FRDB Archives

Freethought & Rationalism Archive

The archives are read only.


Go Back   FRDB Archives > Archives > Biblical Criticism - 2001
Welcome, Peter Kirby.
You last visited: Today at 05:55 AM

Notices

 
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old 10-31-2001, 04:59 PM   #1
Polycarp
Regular Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: USA
Posts: 228
Post Who determines meaning?

An issue that relates to many of the discussions on this board is the origin of meaning as it relates to the writing of the Bible. By this, I'm saying "meaning" has three possible origins: the author, the text, or the reader. Let me explain...

A person who claims the author determines meaning believes that the "intention" of the biblical writer should determine how we interpret or understand the meaning of a biblical passage.

Someone claiming that the text determines meaning would say that the author's intention is irrelevant to what the text actually means. The passage in question means what the biblical text says it means.

Finally, one who says the reader determines meaning would argue that it is the person reading the text who decides what the bible means. This would allow for many meanings of the same passage if people attribute different meanings to it.

This topic involves any literary work, not just the bible. I think this topic is relevant to many of the discussions here because I think people with different views on this will have a tough time making progress in understanding each other.

What does everyone think about this?

Peace,

Polycarp
Polycarp is offline  
Old 10-31-2001, 05:19 PM   #2
Grand Nubian
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: mich
Posts: 33
Post

Meaning of words are determined by the people using the words.

This happens because everyone is creative enough to make a word for "food".

We are also smart enough to recognize that if we use different words for 'food' then I'll never know what you are asking to eat.

So we get together and say "look, we I say "uga buga" then I am talking about "food". You agree.

That is how the meanings are assigned to sounds.

Since most meanings have been given a certain sound already, they have been cataloged in a book called "dictionary". Most people accept that as a reference source considering you and i weren't there when the meanings and sounds were joined.

So the meanings and words are joined by people, and later more people give it credibility.

An obvious problem is some sounds have different but similar meanings.
The sound "count" deals with math and also a social status among other things.
So context was developed, and context is determined by the author writing or saying the words in which "count" is used.
Grand Nubian is offline  
Old 10-31-2001, 05:28 PM   #3
excreationist
Veteran Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Australia
Posts: 4,886
Post

When I read the Bible I look at the message that the author is intending to give us. Literalists would believe that this is all factual information. I believe that the author may be completely wrong about some things. Liberal christians (like Amos) might see seemingly literal passages as just a way of metaphorically getting Truths across.
excreationist is offline  
Old 10-31-2001, 06:49 PM   #4
copernicus
Veteran Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Bellevue, WA
Posts: 1,531
Post

The problem with "meaning" is that we mean many different things by it. Our understanding of what someone else is saying depends a lot on shared conceptual systems. For example, your act of calling someone a Communist might be intended as an accusation. However, I have to understand that you think Communists are bad in order to comprehend that you are making an act of criticism and not an act of praise. This aspect of meaning is sometimes called "connotation". But there are other levels of meaning, as well as connotation.

I happen to agree with the cognitive linguist, George Lakoff, that metaphor is central to human cognition, especially language understanding. Linguistic meaning is grounded in our experience as we mature, and we come to acquire new knowledge and insight by analogy with our concrete experiences. Different cultures develop different metaphors, and this was a central theme in Lakoff's tour de force Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. In that book, Lakoff pointed out how the speakers of the Australian language Dyirbal categorized nouns according to a cultural metaphor that was part of the old Dyirbal culture. As subsequent generations lost touch with the cultural metaphor, they ceased to be able to assign words to their proper noun category (which affected how words were pronounced). That is, the cultural metaphor that had once linked "women, fire, and dangerous things" into a single category came to disappear, thus causing a shift in language structure.

My point in bringing this up here is that biblical text is extremely ancient. We no longer share the same knowledge and understanding of things--the same metaphors--that the authors of biblical text did. Over time, we have come to reinterpret those words to have modern, but different, significance. Even though some of the Old Testament text was written at a time when other gods besides the Hebrew tribal god "Yahweh" were accepted by Hebrew society, we no longer read that text with the same meaning or significance that its authors intended. We now live in a monotheistic era, and we read the entire Bible in light of that modern reinterpretation--which occurred after the end of the period of Babylonian exile. There is no "literal" interpretation of old text, because we simply no longer share the same metaphors or understanding of reality, as the authors understood it. Hence, the first (Christian version) commandment--Thou shalt have no other gods before me--is now interpreted to support monotheism, rather than the monolatrism that it originally supported. (Monolatry is a system of polytheism wherein one god is held to be supreme over all others.)

What is the "literal" interpretation of biblical text? That is quite impossible to say after several millenia of shifting perceptions of reality. Americans can't even be sure what the original meaning of their own Constitution is after two centuries of shifting social perceptions. We now interpret language that used to apply to free white male landholders as applying to people of different gender and race. There is no easy answer as to what we mean by "literal meaning". All we can say is that it makes more sense for linguistic communication that occurs between modern individuals, and even modern people can fail to understand each other's literal meaning because of a failure of shared cultural metaphors.

[ October 31, 2001: Message edited by: copernicus ]
copernicus is offline  
Old 10-31-2001, 09:27 PM   #5
Muad'Dib
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 845
Post

Quote:
Originally posted by Polycarp:
<STRONG>An issue that relates to many of the discussions on this board is the origin of meaning as it relates to the writing of the Bible. By this, I'm saying "meaning" has three possible origins: the author, the text, or the reader. Let me explain...

(he explains)

This topic involves any literary work, not just the bible. I think this topic is relevant to many of the discussions here because I think people with different views on this will have a tough time making progress in understanding each other.

What does everyone think about this?</STRONG>
Can you give an example of where the distinction would be useful? I don't dispute that it is, but are you thinking of any situations in particular?
Muad'Dib is offline  
Old 11-01-2001, 07:10 AM   #6
Polycarp
Regular Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: USA
Posts: 228
Post

Quote:
Originally posted by Muad'Dib:
Can you give an example of where the distinction would be useful? I don't dispute that it is, but are you thinking of any situations in particular?
Great idea! I should have done this in my first post. Maybe this will help...

Since this is a "Bible" discussion board, I'll use it as an example. The NRSV translation of Psalm 102:3-7 says this:

"For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.

My heart is stricken and withered like grass; I am too wasted to eat my bread.

Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my skin.

I am like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.

I lie awake; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop."

Now I'll tie in my three choices for determining the meaning of the passage. When we are trying to figure out what this passage means, do we base the meaning on the intention of the author, solely on the text itself, or on the meaning we as readers attribute to it?

In other words, if the author determines meaning, then we have to somehow figure out what it was that the writer of this passage was trying to communicate. What did he/she "intend" this to mean to the reader?

If it is solely the text that determines meaning, then we would not be concerned with the author's intention. We would only have the words alone to determine the meaning of the passage.

If the reader determines meaning, then we could each come up with our own idea of what this means. I could say the writer is talking about a drug-induced stupor in which he/she was unable to eat anything because they were too hammered. Their bones burned due to the effects of whatever they smoked or ingested, and they were hallucinating about being an owl atop a house. Someone else could come up with a completely different meaning and both of our meanings would be equally valid if we were of the belief that the reader is the determiner of meaning.

Does this help?

Peace,

Polycarp
Polycarp is offline  
Old 11-01-2001, 11:13 AM   #7
Toto
Contributor
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Los Angeles area
Posts: 40,549
Post

Quote:
Originally posted by Polycarp:
<STRONG>

Does this help?

Peace,

Polycarp</STRONG>
No.

This is obviously at least in part a piece of metaphor. The author does not claim to be an owl. He may be old, sick, drugged, or he may be using those as metaphors for a spiritual condition.

If you are a fan of Derrida, you say that only the text is valid, and you ignore any other historical information you might have about the author or his actual situation. If you are not, you research the history, consider what drugs or diseases might have produced this outburst.

It's still hard to figure out your point here.

[ November 01, 2001: Message edited by: Toto ]
Toto is offline  
Old 11-02-2001, 06:21 AM   #8
Polycarp
Regular Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: USA
Posts: 228
Post

Quote:
Originally posted by Toto:
This is obviously at least in part a piece of metaphor. The author does not claim to be an owl. He may be old, sick, drugged, or he may be using those as metaphors for a spiritual condition.

If you are a fan of Derrida, you say that only the text is valid, and you ignore any other historical information you might have about the author or his actual situation. If you are not, you research the history, consider what drugs or diseases might have produced this outburst.

It's still hard to figure out your point here.
You say it's obviously metaphor in part. OK. Why?

Here's my point. There are people in all three camps here at the SecWeb. Deconstructionsts say the reader decides what something means. This is why we have some people who come up with ideas as outrageous as the one I proposed about the Psalm passage. There isn't a direct correlation between religious preference and this issue. In other words, Christians fall into all three areas, and so do skeptics.

How many conversations take place on this board where one person seems to be talking in a completely different language than another? I think what's happening in many cases is that one person thinks the author determines what a passage should mean while the other person thinks the passage means whatever the reader supposes it to mean.

I would put myself in the "author determines meaning" camp, and I think this is probably the majority position of the people who post here. I was just looking for feedback to see if I was on the right track.

Peace,

Polycarp
Polycarp is offline  
Old 11-02-2001, 08:53 AM   #9
Synaesthesia
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Post

Quote:
I would put myself in the "author determines meaning" camp, and I think this is probably the majority position of the people who post here.
I don't think this should be the case. The reason that today christianity is as a whole a much more peaceful religion than islam is because of the movement to selectivly read bibilical passages. We would do well not to take those passages that instruct us to murder (in the humanistic sense of the word) rape and pillage in the sense that they were meant.
 
Old 11-02-2001, 09:52 AM   #10
Polycarp
Regular Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: USA
Posts: 228
Post

[B]
Quote:
Originally posted by Synaesthesia:
I don't think this should be the case. The reason that today christianity is as a whole a much more peaceful religion than islam is because of the movement to selectivly read bibilical passages. We would do well not to take those passages that instruct us to murder (in the humanistic sense of the word) rape and pillage in the sense that they were meant.[/QB]
Would you mind giving examples of biblical passages that instruct us to murder, rape, and pillage? I think by doing so, you will help to clarify the issue.

Peace,

Polycarp
Polycarp is offline  
 

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:25 PM.

Top

This custom BB emulates vBulletin® Version 3.8.2
Copyright ©2000 - 2015, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.