Re: Ambiguity

On Mon, 25 Jul 1994 16:24:38 -0700 (PDT) you said:
>I  am interested in the ambiguities the NT often presents.   For example, at
>the baptism of Christ, are we to understand that the Spirit descended
>in the form of a dove, or as a dove would descend?  _hos peristeran_ seems
>unclear.  Also, did it descend _on_ him, or _into_ him?  Again, _eis_ is
>unclear.   And unfortunately these are not the only vague spots, yet they
>are often glossed over in English as though they were perfectly clear.  I
>particularly find the use of _ekballei_ interesting when used of the
>Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness--it seems such a strong term,
>used also for the casting out of demons.  I continually have the feeling
>that the text as we now have it presents us with lots of mixed and
>fragmented "dry bones," and it is quite difficult to discern the nature
>of the creatures from which they came.

While I rather fear that this is opening up a big can of worms (there is
probably a seemlier metaphor than that, but it will have to do), it may be a
very interesting one, and I am curious how the more literal-minded interpreters
view such passages. Let me add a couple more items to the list of instances of
vague or ambiguous expression and then launch into the "fray."

(1) Luke further complicates the baptismal picture by adding "in bodily form"
to "descended like a dove." Why? My opinion--I don't claim more enlightenment--
is that Luke wants to underscore the historicity and objective character of
the coming of the spirit upon Jesus--just as he has the risen Jesus eat real
food when he visits the disciples, even though Jesus enters that room through
locked doors and must be something more than or other than a revived corpse. I
don't think Luke has a clear notion of the nature of the risen Jesus, but I
think that here too he wants to emphasize the historical, objective nature of
the resurrection phenomenon and of the intercourse of the risen Jesus with the

(2) A second phrase or group of phrases that are interestingly vague: the
"wilderness." In Mark's account the "wilderness" is not localized or qualified
by any indication of space/time identity, and it is my impression that *he
eremos* is a kind of spiritual no-man's land, that it reflects the symbolofm
the wilderness between Egypt and Promised Land, a symbolism already exploited
in the imagery of Second Isaiah, who portrays the return from exile as a
second Exodus from Egypt. Matthew and Luke both add qualifiers to Mark's
desert/wilderness--at least in the instance of John's preaching, but one may
still ask where the wilderness of the temptation scene is. Similarly, where
is the mountain of the transfiguration? Is it or does it become Sinai? Is it
geographically within Palestine? Is it the same mountain upon which the risen
Jesus appears to the disciples in Matthew 28, supposedly in Galilee, but still
rather vague? Here we are in the realm of what the form critics call myth, the
narration of the supernatural event, wherein descriptive terminology points
beyond a literal meaning to a transcendental significance of an occurrence.

Now, with regard to the questions originally raised by David Coomler, I would
incline to think that (a) "like a dove" means "in the manner in lights upon a
perch," and that (b) the preposition EIS is indeed meant to indicate that the
spirit enters "into" Jesus. Logically I suppose EIS could mean "onto" and
refer to the spirit's settling onto the head of Jesus as a perch, but EIS does
usually refer to the penetration of a boundary, and I would think that must be
the case here too.

I think this whole area could be an interesting one for discussion for both
literalists and more figurative interpreters. Although I don't know the bibli-
ography (and would welcome some pointers in this regard), I would imagine that
this whole area of hermeneutics has been dealt with by scholars in a more than
cursory fashion. Are there "standard" approaches to such questions?

I'm hoping that this may initiate a very fruitful exchange of ideas.

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