Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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The soft portions of the animal body, internally connected with the skeleton of bones and externally enclosed by the skin (Genesis 2:21; Job 10:11). Flesh is an article of food (Daniel 7:5), generally roasted over the fire or boiled (1 Samuel 2:13,15). The word is also applied to the flesh of birds (Numbers 11:33). Otherwise, the Hebrew has, usually the word (Exodus 21:10; Psalms 78:20,27). In a graphic description of the oppressive tactics of the powerful, Micah charges them with eating the flesh () of the people, preparing it "as flesh [] for the caldron" (Micah 3:2-3, Hebr.). Eating of flesh with the blood in it was associated with a riotous, gluttonous disposition (Proverbs 23:20). A familiar but terrible menace is that one's flesh shall be given over to the birds to eat (Gen. 19; 1 Samuel 17:44; Ezekiel 32:5).

In an enlarged sense, "flesh" assumes the meaning of "body" (Exodus 4:7; Leviticus 14:9, 19:28; 2 Kings 6:30; Zechariah 14:12) or of parts of it (Leviticus 6:10; Ezekiel 447). Employed figuratively, "flesh," soft and impressionable, is contrasted with "stone," hard and unyielding ("stony heart" as against "heart of flesh": Ezekiel 36:26).

As the corruptible and weak part of the body, "flesh" expresses weakness, as against "spirit," which indicates strength (Isaiah 31:3); in Job 6:12 it is similarly contrasted with "brass." Thence also its use as designating "man" (Jeremiah 17:5; Psalms 78:39), especially in the phrase "all flesh" for "all mankind" (Genesis 6:12-13 [A. V. "every living thing"], 6:19, 7:21; Numbers 16:22; Job 34:15; Psalms 65:2, 136:25; "All flesh is grass," Isa. 6; "the God of all flesh," Jeremiah 32:27). "Flesh," therefore, denotes also a person; "my flesh"= "I" (Psalms 16:9, 63:2); one's whole being is expressed by "my heart and my flesh" (Psalms 84:3).

The original meaning of "flesh"—clan—underlies its use in Adam's welcome to Eve and in the designation of husband and wife as "one flesh" (Genesis 2:23-25). It is probable, if the correct reading were given in the other parts of the passage, that in Job 19:26 "in my flesh" would be found to have this meaning: His "go'el" (blood-avenger) even now liveth; from his own clan will he arise. Not to "withhold thyself from thine own flesh" (Isaiah 58:7) expresses, therefore, the obligation to help one's fellow man. In Ecclesiastes "flesh" carries the implication of carnal appetite, as the sensual part of man's being (Ecclesiastes 12:12), a use very general in the New Testament. "Take my flesh in my teeth" (Job 13:14) is an idiomatic equivalent for running dangerous risks.

The word is explained by the Talmudists as composed of the initials ב = "shame"; ש=ם = or , "corruption" or "Sheol"; ד= , "worm" (Sotṭah 5a), an opinion which reflects a certain theological leaning toward the Pauline view of the sinfulness of the flesh (Romans 8:1; Colossians 2:11). Judaism knows nothing of the "mortification of the flesh" (see ABSTINENCE; ASCETICISM; Body); the vows of castigation are called "nidre 'innui hanefesh," not "ha-basar" (Yer. Ned. 11:42c). The "mortifications" on Yom ha-Kippurim consist inabstaining from eating and drinking, washing, ointments, shoes, and cohabitation (Yoma 76a). "Flesh and fish" represents substantial food as against a vegetable diet (Shab. 140b; compare the English expression "neither flesh, fowl, nor fish," or the German "weder Fisch noch Fleisch").

E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Flesh'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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