TIP of the day: Plain meaning/ analytic reading - proper nouns

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Jan 30 2016 7:14 PM

When reading non-fiction, proper nouns may present a difficulty for understanding because of the author's assumption of the reader's pre-existing knowledge. For example, the mention of George Washington would bring up things like:

  • first present
  • general crossing the Deleware
  • truthful/cherry tree
  • wooden false teeth

It doesn't matter if the pre-existing knowledge is true or folklore - the author can play off it.

1. This is true in Biblical reading as well. What one needs to watch for are indications that something needs to be put into our "pre-existing knowledge vocabulary" bucket. These include:

  • "pourquoi" (etiological) stories such as why not eat the thigh muscle (Gen 33:22-32)
  • folk etymologies such as Peniel (Gen 33:30)
  • symbolically loaded events including the person (Moses in the basket/ark in Exodus 2:1-10)
  • symbolically loaded events occurring at the place (Marah in Exodus 15:22-27)

The first place to go to find such information is the Factbook. Be careful to be as precise as possible in your selection in Factbook i.e. Penuel the city <Place Penuel> not <Topic Penuel>

2. The Bible dictionaries often point out the etymologies and pourquoi stories.

3. Events are either in the dictionaries or in the Factbook Events Section - as to symbolic value your best indicator is a reference to the event outside the book which narrates the actual event.

4. Other good sources for assumed pre-existent knowledge:

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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