I got.. wandering too far from home, checking out new blog universes (partly because of your shoulder, but don't feel guilty...).
I promised a safari, a big game hunt in the jungle of idolatry.
An ENORMOUS jungle. With lots of undergrowth, overgrowth..
This is a word with layers and layers of Pullmanian dust around it.
A.. word of WORDS. Like.. "THE WORD", right ??
Remember : "den alles Fleisch es ist wie Grass, und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie das Grasses Blumen. Das Grass ist verdoret, une die Blumen abgefallen sind.
ABER des Herrn WORT.. BLEIBET IN EWIGKEIT." (Then all FLESH is like unto grass, and all the happiness of men like unto ... LEAVES OF GRASS (??). The grass has withered, and the flowers have fallen. BUT... the Lord's WORD REMAINS for ALL ETERNITY." Isaiah, I think. I am quoting it from Brahm's "Ein Deutsches Requiem", as I.. sang it, way back when.
Think about it... IF you take out (!!!...) the WORD "GOD", you STILL have : the WORD remains for all eternity (while the flesh decays and dies).
And THAT IS CERTAINLY TRUE, according to my human experience.
A lifetime love affair with words has led me to believe now, more and more that we do not speak "the Word(s)".
They speak US. They INCARNATE in and through us. They lead the dance.
Humbling, and frankly terrifying at certain times.
An inescapable TRUTH of our human condition, this linguistic YOKE we have around our necks from the womb, even. That is bound up into our flesh.
On to "idol".
You may not think about this word very often. Maybe not even at all.
But it STILL is at the heart of some of the most violent intellectual debates we are having now. In ways that are not immediately apparent.
For example.. a few hours ago, a fellow blogger backhanded a remark to me, sneering at my... "literalist" manner of approaching certain history texts.
"Literalist" ? What do you associate with this remark, dear reader ? The.. BIBLE, maybe ??
Many readers do not know that rabbinic Judaïsm which has perfected the ART of INTERPRETATION to a level that American founding fathers/Constitution writers would have been envious of, distinguishes SEVEN levels of textual interpretation, ALL of which must be considered while READING (interpreting, right ??) the biblical TEXT.
I will not take sides in THIS debate ever, maybe, at least UNTIL we have looked at the "idolatry" word.
End of introduction.
From the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971 edition (the OED is NOT TRUTH, and I will offer myself the luxury of a little DISAGREEMENT with it today or next time, maybe...)
(By the way, this is damned uncomfortable, and a sacrifice for YOUR edification (and mine) dear reader, because the OED weighs A TON, and is very cumbersome to handle while typing on the computer..)
"Idol" from "ydele", MIDDLE English and Old FRENCH, "idolum" in Prudentius, cerca 400, Sedulius, 470, "IMAGE, form spectre, apparition in ecclesiastic use. And GREEK "eidolon" : IMAGE, phantom, IDEA, FANCY, LIKENESS, also from.. EIDOS : FORM, SHAPE... The current FRENCH "idole" was adapted in 13th century from Latin "Idolum".
"The order of appearance of the senses in English does not correspond to their original development in Greek, where the sequence was apparently : "appearance, phantom, unsubstantial form, image in water or a mirror, mental image, fancy, material image or statue, and finally, in JEWISH and CHRISTIAN use "image of a FALSE GOD". In English, this last was, under religious influence, the earliest, and in Middle English, the ONLY SENSE, hence(as also, in French) came sense 2. These are the only popular uses of the word. The other uses are 16th century adoptions of earlier Greek senses, often however coloured by association with sense 1 (strict RELIGIOUS sense, me)."
Whew, and I haven't even got to the DEFINITIONS of the word yet.
Can you see all that DUST already ?
First remark : an etymology is really an extremely condensed short cut that does NOT FLESH OUT some aspects of human life that disappear behind.. the words...
Behind this etymology, there is over two thousand years of history, which stretches over 3, 4 ? different cultures : Greek culture, Greek culture as it impregnated and colonized its Roman colonizer culture. Jewish culture. Jewish culture as it informed the succeeding Christian culture. Roman/Greek culture as it gradually fused with Christian/Judaic culture and reached outside of the Meditteranean to touch other cultures, with very DIFFERENT IDEAS AND BELIEFS (the so called... barbarians that swept over the decaying Roman Empire).
And.. in spite of the decline of the Roman and Greek empires, the decline of the dominant Christian "empire" in the medieval period... the WORD "idol" is STILL with us.
Spoken by US, and spoken by 4th century Latin church authorities, too.. (A WORLD of difference, certainly between THEIR worlds/words (meanings) and ours...)
All that flesh that has decayed, and the WORD is still standing, eh ??
Something else that should be apparent is that this word is POLYSEMIC. That means that ONE word has the possibility of conjuring up... LOTS OF DIFFERENT IMAGES (!!!) in our minds, and at the SAME TIME TOO. Images... that CAN go in the direction of our Jewish and Christian ancestors, and THEIR culture.
And images that can go in the direction of our Greek ancestors too. In addition to the directions of all our ancestors in the years up until NOW.
AND.. think about it... since GREEK was the initial language of THE NEW TESTAMENT, look how that FACT ties Greek culture and Jewish culture TOGETHER in an inextricable KNOT.
They are.. INSEPARABLE in our minds now. The way that the Middle English meaning was tied up into... the Old French meaning, too...
And THIS FACT has consequences for us. Inescapable consequences that it is important for us to understand. IF we are going to manage... to be perhaps... a little less SPOKEN by our words, and more SPEAKING them ??
I think there is an extremely important aspect of this problem that we need to keep in mind as much as possible. These... transfers of meaning, these intrications, are all the RESULT of the physical movement of our flesh and blood ancestors who were... moving from place to place, in conquest, in colonizing, in wandering, whatever. Men and women who inevitably brought their culture with them wherever they went.
Because.. we CAN'T DO ANYTHING ELSE.
Remember.. THAT YOKE ??
That's all for now. We will continue. Next time. Promise.
Just to throw out a teaser... NEXT TIME.. we will continue, looking at the POLYSEMIC WORD.. "false" too. It has momentous bearing on the idolatry question...
(LOOK how the words are bouncing off each other here, right ?? A regular BIG... CHAIN REACTION, in my book. ;-) )
(P.S., Toby, or a Germanist friend passing through the saloon, could you correct my German, if necessary ? I am quoting from memory, cannot find my copy of "Ein Deutsches Requiem"...)