Genesis 2:7 uses 'the breath of life' (God's breath) to make man into a 'living soul.'

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7, KJV).

Is this a good translation of the text? Was this kind of imagery involving the breath of a deity common in early ANE literature? Were 'souls' associated with 'the breath of life' or similar concepts in Semitic cultures during the time this text was written? What further cultural and historical information from the time period and setting in which this text was written sheds further light on the meaning of this clause?

  • 2
    Dan - you don't think it is going to take a book to answer this question?
    – JLB
    Jan 31 '14 at 1:14
  • @JLB I actually wondered that myself (and folks are free to vote to close on the basis it is too broad), but I wouldn't be comfortable making that call on my own. Even so, I think someone could answer this well with a somewhat longer but focused response.
    – Dan
    Jan 31 '14 at 17:34
  • In the mean time @MusaKhonje you may enjoy checking out this question on Christianity. That site is free to discuss the theological implications which I believe you are interested in (we avoid that here - sticking only to the text itself).
    – Dan
    Jan 31 '14 at 17:35

Yes, it is a good translation. Michael A. Knibb says, in 'Life and death in the Old Testament', published in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives, page 398, the account of the creation of man in the ‘Yahwistic’ narrative of the creation and fall (Gen.2.4b-3.24) epitomises the Old Testament view of the constitution of man: "Yahweh God formed man out of dust from the ground and breathed in to his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." He says it is widely recognised that there is no suggestion here of a dichotomy between body and soul; the ‘breath of life’ is not conceived of as having an existence somehow separate from the body, and it is man as an entity who becomes a ‘living being’.

In the nineteenth century, Julius Wellhausen carried out stylistic analyses of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), and was able to assign authors called J (the 'Yahwist') and E (the 'Elohist') to the nature and fertility stage of religion, D ('Deuteronomist') to the spiritual and ethical stage, and P ('Priestly Source') to the priestly and legal stage. Some modern scholars suggest modifications to Wellhausen's hypothesis, but there is general agreement that multiple authorship remains the best hypothesis.

The Yahwist source, perhaps as early as the tenth century BCE, portrayed God as more anthropomorphic, less abstract, walks and talks with men, etc. On the other hand, the Elohist portrayed God in similar terms but no one could look at his face and live. It is the Yahwist portrayal of God that concerns us here, because this passage is considered part of the Yahwist's contribution to Genesis.

Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger say in Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God: In Ancient Israel, page 305, that Isaiah, for example in chapter 6, could still see Yahweh in human form at the end of the eighth century BCE.

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