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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Orthotomeo and metaphor

Well, I’m back from Germany. The trip was fun. I hadn’t been to Leipzig since 2000, and the whole city is a giant construction site in preparation for the World Cup this summer. But picking my way through the piles of bricks and around the blocked off alley ways, I got to the Thomaskirche to hear Bach’s St. John Passion Thursday evening. There’s always something special about hearing the work of a musical genius in the venue it was written for. You notice things in it you never heard before. It was a great break in the middle of the conference and hearing the text in archaic German brought to mind some of the questions that we have been talking about – not the least of which was “What does Paul mean when he says: ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας?”

Since you all were so kind as to keep the discussion going about the meaning ὀρθοτομέω, I will talk about some general points that this word raises and a different slant on the methodology. But because Suzanne has settled on a translation, I’ll talk more about the process of figuring out what such words mean, rather than doing a separate full analysis.

First, I’d like to say that after reading through the week’s blogs, you did much of what I would have done – and done it rather well. But I’d approach the problem thinking about it differently, in a way that might make the whole process less frustating and give you a product you could feel more confident of.

The lexicons. Lexicons only get you into the ballpark – and they can be misleading, and sometimes even flat out wrong. In the last analysis you figure out the meanings from looking at actual uses in context. Suzanne understands this when she writes:

The point made by David R. is important. Nothing replaces simply reading a lot of text in Greek/Hebrew.
For us that means 1) the rest of the NT, 2) the LXX, and 3) Roman era Greek writers (Josephus, Herodotus, Plutarch, et al.). And if you’re really good, go for papyri, although many of the words we’re interested in aren’t well attested in papyri. (You can get to them through Perseus, but they can be devilishly hard and your Greek has to be really good, because Perseus doesn’t highlight the indexed word. You can end up reading several pages just to find the key word.) Consult the classical writers more skeptically. Imagine trying to figure out the subtleties of meaning and usage of modern English words by consulting Shakespeare.

But I do differ from Suzanne on two points.

1) I don’t think you need to read Hebrew to figure out what a Greek word means. If you want to know what a Greek word means, read Greek. (If you want to understand the deeper theological implications, on the other hand, reading the OT is definitely in order.)
2) I don’t think you have to read a lot of texts in the sense of just reading a lot of texts. You can read and read in the texts and not find what you really need. What you need to do is use the tools at hand (concordances, e-Sword, Perseus, and the references in the big lexicons) to focus your attention on the usages of the words in question.
But in the last analysis ὀρθοτομέω raises another problem outside of being a hapax legomenon. Something beyond dictionary and corpus work is needed here.

What is involved with ὀρθοτομέω is metaphor. Not the kind of metaphor your friendly English 101 professor talked about, but the kind of metaphor that cognitive linguists have been talking about for the past 25 years. Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (Chicago, 1980) first dealt with metaphor this way. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

I think that in the various posts on ὀρθοτομέω, you at least got into the neighborhood of all the relevant metaphors, but it was almost as an “excuse me” or an afterthought. When you hit a metaphor case, you need recognize for what it is and go at it head on. Before I tackle this one, let me digress to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding what a metaphor is.

One of the big differences between traditional approaches to metaphor and current linguistically based approaches is that we view metaphors as conceptual mappings, regardless of what the surface realization is. So phrases or expressions containing as, like, and so on are nonetheless metaphors (I get those too, they begin as annoying little sinusy things, making me dizzy as a three-legged dog on a linoleum floor, …). Even expressions which are mundane and everyday, but reflect an underlying mapping from one domain to another are also metaphors. So when we say, his salary went up, that’s a metaphor. What we mean is he’s getting more money, but we talk about it in terms of a vertical scale. Sometimes there’s no non-metaphorical way to say it. Sometimes the metaphorical way is the mundane way and the literal way is “fancy”.

The temperature is rising. (metaphorical)
The temperature is increasing. (literal and in most contexts a tad odd)
In general, metaphor analysts use equative expressions to characterize metaphors. One very important one is LIFE IS A JOURNEY. In English we can say things like:

As you travel down life’s path, …
In Greek you can talk about living life as walking:

ινα το δικαιωμα του νομου πληρωθη εν ημιν τοις μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα
God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature. (Rom. 8:4)
This is the analysis Suzanne opted for for ὀρθοτομέω. She observed backhandedly (but didn’t quite recognize the importance of) the Greek idiom τέμνω ὁδόν ‘make a road, make one’s way, follow a path/road,’ attested from Classical times through Koine. It can be used figuratively, i.e., as a metaphor in the Lakovian sense, in line with the Plutarch reference listed in LSJ [Plu.2.7b: τὴν μέσην τ. ‘take the middle road’ ]. (I should in all honesty note that I, myself, favor a different reading here, the reading that the journey is making one’s way through the logic/sense, but I’m not going to argue about it now. This thread is pretty much used up.)

Secondly she observes, again correctly but not fully consciously, that the ορθο- part is metaphoric as well. In this case it is part of a wide-spread metaphor STRAIGHT IS GOOD. This isn't synonymy, it's metaphor.

This is a longer passage in Proverbs which, I think, will show the synonomy between ορθος, ευθυς, αγαθος and λειος, smooth; and their opposite κακος, bad; σκολιος, crooked; σκοτος, dark; and καμπυλος, bent; also οδος, road; τριβος, path; τροχος, course; βουλη, counsel, and αξων, axle.
All of this assumes, I think correctly, that the word ὀρθοτομέω can be analyzed compositionally. That is that the meaning of the word is to be understood as the meaning of ορθο- plus the meaning of -τομε- (combining form of τεμ(ν)-). The argument for this position is actually straightforward. If the form is rare, the likelihood is that it is compositional. (Idiomaticity is generally associated with words that get used a lot. This understanding is about language in general, not about Greek or Koine.)

Well, I have to head out for small group now, but I'm back online. Bis später.


At Tue Apr 04, 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi RIchard,

Thanks for all the analysis.

1) I like the way you made the issue of the metaphor explicit. I certainly was not 'unconsious' of it, but might have expressed it as the difference between the literal and the figurative meaning of the word. However, in reviewing I see that I did not talk about this explicitly.

2) I don’t think you need to read Hebrew to figure out what a Greek word means

I don't remember saying that you do and it is not my view, simply that seeing the Hebrew and hearing that it could mean 'smooth' as well as 'straight' seemed to add to the idea of not causing people to stumble over the true word.

3)but didn’t quite recognize the importance of sez u :-)

4) the reading that the journey is making one’s way through the logic/sense

Since you mention this, I think it is worth discussing. I considered it but several facts decided me against it. Most of all, the association with εργατης, a worker, or labourer, who does something for someone else. Timothy is that worker. Also I am somehow still attracted to the idea of echoing the language of Proverbs, Isaiah and the Gospels.

Maybe this is not warranted but since I haven't read any good arguments either way I would like to hear a defense and a range of opinions.

At Wed Apr 05, 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Sorry for the points on which I misread you. I understood the Dave R. comment to imply that one needed to read Hebrew. (Personally, I think reading the LXX, supplemented by good translations will tell you almost as much. Hebrew has many more problems for in exegesis than Greek, and the LXX gives you a window into Hellenistic era understandings of those hard parts.)

As for the question of the idiom, I took the continued association of temno with 'cutting' in Orthotomeo V, as evidence that you didn't fully recognize that temno was in a fixed collocation with odos. In collocations all semantic bets are off. If you'll pardon the grossity, when you take a piss, what you actually do is leave it. The semantic content of take is gone. So temno odon probably means something closer to 'do with a road what one does with roads', just like take a piss means 'do with urine what one does with urine'. That's why I was unclear on whether you really understood the full significance of what you had found.

At Wed Apr 05, 03:17:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Actually I was simply trying to show that the compound word 'orthotomeo' was transparent back to its components for a Greek speaker, the compositional nature of orthos + tomeo would not mask the temno root. So it isn't necessary to know the original word 'orthotomeo' in Proverbs to understand it.

Then, I mentioned that it applied figuratively to either travel or speaking.

I seriously considered 'take the straight road' but it doesn't seem to fit with the concept of worker.

I am also fascinated with the way the Peshitta translates this verse with 'a soldier preaching straightforwardly'. I would like to see some discussion of that.

My reading of the Hebrew seems to suggest that the 'worker' creates a road that others will not fall/stumble on, a 'smooth' road.

I would like to hear you develop the alternative you suggest more, since for me it doesn't line up as easily with Proverbs, Isaiah etc. but is still possible.


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