There is an old question on Christianity.SE which I suggested that it should also be asked here - since we don't migrate OLD questions. In doing so, I noticed that the OP hasn't been really active and I suspect that it will never be asked here. With that said:

Genesis 24:2 NIV

One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh.

Genesis 47:29 NIV

As the time of his death drew near, Jacob called for his son Joseph and said to him, “Please do me this favor. Put your hand under my thigh and swear that you will treat me with unfailing love by honoring this last request: Do not bury me in Egypt.

Leviticus 7:33 NIV

The right thigh must always be given to the priest who offers the blood and the fat of the peace offering.

Is this a translation concern? What do they REALLY mean?

  • In someways, it's similar to this question Commented May 22, 2014 at 17:28
  • we already have an answer to the Revelation text meaning, so I removed that one (also, the texts are written in different languages and greatly different time periods, so it is best to address that one separately anyways).
    – Dan
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 17:41
  • 5
    And the Leviticus text probably should be its own question as well since it addresses a different usage of the phrase - but I'll leave it be for now, but there are really two questions here.
    – Dan
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 17:43

5 Answers 5



The Hebrew term often translated "thigh" is ירך (yārēḵ; יָרֵךְ), which HALOT notes can refer to (my numbering; HALOT has only 2 entries and groups a number of meanings under #1 of there entry):

  1. The upper thigh (upper leg); e.g., Exo 28:42 (distinct from the waist here, referring to the bottom extent of priest's trousers), Jer 31:19 (Jeremiah surely struck a part of his leg), probably Song 7:1 (the two thighs of the woman described)
  2. The side of the hip (hip joint connecting the thigh); e.g., Gen 32:21-32 (Jacob's muscle shrank there), Exo 32:27 (a place for the sword to hang)
  3. The area of the genitals
    • as the place from which male procreation occurs; e.g., Gen 46:26 (KJV: loins; NKJV: body; others descendents), Exo 1:5 (KJV & NASB: loins; others descendents); part of the whole phrase "came out of the loins" is what is sometimes being translated as some phrase with descendents, but this term is there in the Hebrew text.
    • as the place of female procreation (Num 5:21ff)
  4. As a metaphorical extension of #2 to mean the "side" of something (or my conjecture is that it is more related to the "support" of something, which often is at a "side," except see the last example here); e.g., Lev 1:11 (side of the altar), Exo 40:22 (side of the tabernacle), Exo 25:31 (shaft of the lampstand)

NOTE: The Leviticus 7:33 reference is a totally different Hebrew word שוק (šôq; שׁוֹק), and so is distinct from the term yārēḵ.

Two Primary Options

Regarding the oath formula, there are two options to the use of the term yārēḵ:

  1. a literal reference to one of the most powerful muscles of the human body (figurative of strength)
  2. a literal or figurative (euphemistic) reference to the genital area (but ultimately figurative of its procreative power).

For the oath passages Gen 24:2, 9 and 47:29, some insist the context makes it clear it is a reference to the genitals. An example is James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), page 34 (bolding shows the "insistence" of their view):

The word thigh—Hebrew, yarekis a euphemism; that is, a mild or indirect word that is substituted for one that is considered too harsh, blunt, or offensive. Without question, the servant’s hand was placed beneath Abraham’s procreative organs (these words are also euphemisms). Whether the placement of the hand had to do with the act of circumcision instituted by God, and thus gave a covenant solemnity to the oath, is not known. It has been said by some that it had reference to the long-range effects that the servant’s mission would have upon Abraham’s descendants, or that it symbolized that even his yet unborn children would avenge any violation of the act. But neither of these explanations seem to fit Israel’s request to his son Joseph to take his body out of Egypt and bury it where his fathers are buried, when the same manner of swearing an oath was used (see Genesis 47:29).

Another quote, this from John J. Pilch, A Cultural Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), page 280:

Other common words like thigh, hand, and finger also symbolize reproductive parts of the anatomy where the context makes this clear. When Abraham commands his servant: “Put your hand under my thigh, and swear to me by the LORD that you will do my bidding,” the servant must swear while his hand touches Abraham’s organ (see Gen. 24:2, 9). The deed is clear, but its significance is less clear. One interpretation is that the person is swearing by touching a sacred spot, namely, the location of the “covenant of circumcision.” Another interpretation is that if the person does not fulfill his oath, he can expect punishment in this vital region of his body. He might not produce further progeny.

However, despite this common view, insistence on the oath passages referring to the genitals cannot be fully maintained given that clearly the term is used not in reference to the "procreative organs" in other passages. So the term is not exclusively euphemistically used, and the question remains if that is really what is intended in these two passages.

Even if the procreative power is the emphasis of the oath (and there is not a guarantee such is the case), it may be that "thigh" or "loins" takes on that association itself figuratively. That is, the oath itself may not have been with the hand "placed beneath ... procreative organs," but only literally "under the thigh [of the leg]" with that association still being a reference to the procreative power of the loins in general.

So procreative power may be the emphasis. Yet the emphasis may be to an individual's strength, for the thigh/hip area is critical to overall full body strength. Without both thighs/hips being healthy, a person cannot walk well (so Jacob, Gen 32:31), neither do much in the way of lifting, turning, etc. This idea fits better as well with the figurative use of the term in definition #4 above, where the sides (or shaft) are the strength of support to the structures.

Contextual Analysis

In Gen 24:2 and 9, the context of the passage refers to the descendants. Abraham is seeking a wife for Isaac in chapter 24, and the purity of her is important (v.3) with respect to the promise of descendants given to Abraham (v.7). This yields some plausibility to the procreative power being the focus of the oath.

But in Gen 47:29, Jacob (Israel) is making Joseph swear an oath to not bury his body in Egypt, but to take it back to be with his fathers (v.30). This has no relation to descendants, but rather to ancestry.

Really, what both have in common is a focus on the promise of God with respect to the land and its people. Jacob wants to be buried in the promised land, where Abraham and Isaac are buried. Abraham wants a wife for Isaac brought to the promised land (Gen 24:4-7), without Isaac leaving that land (v.6, 8). It is there that Abraham's descendants are promised a place (v.7). So the common focus is on the strength of God to fulfill what He has promised (explicit in Abraham's request, implicit in Jacob's desire to be buried there).

Recall that Abraham specifically has his servant "swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth" (Gen 24:3, NKJV) while placing hand under thigh. Whether this was so for Joseph's oath to Jacob is less clear, though there was certainly some distinction between Joseph's statement "I will do as you have said" (Gen 47:30) and Jacob's follow-up "Swear to me," of which Joseph then "swore to him" (v.31). It may well be that the oath swearing was related to YHWH's name, though that is still not explicit.


While I also cannot "insist," I find more support for the idea of thigh in the oath passages referring to the strength of the individuals, but not their own strength (of which Jacob's was taken), but rather the strength of the One they both trusted in to fulfill His promises. By having another swear with "hand under the thigh," the actions (represented by the hand) of those individuals are placed under oath to trust in the strength of YHWH (represented by the thigh of the believer) to play a part in working to fulfill YHWH's promises.

However, whether or not the procreative idea is to be favored instead of the strength idea, it seems most likely that the swearing itself would have been literally "under the upper leg," not "under the genitals," and the procreative idea expressed through the figurative association of the loins to procreation if that is to be favored, while the figurative association is more direct to the strength of the muscle if that is to be favored.


Copied and pasted from http://www.gotquestions.org/hand-under-thigh.html

The thigh was considered the source of posterity in the ancient world. Or, more properly, the “loins” or the testicles. The phrase “under the thigh” could be a euphemism for “on the loins.” There are two reasons why someone would take an oath in this manner: 1) Abraham had been promised a “seed” by God, and this covenantal blessing was passed on to his son and grandson. Abraham made his trusted servant swear “on the seed of Abraham” that he would find a wife for Isaac. 2) Abraham had received circumcision as the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:10). Our custom is to swear on a Bible; the Hebrew custom was to swear on circumcision, the mark of God’s covenant. The idea of swearing on one’s loins is found in other cultures, as well. The English word testify is directly related to the word testicles.

Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/hand-under-thigh.html#ixzz32TlIHdjn

  • 2
    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. We expect all answers to show their work, which is a requirement on this site. Copying and pasting from an online site usually doesn't cut it here. Do you have any better sources? That article doesn't cite any sources for its claims.
    – Dan
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 22:17

We just covered this in our inductive Bible studies. I figured that I needed to look at the Jewish websites to get at least a "traditional" answer. It became evident that it does refer to Abraham's genitals. It was a primitive period where an oath was considered binding when taken against a "sacred" object. Aparently, during those times, the male genitals, the seat of procreation, was considered sacred and sufficient to make any oath binding.

It is misleading to do any hermeneutics based on pure word study since the same word can be used in differing contexts. This is why we get an interpretation that was not intended by the original word of God. A good example is the word "know" especially from the KJV may mean sexual intercourse instead of the usual meaning. Our issue as exegetes is not to question the validity of swearing on genitals but to ask WHY that was the practice. The point is then clear that Eleazar, in this case, had to perform the oath or (again, culturally) die doing it. We may not fully understand the binding-ness of those oaths today as "word of honor" has actually died even among so-called Christians who cannot make their yes be yes and their no be no.

  • Thanks and welcome to the site. Please site your Jewish sources. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 3:57
  • Hermeneuitcs should cover translation and transliteration. But I agree with your assertion. Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 17:38
  • I'm with Ruminator. Please state the source of your reply. That would be extremely helpful.
    – Philip
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 0:36

"Thigh" here is a euphemism for genitals, as has been pointed out in some of the other answers. This was a common practice, and for Abraham who had a promise to his "seed", and a covenant of circumcision, and was getting a wife for his son to continue the seed, it was especially appropriate.

Here are some references:

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

“Place, I pray, your hand on the cut of my circumcision,

JPS Torah Commentary:

Gestures accompanying oath-taking are universal in the ancient world. Most frequently, they involve the raising of a hand, as in 14:22, and/or the holding of a ritual object. In later times, a Torah scroll, phylacteries, or a Bible might be held for such a purpose. The unusual nature of the present act leaves any explanation uncertain. **Interpreters are unanimous that the “thigh” refers to the genital organ.** This may be a reference to circumcision: Holding the circumcised membrum, called the “sign of the covenant” in 17:11, may invoke the presence and power of God as the guarantor of the oath. But such symbolism would be valid only if it were recognized by both sides. The gesture would be meaningless to an uncircumcised servant. If he were circumcised, and this presumably was the case here, it is unclear why he did not have to touch his own membrum. Another explanation regards the “thigh” as the seat of the procreative powers. The gesture would then involve posterity in the implementation of the instructions. Verse 41 shows that a curse was invoked as part of the oath in the event of noncompliance. So the placing of the hand on the membrum may have been a gesture acknowledging that Abraham’s posterity would avenge the violation. (This explanation becomes less convincing in 47:29, where Jacob adjures Joseph.) The notion that the curse has to do with sterility or loss of offspring is open to the same objection as was leveled against the first explanation.

Word Biblical Commentary agrees:

The sacredness of this duty is underlined by the oath he is invited to swear. Note the “please” (נא) that precedes the imperative “swear.” It is no ordinary request that Abraham is making, so he couches it with some delicacy. By putting his hand under Abraham’s thigh, the servant was touching his genitals and thus giving the oath a special solemnity. In the ancient Orient, solemn oaths could be taken holding some sacred object in one’s hand, as it is still customary to take an oath on the Bible before giving evidence in court. Since the OT particularly associates God with life (see the symbolism of the sacrificial law) and Abraham had been circumcised as a mark of the covenant, placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh made an intimate association with some fundamental religious ideas. An oath by the seat of procreation is particularly apt in this instance, when it concerns the finding of a wife for Isaac. Malul, while pointing to the appropriateness of an oath by the genitals to ensure perpetuity of the family, more problematically suggests that the ancestral spirits were also being invoked to guarantee the oath is carried out (VT 35 [1985] 192–200).

New International Commentary on the Old Testament:

Abraham instructs his servant: Put your hand under my thigh, a prelude to the servant’s act of swearing. thigh is undoubtedly a euphemism for genitalia, in the light of passages such as Gen. 46:26 and Exod. 1:5, where a man’s children are said to come from his thigh. Holding Abraham’s membrum in his hand, the servant promises to carry out Abraham’s wishes. The signficance of this procedure is uncertain. It is unlikely that this act should be read as a self-imprecation by the servant, calling down sterility on himself or extirpation for his children (but see my comments on v. 8 below). R. D. Freedman has suggested that taking the membrum—now circumcised as a covenant sign—into the hand is a way of invoking the presence of God at this moment between master and servant. Or it may simply be a way in which the servant reassures Abraham that he will honestly and truthfully carry out his master’s wish. One may discover some clue as to the significance of this act by comparing the only two episodes in the OT that connect oath taking with placing the hand under another’s thigh: Gen. 24:2 and 47:29. In both cases the one who asks another to place his hand under his thigh is elderly. Abraham is “old, along in years” (24:1), and Jacob/Israel is on his deathbed (49:29); therefore neither Abraham nor Jacob can guarantee that their wishes will be faithfully carried out. The other individual, the one who places his hand on the thigh, is well known to the person requesting the oath (a servant, a son, respectively). In both cases the real concern of Abraham and Jacob is with family matters. Abraham desires the right woman for his son, and Jacob wishes to be buried with his ancestors. Finally, both stories involve a “not-here-but-there” geography (a wife not from Canaan but from Aram-Naharaim (Mesopotamia); buried not in Egypt but in Canaan). In touching the genitalia of Abraham and Jacob, the servant and Joseph are placing themselves under oath faithfully to expedite the last wishes of two elderly patriarchs on family matters. Any attempt to void those wishes will arouse the wrath of the ancestral spirits.

Claus Westerman, in the Continental Commentary Series:

The oath itself is taken in v. 9* only after its details have been settled. The rite of touching the generative organ when taking an oath occurs elsewhere only in Gen. 47:29* where the circumstances are the same, namely, imminent death. The one who is facing death secures his last will by an “oath at the source of life” (O. Procksch; cf. bibliog. above).


In Genesis 24:2 why did Abraham have his servant make his oath under his “thigh”?

Attitudes and gestures of ancient times sometimes boggle our minds when we look at them from our modern-day mentality. Looking at things from the historical and cultural viewpoints gives us a better understanding of what is happening and what is meant.

The following excerpt helps us understand what Abraham was doing and why:

2.put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh. When one swears, he takes a sacred object in his hand, such as the Scroll of the Law or the phylacteries. The circumcision was the first precept of God to him, and had also come to him only through great pain; hence it was particularly precious to him, and so he ordered his servant to put his hand upon it when taking the oath (R). This is done when a superior adjures an inferior, such as a master his servant or a father his son who also owes him obedience (cf. xlvii. 29) (Sh). It was the custom in those days for a servant to take an oath in this manner, placing his hand under his master's thigh, the latter sitting upon his hand. This signified that the servant was under his master's authority. It is still the practice in India (E).–The Soncino Chumash, by A. Cohen, p. 122.

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