Gary Simmons asked a question on the Share page:
Alright, let’s get the ball rolling. Genesis 12:5 says that Abram left with his wife and all the nefesh they acquired in Haran. I can think of no particular reason as to why the author did not use anashim here. Why does it say nefesh?
My suspicion is that in this case a nefesh is not a person. It refers to a body or a life. What say ye?
I don’t think I can give a definitive answer, but I will make an attempt.
I think the issue here is really what nephesh means. Like many Hebrew words, indeed many words in any natural language, it has a range of meanings. The original sense in various Semitic languages seems to have been something like “breath”, although this sense is not clearly attested in biblical Hebrew. But a sense which is attested is “that which breathes”. The word is clearly used of animals, excluding humans, in Genesis 1:20 etc, and of the first human in Genesis 2:7; in Genesis 9:12 etc it would seem to include humans as well as animals.
So my suggestion for Genesis 12:5 is that nephesh there refers to both humans and animals acquired by Abraham. How that is translated into English is a separate issue.
In a separate comment Gary suggested that the use of this word implied slavery. Well, maybe some of these people were slaves. But I don’t think the word necessarily meant that. The men and women involved could also have been free servants who chose to go to Canaan with Abraham. In the cultural context that is perhaps unlikely. But I don’t think we can understand the word itself as “slaves”. On the other hand, it might have been a bit demeaning to those involved to put them on the same level as animals.