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The breath of life in Genesis 2:7 is neshama. God gave it to humans. Does it animate anything else?
Yahveh formed humans out of dust, the most sterile part of the ground. He then breathed in the breath of life, the neshama, a unique ingredient we will identify in the next chapter. The question is, who are the lone recipients of this gift of God?
(Mind-Body Problem Solved, Chapter 13)
Let’s first identify the Biblical Hebrew for breath of life, because, as you will see, translations are anything but complete in this domain.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed (H5301) into his nostrils the breath (H5397) of life, and man became a living soul.
We have to take the time, and step by step, look at the meaning of neshama. The KJV translators used the same English word for two different concepts in this same verse. God breathed (וַיִּפַּ֥ח – yifach, H5301) and the breath (נְשָׁמָה – neshama, H5397) of life. In Hebrew, these two words are different and grammatically unrelated. Here’s Strong’s entry for neshama.
נְשָׁמָה nᵉshâmâh from H5395 (נָשַׁם); a puff, i.e. wind, angry or vital breath, divine inspiration, intellect. or (concretely) an animal:
KJV – blast, (that) breath(-eth), inspiration, soul, spirit.
We know what breathe and breath are, we do it many times each minute of our lives. So we give it no further thought. Great error. The 2nd Step to master Biblical Hebrew is present, figurative meanings. Note neshama means inspiration and spirit; we’ll elaborate on this next week. But that is one reason I said neshama is a gift from God.
The question today is, who possesses the breath of life? I believe Strong made a serious error in his entry for H5397 by referring to the neshama as (concretely) an animal. We’ll see why I think he made this error; I made it too until Genesis 7:21-22 became clear. Maybe you’ve also made it. Maybe you’re not even aware of it, but we must clear it up. Here’s that error-prone context. It’s the very next time, after Gen. 2:7, where the author uses the word neshama.
20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man:
22 All in whose nostrils was the breath (H5397) of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
23 And every living substance was destroyed which was on the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
I’ve reproduced verses 20 and 23 to show you we’re talking about the beginning of Noah’s flood. Verse 22 includes neshama. Does this verse include animals and every man? Or, put another way, do animals possess neshama? In Genesis 2:7, God gave the breath of life (neshama) to the first man but had He given it to animals He’d already created?
Here’s an image of verse 22 from the Interlinear Bible. I’m doing this so you can see the Biblical Hebrew because there’s a huge problem that the KJV translators missed and didn’t know what to do. You can NOT see this in English.
I checked the KJV, NIV, Modern English Version, Douay-Rheims, Living Bible. They all say breath or breathed. Not one has translations for both neshama AND ruach. My French Louis Segond is better, respiration, souffle de vie. At least it attempts to translate both words.
Interestingly, the New KJV has the breath (a) of the spirit of life, and there’s a footnote (a): Genesis 7:22 LXX (the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Old Testament), Vg. (the Vulgate, the official Latin translation) omit of the spirit. The New KJV has two words here, breath and spirit, as in the interlinear image above. Whereas the footnote indicates the Septuagint and the Vulgate omit of the spirit. It would appear the KJV translators followed the LXX and Vg rather than the Biblical Hebrew in Genesis 7:22.
You have to ask yourself why the KJV translators left out one of these two words. I will explain this, but not now, back to our subject. We’re reading this verse to see if ANIMALS have NESHAMA. If you skim it, as it is written, the answer appears to be yes; animals do have neshama. But let’s take another look, especially at the end of verse 21. and every man: Notice the colon. The thought about man CONTINUES into verse 22.
A better reading of Genesis 7:22 in the KJV would be, and every man, all in whose nostrils was the breath (H5397) of life. If we follow the Biblical Hebrew, it would be “and every man, all in whose nostrils was the breath (H5397 – neshama) of the spirit (H7307 – ruach) of life.” Quite a difference. Humans have neshama, not animals. Verse 22 continues and ends with: of all that was in the dry land, died. The of all is a summary that includes all animals and all humans.
Maybe you think I’m twisting scripture or whatever. Let’s look at Joshua.
10:40 So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed (H5397 – neshama), as the LORD God of Israel commanded.
11:11 And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe (H5397 neshama): and he burnt Hazor with fire.
14 And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey to themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe (H5397).
In this episode, as the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they utterly destroyed all the souls (11:11) with neshama (breathe, as it’s translated here). BUT they took the cattle for prey. If they destroyed ALL those with neshama and kept the cattle alive, then, by deduction, cattle do NOT have neshama.
Furthermore, cattle BREATH. Therefore, the meaning of neshama cannot be limited to breathe. There is something humans possess, given by Yahveh, breathed into them, that animals do not possess. It is neshama, and it behooves us to know what this is. Neshama differentiates humans from animals. Do you see what this does for human knowledge in science, philosophy, and religion?
God and Humans possess Neshama
From what we’ve seen, God alone gives neshama, and it inhabits every single human being. But, humans alone.
God has given humans something He possesses. Remember, we discussed humans are Godkind. God created humans in His image. He did so by placing a portion of Himself in each one of us through the breath of life.
Job was a wise man with the spiritual understanding of neshama. He knew he possessed it unlike 99.99% of people today. He also knew the spirit of God animated him. We shall discuss the nature of this second immaterial essence and how it assembles with our neshama. This is fundamental knowledge of what a human being is.
Another context revealing God gives neshama, the breath of life, AND spirit, to ALL people on Earth. He is not an exclusive but an inclusive God. All people, worldwide, are His Creation and He has a purpose for each one of us. We are living a given instant in that Creation plan, but there’s much more to come.
Both God and humans possess neshama and this verse states the neshama, an immaterial essence confers on humans certain attributes associated with understanding. That’s what we’ll see in the next chapter.
Can you see how the English word breath is far, far short of expressing what neshama really is? The Job 32:8 translation inspiration is closer. As it says in that same verse, of the Almighty, I’m thinking a better translation of neshama would be divine essence (the Almighty’s breath). I’m still keeping a better translation open. What do you think?
The last verse in the final Psalm is a reference to the end of God’s plan for all humans. It opens up a new era. It reveals a state of peace, prosperity, and unity between all beings concerning their Creator, Savior, and God. All beings in that position will possess well-oriented neshama, and as a result, will know God and be able to praise Him. Instead of breath, translate it divine essence. Isn’t it clearer?
This chapter is an introduction to the breath of life. There remain many other exhilarating and revealing human aspects related to neshama, the breath of life. We have much more in common with God, being in His image, than you’ve realized.
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