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Elemente de gnoseologie biblică vechi-testamentară

Biblical Gnoseological Elements in Old Testament

Autor(i): Cristinel IATAN

This paper focuses on some of the ways of knowledge (gnosiology) in the Old Testament. This knowledge is expressed by the inspired authors under various names, aspects and expressions. We have a theology of divine knowledge in Old Testament, but also one of man’s knowledge and himself in relationship to others. At the basis of this biblical knowledge stands the biblical language in its simplicity, yet profound, inexhaustible and rich in meanings. This language is articulated by biblical authors in a way that opens a natural and theological perspective on the God’s knowledge, world and people. We note that in common simple words but with highly meanings, Old Testament develops often a theology of obedience, seeing, and thus understanding, knowledge (even by touching), but also one of contemplation and communion with divinity. Old Hebrew language vocabulary actually depicts realities-images that are beyond words, and cannot be understood only in a strictly philologi-cal sense. Often a simple word depicts a complex image of reality, and it urges the reader to meditate on the text and its significance. The Israelite didn’t philosophize on the idea about God or world as we encounter in ancient Greek philosophical litera-ture. So we can say that Old Testament presents a practical knowledge expressed in suggestive terms, only so the people could understand the deepness of divine reali-ties. In the process of knowledge, the biblical gnosiology focuses on the human senses or bodily organ functions (hearing, seeing, touching etc.), but presents also a gnosiol-ogy that emphasis their transfiguration. Verbs as “hear”, “see”, “sleep” with their main occurrences from the biblical text on the subject of gnosiology will be analyzed to show their importance in the process of knowledge, also expressions such as “open the eyes of someone”, “open the ear of someone”, “tree of knowledge” and “know-ing” in carnal sense.
The first important term related to gnosiology, widespread all over the Old Testament, is “hearing”. Frequently, Biblical authors are speaking to us about “knowledge through the sense of hearing”. With the Adam and Eve’s creation and their setting in the Garden of Eden, man receives from God the unique command-ment (Fc 2, 16-17) of obedience by which fulfillment he will gain the eternal life (Fc 2, 17). But man is stubborn and violates it (Fc 3, 6). Interestingly man already hears His voice (v. 8) before God addresses to him (v. 9). According to Umberto Cassuto and others, the God’s voice in the text indicates actually “the sound of His feet” (this is the anthropomorphic view of Yahwistic source). So just by hearing God’s footsteps approaching, the man realizes his mistake, but there is no indication in the text of his repentance, only the fear that accompanies sin, i.e. man is hiding and he waits for His judgment. Genesis 18 narrates the discovery of future events by sense of hear-ing. The Three Men’s visit at Mamre tree where Abraham dwelled is understood by the Holy Fathers as foreshadowing the theology of the Trinity, and in addition the promise of a descendant to Abraham shows the importance of listening / hearing in fulfilling the divine will. In fact, hearing is the gateway to fulfillment of this promise, because Sara, Abraham’s wife, got it by listening. Here the Hebrew term שׁמע, šm‘, is usually translated “hear, listen” but can be understood also as “to catch (what some-one else has said)” or “to overhear”. Therefore Sara “steals” the promise of her fu-ture born son from the visitors’ mouth. Sara was one of the main reasons of visit. But hearing the news did not cause Sarah joy, on the contrary, it causes her disor-der. Hearing of childbirth’s promise didn’t convert in obedience to the God’s word that came through angels. She can’t simply believe she could conceive a child in her old age: «After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?» (Fc 18, 12). In Dt 4, 1, part of Deuteronomistic theology, all the elements of past Sinaitic experi-ence and special knowledge, such as fire and revelation of divine glory are now up-dated in the present life of every Israelite believer and they’ll become fundamental benchmarks of the omnipotence of divine knowledge for future generations. Knowledge of divine will is understood here as hearing (in fact, obey) of His “statutes and rules” (Heb. החקים ואל המשׁפטים, haḥuqqîm wě’el hammišpāṭîm), another exam-ple of oral original character of the law. In Dt 18, 15, the promise of a prophet to Israel will become the only certainty of a true knowledge of God. Listen to His proph-et it means listening to God Himself.
The second important term in gnosiology is “seeing”. The Hebrew verb rā’â (ראה) is plurisemantic in biblical Hebrew, starting with the usual meaning “to see” with physical eyes (however, when referring to God it must be interpreted as an anthropomorphism) (Fc 1, 4; Fc 1, 10; Fc 1, 25; Is 4, 14 etc.), then with the mean-ing of “understanding” (Fc 8, 8; Fc 16, 5; Fc 20, 10; Fc 26, 28 etc.), “to look” (Fc 6, 2; Fc 6, 18; Fc 13, 14; Fc 42, 1 etc.), “to consider” (Iș 32, 1; Lv 13-14 etc.), but has some meanings related to the domain of gnosiology, and to the spiritual knowledge of what there can’t be seen with the physical eye (sense of seeing), but with the “mind’s eyes”, namely “to reveal” (Fc 48, 11; Iș 33, 18; Dt 5, 24; Iz 40, 4; Mi 7, 15 etc.) and “to see in a dream” (Fc 31, 10; Is 6, 1; Iz 1, 1; Dn 8, 15; Dn 10, 7 etc.). Concomi-tantly, Old Testament presents both a gnosiology that focuses on the human senses or bodily organ functions in the process of knowledge (hearing, seeing, touching etc.), and another that emphasis on their transfiguration. Thus, a common expression is “eyes opening” (Heb. פקח עינים, paqāḥ ‘ênayim and גלוי עינים, gělûy ‘ênayim). Alt-hough the first occurrence from Fc 3, 5-7 might mean specifically to “open the eyes after sleep”, here evidently it means metaphorically “to make someone aware of something”, or “to raise awareness” from where we have meaning “to know”, sug-gesting a new understanding of reality that person has not previously ever experi-enced. Serpent promised to Eve that if she ate the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of garden she’ll not die but she’ll know good and evil, becoming “like God”.
Instead the result of eyes opening / knowledge was that man and woman have realized that they were naked. Fc 21, 19 is the next occurrence from the Old Testament, and here for the first time God “opens the eyes” of someone, in this case of Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden. Eyes’ opening is preceded first by a promise (v. 18), where Ismael is destined to become a great nation. Visible sign of this prom-ise is opening Hagar’s eyes and awareness that spring water was always beside her, near the bush, according to some commentators, but she “had no eyes” to see it before. Since biblical author doesn’t tells us clear whether the water source was al-ways there or it was there as a divine miracle, the exegete John Skinner leaves open the possibility of interpreting the passage, while agreeing that it was a holy spring.
Another expression synonymous with “eyes’ opening” (פקח עינים, paqāḥ ‘ênayim) used by the Old Testament is “unveiling of the eyes” (גלוי עינים, gělûy ‘ênayim). It seems that when the verb “to open” (Heb. גלה, gālâ) accompanies the noun “eyes” (Heb. עינים, ‘ênayim), he shows us seeing of something special or the desire for a special illumination. Gělûy ‘ênayim appears also in the Qumran sectarian manuscripts, unlike paqāḥ ʻênayim who doesn’t appear at all. We can suppose, there-fore, that gělûy ‘ênayim has a longer tradition, both biblical and extra-biblical, as it seems it’s even older than paqāḥ ‘ênayim as it is found in the narrative texts and Yahvistic poetic source (eg. Nm 22, 31; 24, 4, 16; Ps 119, 18 MT). It is the favorite expression of Yahvistic source (and equivalent to paqāḥ ‘ênayim) for expressing the appearance of God to someone. In addition to the expression “eyes’ opening”, Old Testament uses also the expression “opening of the ears” (פקח אזנים, pāqaḥ ‘ōznayim) only at the prophet Isaiah, or the equivalent “unveiling of the ears” (גלה את אזן, gālâ ʼet-ʼōzen) in the books 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Job and 1 Chronicles, when biblical authors are talking about the knowledge of things beyond human comprehen-sion. In 1 Rg 9, 15-16, God opens the ear of Samuel the prophet in order to foretell the future king of Israel. Here we find other terms related to the sphere of knowledge, “to say” (v. 6, 8), “seeking God”, “seer” and “prophet” (v. 9). Moreover, the communication expressed by “unveiling of ear” is not only a supernatural, for it is used with double meaning: the revelation of God to mankind (2 Rg 7, 27; Iov 33, 16; 36, 10 and 15), and human to human revelation (1 Rg 20, 2, 12, 13; 22, 8 and 17).
The phrase “mouth opening” as a poetic image belongs to the sphere of Old Testament gnosiology, but occurs seldom, only in prophet Ezekiel (3, 1-3) and in an anagynoscomena book, Wisdom of Solomon (33, 22). God commanded to prophet Ezekiel to open his mouth and “swallow” the words of the divine message. In fact the only prophet to which is commanded to swallow a roll in order to understand the meaning of God’s words is Ezekiel. Dynamics of divine revelation acquires here ap-parently fantastic accents. The vocabulary of knowledge is completed by the phrase “heart opening” which appears only in anagynoscomena books of Old Testament, in New Testament, and in extra-biblical literature. The meaning is metaphorical as with the other gnosiologic expressions from this sphere. Another way of knowledge in Old Testament is through trial and experimentation of created realities. In Fc 2, 17, God commands man to eat of every tree of the garden, but not from the tree of knowledge of good and evil for he will surely die. Then in Fc 3, 11, after the commit-ted transgression, man knows that he is naked and God asks him whether he ate from the forbidden tree.
In Fc 3, 22, God sees that he knows good and evil, but must not eat from the tree of life and live forever. Therefore, studying these few verses, we can conclude that what is found in the midst of the garden provides a knowledge that is desired (the tree of life and its fruits), but in the same time is prohibited (the tree of knowledge of good and evil and its fruits), an example of ambivalent knowledge of the tree. If until now we talked about ways in which God reveals to His people (hear-ing, seeing, transfiguration of bodily organs) or objects of gnosiology by which man acquired knowledge (tree of knowledge), the Old Testament presents us a special way of inter-human knowledge, which doesn’t fit the pattern of a simple rational under-standing and apparently derives from a kind of relationship of deep communion between man and woman: the specific meaning of the verb ידע, yāda’, used euphe-mistically. Thus, yāda’ in the euphemistic sense has 17 appearances, 12 occurring in old texts [Fc 4, 1, 17; 19, 5, 8; 38, 26 - L source, Laienquelle (c. X BC), Fc 4, 25; 24, 16 - J source, Yahvistic (c. X BC) and Jd 11, 39; 19, 22, 25; 21, 11, 12 - the book of Judges is considered the oldest book of the Old Testament biblical canon (probably c. XI BC)] and the remaining five in newer texts [Nm 31, 17, 18; 31, 35 - P source, Priestly (c. VI-V BC), 1 Rg 1, 19 and 3 Rg 1, 4 - c. VI-V BC].
Another section of this paper is dedicated to knowledge through contempla-tion which is rarely mentioned by the Old Testament, but it can’t be argued that there is absolutely absent. Two important texts are debated here: Fc 24, 63 and Cânt 5, 2. The final part of this paper discusses a specific way of knowledge through trans-figuration of creation’s elements. Thus, the phrase “opening of heavens” (נפתחו השׁמים, niptěḥû haššāmayim) is unique in the Old Testament, and occurs in the book of Ezekiel. Although it’s not directly connected with epistemology, but with its wider scope, however it facilitates knowledge.

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