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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:3, Summer 2020

Epistles: Whence-a-Word?: Skin of My Teeth

Biblical Archaeology Review

“I escaped by the skin of my teeth!” You may be familiar with this expression, but did you know that this phrase originates in the Bible? Well, kind of.

The idiom “skin of my teeth” is a result of the King James Version’s translation of Job 19:20. In the passage, the central character, Job, is complaining of his horrible plight. A series of physical ailments has riddled his body, completely emaciating him and leaving him nothing but skin and bones.

It is here in Job 19:20 that Job cries out (according to the NRSV), “My bones cling to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.” The KJV renders this same verse, “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”

But is that what the Hebrew text actually says? Job 19:20 says:

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