Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Holy Means Whole: According to What If ....

There is a great possibility that the definition of holy could be become clear, rather than controversial once and for all. There are a few keys to this. One is discovering the meaning of the word through its symbols or letters.

I was in Northern Wisconsin earlier this summer and I heard a very interesting presentation on Chinese characters and their ancient meanings. This got me thinking about Hebrew characters and their ancient meanings. So let me present a possibility that is incredible, if it is true.

In short summary, the presenter this last summer tried to argue that ancient Chinese character combinations pointed back to the story of creation. In other words, their combinations were based on a story that tied their individual concrete meanings together. I will not go into detail here, but let me say that the implication I saw was that possibly Hebrew characters did something similar.

Jeff A. Benner has written a book titled, "The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible." He argues in it that the ancient forms of Hebrew letters were pictographs. So he starts to formulate meanings based on ancient pictographs, rather than on later understandings of a word's meaning. One of my greatest linguistics professors, Dr. William A. Smalley, once said about both major lines of writing that, "writing developed originally out of representation of messages in pictures." The problem though according to Smalley was that "picture language has severe limitations." That is why written language developed further. So knowing this and after examining the early portions of Benner's lexicon, I think Benner's idea holds great promise.

Unfortunately, when Benner comes to holy, he relies on later scholarly opinion, rather than on his own method of using ancient pictographs. He violates his own insights. I have written to him on this and I have not yet heard back. Yet I want to share with you now a possibility based on his method. So the idea of possibility is why I titled this piece, "Holy Means Whole: According to What If ...."

What I want to attempt to do is use Jeff's insights with some insights from Dr. Smalley. Dr. Smalley once said:

Imagine, for example, a picture (or sequence of pictures) showing a person lying on a bier, with symbols of royal status, and some people wailing. This could well convey a message expressed in a various ways in English, including the following:

"The king is dead and the people are mourning."
"People are mourning, because the king has died."
"The king has died and is lying in state; people are coming to mourn."
"We mourn, because our king has passed away."

This shows some of the difficulty in using pictographs, yet it also shows how pictographs might function in communicating a message or messages. So I want to show what the pictographs Jeff proposes could mean.

There are four pictographs that make up the word holy in ancient Hebrew. Reading right to left in Hebrew:

1) a picture of the sun at the horizon
2) a picture of a tent peg
3) a picture of a tent door
4) a picture of two front teeth.

It is difficult to understand at first glance, why these objects would be related to each other. Yet it may be possible to imagine a way they are related. Imagine them with their opposites:

1) A sun at the horizon (sunset) versus a sun at high noon (midday)
2) A tent peg versus no peg
3) A tent door versus a tent wall
4) Two front teeth versus being toothless (upfront).

Their meanings then could be:

1) all of a thing versus some of a thing
2) it could be connected versus unconnected
3) it could be moving versus immoveable
4) discerning versus undiscerning.

What is hardest to imagine is the way these things are part of the same picture. How do these pictures form a whole or communicate a message together?

Here is a possibility:

1) all = Amount
2) connected = Relationship
3) moving = Action
4) discerning = Thing

Dr. Smalley and others like Dr. Dan Shaw taught me a Wycliffe method of recognizing basic meanings in language or in words. There were four parts of meaning that made up the whole of meaning. Each of these pictographs could be communicating a concept of language that are connected at a fundamental level to include all the meanings or parts of communication. This is what would be incredible.

Holy, as an ancient pictograph, could then communicate to us that:

in amount, we are expected to give our all as pictured in a sunset at the end of a full day,
in relationship, we are expected to be connected as pictured in a a tent peg that connects a tent
to the ground,
in action, we are expected to be moving as pictured in a tent door that moves when we push it,
in thing, we are expected to be discerning as pictured in teeth that separate one thing from

Holy would then mean the whole, because each of its parts of the whole would be represented in each of the pictures. They would be an ancient object lesson or picture lesson for the people.

These ancient meanings could also explain why the root meanings that have been proposed for holy are diverse. One meaning for holy that has been proposed that has been proposed for boosting the definition of being whole is that of shining. Obviously this connects with the first pictograph. The other meaning for holy that has been proposed is connected with being separate. Obviously this connects with the fourth pictograph. This could bring clarity to the situation as to where historical definitions got their ideas.

All I can say is that would it not be something, if what I propose as possible is also true? It could give us not only a settlement of controversy, but a picture of what holiness is supposed to look like. A concrete picture might be the greatest blessing of all!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Holy Means Whole: According to Richard Hooker

Generally speaking the core value that is most promoted in the Episcopal debates over their identity is that of comprehensiveness or inclusiveness. The question that is open for debate is what the origin for this value is.

Some argue that it comes from the mediating position of the Anglican Church between that of Catholicism and that of Protestantism. This is what makes it comprehensive or inclusive. This idea of following a middle course then is the determining factor in what comprehensiveness means. Add to this the fact that comprehensiveness is the idea behind the great debates currently happening in the Episcopal and Anglican Churches over homosexuality and then you realize this is no small matter.

The difficulty is that finding the true historical roots for comprehensiveness is not easy nor is it without controversy. Back in 2004 or 2005 I ran across a person who argued that the root meaning for comprehensiveness came from the meaning of holiness or wholeness. Unfortunately for me, this person’s writings on the internet on no longer available at the link I had discovered. He also argued that Richard Hooker was the key author behind this idea.

I think you could argue that it would go back further than Hooker and it would have to originate at least in Cranmer, if this argument is true. This is because Cranmer included in parts of the prayer book or the 39 articles the concept of wholesome. You might even have to go back to a translator named John Wycliffe and argue that his understanding of holiness and wholeness as synonymous is significant.

Yet Richard Hooker is one of the key people in the debate as to the meaning of being an Anglican or an Episcopalian. Both sides of the current debates claim an historical legacy to support their cause.

I think it is not controversial to say that one of the core values of being an Anglican or Episcopalian has to be their comprehensiveness in the sense of wholeness. To pick just one prominent example, their stance is that of recognizing 5 solas in the place of Luther’s 3 solas. On a core value level they instinctually identify when others have left some things out.

Richard Hooker once preached a sermon titled: “A Learned and Comfortable Sermon of Certainty and Perpetuity.” In that sermon he had this among many other things to say: “The truth of some things is so evident, that no man which hears them can doubt them: As when we hear, that a part of anything is less than the whole, the mind is constrained to say this is true.”

I think this is a core value of Anglicanism, when you see the architectural magnificence of Hooker’s writings and when you see 5 solas rather than just 3. They are not satisfied with just some of the parts of anything. They strive also for the whole. They see the whole as greater.

Whether or not holiness or wholeness is the origin for the idea of comprehensiveness or not, though I suspect it is, the value of wholeness is at least one of the core values of Anglicans and Episcopalians.

I wish they would come back to this core value. It would be helpful to both sides of their titanic debate. It might even solve their greatest problems and weaknesses in the debate.