Barry Newman's Blog

March 11, 2010

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

Filed under: The Heart — barrynewman @ 9:43 pm

The Mental and the Physical – the Heart and the Brain

The close to 800 usages of levand levav associated with the non-physical aspects of human beings could in almost all instances be interpreted, from a modern point of view, as referring to the brain functions of mental state or activity.  The largest category in Table 1, with a percentage of 22 – “the internally active heart” is clearly a category relating to mental activity, while most of the other categories could be interpreted as mainly relating to mental states.   However, as indicated above, lev and levav are also used, albeit in only a few instances, to refer to a physical part of the human body, located somewhere in the vicinity of the chest.  Even the metaphorical usage “in the midst of” is suggestive of a dependency of the metaphor on the middle regions of the body.  Given also that there is no known Hebrew word for brain, it is not implausible that in an ancient Israelite understanding of things biological, the functions of lev and levav were located in the physical region of the chest.   However, it is also likely that parts of the body such as kidneys, bowels, abdomen, breast and viscera were also understood as locations for mental states and activities.  Perhaps there were different understandings at different times held by different people.  Perhaps at various times, any biological understanding in these matters was imprecise.  Whatever, the biological understandings of the location of mental functioning held by the ancient Israelite and the modern world are quite different.

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