Barry Newman's Blog

March 5, 2010

“The Heart” in the Old Testament (part V)

Filed under: The Heart — barrynewman @ 6:06 am

The Heart of Humans (cont.)

Emotional Aspects

The heart is fearful: it is discouraged, dismayed, unnerved, terrified, and of fearful anguish; it fears, faints, melts, fails, trembles or shakes.  The heart is of a happy disposition: it is glad, merry, joyous, it rejoices or shouts for joy.  The heart is sorrowful: it is upset, plagued, pierced, poured out, weak, troubled, broken, in pain, distressed, pierced, sick, sad, grief-stricken, heavy and overturned; it suffers bitterness; it cries out, groans, laments like a flute or droops.   Clearly, the heart is associated with our emotional dispositions and to a significant extent.  We have such a usage in the English language and it is not uncommon for us to speak of the matters of the heart when referring to our feelings.  However in the Old Testament this is only one of the many ways that “heart” is used. We need to take care when coming across a translation that uses the word “heart” not to automatically see it as a reference to an emotional state.

The Internally Active Heart

The heart has desires and intends to bring about certain states of affairs.  It has inclinations, makes plans, devises violence and there are thoughts within the heart involved in the planning.  People speak within their hearts, talking to themselves, praying to God, blessing or cursing God or lifting their heart to God in heaven. The heart resolves, decides, determines, displays its willingness, is enthusiastic, acts in accordance with, is on the side of, is opposed to or is undivided.  Matters are remembered or forgotten within the heart.  In the heart one ponders, reflects, meditates or explores.  The heart attends to or should do so, it fixes its attention on or it does not.  The heart is the conscience, disturbing or not disturbing the bearer.  While recognising that there is nothing sacrosanct about the categorisations involved, this one is by far the largest.  The usage basically coincides with what we would call the activity of the mind.  Today we attribute such activities of the mind to the workings of the brain whereas the ancient Israelite appears to have considered such activities to be associated with an area near the heart if not the heart itself (as we understand the biological heart).  Many a translation taking account of a modern understanding of the brain/mind association will simply refer to the person deciding, reflecting, devising, attending to etc.

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