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In a number of places, the English Standard Version uses a phrase like "wept on his neck," e.g.

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. —Genesis 45:14

Is this a Hebrew idiom? What does it mean? My best guess is that it means that he cried while he hugged him (in which case, ESV, bad translation!) To fall upon someone's neck sounds to me like you are hanging off it, but that's obviously not what's happening.

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The complete list from the OT:

  1. Gen 33:4
  2. Gen 45:14
  3. Gen 46:29

The expression is not found in Hebrew outside the OT (and indeed only in Gen.) and is not used in modern Hebrew except when intent is mock Biblical.

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Now I'm curious. Do you have any sources for research done on this topic or examples of the mocking use you mention? Do any commentators knowledgable of its non-use in other Hebrew sources speculate as to how it came to be used in Biblical Hebrew? Could it have been something specific to the era (since we don't have other comparable written sources dating back to that time) – Caleb Sep 25 '13 at 10:44

This is only a small addition to previous answers, which have dealt well with the main issue.

Act 20:37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him

The idiom is not restricted to Hebrew: Here a Gentile author is writing about a group of predominantly Gentiles saying goodbye to the apostle to the Gentiles. It is possible that Luke was influenced by the Old Testament, the scripture of the early church, and was therefore led to use this expression.

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