“He Gave Up the Ghost”

According to Sidney Sperry, "one of my friends has noticed in the Book of Mormon an apparent Hebrew idiom, 'to give up the ghost,' which is used to express the death of a person." Let us look at it for a moment. The expression occurs three times in the Book of Mormon:

And it came to pass that when he had said these words he could say no more, and he gave up the ghost (Jacob 7:20). [See also Jacob 7:21 and Helaman 14:21]

As is well known, parallels to these are found in both the Old and New Testaments. Let us examine two or three examples from the Old Testament:

She hath given up the ghost; her sun is gone down (Jeremiah 15:9).

In this example the Hebrew of the words in italics reads literally: "She has breathed [or blown] out her soul [nephesh]." The same essential words (not used grammatically the same) will be found in Job 11:20.

However, a different usage of the Hebrew can be found in other examples in the Old Testament:

Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age (Genesis 25:8).

Here the Hebrew original of the word in italics, wayyigwa, is completely different from those in Jeremiah 15:9 given above. In contrast to the King James Version, this may be translated: "Then Abraham expired, and died in a good old age."

It is highly probable that the Nephites used both Hebrew expressions "breathe out the soul" and "expired" in referring to the death of a person. [Sidney Sperry, "Hebrew Idioms in the Book of Mormon," in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, F.A.R.M.S., p. 224]

Alan C. Miner -

Alan C. Miner

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary