I noticed the mention of fifth rib in the murder of Abner:

2 Sam 3:27 And when Abner had returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly and smote him there under the fifth rib that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother. [Jubilee 2000]

The same detail is given for the murders of Ish-bosheth (2 Sam 4:6) and Amasa (2 Sam 20:10).

Is there something significant about the fifth rib?


5 Answers 5


As part of my secular job (I'm a Respiratory Therapist), I do EKG's (aka ECG's and cardiograms) on people. EKG leads V1-V6 are ventricular - the 2 larger pumping chambers of the bottom portion of the heart - leads. Lead V5 is placed in the left 5th intercostal space between the 5th & 6th (below the 5th and above the sixth) ribs, and would be most proximal to the Left ventricle of the heart. This is the largest and most vital pumping chamber of the heart, responsible for pumping blood to the entire body (including the heart's own blood supply). Thus, in my opinion the text mentioned (2 Samuel 3:27) is simply saying that Joab stabbed Abner in the heart. In all of the texts mentioned (2 Samuel 3:27; 4:6 and 3:27) it seems that possibly the inspired writer was indicating that all of these stabbings were calculated to inflict an immediate and irremediable fatal wound.

  • Addendum to my last entry above: In as much as I do not remember reading of Joab being left handed (please correct me if I'm wrong), it is not unlikely that he used his right hand to stab Abner (thus my mention above of EKG lead V5 and the left 5th intercostal space). However, at the 5th intercostal space (in their day), any stab wound (right or left) would certainly have proved quickly fatal as it would have no doubt punctured a lung. Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 17:33
  • Seems unlikely that someone who wants to make a quick-killing stab would choose to aim between certain ribs (that likely are covered with clothes) - taking a chance of getting the knife stuck in bone or glancing off bone. Stabbing upward and to the right under the xiphoid process seems the most logical place. "Rib" is a guess and I suspect there is deeper meaning involved with the term for "five".
    – tblue
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 15:07

The Idea in Brief

The area in question appears to be in the frontal abdominal area directly below the sternum--i.e., the so-called "gut."


The Babylonian Talmud indicates that the "fifth rib" was the junction point of the gall bladder and liver.

b. Sanhedrin 6:4n (Folio 49A)

F. He said to him, “Now if at exactly the fifth rib he had the capacity [to take aim], as it is written, ‘Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him at the waist’ (2 Sam. 2:23),
G. (on which R. Yohanan said, “It was at the fifth rib, where the gall bladder and liver are suspended” [Schachter]),
H. “should he not have been able to aim at one of his limbs [instead of killing him]?”

FF. “And he smote him there at the waist” (2 Sam. 3:27):
GG. Said R. Yohanan, “At the fifth rib, where the gall-bladder and liver are suspended.”

The following two diagrams show the placement of the gall bladder and liver in contrast with the rib cage. Access to this area would not occur through the flanks (below the rib cage) but directly in front below the sternum. Please click to enlarge the respective images, below.

enter image description here enter image description here

Please note that access to the junction of the gall bladder and liver appears only through the front of the abdomen below the sternum. In this regard, the "fifth rib" would not count from the top as modern western medicine would process, but counts from the bottom of the rib cage toward the top (ignoring the bottom two "partial ribs" #11 and #12 noted in the graph illustration of the rib cage). In other words, the "fifth rib" is the point at the sternum where access to the liver and gall bladder would occur.

Finally, the Roman historian Flavius Josephus (who was also Jewish) appears to follow this same understanding of what Joab did to Abner.

Antiquities 7.35
§35 ἀποσπᾷ μὲν τῶν οἰκείων αὐτὸν ὡς ἐν ἀπορρήτῳ διαλεξόμενος, παραγαγὼν δὲ εἰς τὸ ἐρημότερον τῆς πύλης μόνος αὐτὸς ὢν σὺν Ἀβεσσαίῳ τῷ ἀδελφῷ σπασάμενος τὴν μάχαιραν ὑπὸ τὴν λαγόνα παίει. [...having drawn his sword, he strikes under the belly].

The Greek word λαγών occurs in many translations as the flank or side; however, the Hebrew word חֹמֶשׁ appears to refer to the protruding part of the body under the sternum as Gesenius (1979) makes clear. Please note the etymological relationship of this word to the Hebrew number five.

I. חֹמֶשׁ m. a fifth part (from חָמֵשׁ five, like רֹבַע a fourth part, from רְבַע, אַרְבַּע). Specially, the fifth part of produce, which the Egyptians paid as a tax, Gen. 47:26.
II. חֹמֶשׁ m. abdomen, 2 Sa. 2:23; 3:27; 4:6; 20:10; from the root חָמַשׁ No. 1. (Syr. ܚܘܽܡܫܐܳ 2 Sa. 3:27; 4:6, id.; Æth. ሕምስ፡ womb; Talmud. חִימְצָה; שׁ and צ being interchanged, abdomen. The Phœnicio-Shemitic words appear to have given rise to the Lat. omasum.)

Gesenius cites the various passages of the Hebrew Bible where this word for "fifth rib" occurs.


In summary, if counting from the bottom of the rib cage (ignoring the two small partial ribs), the fifth rib would have its junction point at the sternum. The Hebew word חֹמֶשׁ therefore appears to refer not to the side or flanks of the body, but to the body cavity area starting at the sternum, where access to the gall bladder and liver would occur. This interpretation appears consistent with early Jewish oral tradition. If this view is correct, then Joab would appear to have stabbed Abner "in the gut." The same would then appear to have occurred with the killings of both Ish-bosheth (2 Sam 4:6) and Amasa (2 Sam 20:10).


Gesenius, W., & Tregelles, S. P. (1979). Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Grand Rapids: Baker, 290.

Neusner, Jacob (2011). The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Vol. 16). Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 253.


Even though the proposed connection between חמש and the meaning ‘five’, then, the derivative expression ‘fifth (rib?)’ is intriguing, it seems to me it is untenable.

Some factors we must consider:

The term is used only 4 times in the TaNaKh (2 Sam 2:23; 3:27; 4:6; 20:10).

Anyway – let’s get things straight immediately: we have to remember that the Bible doesn’t mention any ‘rib’ in these passages. This kind of translation is based not only on the assumption that the Hebrew verb at issue is linked with the concept of ‘five’, but – also – that this ‘5-concept’ is linked, in turn, with the numbering of ribs, the body part more aimed from the cold steels.

As regards one of these passages - 2 Sam 4:6 (the murder of Ish-Bosheth) - did could be possible, from Rechab & Baanah’s part, to aim exactly to the Ish-Bosheth’s fifth rib.

As regards another of the passages - 2 Sam 20:10 (Joab kills Amasa) we have to see the matter otherwise, on the basis of the context. In fact, this passage specifies that the Joab’s sword was in his left hand, as he took hold Amasa’s beard with his right hand. Tough I’m not a swordsman, it seems to me it’s very improbable such a body sequence.

The similar passage of 2 Sam 4:6 (Joab kills Abner) doesn’t specify the hand used by Joab to strike Abner, but since Joab was left-handed – as we have seen in 20:10 – this omission is ininfluent. If Joab were ambidextrous the specification of the hand utilized for the murder (as in 2 Sam 20:10) would be useless. So, the same remarks we’ve made for 20:10 are sound also for 4:6.

The last passage (2 Sam 2:23) fully confirms - again - this conclusion (i.e. no connection with a ‘five’ concepts). It speaks about the killing of Asahel. From the Bible account we can imagine Abner (identifying ourselves with him) - that was running ahead Asahel – smiting him (Asahel) with the butt end of his (Abner’s) spear, while he (Abner) was seeing from the corner of his eyes, obviously. Unless Abner was a professional contortionist (in addition to his warrior expertise), a so precise (“calculated”, as ‘Michael L Greene’ said) stroke was impossible (only casual, at best).

See, please, how Robert Alter – in his translation – explains this body sequence:

“Asahel is pursuing Abner at top speed. Abner, to save his own life, uses an old soldier’s trick: he suddenly stops short and thrusts his spear backward, under his pursuer’s shield (if Asahel is carrying one) and into the soft belly. The momentum of Asahel’s rapid running would have contributed to the penetrating force of the spear’s butt.”

Consistently, Alter translates this stichus: “...struck him in the belly”.

So, the higher probability is that the term חמש possesses no connection with the sense of ‘five’, but with the sense of ‘to fatten’, so the nouns ‘abdomen’, ‘stomach’, and so on.

This verb (חמש) is present in MT in a number of graphical variants. I mention here only one of them, to simplify the matter, חשם, that is different from the verb we are speaking only for the permutation of the last two letters (שם instead of מש). All the graphical variants of חמש possess the same meaning.

Not everybody knows that there are a lot of MT Hebrew verbs that possess a number of graphical variants, risen from some consonantal permutations (a kind of anagrams). I present here only three examples, but the phenomenon happens fairly often.

For example, the concept of “to be foolish” is present in כסל (KSL), as in Jer 10:8, but – also – in סכל (SKL), as in Gen 31:28. Note the permutation KS > SK.

The concept of “to mould” is present in ארץ (ARJ), as in Gen 1:1 (derivate noun, ‘earth’), but – also – in יצר (IJR), as in Gen 2:7. Note the permutation RJ > JR.

The concept of “to be powerful” is present in אמץ (AMJ), as in Gen 25:23, but – also – in עצם (OJM), as in Gen 2:7. Note the permutation MJ > JM.

As a consequence of this fact, there are a number of scholars who sustain the link between the sense of ‘to fatten’ (and not with that of ‘five’), and then, they produce a ‘belly’-alike translation. We may cite here (bold is mine):

Johann Peter Lange (his Commentary, on 2 Sam 3:27): “2Sa 2:23. חמֶשׁ. Not one of the ancient VSS. renders this word ‘fifth rib’, Sept[uagint], ‘loins’ (ψόα), Syr. ‘breast’, Chald. ‘side of the loins’, Vulg ‘inguen’ […] Gesenius and Fürst connect the word with a root (found in Arabic), meaning ‘to be fat or strong’.” Note how ancient codex and versions confirm the ‘belly’-alike translation.

Albert Barnes: “The word so rendered here (and in marginal references) means the abdomen, and is not etymologically connected with the Hebrew for ‘five’, as the translation ‘fifth rib’ supposes, but with a verb meaning ‘to be fat’, or ‘strong’.”

Cambridge Bible: “The E. V. follows the Jewish commentators in thus rendering a word which occurs in three other passages of this book (2Sa 3:27, 2Sa 4:6, 2Sa 20:10) and nowhere else. ‘In the belly’ is however the more probable meaning.”

Adam Clarke (on 2 Sam 20:10): “In the fifth rib - I believe חמש chomesh, which we render here and elsewhere the fifth rib, means any part of the abdominal region. The Septuagint translate it ‘την ψοαν’, ‘the groin’; the Targum, ‘the right side of the thigh’, i.e., (the phrase of the Targumist being interpreted), ‘the privy parts’. That it means some part of the abdominal region, is evident from what follows, ‘And shed out his bowels to the ground. It appears from this that, in plain English, he ripped up his belly’.

In addition, I present here a brief list of various translations which follow the belly-groin-stomach track (on the basis of 2 Sam 2:23, as a sample passage):

abdomen”, Amplified Bible, ISV, Modern English Version, NAB, The Voice; “belly”, Alter, Darby, LITV, MKJV, Names of God Bible, NJB; “body”, ASV, GNT, Hebrew Names Version, Holman, World English Bible; “groin”, Douay-Rheims, JPS, TLV; “stomach”, BBE, CEV, ESV, Evangelical Heritage Version, Expanded Bible, GNB, HCSB, LEB, Lexham, New Century Version, NIRV, NIV, TS2009; “ventre” [French for ‘belly’], Luis Segond; “Bauch” [German for ‘belly’], Luther.

@Emmanuel Adediwura: I hope these information will be useful for your research.


In Joseph Alleine's Alarms, the phrase "under the fifth rib" is used in "The Marks of the Unconverted under 12. Carnal Security, or a presumptuous confidence that their condition is already good. Many cry, Peace and Safety, when sudden destruction is coming upon them. This was that which kept the foolish virgins sleeping when they should have been working--upon their beds when they should have been at the markets. They perceived not their want of oil, till the Bridegroom was come; and while they went to buy, the door was shut. And oh, that these foolish virgins had no successors! Where is the place, yea, where is the house almost, where these do not dwell? Men are willing to cherish in themselves, upon ever so slight grounds, a hope that their condition is good, and so look not out after a change, and by these means perish in their sins. Are you at peace? Show me upon what grounds your peace is maintained. Is it Scripture peace? Can you show the distinguishing marks of a sound believer? Can you evidence that you have something more than any hypocrite in the world ever had? If not, fear this peace more than any trouble; and know that a carnal peace doth commonly prove the most mortal enemy of the soul, and, whilst it smiles, and kisses, and speaks fairly, doth fatally smite, as it were, under the fifth rib."


Another reference to five that is called to mind is the five loaves. These references are one as it refers to the book of Deuteronomy containing the great commandment in the law that Christ came to fulfil.

The significance of the twelve ribs reflects the structure of the law and the prophets in the Hebrew bible. The English bible has 66 books, 39 old and 27 new. Before the greek scriptures, in the Hebrew arrangement Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are each combined to a single book, reducing the 39 count to 36=6x6 books instead of 39+27=66 books.

The first twenty four books (if my arrangement is correct) are:

Genesis            Hosea 
Exodus             Joel 
Leviticus          Amos 
Numbers            Obadiah 
Deuteronomy        Jonah 
^--- fifth book 
Joshua             Micah 
                   --------- midpoint 
Judges             Nahum 
Samuel             Habakkuk 
Kings              Zepharaiah 
Isaiah             Haggai 
Jeremiah           Zecharaiah 
Ezekiel            Malachi

The second twelve are the twelve minor prophets and are central in both Hebrew and modern arrangements.

The remaining scriptures are twelve books, counting Ezra and Nehemiah as separate books.

Joshua is the Hebrew word for Jesus.

Fit these together with comments about the heart and what it means to love God with thy heart, soul and might, which is how the great commandment in Deuteronomy is referenced.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.