The Hebrew word “nephesh” translated into English as “soul” appears more than 700 times in the Old Testament. A word that prominent needs to be understood but our perception of soul doesn’t do the Hebrew intent justice.
“Soul” indicates a non-physical, immortal essence of a person that is released at death. The meaning comes from Greek philosophers. But that is not what the Hebrews meant when they talked about a person’s soul.
The literal translation of “nephesh” from Hebrew is “throat.” While that is a specific part of the body, when the Hebrews used the word they were referring to the entire person because your whole life and body depends on what comes in and out of your throat.
This video from the Bible Project uses Deuteronomy 6:4-5, referred to as the Shema, to give us a better understanding of “nephesh.”
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Building on the idea that “nephesh” refers to the whole person, in the Torah, a murderer is called a “nephesh slayer,” a kidnapper is a “nephesh thief,” in Genesis we read that people are “living nephesh.”
In fact people don’t have a nephesh, they are a nephesh.
Psalm 42 is also used as a metaphorical example of how the writers of the Old Testament used the word soul.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.”
Just as your throat can be thirsty for water, like a deer’s, your entire physical being can thirst to be known and loved by your creator.