TIP of the day: Plain meaning/ analytic reading - figurative especially comparison or contrast

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Wed, Feb 3 2016 1:58 AM

1. Knowing that נֶשֶׁר means eagle/vulture doesn't get you very far in understanding the meaning of a sentence because most of the uses of the word in the Bible are metaphorical:

"You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself."
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ex 19:4.

Nowhere in the relating of the story of the escape from Egypt to the arrival at Sinai do we read of air travel. Wink We know the language is figurative and usually simply accept the metaphor without considering it's actual meaning. Figurative language of this sort is saying that there are some attributes in common between our common cultural knowledge of eagles and God's behavior towards the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt.

One way to sort out what is intended is to make a chart with columns for the following:

  • Attribute under consideration
  • Attribute applying only to eagles
  • Attribute applying to both eagles and God
  • Attribute applying only to God
  • Notes - attribute based on my contemporary understanding not Biblical evidence; Biblical reference as evidence; Near Eastern backup support for attribute

The attributes in the column applying both to eagles and to God are the attributes that may be the base of the metaphor in any particular instance.

2. To start gathering the information, right click on the word in the Scripture and select Bible Word Study.

There are only 26 occurrences of the word in Hebrew so I can read each one of them a consider what aspect of an eagle is described and whether it has positive or negative connotations. I will discover that as a bird of prey it is considered unclean:

These you shall regard as detestable among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Le 11:13.

That swooping down like an eagle is a way to describe being defeated and plundered:

 The LORD will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Dt 28:49.

I can repeat the process running a BWS on the English eagle/vulture to find any Hebrew or Greek synonyms so that the entire Bible is covered. But remember that the meaning of a cultural image can change over time just as the meaning of a word may change over time.

2. Running Factbook on eagle provides me with a number of dictionaries that try to tell me what attributes of Eagles are intended in the various Biblical references. Treat these with respect but you don't have to always agree.

3. If you don't have a collection of cultural resources run a search on "Eagle" in title:cultural ... or make an appropriate collection of your culture of the Bible resources. Note that the mention of eagle on Roman standards is a big clue that the attitude towards eagles may change under Roman conquest.

4. A collection of rabbinic literature or at least the Talmud gives late evidence of the cultural perception of eagles. An eagle as "light" or the feathers as "long" are attributes I would not have considered without this search.

5. You need a collection of ancient Near Eastern literature and archaeology to search for the view of eagles in related cultures and the hints material culture can give you for Biblical meaning.

5. At the end of this specialized kind of word study you should be able to state conclusions such as;

  • bald eagles with a handful of arrows as a militant figure is modern not Biblical
  • powerful is an attribute shared by eagles and God that is a likely attribute intended as a point of comparison in our original passage
  • unclean is an attribute of the eagle only
  • endurance/strength is an attribute shared by eagles and God that is a likely attribute indended as a point of comparison in our original passage ...

6. We are unable to build a Guide that combines portions of the Topic Guide and the Bible Word Study although we can use Collection sections to handle the various Searches suggested about. Perhaps Logos will add an appropriate Guide for exploring one broad segment of figurative language. See SUGGESTION: Bible Sense Study Guide for figurative language / imagery / symbolic use for a formal suggestion and comment as desired. Short of that option SUGGESTION: ramp up the power of guides is a formal suggestion to allow us to come closer to building such a guide within the current system.

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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