Re: John 1:1
To Mr. Gregory Jordan, (and the others involved in the John 1:1 thread)
I offer the following as a helpful criticism not just to you, because
others (including myself) have made this same mistake. It just happens that
you put the fallacy into its most clear formulation. I intend this to help
clarify everyone's argumentation and to help everyone avoid irrelevancy.
In a message dated 11-30-94 GREGORY JORDAN (ENG) wrote to B-Greek:
G(> Yes, but John is writing in Greek, and the Greek language was formed
G(> by pagans, not monotheists. While a Hebrew-speaking Jew would know
G(> that God is a person, with a proper name YHWH, a Greek-speaking Jew,
G(> or even more, a Greeks-speaking pagan convert to Judeo-Christianity,
G(> might not realize this.
Could any reader on the B-Greek list offer any experimental evidence
that the provinance of a language determines religious belief? Historical and
etymological features of language and words are invisible to users of a
living language unless a particular user of that language has made a special
effort to learn them. While I might be able to accept that an individual's
internal lexicon might be structured with internal associations that are
significantly different from an individual of a totally different linguistic
culture, I find it difficult to believe that an individual who grew up in a
polycultural setting (John) would have any problem communicating in any of
the languages from the mixed cultures in which he grew up. I doubt that he
had different sets of religious beliefs for each language he spoke or wrote.
An Example: Speakers of English have a very wide variety of beliefs
or disbeliefs about the nature and character of what they each call a god.
None of these innumerable beliefs can be explained by an appeal to the
history of the English language or the fact that an individual grew up
speaking English rather than Mandarin. Nor is an English speaker's enjoyment,
understanding, or ability to disagree with the writings of Lau Tzu or Mao
Tze Tung on the subject of deities made improbable because his/her native
language is English. Much less if (s)he grew up speaking both languages and
chose to write about a subject in English which has a heritage of literature
in Mandarin. Rather, one might even go so far as to say that there is no one
more qualified than such an individual to give an accurate expression.
But we need not be so extreme as in the example. The inhabitants of
Palestine at the time of Jesus had at least 4 linguistic cultures available
to them: Latin (Rome, commerce?), Greek(LXX, Rome, commerce, family?),
Aramaic (Targumim, oral religious tradition, commerce, family), and Hebrew
(TaNaKh, oral religious tradition, family?). It is not improbable that John
grew up knowing these languages as well as when and where it was appropriate
to use them. The Mishnah, Josephus, the New Testament, the LXX and the
Targumim demonstrate that during the first century b.c.e. to the middle of
the second century b.c.e. there was a polyglot and polycultural society in
both Palistine and its greater environs of the Roman Empire.
The debate about the authenticity of bodily resurrection between the
Pharisees and the Sadducees shows us that a considerably different world-view
could be maintained by members of the self-same linguistic culture. (For
those who think that this is a minor theological difference between two
Jewish sects, I would like to point out that this single issue of concerning
bodily resurrection distinguishes at its root radically different belief
structures concerning the nature of the universe. If language were as
deterministic in shaping beliefs as the initial claim quoted above, how is it
possible that these two antithetic cosmologies could exist in the same
I believe that traditions within linguistic cultures might limit or
expand an individual's ability to interact with other traditions of not only
other linguistic cultures but of traditions within the same linguistic
culture. But this is a far cry from linguistic determinism.
Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edwin Sapir were the most well known promoters
of the idea that language determines belief, though I doubt that they would
put the same degree of mathematical precision upon it that some of their
students did. Cultural Antropology has found some value in their theories but
this is mainly limited to recognizing the different semantic structures and
associations between words and realia within a limited cultural tradition and
comparing that to another limited cultural tradition.
Torleif Boman promoted a radical identification between linguistic
structure and belief with reference to Greek and Hebrew. This sort of
linguistic determinism has been promoted also in TDNT. James Barr has shown
the inherent fallacies of that approach as applied to Biblical Greek and
Biblical Hebrew. Others (Moises Silva, Jannis Louw, Eugene Nida, etc.) have
further developed not only more well founded objections to linguistic
determinism but have also offered approaches which deal more fairly with the
language data and the individuality of beliefs that writers ancient and
modern possess. Reading the works of these authors, pro and con, can help an
individual come to a better balanced approach to determining meaning from any
text. And, I hope, dispel the notion of linguistic determinism.
It is my hope that this will be seen as a help to your discussion
rather than an attack upon it. Exegesis is too often built on a house of
cards. I hope that the card of linguistic determinism can be removed from the
bottom of this house. Let those cards fall that will.
At Your Service,
-> Alice4Mac 2.4.2 E QWK Eval:09Nov94
Origin: Alice strikes back @
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