Re: thanatos

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Mar 08 1999 - 11:21:28 EST

At 10:15 AM -0500 3/8/99, dellbert wrote:
[prehistory of the present question deleted!]
>Sorry, I should have been more specific.
>I was wondering about 'thanatos' in relation to Biblical usage. Did the
>Septuagint translators concieve of 'thanatos' as a word that denoted
>separation of 'body' and 'soul' at death as was used by Plato?
>The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states that
>'chorizo' was used by Plato in reference to this 'separation'. However, it
>doesn't appear that the LXX translators used 'chorizo' in reference to
>death at all.
>I have also read in nearly every theological and secular dictionary that
>the OT Hebrews did not concieve of a 'body and soul' separation at death.
>Maybe that is why they never used 'chorizo' in reference to death as Plato
>did. But, if 'thanatos' carried the 'inherent' idea of 'separation', then
>it would appear that the OT Hebrews could have concieved of a 'body and
>soul' separation, although that would fly in the face of most religious and
>secular encyclopedias. I notice Vine's Expository Dictionary defines
>'thanatos' as this separation. Is 'separation' a 'connotation' or is it a

Suffice it to say, or repeat, in the first place, that the Greek word
QANATOS does not itself imply anything about the nature of what death is:
the term is used by dualists such as Plato and later Neo-Platonists and
Eclectics to refer to separation of a soul from a body; it is used by
Aristotle, who does NOT believe in personal survival of death but rather in
a dissolution of the body's substance; it is used by materialists such as
the Epicureans and other atomists who DO in fact think of a soul-substance
leaving the body at death but then dissolving into constituent atoms before
recombining into new soul-substances, etc., etc. QANATOS is used by all of
the same experienced phenomenon, even if each may undertand the nature of
the phenomenon in terms of different physical or metaphysical systems.

In general, the conception of selfhood implicit in Genesis 2:7 appears to
be that selfhood is an integral whole dependent upon the presence of
"spirit" in the "dust" of corporeal composition. My own understanding of
earlier Hebraic psychology is that selfhood and individuality perishes when
these elements are sundered; from that perspective one COULD say that death
is a separation, but even in this instance, the idea of separation is not
inherent in the word for death itself but in the cultural perspective to
which a particular understanding of death belongs. The Hebrew word
translated "living creature" (NFSh) gets translated as YUCH in Greek in
it's safe to assume that this same conception of selfhood and death
continued to govern the way the word YUCH is used in the Hellenistic period
in every instance--i.e. that YUCH always means the same thing in every
instance in the LXX. I'm sure that there have been numerous volumes written
on this subject, and it might serve the present purpose best for those who
know to suggest an appropriate bibliography for this rather than attempt to
discuss this question in this forum.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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