Personification in the Bible

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Personification, the attribution of human form and characteristics to abstract concepts such as nations, emotions and natural forces like seasons and the weather, is a literary device found in many ancient texts, including the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament. Personification is often part of allegory, parable and metaphor in the Bible.[1]

Hebrew Bible[edit]

Personification of qualities[edit]

A famous example of personification is the personification of Wisdom as a woman in the Book of Proverbs,[2] or natural forces in the Book of Job.[3]

An early example of zoomorphism in the Hebrew Bible is when sin is likened to an animal "crouching" or "lurking" (NRSV) at Cain's door.[4]

Personification of geographical entities[edit]

Personification of Jerusalem as Ariel or Zion as anthropomorphism[5] and gentile cities such as Babylon,[6] and in Ezekiel Tyre as a "cherub in Eden," and two sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, who represent Samaria and Jerusalem.[7]

Personification of nature[edit]

The fable of The Trees and the Bramble is told in Judges 9:8-15. In Isa. 55:12 Isaiah speaks about the restoration of Israel in conjunction with the nature, which is personified: the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Cf. also Isa 44:23, 49:13

Second Temple period texts[edit]

Texts of the Second Temple do not always follow the use or non-use of personification found in the Hebrew Bible. For example the personification of sin "lurking" at Cain's door is missing both from the Septuagint[8] and the Book of Jubilees.[9] Against this Philo of Alexandria frequently uses the device.[10]

New Testament[edit]

The New Testament includes Jesus' personification of money as Mammon, Paul's personification of sin ruling as a king in his body, and the "old man" and "new man" as personifications of two warring persons in the new creature after baptism.

In Rom 8:19ff, Paul the Apostle depicts the creature as if they groan together and wait together with those who have been redeemed. When Paul said, the creature / creation is waiting for the revelation of the glory of God's children, he indicates the nature itself or the present world shall be transformed and redeemed when the Lord comes.

The New Testament has a much more specific and developed language for the personification of evil than the Hebrew Bible.[11][12]


  1. ^ Birgit Platzgummer Sprachliche Bilder in der Bibel: Metaphern und Vergleiche Page 11 - 2005 "Doch eine solche Personifikation hat noch keine allegorische Bedeutung. Eine allegorische Personifikation liegt erst dann vor, wenn die Personifikation rezeptionsästhetisch noch eine zweite ... "
  2. ^ Susanne Gorges-Braunwarth Frauenbilder - Weisheitsbilder - Gottesbilder in Spr 1-9 2002- Page 93 "Definitionen und Bestimmungen der Personifikation divergieren aufgrund ihrer jeweiligen Herkunft aus der Literaturwissenschaft,"
  3. ^ Johann Gottfried Herder: Aspekte seines Lebenswerks - Page 44 Martin Keßler, Volker Leppin - 2005 "Herder „verteidigt weder die Bibel mit den Mitteln klassischer Rhetorik und Poesie, noch rechtfertigt er die Poesie unter ... Wenn er etwa im Buch Hiob die gelungenen Personifikationen bewundert, die alles als handelnd darstellen können und ..."
  4. ^ K. A. Mathews The New American Commentary: Genesis 1 1126 - Page 270 - 1996 "The Lord forewarned Cain that right action would be rewarded but a wrong course meant giving sin an opportunity to destroy him (v. 7a). ... 271 "Sin" is likened to an animal "crouching" or "lurking" (NRSV) at the "door," meaning the animal's resting place, ready to stir if incited. "Crouch" ... narrative is personifying sin as a demonic spirit ready to pounce on Cain once he opens the "door" of opportunity."
  5. ^ Reinhard Achenbach, Martin Arneth, Eckart Otto Tora in der hebräischen Bibel: Studien zur Redaktionsgeschichte Page 205 "Das gilt auch für das Verhältnis zwischen der Gemeinschaft auf dem Zion und dem Gesalbten in Jes 60 und 61. Die prophetische Aufforderung an Zion in der Personifikation Jerusalems, als Freudenbotin nach Jes 40,9"
  6. ^ Ulrike Sals Die Biographie der "Hure Babylon": Studien Zur Intertextualität ... - Page 29 - 2004 "Zugleich ist diese Personifikation Babylons insgesamt fur seine/ihre Geschichte innerhalb wie außerhalb der Bibel von immenser Bedeutung, weil dieses multiple Bild nicht nur verschiedene Bereiche in eine Synthese führt, sondern auch als ..."
  7. ^ Hosea 2: metaphor and rhetoric in historical perspective - Page 86 Brad E. Kelle - 2005 p86 "2For a helpful list of recent works devoted to the personification of cities as females, see P. Day, "The Personification of ... Tyre (Isa 23:15) and her daughters (Ezek 26:6, 8), Bethlehem Ephrathah (Mic 5:2), and Sodom (Ezek 16:46), ..."
  8. ^ Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian ... - Page 54 John Byron - 2011 "We also saw that, unlike the Hebrew, the LXX does not portray sin as personified and waiting to conquer Cain. Rather, sin became ... of the verse as well. Hence, instead of reading ץבר as sin "lurking" or "crouching" at the door waiting for Cain ..."
  9. ^ The Book of Jubilees Among the Apocalypses - Page 470 Todd Russell Hanneken - 2008 "The story of Cain is retold without the personification of sin, לחתפּ וֹבּ־לשׁמתּ התּאו וֹתקוּשׁתּ ךָילאו ץבר תאטּח "sin crouches at the door craving to get you, but you can control it" (Genesis 4:7). The bigger shift in the Cain story, for our purposes,"
  10. ^ Philonis Alexandrini Legatio ad Gaium - Page 203 Philo (of Alexandria.) - 1970 "On Philo's predilection for personification see J. Drummond, Philo Judaeus or the Jewish Alexandrian Philosophy ..."
  11. ^ Karl-Heinz Wollscheid Personifikationen des Bösen: Hölle, Teufel und Dämonen in der ... 2007 "
  12. ^ Mercer Dictionary of the Bible - Page 209 Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard - 1990 "Like Paul, the writer of John's Gospel refers to Satan as the personification of evil (John 13:2, 27), but the use of "the devil" or ."