Re: argument.over.difficulty -- Longish

From: kdlitwak (
Date: Fri May 23 1997 - 11:50:52 EDT

I'm sory, but I don't acceptthis argument at all. Bearded BIll seems
to be saying that if a passage admits of multiple possible meaings to
those well-trained to understand it, the fact that one person thnks he
or she undestands it proves that it is a clear text. That doesn't
follow logically at all. The person who thinks he or he understands it
could just as easily be wrong. Here's a case in point from the NT,
which is fresh in my mind from work I've been doing the last few weeks.
P. Vielhauer wrote a very influential essay on "Paulinism in Acts." He
argued that the understanding by Paul in Romans and Paul in Acts are in
conflict. Yet, if you look at what scholars are saying now about Paul's
view of the law, e.g., Sandes, Wright, Dunn, Thielman, etc., you'd find
that VIelhauer's confident assertions about what Paul said regading the
law have been seriously challenged. The fact that Paul's syntax is
clear (even I'd say that) and his vocabulary readily undestandable does
NOT even begin to mitigate the difficulties of understanding what he is
saying about the Law. Just consider the different views expressed over
2 Corinthians 3 by N.T. Wright and Richard Hays. The grammar of 2 Cor 3
isn't hard at all. The meaning of the passage, on the other hand, is
quite a challenge. THe fact that some commentator thinks he or she
knows whatthe text means doesn't therefore mean that those who struggle
to make sense of Paul's argument are stupid. It may well mean that the
peson who doesn't struggle and thinks the meaning is obvious isn't
reading carefully enough.

     As for Thucydides 1.22, the fact that not just two, but virtually
all classicists (so I'm told) and many NT scholars are divided over what
Thucydides is sayng about speeches means that, however clear one may
view his syntax, it doesn't matter in trying to figure out what he is
saying. What he is saying, what he means, is hotly disputed, and the
fact that any given person thinks that he or she knows what it means
does not therefore magivally make the problem of his meaning go away.

   There is an obvious distinction, IMHO, between knowing what a word
means, and understanding what the words taken together mean. If Bearded
Bill doubts me on this piont, I shold like him to read Foucault or
Kristeva. That should be enough to convince one that recognizing
syntactical structures and knowing what an author means are two very
different things. Othewise, C.S. Lewis, whom is surely a clear writer,
would not have feltit necessary to tell people that in fact the
Chronicles of Narnia are NOT an allegory. Surely this view didn't arise
becuase Lewis's syntax was too difficult.

Ken Litwak wrote:
> the fact that 2 or more highly eminent classicists disagree on the meaning of a
> passage does not necessarily demonstrate any insuperable difficulty in said
> passage.
> if just one of the antagonists has the necessary repertoire for it to seem
> simple, easy and clear and has an understanding that conforms to the intent of
> the author, then the locus citatus will not have seemed difficult at all to the
> one who thus understood it.
> of course, it's also possible that some problematic loci have never yet been
> understood by anyone in modern times.
> i don't know of anything in thucydides that has given any more trouble than the
> famous ka0apcic = catharsis locus in aristotle's poetics (and yet, all in all,
> a very high percentage of the material in the aristotelian corpus will have
> been crystal clear). the 'understanding' of (probably 90% plus of drama
> students) seems very likely in error and the evidence offered by mr. else seems
> very likely cogent. all this to say that inconcinnity, brachylogy and
> vocabulary issues would never never lead me to name thucydides as the least bit
> obscure. comparatively speaking, i think he's one of the standard authors who
> expresses himself most clearly.
> to the 2nd paragraph above add the following sentence: the fact that it gives
> all other eminent scholars in the world fits would not detract from the
> intrinsic simplicity of the locus.
> shalom,
> bearded bill of asheville <>
> unca not having approved either whom or thereof.

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