When did the Israelites begin to use their word for the organ "heart" to mean the source of their emotions, feelings, courage, the essence of their being, etc.?
I would like to know why that particular organ of the body, rather than the brain, for example, was chosen. The heart's role in the circulation of the blood was not discovered until fairly recent times.
The Hebrew language expresses abstract thought through concrete ideas. In Hebrew the word heart can have different meanings. The heart is the concrete and physical “heart” but also the “seat of emotion”. The use of the word “heart” for various meanings is used throughout the Bible beginning in Genesis. “Heart” can have the following meanings:
In Biblical Hebrew, לב= heart can have these meanings and is commonly, is used to mean:
- The total personality of a person. Most particularly for the inner self - what it means to be human – personality/inclination
- intellect, rational thought (metaphorically “the brain” in English)
- desire, will, determination,
The use of the heart as a metaphor for “determination and courage” can be found in Genesis 42:28 which states, “…their heart failed them and they were afraid.” However, the metaphor for “emotion” also uses the term “bowels” and “liver”. In Jeremiah 31:20 it states “My bowels are troubled for him” which can be interpreted as “my heart yearns for him”.