The Heart & Mind in Ancient Near Eastern (and Biblical) Thought

Coastlands Ancient Near East, Commandments, Covenant, Paul, Questions, Torah 0 Comments

In the ancient Near East it was believed that the heart was the seat of emotion, will, where decisions are made. One of the intriguing things that follow this mindset is what the Egyptians believed happened once one died and also what they did during the mummification process.
Once an individual died it was believed that they would stand before the scales of Ma’at and have their heart weighed against a feather. Ma’at was the concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality and justice and was personified as a goddess which set order to the universe, taking it from a state of chaos to order, for one. (1)


At the scales of Ma’at the heart was placed on one side while the “Feather of Ma’at” which represented the concept of Ma’at was set opposite the heart. Should ones heart be heavier than the feather the results were not especially positive or pleasant. What was the result? The individual was fed to the female demon Ammit (alt. Ammut), which was the “devourer of the dead” and was a “soul-eater.” Essentially Ammit was represented by an animal which was a mixture of a hippopotamus, crocodile, and lion. Surely this would be most unpleasant. The heart, once swallowed by Ammit, would consign said soul to essentially eternal restlessness, the end of existence. Wikipedia notes that this is referred to as “the second death.” One papyrus is said to state that Ammit crouched beside a lake of fire in the infernal regions of the underworld. (2) Worst of all the individual was denied immortality, which was gained by entry into Duat, the Egyptian underworld whose entrance was guarded by the god Osiris.


When this information was presented one of the first questions to be brought up was Romans 12:2 which states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.” This is a great question because at the outset it would seem that perhaps what is stated above is not entirely accurate, or the mind is also part of this process or where the process entirely rests. Recall that it was noted that there is no word for “brain” found in the Tanakh (Torah, Ketuvim (Prophets), & Ketuvim (Writings), i.e. “Old Testament”).

The first step required was to look at what Greek word Paul used “mind” in Romans 12:2. That word is “noos” (νοός, Strong’s #3563). This word is used 24x in the Apostolic Scriptures, and is primarily used by Paul. It is found once in the gospels (Luke 24:45). While it has been said that the Strong’s Concordance isn’t really a dictionary and shouldn’t be treated as one in entirety, I do see that it describes the word as meaning, “mind, understanding, reason.” Paul uses this word (a derivative “noi”), for example, at Romans 7:25 wherein he states, “Thanks to Elohim, through יהושע Messiah our Master! So then, with the mind I myself truly serve the Torah of Elohim, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

One of the points made on Shabbat was that the biblical meaning of faith or believe (as we were speaking about how “shema” (hear) implies “to do” meaning it is not a mental assent simply. I would look at what Paul states above in Romans 7:25 and apply this there. Surely we would not determine that Paul simply ‘in his brain, with his thoughts only served the Torah of Elohim.’ This decision flows from the heart, a heart fully submitted to Elohim.

To make a good comparison we need to take the Greek word noted above as “noos” and take it back to the LXX (Septuagint) and see what Hebrew words were translated with it. What is very interesting is the first time the word is found in the LXX is in Exodus 7:23 which states, “And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and his heart was not moved by this either.” The original Hebrew word here for heart is Strong’s #3820 (found 593x) “לֵב” “leb” and is generally accepted to mean, “inner man, mind, will, heart.” (3) You can see Strong’s #3825 which is a related/similar word “לְבַב” “lebab” which is found 7x in the Apostolic Scriptures and is translated as “heart” 3x and “mind” 4x. (4)

For the second use word “mind” from Romans 12:2 being found in the Tanakh see Joshua 14:7. There it is the word “heart.”
After taking some time to look into this I can see that the word Paul is using here sure seems to appear to be communicating a consistent idea with what the ancient Near East thought process was. I admit, that when I thought about Romans 12:2 at the outset my “Western/Greek” mindset kicked in and wanted to place a clear distinction between what I believe I know of “mind” being of the brain and not associated with the heart. However, this does not appear to be the case, and Paul, while using different words (and an entirely different language too) is communicating his thoughts consistent with what ancient thought, including Hebrew thought, would have been.

(3) (36x translated as “will”)

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