Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vocabulary

Cornerstone
Keystone
Capstone

Bernie and I lounged around the living room, watched the kittens pouncing and chasing one another, and discussed the nuances of each of the above terms.

We had just returned from a Bible study on Ephesians 2, where the Apostle Paul zooms through a raft of metaphors describing our relationships to each other in the church, with the Chosen People, and with Christ.

Ephesian 2:20 reads in the New International Version of the Bible as this:

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

The Pastor leading the study was zinging through the passage's original Greek, before flipping over to where the same word was found in Hebrew, which many scholars feel is the passage that Paul was alluding to by using this metaphor about Christ.

At this point I was wondering in my mind how my Hebrew translation of the New Testament would render this Ephesian passage, but I hadn't grabbed that particular translation for this study session.

The pastor then delved into the three possible architectural devices which the term "cornerstone" might also refer to.

He did a fine job of sketching a keystone.
He seemed a bit shaky when it came to explaining a capstone, and Bernie (with years in the construction industry) leaned over to whisper in my ear that the pastor had missed understanding the purpose of a capstone all together.
The pastor got the definition of a cornerstone spot on.

Other terms within the passage were examined as well: Citizen, alien and such. 

It wasn't until this morning that I realized that most of the under age 30 people that I know would be unable to state the correct meaning of any of the three architectural terms, and might also find it challenging to offer an explanation of the contextual terms citizen and alien.

I'm not sure how I managed to grasp many of New Testament embedded terms that covers vast nomenclature related to fields of study that I have not had reason to research.  For example: Greek law (Paul's "I appeal to Caesar" passage only has meaning when the understanding of Greek citizenry is obtained), travel protocol, property rights, fashion, cultures within the region...the need for background information is quite long to properly understand many of the passages.

Of course most of us long time Christians are comfortable reaching for our various Bible commentaries when we hit a term that stumps us.  What is interesting to me is how often we (I) don't realize that we have hit a term that should stump us.  We think (like the pastor explaining capstone) that we "get it", when further investigation might reveal an even more significant meaning to a term.

Slightly off topic, but profoundly important to many women in Africa: I once read a missionaries account of a Bible study being held by a group of African women.  The passage they were studying happened to be the one wherein the Jews were instructed to not circumcise the new gentile believers.  The woman leading the Bible study admitted that she had no idea what the term circumcise meant, but if the Bible said not to do, then of course each woman attending the study must be careful not be circumcised either.

The missionary found this mildly humorous of course.  When I read the account years ago, I thought it was kind of cute too: Women being told to avoid being circumcised! Ha!

Years later when I learned about the horrific African practice of clitoris circumcision and genital mutilation, I double winced knowing that God's Word had provided a warning for those African women to heed to avoid both a physical and emotional ache. 

Back to the original topic: How was it that Paul and the rest of the New Testament authors wrote assuming their readers would have acquired a broad vocabulary spanning multiple disciplines (architecture, agriculture, political science, sociology, law, poetic language, geography) that made intra-text explanation unnecessary?

Putting it another way: Why didn't Paul chose to "dumb it down"  passages that he wrote?
I accept that he was inspired by God; apparently God didn't see the need to dumb down passages either.

I won't even begin to touch upon the quirks that are found in the New Testament that are a result of Greek language being used to translate an uniquely Hebrew term.  Reading  Hebrew words translated into Greek translated into English translated back into Hebrew then re-translated back into English is quite eye opening at times.  Being able to understand a cultural or phrase context of terms often blows me away; it will take years to undo a lot of early Sunday school teaching that was offered ignorantly but with only the best intent at heart.

So that was what I was thinking about this morning as I drove to work.  The air was bright and clear around me, the temperature cold upon my knees peeking out between my dress and my Ugg boots.  One side of my winter weight tights waist band had rolled down to form an uncomfortable bungee cord sized wad. Why had it chosen to roll down only on one side?

Then I strolled into my office where the front desk group was creating a large poster with a drawing of a cowboy hat and the words "You go Cowgirl" scrawled in brown.  I asked if it was a birthday poster; no, it was for staffer who had seen the doctor thinking she had kidney stones. She had learned that actually her pain came from  internal organ buising acquired while riding a mechanical bull, and not kidney stones, which was considered good news all around.

I then fired up my computer and read an article about how women are bidding online for OB tampons, which have temporarily disappeared from the stores across America; a box of the things are now going for up to $67.   Why the alliance to this particular brand?  Because is is the only kind of tampon that is inserted without the aid of an applicator, thus saving the planet from additional waste products.  Online discussion followed about the resulting possible surface contamination that may occur between insertion and hand washing. I flashed back on those miserable times that I had need of such products in the past, how I never liked OBs, and why commercials for hygiene products typically show a blue fluid flowing evenly upon an absorbent product. 

Perhaps smurfs and residence of the movie Avatar now have a need for feminine hygiene products that absorb blue fluid?  No human female that I know flows monthly fluid as evenly as demonstrated in the ads, and if they did suddenly flow blue, they should be rushed to the ER immediately IMHO.

Obviously my ability to focus is challenged constantly with the onslaught of my own culture's experiences.

Cornerstone
Capstone
Keystone

No wonder so few people are up to speed with such unexciting terms as these, even if one of them is used to enrich an understanding of the Savior by which all mankind of all cultures and generations can obtain citizenship into an eternal timeless community.

(Now I'm off to research telomers.  I can barely spell the word right now, even though telomers in my body are busy aging me even as I type this post.  They must be stopped!  A Nobel Peace prize was given in 2009 for the study of telomers, cancer and aging.  How is it I know nothing about something as important as telomers and yet I can give a perfect explanation of the term "mechanical bull"?!?  Quite odd, isn't it?)

(Update:  I found a lively scholarly article Organismal stress and telomeric aging: An unexpected connection from way back in 2004 before the scientist really dug into the topic. While it is a tad dated, I like this article because the author adds personal expressive phrases about the possible research, quite unlike the classically required monotone delivery of most scholarly papers.  If you want a peek at why telomeric aging is especially of interest to women, read the article HERE

Then imagine how future scientists who are restricted/prohibited from school curriculums including Bible study will be able to understand what is meant by this title published in an international Gerontology journal last year:  Telomeres, Aging, and Plants: From Weeds to Methuselah – A Mini-Review   Apparently I am in for a rather reflective kind of day!)

4 comments:

ellen b. said...

Oh goodie now I have a topic for a nice conversation with Dear tonight. I'm going to have him explain what cornerstone, capstone and keystone are. I've got some advice for girls/women "Stay off those bulls!"
REALLY? People are spending that much for OB? Yikes. BTW Your brain works a whole lot faster then mine!

Lovella ♥ said...

I smiled as I looked to see what you labeled this one as. Yes. . .certainly Jill does think not only more than me . .but differently and isn't it wonderful that we don't all think exactly alike.
Interesting post.

Sara said...

Wow, you certainly covered a wide array of topics here! It all sound a bit like what goes through my brain when I am trying to get to sleep at night.

Vicki said...

Your topical question: "How was it that Paul and the rest of the New Testament authors wrote assuming their readers would have acquired a broad vocabulary spanning multiple disciplines (architecture, agriculture, political science, sociology, law, poetic language, geography) that made intra-text explanation unnecessary?"

I think these were things that were probably taught to the educated young in Paul's day...not things like all-things-computer and other "modern" stuff. Their world was much smaller, everything was handed down verbally, the written word was rarer among the common man, and they may have had more time for social interaction (either while on their fishing boats, or while tending their animals, or while working with their hands).

Of course, I attended middle school many decades ago (grin), but I remember studying architectural terminology. I knew the definitions to cornerstone, keystone, and capstone right off the top of my head! :)