often
suggests a lesser reality than the object it represents. From the perspective
of synthetic thinking, equal reality existed between the part and the
whole for which it stood. In the world of the Hebrews a symbol had as
much concrete potency as the object it symbolized. The synthetic thinking
of the Hebrews enabled an anthropological term, founded in a part of the
'body', to carry a certain significance which conveyed how the Hebrews
perceived life, including life before God.
Using the above assumptions and information, the text,
through use of an original-language concordance such as the Englishman's
Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the
Old Testament reveals what is here termed a 'theme'. It
is perhaps not the best term since modern use can imply something constructed
and thereby secondary, whereas it is here used, in Hebrew fashion, to
refer to imagery intrinsic to the meaning of N. An elaboration of the
theme surrounding N will reveal the significance N had for the people
of ancient Israel and will set the stage for a discovery of the fulfillment
N received in the NT message.