Friday, June 29, 2012

Holy: Understanding it Better Through the Hebrew Alphabet

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."    Whether you are a historian and can relate to Francis of Asissi or you are a contemporary follower of Stephen R. Covey or another kind of follower of wisdom, you have heard this one before.  It is very good advice, but it is also hard to remember in the middle of conversation or in the middle of reading of reading a book.  Seek first to understand is my on-going habit, when trying to understand holy. It is not primarily about understanding my words, but God's words. I have been trying very hard over the last couple of years to better understand the alphabet of the ancient Hebrew language and the meaning of each of its letters.  As a result, I have grown in my understanding of qadosh, the Hebrew word for our English translation of holy, through grasping the ancient meaning of each of the symbols that make up the word.  So come along with me and I will show you what I have learned recently. 

I could say a lot about primary and secondary sources.  I have read a great deal of material and viewed a lot of pictures and charts.  There is a broad consensus though on many things, so I am not compelled to list all my sources here.  But there are two that I must mention and also how they differ. 

The first book I ran across that summarizes the work on the ancient Hebrew alphabet or letters and their meanings is that of Jeff A. Benner in his Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible: Hebrew Letters: Words and Roots Defined Within Their Ancient Cultural Context.  It was a good starting point.  But also as I have begun to understand more, I knew I needed other sources.  So I have gone over quite a number of books that it makes no sense to try to list here.  I did though hear from someone else who is working on much of what Benner was trying to do.  His name is Andre H. Roosma. 

Andre initially wrote to me in response to an earlier blog that I wrote dealing with the etymology of the Hebrew word for holy where I mentioned Benner's work.   His main difference from Bennter is that he tries to stay away from later mystical sources for the meanings of some of the letters.  He also tries to not overstate hypotheticals that contain some uncertainty.  I appreciate his correctives. 

He is currently working on another piece of writing that he is hoping to complete soon.  Before he finishes his writing, I would like to propose my own thoughts based on his work that tries to get at the meaning of words though the letters and their meanings that make up those words.  He is not responsible for any of my modifications and you will have to chech his work first hand to know my changes at:

For my purposes, I will use the follow English letters to represent those in the Hebrew for holy: QDYSh. 

Q:  Meaning: "goes full circle (like the sun's course)"            Class: Action              Character: love
D:  Meaning: "delight/desire to enter in (like a door)"            Class: Thing               Character: good
Y:  Meaning: "covenant bond/connection (like a tent peg)"   Class: Relationship     Character: true
Sh: Meaning: "abundance from the source (like breasts)"      Class: Amount            Character: right

ON Q: For a long time there has been this idea that the root or etymology of the Hebrew word for holy had to do with shines or light.  I think the pictograph behind the earliest form of the letter for this word points more to the full course or circle of the sun in the sky.  And what is characteristic of this course is that it runs the full course every day.  It completes its action every day.  I think that gets at the critical point of meaning in that letter and then for the whole word meanng holy. 

Also for Jeff Benner, he believes this letter was later substituted for another (though to the best of my knowledge this is speculative). The orignal letter he believes was there is the Hebrew letter that pictures a wall and is where English likely got its letter "H".  This is critical though to his argument that the entire word means "set apart".  

So linguisticslly, I classigy the referent as mainly to the action of the sun as it is originally pictured like a sun at the horizon of the sky where the sun begins in our view and where it ends in our view.  This is in contrast to a picutre of the sun in the mid-day sky, where reference would likely then be to its light or brightness.   Also if it was a picture that meant to refer to shining it likely would not have only one line indicating a horizon, but instead many lines shing out from the sun like can be found in ancient Egypt or in our day in children's pictures of the sun shining where the rays of sunligh are represented.  Its a view of its action every day. 

That is critical to how I then define the class as parallel to the character of love.  More on this when I summarize the theological implications at the end of this entry. 

ON D: We all have been told when we get in front of a TV we make a better door than window.  Actually, what they should say is that we make a better wall than window, because a door can be opened and you can see through like a window with just a little more effort or convenience. 

So linguistically, I classify the referent as mainly the thing of a door, since it is originally pictured as a tent door or tent flap as opposed to a part of the tent wall.   It is a door in distinction from a wall.  Its a view of its distinctiveness because the "hinge point" of the tent flap is pictured in its pictograph. 

That is critical to how I then place the class as parallel to the character of good. Discernment is about knowing the distinction between good and evil.  A tent wall does not make a good door.  A door does not make a good window (unless you leave it open), etc.  More on thise when I summarize the theological implications at the end of this entry.
ON Y: Most of us have set up a tent at one time or another and know that those pegs connect that tent to the ground.  If they don't or if they are loose, then the people staying in the tent could experience trouble when wind arrivese.  The pegs are essentially for connection and that is a primary form of relationship. 

So linguistically, I classify the referent as mainly to the relationship of connection as opposed to disconnection.  The peg is pictured upright as opposed to layig on its side.  This gives you the idea that it is holding securely. 

That is critical to how I then place this class as parallel to the character of true.  True relationships remain connected.  False ones are insecure and do not hold true. 

ON Sh: There are many references to breasts as a source of abundance. 

By the way, some begin from a 3 letter root and only acknowledge that form. 

 Recently, I have worked through

[this blog is in process,  please go back to the month of April and earlier to find full entries]  [this and the five preceding I hope to finish in July]


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Genesis 2:1-3 (Part 5 (of 5)

This final step is every bit as important as the 4 prior ones.  Here I will explore analogies to compare to the Hebrew word for holy, qadosh, and other Hebrew words for things like divide, separate, set apart, whole, etc.  Analogies are the art of great teachers.  Jesus' parables are a classic examples for how he earned the right to be called rabbi.  This will be critical for knowing which class the Hebrew word for holy best fits.

This will be the final step.  In many cases in the past it is the first and only step taken relying heavily on the area of etymology and the relationship between words that use similar lettering.  That was the likeness relied upon.  Here I will rely upon word classes and other words that are clear examples from that class.

There is also the importance of separating out the different steps from classifying to placing a word in a semantic domain (a set of words that have things in common).  The diagram below shows those sub-steps as critical parts of this final step.

They can be pictured as follows:

This diagram will also help in defining where etymology fits exactly.  It is a method that is often described differently and I hope to resolve that fuzziness. 

 [This entry is also in development, waiting for me to have ample time.  I wish I didn't have to do other things to earn my way in life.  Knowing the meaning of this word with certainty could potentially have big implcations]

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Genesis 2:1-3, Part 4 (of 5)

"The first choice we make everyday is will we act upon life or will be acted upon", according to Stephen R. Covey.  Likewise understanding the actions within a unit of biblical text is very significant.  It is not just though a matter of active or passive, it is also a matter of examing both the pre-state before an action and the post-state after an action that tell a person a great deal about two primary aspects of action.  Both the means by which the state of life is changed and also sometimes the natural or passive motive or the active motive behind the action. 

This part will focus on the actions within the text.  It will look at charting what are referred to as the pre-state and post-state of actions.  It is helpful for seeing how something is done, but also why it is done.  I learned this from a great expert in the area of computers, James J. Odell, who used it for different a different purpose having to do with search engines.  I have found this tool to be invaluable for focusing on the actions in the text. 

If you wish to know more about Odell's ideas, I suggest picking up his book, Advanced Object-Oriented Analysis and Design Using UML.   The book I am drawing from is from 1998.  He should not be held liable for my use of his ideas in dealing with a biblical text, but he should be credited for anything new I am able to contribute.  I find his way of seeing things to be truly unique and beneficial. 

This uniqueness may end up making this my most exciting entry on Genesis 2:1-3, just because you may have never seen this approach before.  Also an analogy from Stephen R. Covey may help clear up why God is staid to "make holy"/"Sanctify" the seventh day and also why God blessed it as well. 

Until I am able to update this entry further, please enjoy the following chart inspired by Odell's work:

Blessed and sanctified

                                                     Pre-state                                     Post-state

Finished                                    Unfinished                                                 Finished (complete action)

Ended                                       Not over                                                    Ended (complete action)

[Work]                                      Working                                                    Work (complete action)

Had done                         Had not done (incomplete action)               Had done (complete action)

Rested                                      Worked (completed action)                  Rested (complete action)

[Work]                                     Working                                                    Work (completed action)

Had done                               Had not done                                            Had done (complete action)

Blessed                      Becoming fruitful, multiplying, and filling        Fruitful, multiply, and fill

                                   (becoming fruitful, not yet                                 completed action by his other                                    multiplying, not yet full)                                     actions being complete)

Sanctified                  Becoming set apart or whole                            Is set apart or whole

                                                                                                                  (completed action by his other                                                                                                                   actions being complete)

if set apart, then   (day not separate from the other six)           (day separated from other six)

if whole, then        (partial day of incomplete rest)                     (whole day of complete rest)

Rested                      worked                                                               rested (complete action)

                                                                                                               (didn’t rest the next day)

[Work]                      Working                                                              Work (complete action)

Had created            Creating                                                               Created (complete action)

Had made                Making                                                                Made (complete action)

The problem with the idea of separate is that there is no immediate direct reference to the other days of the week in this discussion in Genesis 2:1-3.  Instead the focus in the more immediate context is not on separating days or on separating work from rest, but instead on complete action versus incomplete action.  Of course, there is a distinction between (a separation of)  pre-state and post-state, but the point is to describe and identify the post-state, not to focus on this very natural separation.  The idea of separation is natural to the context, but it is not the focus of the context.  In fact, as Andrew Murray implied many years ago there are other Hebrew words that point to the idea of separation as biblical and so be holy or sanctified would not have to be one of them. 

Jon Westlund                                                                                             1/1/11                                                                                                         (revised slightly since this date)

I'm hoping to use "smart art" in this entry.  I will try to take what I have charted above and make it even more clear though the use of this application within Word 2007.  If I am able, you will enjoy the clarity of the lay out for how the different actions relate to outcomes, purposes and other actions.  [This entry is in process, awaiting when I have substantial time to complete it.

Holy: Understanding it Better through Genesis 2:1-3, Part 3 (of 5)

Stephen R. Covey is rather famous for saying: "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing."  In the process of studying the meaning of a passage through language tools (linguistics as the study of language) and through exegetical tools (biblical hermeneutics or exegesis), it is the main thing to be reminded from the beginning to the end of the total process and again in the middle to use all the major tools for grasping the meaning of a passage and not just one or two of them.  I call this the total process.  The total process is the main thing. 

In one distinct way this blog entry on Genesis 2:1-3, is not like the others.  It is a reminder of the main importance of seeing the other 4 entries (out of 5) as equal parts of the whole and that keeping them together as a total is of main importance through the entire process and not just at the beginning or the end.  That is why I place this entry about the total process in the middle. 

I can't tell you how many times I have read writings on the meaning or definition of holy and they rely almost exclusively on just one of a total of 4 separate methods to be used to understand the meaning of word in the text.  The one that gets the most use is the method of etymology (tracing a word's history or it's similar roots with other words with similar letters or graphemes).  I'm not against this method as some appear to be (James Barr), but I want us to see its limitations.  So let's begin by looking at a diagram of the total process.

My diagram of the total process is as follows:

Even though I have increased the image's size, I don't want to assume yet that it is all of the print is readable, so let me at least list off the main names for each stage from the arrows on your left hand side.  They are: 1)Translate, 2) Transfer, 3) Total, 4) Train, and 5) Teach.  You can also righ click on the image and choose "open this link" and it will appear in slightly larger print. 

I've begun all of their names with "T" just to make things more memorable.  It also happens to be the case that in English these 5 names work well together as a description for each stage. 

There is also a biblical precedant for this process as well.  It is found in Nehemiah 8 and especially in verses 1- 12.  The situation is one in which the audience cannot understand Hebrew as well as Aramaic, so they require some assistance.  This sets then a precedent for our own time in which Hebrew from that time is not our first language.  So let's flesh this out a bit. 

[This entry is in process.]



Holy: Understanding it Better through Genesis 2:1-3, Part 2 (of 5)

"When we succumb to believing that we are victiims of our circumstances and yield to the plight of determinism, [then] we lose hope, we lose drive, and we settle for resignation and stagnation", according to Stephen R. Covey.  I am using quotes from him in particular at this time, because of his untimely death at age 79 due to a biking accident.  Transfering information from one place and time to another is often treated with the same amount of lost hope, lost drive, resignation and then stagnation.  It is high time to get back to the task of transferring what was said in ancient places and ancient times to our own place and time. 

The best clues for how to do this are in uncovering the explicit relationships in the ancient texts of that time, so that we can then understand better how to transfer things properly to our own place and time. 

This entry will look primarily into the importance of transfer.  What are those things in the text that connect with that time and also with our time?  I will be looking primarily at relational connections.  If possible I will include a diagam of the text that is very helpful.  This will be dependent though on a blog's formatting and its ability to handle an Excel file being pasted into it.  [If you have experience with that you may be able to help me.] 

I haven't tried it in the past because I have been assuming it would  not work.  [This entry is in process.]

Holy: Understanding it Better through Genesis 2:1-3, Part 1(of 5)

“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights. You could no more call them back than ignore the mess they left when they fell" says Stephen R. Covey.  The same applies to "holy" as it is used in a Bible translation.  It is a bit messy historically as it has fallen to our own day.  There are many ways that people in the English speaking world define this one word as it is used to translate qadosh or hagios in our Bibles.  Some define it as "whole", some as "set apart", some as "pure", and some many other sometimes ridiculous ways.  So I want to look more deeply into the topic of translation and use it to enlighten people so that there is both more clarity and more meaning in this word. 

I'm sure translators have sometimes regretted their choices in their translations, but it is hard to pull back from those words once they are published, even if they created a mess.  To expand Coveys' analogy, they are as hard to call back as the shell of Humpty Dumpty after his great fall.  This blog entry will deal primarily with the text containing the Hebrew word for "made holy" from the standpoint of word choices used to translate the ancient Hebrew words of Moses' day.  I will also dive a little bit too into meaning categories (semantic classes that are boader or semantic domains that are narrower).  

I will discuss what makes a good translation and then I will present a translation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 that I think best fits those principles.  This is a very important first step in interpreting a text correctly.  The latter part of this same step will be to dive into what words in that context might fall into the same meaning categories as the word translated "holy". 
An important part of the entire process of understanding "made holy" is choosing a cohesive section of text and not breaking apart that unit on the level that we are examining.  I am not examining the very large entire book of Genesisor all the Law of Moses, but I am looking mainly at 2:1-3.  That by itself though is not a cohesive unit, so I had to expand my examination a little further.  As a result we will be looking at the translation of Genesis 1:1-2:3. 

Scholars sometimes use a technical term for a section like this, called "pericope".  It is simply a technical word for cohesive unit relationally within a text.  There are clues that indicate either continuity and change so that a single unit can be determined. 

The reason again that I am examing these verses together is that I and others consider these verses to be part of a cohesive unit of text including Genesis 2:1-3.  This is significant, so that the context can be considered complete enough in order to be able draw conclusions for Genesis 2:1-3.  In other words, Genesis 2:1-3 belongs to the unit of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and should not be cut off from it on that level of textual units. 

The primary issue is this: "How do I know I am reading the right translation?"  As a person, who has formally studied both exegetical methods in Bible classes and linguistic methods in the general study of language, I have heard a lot of theories about what criteria measures a good translation.  A popular discussion of the possible criteria is found in So Many Versions by Sakae Kubo and Walter F. Specht.  There is also a more recent title that I have not read as a whole, but that sounds promising, if you are curious to learn a lot more than I will cover here. 

I will limit my discussion to my views on what is called "dynamic equivalence" translation.  I'll limit my discussion to this theory as my starting point, because it is discussed by both sides of the pond - both biblical scholars and linguists.  But also I want to discuss it because my teachers have been both biblical exegetes and linguistic scholars. 

The main proponent of this view was Eugene Nida, a brilliant linguist and language scholar.  For this view, he has both great fans and equally strong opponents.  (Unfortunately, he died just last year).  I will simply say to begin that I find the "dynamic equivalence" approach to be incomplete.  It lacks another dynamic that is equally important, even while it does a very excellent job of performing the task of dealing with meaning.  Please here me out on this. 

I am persuaded that the very best translation tries to accomplish two things: (1) clarity and (2) meaning.  The second is where I believe Nida's method shines.  Dynamic equivalence is excellent in method for finding meaningfulness.  But let's look at both principles. 

I base my two principles on Nehemiah 8:8 (as my mom taught me, "chapter and verse"), where we read in the NIV:

They read from the Book of the Law of God,
making it clear
and giving the meaning
so that the people could understand
what was being read.

You will notice here two things are actively happening: (1) making it clear and (2) giving the meaning.  You will notice also one purpose: (1) so that the people could understand what was being read.  In other words, if either of these principles falls down, then the people will not be able to understand.. 

For the sake of clarity and meaning, let me diagram this for you.  It appears as:

In contract to this happening in step one, there is the opposite.  It appears as:

Now some will argue with the use of the NIV (1984) at this point.  You will say this is a circular argument, because I am using a translation to argue for the principles of translation .  First, let's be clear on one thing.  All translations that I have read so far have two actions and one purpose.  So clarity is not the issue on that point.  So where they differ seems to be in meaning.  They do vary in what they think is most meaningful.  I hear you.  Yet I think this issue belongs in a footnote (your comments and my responses) rather than in this part of my writing, because my main concern is to deal with Genesis 1:1-2:3, not Nehemiah 8:8 (not that it is unimportant!).  But I do have to deal with space limits and my main point must remain my main point.  Comment on this piece if you would like to and there we can debate the merits of the NIV (1984)!

I also think that an easy way to think of the difference between clarity ("making it clear") and meaning ("giving the meaning") is to ask two different questions.  For the sake of clarity, it is important to aks the question: "How many?" (Quantity).  For the sake of meaning, it is important to ask the question: "How much?" (Quality).  Let me illustrate.

If I speak from a podium and instruct the crowd as I randomly split them up into three parts to say three different things like "yes," or "no" or "maybe" simulaneously, then what is heard is quite unclear.  I only have a clue from my podium because I gave the instructions.  But if I asked a person who just came out of a sound proof room to tell me what they said, she would somewhat puzzled.  It sounds like gibberish.  It lacks clarity.  One is clearer than three, so the quantity of one produces the most clarity. 

Likewise, if I were to choose a newer English word like "health" and ask an adult to give me its meaning, chances are they would reasonably succeed at that task.  On the other hand, if I chose an older English word like "hale" and ask an adult to define it, they would likely fail.  It has less meaning that healthy even if there two meanings overlap in history.  One is newer than the other, so the quality of one produces more meaning. 

The problem with most translating theories is that they answer only one of the two questions really well, while answering the other a little more weakly or in some cases a lot more weakly.  That is why I prescribe the NIV (1984) or the NKJV to most of the people who ask me the question, because they do one of the tasks better than the other, but the other task they only do a little more weakly.  What the NIV has over the NKJV in meaning, the NKJV has over the NIV in clarity.   Maybe that explains the success of both as the most popular contemporary translations in sales (I believe this still holds).

So now let's move to Genesis 1:1-2:3 and look at it from a translation standpoint. 

spare entry: one of many as related to "How many" and how clear. 
spare entry: equal or equivalent to the original as related to "How much?" and how meaningful. 

 [This entry is in development.  You need to understand these are the hard ones to develop and yet also the most important!]