yahoo-arch at heplist.com
Wed Jul 1 22:36:28 EDT 2009
Gary Hedrick of USA in "Geography of Genesis" wrote:
> Karl, when are you guys going to see the light? The Hebrew text
> really needs a lot of reinterpreting. It actually says that Abraham
> lived in Van Nuys, in a family compound just off the 101.
To which James Christian of the UK replied
> Just off the what?
A perfect example of something that complicates the study of Biblical
Hebrew -- context. This seems to be needing to be pointed out because we
seem to have many threads that devolve into arguments rooted in one or
the other person(s) being oblivious about it; I will hopefully spell it
out, here, so as to give /them/ a little context of their own.
Most often pastors and others will refer to context and mean the words
around what is being quoted in a Hebrew text. But, the other context,
historical, social, and geographic context (and all-together cultural
context), is the part that complicates Biblical Hebrew studies to no end.
The Hebrew Bible was written by a High Context culture, ancient semitic
peoples, who had a treasure trove of cultural knowledge in their heads.
When writing their texts or telling their tales, there was no need to
spell out any of the background in a story. The slightest detail such as
a person passing a piece of bread to his left instead of his right could
signal whole paragraphs of thought. An example that might make this
clear is when you have a group of people together talking and one of the
people say a certain string of words that he knows will signal one line
of thought among a certain segment of the group, but will be utterly
missed by the rest of the group (for example, some kind of inside-joke).
The people on the inside of the inside-joke have higher context going
for them in that conversation. For the ancient semitic cultures,
everyone was on the inside of the figurative "inside-joke" while
cultural successors of the Greeks and Romans (which include us) were on
Us, the Greeks, and the Romans would all be Low Context cultures. In our
writing and story telling, we have to have nearly everything spelled out
for us. The amount varies from situation to situation, and some good
comedy is based on that inside joke (I'm sure fans of Seinfield, as just
one example) would fit into a higher context realm, but overall, we are
Low Context. This is where our conflict with semitic writings really
hits the dirt, and where we get a lot of our misunderstandings (not just
of the text, but on the nature and intensions of the writers and the
text itself). Then we say its all BS because the writer didn't mention
or spell out something that WE would expect them to spell out. We say,
"they describe all this, but we know from archeology and from text X and
text Y that this situation prevailed... why would they not have
mentioned it if what they are talking about is true?" But the reason why
we think they SHOULD have is the very reason they did NOT. Those facts
were part of their day to day context, and every action and every
thought was flavoured by that very context.
Perhaps an example?
=[ A man went to Washington, and threw paint at the White House.
For most English speaking peoples, they know that the person, in this
short story, who threw paint is going to be in a WHOLE lot more trouble
than he would for any normal act of vandalism. This "White House" is not
any ordinary "white house." The significance isn't that the house was
white and that the house was vandalized by someone throwing paint on it.
The significance is that this particular white house is the capital
residence of the President of the United States of America — all this
information comes from cultural context.
James Christian not knowing what Gary Hedrick meant by "just off the
101" is another example, this one more geographic, although not
completely apparent to anyone who did not get the cultural context
behind the statement. Also the statement of "in a family compound" would
spark other culture references in mind for a lot of people. I have a
feeling the specification of "Van Nuys" in particular might have
something in particular behind it, but I — at least — seem to be on the
outside of this section of the joke since I don't know what specifically
is being referenced with that one (even though I use to live in its
vicinity long ago). The overall picture of biblical context built around
the the cultural backdrop brought to mind by Gary was quite humourous to
those on the inside of the context, but what about those who are on the
outside of one or even both halves of the cultural background of that
picture? It would probably read as just a normal statement, believed by
the reader that person was being quite serious and no humour involved at
Now, with all this in mind... I hope there is some new perspective for a
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