In “throat adventure” Jefferson Vann discusses the translation of Judges 9:17.
Judges 9:17 (JDV) because my father fought for you, risked his throat, and rescued you from Midian,
For several years now, I have been translating the Bible, and it has given me opportunities to investigate some of my hypotheses concerning biblical words relevant to conditionalism. One of those biblical words is the Hebrew nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ), corresponding to the Greek psuche (ψυχή), and popularly translated as soul. I have found that the word does not refer to an invisible immortal entity living inside our bodies. Instead, the word usually refers to something quite physical — the throat.
As the member of our bodies through which the breath passes, the throat is a logical word to use in figures of speech where one wants to refer to their life as a whole, or their possible death. Such use of the word has nothing to do with some immaterial element within our bodies. Its use in the Bible accentuates human mortality, rather than denying it.
Unfortunately, most popular English translations of the Bible still follow traditions which either obscure the meaning of the word, or hide its existence in the text. Today I will show and comment on its appearances in Judges 9:17.
Neither of the popular versions translate nefesh as soul in this text because it is obviously talking about risking one’s life. Of course, if the nefesh is the mortal life of a person, then we should rethink the theology that says it is inherently immortal.
The King James gives the most interesting alternative rendering of the verse:
“(For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian:”
The modern translations use the word “risk” instead of the archaic “adventured” but all of them translate nefesh as life.
I have been arguing that while “life” is acceptable as a translation, it misses some of the dramatic impact, because the nefesh is the throat, and the word picture is potentially having one’s throat cut in battle.
For more on the meaning of nefesh, see: