[b-hebrew] YHWH

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Wed Jul 27 01:21:10 EDT 2005

On Jul 26, 2005, at 8:53 PM, Bearpecs at aol.com wrote:
> I think it is unwarranted to suggest that they didn't know that  
> Ba`al of
> Tsafon was the same god as Ba`al of Pe`or; just as Catholics know  
> that their
> Lady of Lourdes is the same as their Lady of Guadalupe.  We are  
> arrogant if  we
> assume that they just couldn't be as sophisticated as we in  
> conceptualizing
> the divine.

Okay, I'm not a moderator of this list or anything ... just a mostly- 
lurker who chimes in from time to time, usually before thinking  
carefully about what he's saying. :-) But could I respectfully  
suggest to one and all that if this particular tangent is to  
continue, it ought to focus not on "ad hominem" arguments about who  
is or is not arrogant, but on the matter of linguistic usage,  
specifically the speech-act of referring? The study of the biblical  
Hebrew language is, after all, the raison d'etre of this list, and  
the reason I signed up. So here are a couple of clusters of language- 
oriented observations and questions--not grammatical or  
morphological, but pragmatic or in the realm of speech-act theory or  
wherever you want to "peg" them--that could potentially move this  
discussion forward in what I personally would find to be an  
interesting and helpful direction:

1. I recommend that for purposes of any discussion about what ancient  
speakers "meant" when they referred to gods, that the metaphysical  
question of whether those gods exist[ed] should be bracketed. That  
is, if a Canaanite says "Ba'al," it is irrelevant to that Canaanite's  
semantic meaning/intention whether Ba'al really exists or not (what  
the Canaanite believes about Ba'al's existence and identity is  
relevant, but not Ba'al's actual ontology, if any). In this forum,  
any such discussion ought to focus on the linguistic act of referring.

2. What counts as evidence for whether two speakers who use two  
different words intend to refer to the same entity? This question  
bedevils my students when we talk about the "names of God" in the Old  
Testament. They all agree that an English-speaking Christian who  
prays to "God" and a Spanish-speaking Christian who prays to "Dios"  
intend to pray to the same entity, but they cannot agree among  
themselves whether an Arabic-speaking Christian who prays to "Allah"  
and an Arabic-speaking Muslim who prays to "Allah" refer to the same  
entity. How do you know, Jim, that a Canaanite speaking of "El Elyon"  
and a second Canaanite speaking of "El Shaddai" thought they were  
talking about different gods? Hayyim, how do you know (aside from the  
example of Catholic Mariological references, which proves nothing  
about ancient Levantine referential practices) that those two  
Canaanites thought they were talking about the same God? (Substitute  
the names of other gods, e.g., the Ba'al of Pe'or vs. Ba'al-Berith,  
or whatever, as appropriate.) What counts as evidence to demonstrate  
either claim, and what such evidence is available?

It might be worth remembering that Albrecht Alt's claim that the  
"gods of the fathers" (e.g., Elohe-Abraham, Paqad-Yitzhaq, 'abbir- 
Ya'akov) was built on arguments from the use of language, the central  
argument being that the phrase "god of PN" semantically meant "the  
god who was first worshiped by PN." I happen to think Alt's  
comparative material might be a bit far afield, but that's not my  
point. My point is that the question of reference in the ancient use  
of divine names falls within the purview of the b-hebrew list, but  
that tossing around pejorative adjectives doesn't get us to the meat  
of the discussion of reference (if that's a discussion listers want  
to have).

BTW, my Ph.D. training was actually rather weak in terms of  
linguistics per se, and anything I know about speech act theory or  
discourse analysis I have picked up in my own supplementary reading,  
so would those of you more skilled in those types of analysis please  
forgive me if I have misused any technical terms drawn from those  
fields? TIA.

R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Pepperdine University
Malibu, California 90263-4352

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