Monday, February 15, 2010

I can't find meaning

Is there any word for meaning? People think that meaning is important, and sometime will use understanding as a synonym. But meaning itself seems to be a word not used in older translations of the Bible. In an English-Hebrew dictionary I found these glosses: רב משמעות, משמעי; שמשמעותו One can see that these are all derived from hearing.

How important is meaning? 

It occurs to me that meaning may be deceptive. It may make us think we understand when we don't. It drives us to abstraction! rather than to reality.  Of someone it is said (Isaiah 11:3) - how do I dare read this!

וַהֲרִיחֹו בְּיִרְאַת יְהוָה
וְלֹֽא־לְמַרְאֵה עֵינָיו יִשְׁפֹּוט
וְלֹֽא־לְמִשְׁמַע אָזְנָיו יֹוכִיחַ
and his breath (interpreting the infinitive as a noun) is the fear the the Lord
and not in the seeing of his eye will he judge
and not in the hearing of his ear will he rebuke
My Jerusalem Bible translates as follows 
(The fear of YHWH is his breath).
 He does not judge by appearences
he gives no verdict on hearsay

Including the parentheses in the translation - as if it were part of the prior verse. It then begins the second line as a new sentence. The third line contains 'the word' in question which the dictionary 'defines' as meaning 'meaning' - that which is heard.  The only other place I see in the Biblical Hebrew corpus (based on BDB and its list of words) where this mem precedes shema` is in Isaiah 11:14. 

There are 9 other places according to my Hebrew Latin lexicon: Isaiah 21:3, 33:15, 33:19, 59:1-2, Zechariah 7:11-12, Proverbs 28:9, and Ecclesiastes 1:8. On first glance these all appear to be straightforward usage of the mem as preposition in one or more of its usual senses. (The usage in Isaiah 1:3 could be pointed as an infinitive rather than as a noun.) 

I am coming to the conclusion that meaning by itself is singularly unimportant. But 'what is heard' is of course not unimportant. Hear is the first word. But hear and do is better than hear and disappear. It is, I think, only in the doing that understanding and so 'meaning' is given.


Carl said...


The feed to "Midrash, etc." works now. I like your blog and have linked to it.


Bob MacDonald said...

Hi Carl - thanks for the note - where do you link from? Your profile is not accessible.