May 14, 2010

The Pentateuch and Pipes

I am still slowly making my way through John Sailhamer's
The Meaning of the Pentateuch. Here is some food for thought from his fourth chapter entitled "Finding the Big Idea in the Final Composition of the Text" (p. 149).

"I have argues that when speaking of the meaning of the ‘words’ (
verba) of t
he Pentateuch, we should be careful to distinguish between the author’s meaning and the ‘things’ to which his words point, which as such have a meaning of their own. The Pentateuch is about real events, and its words point (literally or figuratively) to things in real life. One must keep in mind that the author’s words are not the things themselves. The words only point to those things. You cannot smoke the word pipe. The thing to which that word points, however, you can smoke.

"To illustrate a similar point, the Belgium artist Rent Magritte painted a realistic picture of a pipe. A caption on the painting reads, ‘This is not a pipe.’ Magritte’s point, of course, was that the pipe was a painting of a pipe and not the pipe itself.

When the Bible describes ‘things’ in the outside world, like pipes, it does so with words.
The biblical authors did not draw pictures. They ‘wrote’ pictures using words, much like an artist uses paint and brush strokes. Each word is an author’s brush stroke. The Pentateuch is thus much like a verbal painting of historical events. Its words point to real events, and they tell us about those events. To experience the events, all we need to do is read the Bible. It is the next thing to being there. It is the closest we have to being there. To experience the biblical events as the author intended, one must keep a close eye on the author’s words. We would miss his point if we tried to find out about these events apart from his words.”


Todd Bolen said...

Charles - I'm interested if you post more as you read through the book. In my opinion, this is one of the worst books I've ever read.

Charles Savelle said...


I find your comment interesting. What is it exactly that you don't like about the book?

My take so far is that the book is annoyingly redundant and not particularly easy to read. I am also not sure that I agree with some of Sailhamer's conclusions (e.g., the two forms of the Pentateuch). That being said, I have found the book to be interesting and thought provoking.

I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the book.

Todd Bolen said...

I had planned to write about it soon after I read it, but time got away from me. Perhaps I will get the chance one day. As far as "annoyingly redundant," I'd say that is an understatement. The publishers obviously never read the book or they never would have let it go as is. He has a few good ideas; these could be published in one article or two, though my guess is that he's published these ideas previously.

Charles Savelle said...

I will look forward to your review, if or when, you write it.