Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  200 / 298 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 200 / 298 Next Page
Page Background

Horst Steinke


that follows. The section or block that immediately follows



presented as an outline of three major areas of investigation that

Spinoza considers absolutely essential: (1) the Hebrew language

and its linguistics; (2) the semantics/pragmatics of the text; and

(3) the historical background of the writers, writings, and prove-

nance of the text(s). These three areas are the source of the vo-

luminous data without which the interpreter would not be able

to arrive through sound reasoning at a correct understanding of

the teaching of Scripture; thus, these three fields of study can be

seen as falling into the category of the first kind of knowledge.

With respect to the first field of study, the Hebrew language,

his requirements are stated in extremely brief fashion, referring

simply to its «nature and properties», to the language that «its au-

thors were accustomed to speak», to «established linguistic us-

age» from which «all possible meanings» needed to be obtained



, p. 88). Taken at their face value, without taking into ac-

count the more extensive exposition on the Hebrew language

later in the chapter (


, pp. 94-96), Spinoza merely seems to be

advocating linguistic competence on the part of Bible commen-

tators, an unremarkable requisite in light of the centuries-old tra-

dition of original language studies by the dawn of the early mod-

ern era


. However, when held in tension with the subsequent,

extensive treatment, it can be seen as being deliberately proleptic,

and the key expressions highlighted above will be seen as taking

on a different connotation from their ostensible objective and

ideologically neutral intentions.

The second key area of concern is the semantics/pragmatics

of biblical language


. Spinoza devotes most of the space re-

served for this rubric to the issue of how to determine literal vs.



meaning in the Hebrew Bible. His paradigmatic

example is the statement in the Pentateuch that «God is fire».

Spinoza insists that the literal or metaphorical sense should be

ascertained, not by appeal to the «natural light of reason», but

only by comparison with other relevant expressions actually