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מַפְרֶקֶת – neck

Author(s): Graham I. Davies
First published: 2010-07-31
Last update: 2024-06-30
Citation: Graham I. Davies, מַפְרֶקֶת – neck,
               Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database (, 2010 (update: 2024)

For a discussion of the lexical field ‘Deliverance’ as a whole, see on this site the ‘Overview of SAHD entries for ‘Deliverance’ words by Graham I. Davies.


Grammatical Type: n.f.
Occurrences: 1x HB (0/1/0); 0x Qum; 0x Sir; 0x inscr. (Total: 1).

  • Nebiim: 1 Sam 4:18.
  • Text doubtful: -

Qere/Ketiv: none.

1. Root and Comparative Material

A.1 In addition to possible cognate nouns noted in פֶּרֶק: Root and Comparative Material A.5–6, the lexica s.v. mention the following forms: מַפְרֶקֶת in post-biblical Heb. (Jastrow, DTT, 822, ‘neck, nape’; he also cites there one occurrence of מַפְרֵק, ‘joint’), Arab. farq, ‘Scheitel [crown of the head]’ (HAL: 585); in Ges18, 719 Arab. mafraq, mafriq, ‘Kreuzung, Knotenpunkt’, mafriq aš-šaʿr, ‘Scheitel’, Soq. fiqeriroh, ‘Hals’, JAram. (Tgs.) פר(י)קתא, ‘Genick’ (‘back of the neck’, for this Jastrow, DTT, 1228, refers to פירקתא, [p. 1172], ‘joint’, always with a specifying genitive to mean ‘neck’: occurrences of the spellings cited in Ges18 are noted as variants). [See also פָּרַק: Root and Comparative Material and פֶּרֶק: Root and Comparative Material. In Ancient Hebrew the occurrence of פָּרָק in 4QpsEzek (4Q385, 4Q386) is particularly relevant.]

2. Formal Characteristics

A.1 Noun: segholate fem. form of type maqtāl (BL, §77d, cf. §61eη, fη; so HAL, but Ges18 considers maqtal also possible [ibid.: §61aζ]). While such forms might be expected to refer to the subject of the related verb, in fact they frequently refer to its object (e.g., מאכל, מתן, מלאכה), so that ‘something divided or separated’, like the bones of the neck, is an entirely possible sense for this word.

3. Syntagmatics

A.1 מפרקת is the subject of שׁבר niph., ‘be broken’ (1 Sam 4:18).

A.2 In the immediate context this syntagm is preceded by ויפל מעל־הכסא אחרנית and followed by וימת, indicating cause and effect of the breaking.

4. Ancient Versions

a. Septuagint (LXX) and other Greek translations1 (αʹ, σʹ):

  • νῶτος, ‘back (of body)’: 1 Sam 4:18LXX;
  • τένων, ‘sinew, tendon’: 1 Sam 4:18αʹ;
  • σπόνδυλος, ‘vertebra’: 1 Sam 4:18σʹ.

b. Peshitta (Pesh):

  • ܦܪܩܬܐ (prqtʾ ), ‘neck, nape’: 1 Sam 4:18.

c. Targum (Tg: J):

  • (א)פקות, ‘neck’: 1 Sam 4:18J.

d. Vulgate (Vg):

  • cervix pl., ‘neck’: 1 Sam 4:18.

A.1 The renderings of Symmachus, Vg, TgJ and Pesh all understand מפרקת as ‘neck’. The use of the pl. form in Vg conforms to a classical idiom (Lewis and Short, LD, 322).

B.1 LXX’s νῶτος means ‘back’, not ‘neck’ (LSJ, 1187): the translator probably made a guess from the context, not knowing the exact meaning of this hapax legomenon, which would have been accurately rendered by either αὐχήν or τράχηλος. [It is more surprising that LXX used νῶτος several times for the better known synonym עֹרֶף (2 Kgdms 22:41 = Ps 18:40; 4 Kgdms 17:14; Jer 2:27; 32:33; 48:39), but in those contexts ‘turning the back’ may have seemed the more natural Greek expression. ערף (like צואר) is quite frequently translated by αὐχήν or τράχηλος (including 3x in Jer), so that there seems to have been no ignorance of its real meaning.] Aquila’s τένων is a general word for ‘sinew, tendon’ (LSJ, 1775), most often of the foot or ankle, but Hom. Od. 3:449 used it of the neck tendons (of a sacrificial animal): cf. also Aquila at Ex 13:13; 34:20.

5. Lexical/Semantic Fields

A.1 The more common words for ‘neck’ are עֹרֶף (33x BH, 1x Sir, 18x Qumran; cf. DCH vi: 565) and צַוָּאר (41x BH, 1x Sir, 4x Qumran; cf. DCH vii:91). Both these words are used of animals’ necks as well as humans’, whereas מפרקת refers to a human. Both of them are also used figuratively, again unlike מפרקת, but not much can be made of a single occurrence. Neither of them seems to be used specifically of the bones of the neck or as the object of שׁבר, though Prov 29:1 (ערף) comes close to this and the verb עָרַף is used of breaking the neck of an animal (so most authorities: but see Zipor 2001:369 for an alternative interpretation). Despite the last-mentioned evidence, the general usage of the other words may support the idea (for which there is etymological support: see Root and Comparative Material above) that מפרקת meant the neck-bones specifically and that this was the reason for its selection in 1 Sam 4:18.

6. Exegesis

A.1 The commentaries and reference works are in no doubt about the meaning of this word, and generally have little if anything to say about it. But Gesenius, TPC, 1131, gave the meaning as ‘vertebrae cervicis vel dorsi a frangendo dicta’ (cf. Robinson 1855:603: ‘pr. [properly] the joints or vertebrae of the neck’). This is preferable to the more recent explanation cited below in B.1.

B.1 Smith (1904:36, ‘It means the neck as dividing [פרק] the head and trunk’) and BDB, 830 (‘[dividing head from body]’), explain the meaning from the presumed active sense of פרק. But comparison with words of a similar form (see Formal Characteristics) and the existence of cognates meaning ‘joint’ (in the sense of a small bone) at Qumran as well as in later Heb. and Aram. makes it at least as possible, and perhaps more likely, that the meaning is ‘that which is divided (or broken)’, which also fits the physical reality well (i.e. the vertebrae that make up the ‘neck-bone’) [so Gesenius: see above].

7. Conclusion

A.1. Although this noun occurs only once in BHeb., the combined evidence of later Heb. usage and the majority of the Versions makes the meaning ‘neck’, which fits the context well, virtually certain. A combination of etymological parallels and the structure of the lexical field supports a specific reference to the (human?) neck-bone(s).


For the abbreviations see the List of Abbreviations.

Robinson 1855
Edward Robinson, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, including the Biblical Chaldee, from the Latin of W. Gesenius, 5th ed., London: Trübner.
Smith 1904
Henry P. Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel (ICC), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Zipor 2001
Moshe A. Zipor, ‘עֹרֶף’, TDOT 11:366-71.


  1. FieldI, 494. 

Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database