This "Rediscovery of the Old Testament” series is designed to aid believer, who is not satisfied with his or her life to find out or refresh the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian tenets, history and spirituality. With this article we are initiating discussion of the importance of the study of the Old Testament for the believer to withstand the contemporary challenges and trials in the society for whom content and merit do not matter.
It is the culture of a new creation built by the generations of believers that preceded us is in danger of being lost forever if the Old Testament dies among us.
American philosopher Leo Strauss in his seminal work “Natural right and history” criticises objectivists' attempts to isolate facts from values. Strauss provides evidence for the trouble of deriving ‘ought’ from ‘is’ by philosophers. In his mind, it is not true that we are left with a world in which the knowable truth is a truth that cannot be evaluated according to ethical standards.
Leo Strauss, as a Jew, builds his reasoning on what he always perceives as a moral foundation revealed truth by God recorded in Biblical Scriptures. By the inclination and belief, he perceives Forefathers and Prophets teaching as a prism to his philosophical thought. The Old Testament directs him, that is, it defines boundaries for his thinking and provides a framework for communicating his thoughts.
By nature and cultural code, every person relates to facts through the prism of his or her family experience and, more broadly, personal life. A person relates or does not find any connection to certain claims. Thus that prism is a kind of form which shapes our thought and language.
Language is the repository of life: It contains our history, emphasises prominent French linguist Claude Hagège. Paraphrasing him, one can state: it is the culture of new creation built by the generations of believers that preceded us is in danger of being lost forever if the Old Testament dies among us.
For centuries the shaper and definer of Christian thought and language were the Jewish Scriptures understood as a story of salvation by the only God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From Isaiah to Amos, God revealed himself to Prophets as God of those Forefathers.
For Abraham, such a shaper of his language of faith was aqeda, which is the sacrifice of Isaac that is echoed in the James letter. Moses added Exodus, in Hebrew Shemot, "names" that refer directly to the first words of his second book but also to the revelation of God’s Name, which are elements of the story about the covenant with Jewish people.
In our century, the post-truth era, which is a continuation of post-modernism and relativism, this definer and shaper has not only been put aside but rejected. For instance, for Scriptural believers, the sexual love of one gender was unnatural, as Paul emphasised in the first chapter of his letter to Romans. He does not discuss the overall culture of his era but rather the culture among the believers.
Paul is not a supporter of the religious tyranny of the state but is concerned about the ability of the believers in Rome to discern truth from falsehood. Apostle is focused on those who “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” not the population of the city or citizens of the Roman Empire.
He is reminding of a fundamental truth, which some Roman believers dismissed, but that was a cornerstone of the message of the Jewish Scripture. A person becomes what he or she worships, he reminds, saying those, who turned from God as a person, whom they shall praise, to the dead idols, they exchanged the truth for a lie.
It is hard not to observe the similarity between Israel, who became a calf whom they worshipped beneath the Sinai mountain, in the words of Jewish sages including Moses. In chapter thirty-two of the Fifth Book of Moses, one can find a statement: “denied their Lord and exchanged the Glory of his Shekinah for this calf”. Psalmist alludes to this judgment, in one hundred and six chapter, composing lyrical report: “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped a molten image Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior.”
The gravity of Paul’s judgment in one particular era cannot be conveyed if one is not being introduced to the full scale of the catastrophe which occurred to the Biblical Israelis. Shekinah is a key concept in this report. One of the renowned Biblical scholars of the nineteenth century explained, the Shekinah is the concept that it was not just their God that Israel was giving over but also his glory.
Therefore, as the Biblical scholar emphasises contrast idea is that they were committing themselves now to the calf idol and, implicitly, the calf’s glory. They were losing also a glory of the People of God whose source was the YHWH's glory. In other words, they were distorting an image of God in themselves in every person who participated in the idolatry and in the People of God who was designed to be a light for the nations.
This near disaster at Horeb is a confirmation that the truth can and has to be evaluated according to God’s thoughts and ideas, which are broadly defined as the Biblical ethical standards. In fact, God is and will be the judge of truth regardless of the opinions of the cultural authorities.
When one becomes a believer, born-again creature, one also needs to be able to speak a new language. It is an important element of becoming a new creation whose goal is to build a new culture. With the language of faith, the born-again believer is able to formulate new ideas that are compatible with God’s way of thinking.
In our post-truth culture, in which factual information is less valued than the audience’s emotions or already settled beliefs the call for rejection of these beliefs and emotions which was the condition for everyone who wanted to become a believer in the previous centuries (conveyed by the concept of Metanoia (Greek) or Teshuva (Hebrew)) is an anathema. In a new fashion, the truth is degraded and emotions are elevated.
Believer more likely can hear in church the statement we are becoming what we eat, which is illogical claim of some Eastern religions, rather than we are becoming what we worship, which is the truth fundamental for the understanding God's character. For the latter, he or she needs to understand the syntax of the new language of faith spoken by the generation of the believers from Abraham to Apostle John.
But the language of faith which our Forefathers taught has eroded and nearly disappeared.
Some biblicist, including Professor Brent A. Strawn in “The Old Testament is Dying”, utilise the linguistic phenomenon known as “lazy mouth” syndrome and its impact on phonology to the dramatic reduction of the language of faith. The “lazy mouth” syndrome describes those language speakers who abandon the correct pronunciation of complicated phones and simplify them with something which sounds similar. For instance, the Americans with “lazy mouth” syndrome pronounce “prolly” instead of “probably”. But the scale of the problem transcends English affecting the majority of the world languages.
Pidginization leading to the creolization of the language is a result of the uncorrected “lazy mouth” syndrome. Pidgeon language has some loosed contacts with the original language, but its vocabulary and grammar are significantly reduced. One can say that there is some echo of the original language in its Pidgeon version. But the creole language that is a simplified version of the Pidgeon breaks off from the original language.
The lack of teachers, young learners, or deliberate choice to abandon the original language are three main reasons for its disappearance.
The communication problems of the fundamental truth revealed in Scriptures typically are being resolved by a reduction through favouring one given interpretation over the other to the neglect of the deepest meaning. Large swaths of Biblical syntax are suddenly becoming unintelligible such as the book of Hebrews or Letter to Romans, which depend on the Torah, five books of Moses.
Old Testament is like a language, truly it is a language of faith, and like any language, it needs to be learned and spoken. It is the Old Testament which has been teaching the generation of believers truth that can and should be evaluated according to ethical standards.
This is second article in the cycle of Rediscovery of the Old Testament.