Gen 9:4

אך בשר בנפשו
דמו לא תאכלו

In English,

But flesh in its breath
its blood shall not be eaten

What does the verse grammatically mean? Let me propose some options, which need not be the answer

  • cannot eat the blood of flesh that is still alive
  • cannot eat animal's blood which is its means of staying of alive.
  • cannot eat flesh that is still alive signified by it still having its blood

I want the linguistic meaning, not religious opinion. Religious opinions should come with supporting scripture. Supporting scripture should not use ambiguous English words. For example the word "require", because clearly דרש in the following verse does not mean "require" as we understand in modern English.

If possible, cross-reference other passages in Hebrew that has the same structure to support the validity of your answer.

  • The word, Breath" does not appear in Gen 9:4 - that is a bad translation.
    – Dottard
    Apr 9, 2022 at 21:11

1 Answer 1


The hebrew word here rendered as "breath" is nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ).

Like nafs (نَفْس) in Arabic, and cognates in many Semitic languages, this word has a wide semantic field. It is usually rendered as "soul" or "spirit", "living creature" or even sometimes as a pronoun meaning "yourself" or "himself". Here is a list of all the occurences of nefesh in the OT.

Considering this, a litteral translation of Gen 9:4 might be

But Flesh [with] its soul (nefesh) in it, [that is] its blood, shall not be eaten.

The idea here is that the blood is the container of the soul (a very common ancient idea, not only in Judaism) and therefore should not be eaten.

  • But linguistically ?
    – Cynthia
    Oct 21, 2015 at 1:35
  • נפש is never "spirit", "Spirit" is רוח . In Arabic "spirit" is روح RUH. In Arabic, nafas is "breath/breathe". Moreover, in Hebrew there is no such thing as "soul". "Soul" is a hellenistic concept aka psyche, which unfortunately has contaminated modern Hebrew usage. נפש means alive.
    – Cynthia
    Oct 21, 2015 at 1:45
  • 1
    There is also Gen 2:7 to consider ".. the Lord God [...] breathed (נָפַח, naphach) into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (נֶפֶשׁ, nephesh)" Here, a "living creature" is a "chay nephesh", i.e. a "living nephesh". Admittedly, this is not a "living soul" in the Greek sense (which sort of implies immortality) but it is quite close. It seems that what this verse implies is that a "nephesh" is what gives a man his identity.
    – fi11222
    Oct 21, 2015 at 6:14

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.