Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Is The Jewish Pool of Images?

 In the previous post I mentioned something that my New Testament professor, Dr. M. Robert Mulholland Jr. called a "Jewish pool of images." What is a "Jewish pool of images?" you might ask. To help us understand this concept, Mulholland used a couple of pictures to demonstrate this concept with an American pool of Images, including the one on the left. Can you understand what is being said there?

This is a set of images that people in the United States can understand. An elephant represents republicans, while a donkey depicts democrats. Once we know that interpreting the cover of Time magazine becomes fairly easy.

What about this one? What ideas or concepts do you associate with this white haired man in a star rimmed top hat? Why is he pointing?

The concept of a pool of images need not be relegated to visuals only. For instance, what if I told you that a person I know has horns, a tail, a pitch fork, and was red? What would you think of? Would you associate that person with good qualities? Would you want to trust that person?

If you asked me what car insurance someone has and I answered with, "the one with the green lizard" would you know what I was talking about? How about if I said I was hungry and wanted to eat at the golden arches? Would you understand what I meant?
This is what we mean by a pool of images. Each culture has a common pool of images (visual/or verbal) from which to draw.
The second commandment forbid the Israelites from making graven images, so rather than becoming a visual arts culture they became a language arts culture. In the following posts, I will explore some of the images floating around in the Jewish Pool, looking at where they came from and how we can better understand the Bible by understanding its imagery.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Stir of Echoes and Allusions In Scripture

 The more I read and study the Bible, the more I realize that it is a cross-cultural experience. The Scriptures were not written by 21st century Americans. God inspired 9th Century B.C. shepherds and 6th. century B.C. prophets and 1st century A.D. extremist rabbis, etc. to write to His people at a specific time in history for a specific occasion or purpose. It is still God's word for us today, but to hear it correctly we have to remember that God was delivering a message, firstly, to Israel (OT) then to Jews/Greek-speaking people throughout the Mediterranean basin (NT). As I have said before, for 1st century Jews the Scriptures were their "pop culture." We know song lyrics, lines from literature, movie quotes, snatches of wisdom--thousands and thousands of word pictures. The people of  the Bible were the same way.
  Lately, I have been reading Richard B. Hays' Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. His purpose is specific--he examines how Paul uses Scripture in his own writings (how he quotes, alludes to, and echoes what we know as the Old Testament). It has been an interest of mine for several years to examine how the NT uses the Old. In my work with Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Acts, I found many of the OT allusions or quotes to add fascinating depth to the passage when I examined the text being quoted or alluded to in its original context. Sometimes these allusions go right over our heads because the original authors assumed that their readers would be biblically literate. Hays fascinatingly walks the reader through Romans and bits of his other letters, showing that Paul was so steeped in the words of Scripture that he would often consciously allude to an OT passage (expecting the reader to know to what he was referring) but other times he may not have been so intentional yet the concepts, stories, words, etc were rolling around in his mind and came out (an echo). A somewhat modern example of this phenomenon may be Don McLean's American Pie: the more you know about rock 'n roll history the more you can pick out allusions.
 My wife has a friend who is known for using quotes in the wrong way. One day they were discussing a complicated situation when she said, "Oh what a tangled web we weave." My wife was confused by the reference to deception and asked, "When first we practice to deceive?" The friend said, "Oh is that the rest of the phrase?" But often people may use only part of a quote or phrase to refer to the whole when they know that the other person or persons they are talking to will know the rest. The writers of the Bible often did this too. The catch is that many of us fail to understand the full meaning of what is being stated because we are not as immersed in the world of the Scriptures as we could be.
  One of the helps to this is becoming more familiar with what my NT professor, Dr. M. Robert Mulholland, called the "Jewish Pool of Images." Next time, we will begin to examine what this "Jewish Pool of Images" might be and how it may become our pool as well.