Re: (textual theory) Jn 21:15-17

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sun Apr 19 1998 - 17:18:12 EDT

Michael Phillips writes,

> In reading the <book>Stranger in a Strange Land</> and coming
>across the
>term "Grok," I thought I knew what it meant, which was "to ken beyond ken."
> But later, when the Martians determine to annihilate the earth, and "grok"
>it to the fullest, I was taught by the context a new meaning beyond the
>meaning I was taught by the author. Hence, context does deliver new
>meaning, or at least, nuance, which lends to new meaning. Grok was such a
>wonderful, powerful, kenning word, until the awesomeness of the ultimate
>grok (annihilation, i.e., holocaust) was presented by new context -- it was
>really such a shattering of all the meaning that had preceded it, that I
>had to reevaluate the kind of power transmitted in the word, Grok.
>Further, I believe the author intended that revelation to come late, to be
>unsettling -- right after the scene where the stranger is killed in a
>shotgun crucifixion -- a stranger we had grown to love (however we
>interpret that word) and yet, a stranger who we must also reevaluate in
>light of the reevaluation confronting us in the meaning of the groking of
>the martian elders (the impending detruction (sanitization) of the earth
>and its inhabitants, in a nanosecond, by thought).
> Hmmm. Didn't mean to go on so long, or speak to questions
>regarding fileo
>/ agape -- just to textual theory, author intent, and reader dynamics (with
>the assumption that drama does play a role in Greek scripts).

Dear Michael,

Your example excellently drives home your point that "context does deliver
new meaning". Of course the context *must* deliver new meaning when you do
not have the same presupposition pool as the author. I suppose you do not
speak Martish fluently or think in the same way and have the same
conventions as the Matians.

 So your example can be used to illustrate that while the Semantic domain
model has great advantages over the earlier Etymological model, it also has
certain weaknesses. It works very well with idiomatic Bible translation
when the target groups do not want to work with the text themselves, but
want a "ready to serve text". And it is very good for b-greekers when they
are working with the meaning of a particular word, also to consult the
lexicon of Louw/Nida and use their special angle of approach.

The basic weakness of the model, as I see it, is the extreme weight placed
upon the context, "The word does not have a meaning without a context";
with the consequence that meaning primarily is tied up with letters and
words in a book rather than with the minds of living people. Suppose now
that you had a green colour and were born on Mars. Then you would not need
a context to understand the word Grok, because Grok would signal a concept
in your mind - a concept which you already knew. But as a terrestrial
being, lacking the Martian presupposition pool, you would badly need
Louw/Nida`s description of Martish semantic domain (if the author did not
explicitly define the word, as he evidently did in this case). So, when you
lack the presupposition pool of the author, you need the context to
understand a word. If you have the presupposition pool, the context will
just make visible for you a particular side of the concept which you have
in your mind.

There are of course situations comparable to your Martian example, when you
have the same presupposition pool as the author, but where the context
really does deliver new meaning. One such example do we have in the words
GENNHQENTA OU POIHQENTA which were applied to Jesus Christ in the Nicaene
symbol. From the use of the negative particle OU (context) do we learn that
GENNAW and POIEW are mutually exclusive. However, to the best of my
knowledge, this contrast was lacking in the presupposition pool of the
delegates of the council and was now stated explicitly for the first time.
If this is true, the context here functions as an extra-linguistic tool,
as using words to say something about words; or rather, to use words to
*change* word meaning. In Martian language they Groked a small part of the
common presupposition pool during a nannosecond, out of theological
motives, and introduced a new contrast which hitherto had been nonexistent.
But the example uphold the view that meaning is connected with living
humans and not with letters in a manuscript, because - the word does have a
meaning without a context!


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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