Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek c4p7

Ever since the Septuagint was created in the third and second centuries B.C., translators  have been challenged with taking the Hebrew text of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings and expressing it into the Greek language and culture. As the second century A.D. began, the Bible that the young Church was compiling and reading was primarily written in Greek. After the failed Jewish revolt of 70 A.D., the Roman empire had little patience with the Jews or their writings. When the Jewish Maschiach (Messiah) was replaced with the Greek Christos in the text, it was just a matter of time before the rest of his attributes would take on new garb.

The following are selected notes from the book Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek by Thorleif Boman. WW Norton & Company. Please note that these are very general statements and I do not necessarily agree with everything that is stated; but they do bring out some good points.

"Hebrew thinking is dynamic, vigorous, passionate, and sometimes explosive in kind. Greek thinking is static, peaceful, moderate, and harmonious in kind.  The Hebrew word dabhar (word) is connected with its accomplishment; it is a power-laden word. The Greek word logos (word) means to speak, reckon, and think.
"It is not accidental that during the first five foundation laying centuries of the Christian Church, Plato was its philosophical authority, and that the mental decline which clearly sets in at the beginning of the Middle Ages coincides with the rising authority of Aristotle. Even for Philo, the greatest mind of the Jewish Diaspora, Plato was the great teacher, and his attempt, resting on inner conviction, to unite Platonism and Judaism shows that even Jews saw and felt the spiritual kinship of Platonic and biblical ideas."

[mine: The Jewish prayer shawl has cords that hang from its four corners. One of these is supposed to be colored blue.] "But the Old Testament has no word for ‘blue’; there is mention only of the dye obtained when the murex sea snail is crushed. The origin of this term is not something seen, therefore, but is an action."
"The Hebrews orient themselves temporally not toward the circular movement of the sun, but toward the regular change of the moon’s phases, toward the rhythmic alternation of light and darkness, warmth and cold. The period of day and night is a rhythm of dull - bright - dull; evening - morning - evening. For the week, the rhythm is rest day - week day - rest day. The monthly rhythm is new moon - full moon - new moon. Time for the Hebrew is something qualitative because time is determined by its content."
"The Indo-Germanic framework of three time-spheres (past, present, and future) is quite foreign to the Semitic notion of tense which views what happens principally from the standpoint of complete or incomplete action. The Greeks employ space as the primary mode of thought. For us, actions are oriented objectively, impersonally, and spatially; the Hebrews think subjectively, personally, and temporally.  We Europeans think that we are at a given point of the time-line with our faces pointed forward."
"God revealed himself to the Israelites in history and not in Ideas; he revealed himself when he acted and created. His being was not learned through propositions but known in actions. The majority of Old Testament books are historical, and those that that are not (Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, for example) have concrete human life as their subject. History is a movement toward a goal which is set by God; with his promise or his blessing he gets the movement under way, supervises it, and actively intervenes when he finds it necessary. The people’s past, present, and future is a continuous whole where everything lives... What God did to the Patriarchs, he did to us, the Lord brought you (us) out of Egypt."
"It is astounding how far clear thinking depended for the Greeks upon the visual faculty. As evidence we may cite not only Euclid’s Geometry, Aristotle’s Logic, and Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas... Most of the Greek words for knowing and knowledge are related to the visual...[By contrast] in the Old Testament is the emphasis upon the significance of hearing and of the word in its being spoken...Perhaps we can better understand the formal difference in the thinking of the two peoples if we try to answer the questions: what do they mean by truth? For the Greeks truth, negatively expressed, is that which is unveiled therefore, that which is revealed, clear, evident, or that which is to be seen clearly."
"The corresponding Hebrew concept of truth is expressed by means of derivatives of the verb ‘aman’- to be steady, faithful, ‘amen’- verily, surely, ‘omen’ - faithfulness; ‘emeth’ - constancy, trustworthiness, certainty, fidelity.... In short, the Hebrews really do not ask what is true in the objective sense but what is subjectively certain, what is faithful in the existential sense; what is in agreement with the facts that are meaningful to them. This shows that Hebrew thought is directed towards events, living, history."
"Greek thinking is clear logical knowing; Israelite thinking is deep psychological understanding. Both kinds of thinking are equally necessary if one means to be in touch with the whole of reality."
"When Socrates was seized by a problem, he remained immobile for an interminable period of time in deep thought; when Holy Scripture is read aloud in the synagogue, the Orthodox Jew moves his whole body ceaselessly in deep devotion and adoration. Rest, harmony, composure, and self-control - this is the Greek way; movement, life, deep emotion, and power - this is the Hebrew way."
"According to the Israelite conception, everything is in eternal movement: God and man, nature and the world. The totality of existence , ‘olam’ - is time, history, life. As space was the given thought-form for the Greeks, so for the Hebrews it was time. For the Hebrew, the decisive reality of the world of experience was the Word; for the Greek it was the Thing."

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