Most books on Biblical studies of N begin with
linguistic considerations which link N with the throat, neck or the breath.
Johnson wrote, "...there is reason to believe that N ... was used
to denote the throat or neck, i.e. as the organ through which one breathed."
(p. 4-5) He translated Jonah 2:6 to read, "water encompassed
me up to the neck (N)" (p. 6) and Is. 5:14 to suggest enlarging of
the throat. "Therefore sheol has enlarged its N." He concluded,
"All in all, therefore, if the original meaning of N was throat or
neck ... it appears to have been so denoting that part of the body through
which one breathes, i.e. the organ of expansion." (p. 7, n. 4) He
obtained support from Accadian and Ugaritic cognates, napistu and
nps respectively. He also called attention to the expression 'breathing
out of N' and added, "a corresponding use of the term N to denote
'breath' may be readily understood even though there is no certain example
of its use in this way." (P. 6)
Johnson is not the only one who has expressed the
view that N was related to throat and breath; however, the others do not
integrate the throat and breath relation as well as he. W. Eichrodt in
volume two of his Theology of the Old Testament
wrote, "It is possible in the case of this word, too, to establish
the basic physical connotation, namely first of all the 'neck', 'throat'
or 'gullet', and then by extension that which comes out of the throat,
the 'breath' or 'breath of life'." (p. 134) Consistent with his preliminary
remarks, Wolff expressed a rather 'organ-oriented' approach to N.
He viewed N as "a term for the organ that takes in food!'. (p. 11)
In addition, he noted, "But the N does not only count as the organ
for taking in nourishment, it is also the organ of breathing." (p.
13) "The rarer use of N for the external neck could be secondary."
(p. 14) Like other authors, Wolff noted a lingual connection with the
Hebrew verb nph. "...the action of N is nph meaning
to blow, breathe, or pant." (p. 13) Similarly, "It is only N
as the organ of breathing that makes the verbal use of the root nps
(niph.) comprehensible." (p. 13) He also cited cognates from other
In Accadian too napasu means to blow, to snort, to take breath,
and napistu means in the first instance the throat, both of men
and animals, and then life, the basis of life, and the living being;
in Ugaritic nps also repeatedly means the jaws, the throat or
the gullet, and then appetite, desire, the feelings and the living being.
Arabic nafsun can mean both breath and appetite, and can then be the
term for life, the feelings and the person.
The semasiology of the Hebrew N shows over and above these indications
side parallels in the related Semitic languages. (p. 13-14)
Though scholars hold that, etymologically, N
resided in throat, neck, and breath, there are disagreements as to which
was most basic. Wolff commented, "Becker (1942) has contested the
basic meaning of throat, and took breath to be the earlier basic meaning.
This controversy is probably to no purpose, since for Semitic peoples
eating, drinking and breathing all took place in the throat; so it was
the seat of the elemental vital needs in general." (p. 14)
A. Murtonen in Living Soul expressed a different
opinion on the subject of N and its relation to throat and breath. After
summarizing a variety of opinions that scholars of Semitic languages have
exhibited on the issue of throat and breath in relation to N (p. 63-68),
he concluded that the OT passages that Johnson believed were examples
of the 'blowing (breathing) out of N' "in fact have no influence
on the question and give no proof that N is equal to breath". (p.
67) He was also wary of the way scholars use general Semitic meanings
to verify the meaning of a specific Hebrew word. (see p. 8)
Seemingly quite separate from N denoting throat, neck,
or breath is the connection N had with the blood. Lev. 17:11 clearly reads,
"For the N of the flesh is in the blood." Deut. 12:23b reads,
"for the blood is the N." Eichrodt noted, "It is easily
understandable that the blood should be preeminently the vehicle of the
N, so that it can be stated quite categorically that the blood is the
N." (p. 136) Wolff, however, considered it a secondary assignment.
(see p. 19) The connection N had with blood linked it to the whole sacrificial
system of the ancient Israelites. Lev. 17:11 continues, "For the
N of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you upon the altar
to make atonement by means of the N."
It is now established that during the OT period N
was associated with not only throat, neck and breath, but also blood.
Thus, N was somehow associated with many body parts. As mentioned earlier,
there is disagreement among scholars surrounding the relation of these
body parts to N. Did they relate to N in the same manner? Were some secondary
while other primary as Wolff suggested? Was N equated with one or all
of these 'body organs' which are today recognized from an anatomical perspective?
If they were not each parts which were synonymous with N, then what was
the actual nature of the association?
These questions cannot be answered in a way which
does justice to the ancient Hebrew perspective unless there is first a
documentation of the theme which unified and held in proper arrangement
the various ways N was employed, including its use as body parts such
as throat, neck, breath, and blood.