Re: Prophecy (Schacht)
> ...The purpose of "critical exposition or interpretation" ...--- Bob Schacht wrote:
> is to explain what the author meant.
> Mike,There seems to be an unappreciated difference here between exegesis
> It seems to me that this pretty much undermines the case you have
> been trying to make against John Staton. Essentially, he has been
> arguing that we have to understand prophecy emically (i.e., from
> the Native point of view), whereas you've been arguing that we
> need to understand prophecy etically (i.e., from a point of view
> that transcends culture-bound and faith bound commitments). This
> definition, it seems to me, essentially agrees with the larger
> point Staton was trying to make (even though you may be able to
> use it against the immediate point in question).
and definition. To my way of thinking, the former is (or ought to
be) -emic, the latter -etic. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to
cross the line when one believes in the Native point of view. An
example of what I mean can be found in the respective definitions
of 'demon' and 'prophet' in Harper's Bible Dictionary (1985 ed.).
The article on 'demon' starts out:
"The English transliteration of a Greek term (daimon) originally
referring to any one of numerous, vaguely defined spirit beings,
either good or bad. In the NT they are understood as evil spirits,
opposed to God and God's people."
Note that this definition doesn't presuppose that demons exist. The
article continues in the same -etic vein:
"In the ancient world, there was widespread belief in spiritual
powers or beings that existed in addition to the well-known gods
"The idea then developed that demons could invade human bodies and
personalities and cause mental illness, physical disease, or other
specific problems ..."
The author concludes with his own personal opinion:
"The idea that there are evil forces in the world that manifest
themselves in various ways is still valid. How one articulates this
idea may change from one culture to another, however, Demonology was
a part of the culture of the NT world and should be interpreted and
understood against that background." (HBD, pp. 217-218)
In sharp contrast to the article on 'demon', the article on
'prophet' starts out with an -emic bang:
"Prophet: a person who serves as a channel of communication between
the human and divine worlds."
... and continues on in much the same way. Almost a complete lack
of -etic language (i.e., qualifiers relativizing the term to Native
understandings and beliefs). I suppose this could be ascribed to a
difference in writing style between the two authors, but it seems to
me more likely to have been caused by a difference of belief. The
one writer evidently believes in prophets and prophecy, the other
writer clearly doesn't believe in demons.
It's a normal tendency to write etically about that which one
doesn't believe in, and emically about that which one does, but I
think it's a tendency to be avoided among folks who style themselves
as historians. Ideally, an exegesis of a Christian text written by a
Christian historian and a Muslim historian should be very much the
same with respect to the etic/emic divide. Or (holding the writer
constant and letting the text vary), an historian's exegesis of a
Christian text should be very much the same with respect to the
etic/emic divide as his/her exegesis of the Qu'ran. Such is not the
case, of course, because our beliefs enter unconsciously into our
language. In the ideal, however, the historian who happens to be a
Christian should apply the same scholarly standards to, say, the
Book of Mormon, as he does to his own favored texts.
The second point that seems to be lurking in the background is the
difference between a specific kind of prophecy and prophecy in
general. What are we to say about Nostradamus, e.g.? That he
believed himself to be in contact with the divine world? I don't
know whether that's so or not, but suppose he didn't. Can we say
that he _must have been_ in contact with the divine world, even if
he didn't believe himself to have been so? Or shall we say that his
beliefs determine whether his utterances were prophetic or not?
Personally, I don't think either of these will do. It must be, I
think, the content of the utterances in question that determines
whether they're called 'prophecies' or not. On this account, "false
prophecies" are prophecies still - not because the prophet (falsely)
believes them to have come from the divine world, but because they
are claims the truth of which could theoretically only be known to
an omniscient mind. If this is so, then Nostradmus would seem to
have been a prophet in the generic sense applicable to all types of
The objection to my bringing Nostradamus into the picture is that
the kind of prophecy he is supposed to have engaged in was
apparently not specifically _Christian prophecy_. Similarly with
the pagan "prophets" who interpreted "divine oracles". If valid,
however, that objection should lead the objector to distinguish
"Christian prophecy" from other types of prophecy. A suitable
definition would, I think, explicate prophecy-in-general, and then
distinguish the various types of prophecy, so that when we say that
Revelation is (Christian) prophecy, we know exactly what that claim
means. This is not to deny that the actual process of forming a
definition involves -emic considerations, of course (e.g., how was
the word used in Revelation and in other Christian writings), but
I would assert that the end result should be -etic. After all, the
words in question had generic meaning both before and after they
were used in a Judaeo-Christian context, so it's not really kosher
(:-) to claim that only Christian/Judaic/Islamic prophecies count as
Mt. Clemens, MI
- At 05:21 PM 12/1/2003 +0000, Mike Grondin wrote:
> > ...The purpose of "critical exposition or interpretation" ...Mike responded:
> > is to explain what the author meant.
>--- Bob Schacht wrote:
> > Mike,
> > It seems to me that this pretty much undermines the case you have
> > been trying to make against John Staton. Essentially, he has been
> > arguing that we have to understand prophecy emically (i.e., from
> > the Native point of view), whereas you've been arguing that we
> > need to understand prophecy etically (i.e., from a point of view
> > that transcends culture-bound and faith bound commitments). ...
>There seems to be an unappreciated difference here between exegesisNo, this can't be true. It cannot be true that only etic categories have
>and definition. To my way of thinking, the former is (or ought to
>be) -emic, the latter -etic.
definitions. Emic categories must also have definitions, but of course they
will be in emic terms.
>Unfortunately, it's all too easy to cross the line when one believes inThis is no slam dunk. Leave out the second sentence, and look at the first:
>the Native point of view.
>An example of what I mean can be found in the respective definitions
>of 'demon' and 'prophet' in Harper's Bible Dictionary (1985 ed.).
>The article on 'demon' starts out:
>"The English transliteration of a Greek term (daimon) originally
>referring to any one of numerous, vaguely defined spirit beings,
>either good or bad. In the NT they are understood as evil spirits,
>opposed to God and God's people."
>Note that this definition doesn't presuppose that demons exist.
it is obviously couched in terms that presuppose the existence of spirit
beings. Notice that it does NOT say, "referring to any one of *purported*
numerous, vaguely defined spirit beings, either good or bad." Nor are any
synonyms for "purported" to be found, such as alleged, supposed, or the
like. Otherwise, the term would refer to something that doesn't exist. So
it looks to me that the term is defined emically, but then a sentence about
the NT is added that is expressed in etic terms.
>TheActually, I think that your example illustrates exactly the correct
>article continues in the same -etic vein:
>"In the ancient world, there was widespread belief in spiritual
>powers or beings that existed in addition to the well-known gods
procedure to follow: Begin with an emic (!) definition, and then move to an
>In sharp contrast to the article on 'demon', the article onThis contrast is not so sharp as you supposed (see above).
>'prophet' starts out with an -emic bang:
>"Prophet: a person who serves as a channel of communication betweenThis is true. In addition, there is a tendency to assume that the language
>the human and divine worlds."
>... and continues on in much the same way. Almost a complete lack
>of -etic language (i.e., qualifiers relativizing the term to Native
>understandings and beliefs). I suppose this could be ascribed to a
>difference in writing style between the two authors, but it seems to
>me more likely to have been caused by a difference of belief. The
>one writer evidently believes in prophets and prophecy, the other
>writer clearly doesn't believe in demons.
>It's a normal tendency to write etically about that which one
>doesn't believe in, and emically about that which one does,
of critical scholarship is etic, but that is a conceit that postmodernists
have challenged. There are elements of the emic/etic distinction that have
some of the same pitfalls as the subjective/objective dichotomy: We like to
think that the language of critical scholarship is objective, but that,
too, is to some extent, a conceit.
Nevertheless, I think it is helpful to strive to make emic/etic
distinctions, and to constantly seek to differentiate the subjective from
the relatively objective. But it is also helpful to remind ourselves from
time to time of the value judgments and biases that still inform our etic
Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
Northern Arizona University
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Greetings Bob,
Just a few short responses to your latest remarks, though I feel
we're reaching the point of diminishing returns. At the outset, a
kind of exegesis (:-) on your opening paragraph, which begins:
> It cannot be true that only etic categories have definitions.Since I don't recognize this either to be the claim I was making,
or to be derivable from it, when I wrote:
> To my way of thinking, [exegesis] is (or ought to be) -emic,... the task for me was to try to figure out why you would think I
> [definition] -etic.
was claiming something that I agree "cannot be true". The key turned
out to be the phrase 'of course' in your next sentence:
> Emic categories must also have definitions, but of course theyThe "of course" here gives away the presence of a presupposition,
> will be in emic terms.
viz. that an etic word or concept must be defined etically, and an
emic word or concept, emically. This would explain why it was that
when I suggested that definitions should be etic, you understood
that to be a claim that only _etic_ words/concepts can be defined.
(On your presupposition, emic words can only be defined emically,
hence if definitions are etic, emic words can't be defined at all,
which is absurd of course.) As it happens, however, I don't share
that presupposition. In fact, it seems fairly easy to show that
it's not the case.
Let's suppose that there's an Eastern religion (call it Tortoisism)
which employs a term translated into English as "turtle-messenger".
What this fellow does is wander off periodically into parts unknown
(except to him) and come back with what are presumed by the
Tortoisists to be messages from the giant turtle which is supposed
to hold the world on its back. The -emic definition of "turtle-
messenger" might be something like "the person who brings messages
from the Turtle to the people". The -etic definition might be
something like "In Tortoisism, the person who is believed to bring
messages from the Turtle to the people." It seems clear from this
counter-example that emic words/concepts are amenable to both emic
and etic definitions. The Tortoisists themselves would construct
emic definitions of their emic terms. Etic definitions of their
emic terms, on the other hand, might be constructed by either non-
Tortoisists, or by anyone who wanted to avoid presupposing the
belief system of the Tortoisists - including perhaps sociologists,
anthropologists, historians of religions, etc.. So I would not at
all agree that "of course" emic "categories" must be defined in
emic terms. But I would modify my original statement to read that
critical scholarship calls for etic definitions of emic terms.
On the second point at issue, you seem to have successfully blunted
the contrast I was attempting to draw between the definitions of
'demon' and 'prophet' in HBD. (There is no separate article on
'prophecy', although I do note, FWIW, that the 'prophet' article
contains the following observation:
"Particularly in Christian tradition, the [OT] prophets have been
regarded as predictors of the future, whose words pointed to the
coming of Jesus, and to the future course of world history." (p826)
Since the first portion of the 'demon' article evidently doesn't
serve as a model of etic definition of an emic term, let me suggest
rather the HBD article on 'blasphemy' (which is more comparable to
"prophecy" on grammatical grounds, anyway):
"A term derived from a Greek word meaning to injure the reputation
of another. In the Bible, it means showing contempt or a lack of
reverence for God ... or something sacred ... including claiming for
oneself divine attributes by word or deed ..." (ibid, p.135)
The generic term is described first, then the Biblical (emic) usage
is explained in what seems to me to be -etic terms ("In the Bible,
it means ...") Others may look at this somewhat differently, but I
believe it's consistent with suggestions I've made previously.
BTW, since which is which between 'emic' and 'etic' isn't easy to
remember, and since they're deadly-dull words anyway, how about
something more stimulating and mnemonically helpful? "local"
vs. "global"? "parochial" vs. "universal"? "object-language"
vs. "metalanguage"? Any of these strike you as acceptable subs?
Mt. Clemens, MI
Sorry for the delayed response. I believe I've addressed one of the
two places with which you take issue, at least indirectly, in my
notes to Bob, but a more direct rejoinder may be in order, since the
way you frame the issue has strong intuitive appeal.
You first say that 'prophet', as used in the Bible (also in the
Qu'ran, I think) means 'spokesperson for God'. You then conclude:
> It is open to a scholar to hold that all prophets are mistaken,There's a sense of definitional tautology here - hence the strong
> but to suggest that it is possible to engae in prophecy without
> believing oneself to be divinely inspired would make no sense.
intuitive appeal that I mentioned - but it seems to me that the
sensed tautology doesn't stand up under close scrutiny. What you're
assuming, I think, is that to "engage in [Biblical] prophecy" is to
actually act as a spokesman for God, thus posing the question "How
can one actually act as a spokesman for God without believing that
that is what one is doing?" But the tautology is purchased at the
cost of begging the question - to say nothing of possession-states
during which some prophecy is supposedly uttered, but which are
later not remembered by the prophesier. (He/she might later say "I
_must have been_ divinely inspired!", but that, of course, is not
the same thing as having the belief at the time of utterance, which
your formulation strictly requires.)
The way I see it, "engaging in prophecy" begs the question because
it rests on the assumption that what appears to be (Biblical)
prophecy cannot be such unless the prophesier believes him/herself
to be divinely inspired. But early Christians (e.g., Paul)
confronted the very problem we ourselves have: how can we possibly
know that a self-proclaimed prophet believes his/herself to be
divinely inspired? The conditions of a definition have to be
decidable. In addition to which, this proposed necessary condition
seems to contradict what I take to be the Biblical view that
sometimes folks can be unwitting agents of God's will. Pilate, for
example, wasn't aware that he was in fact doing God's will
(according to Christian interpretation). Similarly, a con man may
come to believe to his amazement that he has in fact spoken for God,
though he didn't believe so at the time of utterance.
In my own view, of course, the Christian concept of prophecy had a
strong element of foretelling to it. The prophet Agabus, in Acts
21:10-11, tells Paul what will happen to him when he (Paul) goes to
Jerusalem, and examples could be multiplied. Did Agabus believe
that he was acting as a spokesman for God in a more general sense
than his foretelling of the future would entail? If so, he might
have been made to say something like "But you must go anyway."
Instead, he's silent when the others urge Paul not to go, and it's
Paul himself who insists that the journey is the will of God.
> I like Bob's distinction between emic and etic meanings, andYes, but this doesn't mean that we wholly adopt the language of the
> would hold that in Biblical study we are discussing the former
> kinds of meaning.
natives, so to speak. If we confined ourselves to emic-talk, our
studies would be indistinguishable from strictly Christian exegesis.
> It would appear that you are backing so far off the appearance ofAll I can say is that I don't intend to go further than that. The
> affirming a believing position you are suggesting we should be
> giving the appearance that we are all unbelievers ("position of
> unfaith" refers to a position where belief is rejected with the
> kind of fervour that one normally associates with religious
> belief). I am not suggesting that is your intention, but I believe
> that is the impression you are giving. I have no problem with
> attempting a neutral stance, but I fear you are going further
> than that.
way I look at it, this thread began with questions about how
'prophecy' should be defined in critical studies, specifically with
respect to the question of the genre of Revelation. In Bob's terms,
I perceived that several suggested definitions were in fact -emic,
whereas my suggestion was that it needed to be defined -etically,
which is to say in the metalanguage of critical studies. In
practical terms, this merely means adding a qualifier or two to the
-emic definition, so as to maintain a critical distance from the
object of study. In fact, we do this all the time, in such
statements as "The author of GJn believed that so-and-so." If the
reader gets the impression that I, the writer, don't myself believe
that so-and-so, then that can't be helped. All one can say is that
the locution itself doesn't carry that logical implication (unless,
perhaps, the word 'believed' is stressed). To draw the inference,
then, of surreptitious partisanship from what to all appearances has
the form of studied neutrality is prima facie invalid. But that's
the downside of announcing one's beliefs if one is a non-believer
with respect to the texts under study. Methodological agnosticism
gets attributed to personal agnosticism. If we were studying the
Book of Mormon, say, Mormons would tend to think that we might be
subtly insinuating our non-belief under cover of the standards of
critical study. There is some truth to that in the theory of
unconscious forces directing the way we express ourselves, but
unfortunately, even the most scrupulous attempts at impartiality
tend to be perceived by partisans as antagonistic to their beliefs.
("He who isn't for us is against us", or some such.)
Mt. Clemens, MI
- At 07:38 AM 12/2/2003 +0000, you wrote:
>Greetings Bob,I don't think that the key is in my sentence; I think the key is in what
>Just a few short responses to your latest remarks, though I feel
>we're reaching the point of diminishing returns. At the outset, a
>kind of exegesis (:-) on your opening paragraph, which begins:
> > It cannot be true that only etic categories have definitions.
>Since I don't recognize this either to be the claim I was making,
>or to be derivable from it, when I wrote:
> > To my way of thinking, [exegesis] is (or ought to be) -emic,
> > [definition] -etic.
>... the task for me was to try to figure out why you would think I
>was claiming something that I agree "cannot be true". The key turned
>out to be the phrase 'of course' in your next sentence:
you wrote. To provide the full quote, you wrote:
>There seems to be an unappreciated difference here between exegesisIt seems quite clear from this that you think definitions should be "etic",
>and definition. To my way of thinking, the former is (or ought to
>be) -emic, the latter -etic.
and since you do not qualify definitions in any way, it is only reasonable
to conclude that you think *all* definitions should be etic, whether the
thing being defined is an emic or etic category.
> > Emic categories must also have definitions, but of course theyThis is the natural conclusion to the work you yourself cited, i.e., that
> > will be in emic terms.
>The "of course" here gives away the presence of a presupposition,
>viz. that an etic word or concept must be defined etically, and an
>emic word or concept, emically.
>...The purpose of "critical exposition or interpretation" ... is toIt seems to me that this entails entering into the author's thought system
>explain what the author meant.
(whether the author is a first century Christian, or a 21st century
critical scholar). We perhaps differ in that I think the type of
"explanation" called for in your citation would be an explanation with
which the author would agree. This is different from what you think the
author should have meant, if he had only been half as clever as you.
Therefore, if the author is writing emically, then the explanation should
be emic, i.e., within the author's own explanatory understandings.
Similarly, if the author is writing etically, then the explanation should
be in etic terms, i.e., again within the author's own frame of reference.
>This would explain why it was thatI'm glad you've convinced yourself of this; no need to convince me.
>when I suggested that definitions should be etic, you understood
>that to be a claim that only _etic_ words/concepts can be defined.
>(On your presupposition, emic words can only be defined emically,
>hence if definitions are etic, emic words can't be defined at all,
>which is absurd of course.) As it happens, however, I don't share
>that presupposition. In fact, it seems fairly easy to show that
>it's not the case.
>... Etic definitions of theirOK, I've got no problem with that at all.
>emic terms, on the other hand, might be constructed by either non-
>Tortoisists, or by anyone who wanted to avoid presupposing the
>belief system of the Tortoisists - including perhaps sociologists,
>anthropologists, historians of religions, etc.. So I would not at
>all agree that "of course" emic "categories" must be defined in
>emic terms. But I would modify my original statement to read that
>critical scholarship calls for etic definitions of emic terms.
>...BTW, since which is which between 'emic' and 'etic' isn't easy toMercy me. Are you asking me to stop being so academic, and to write in
>remember, and since they're deadly-dull words anyway, how about
>something more stimulating and mnemonically helpful?
Deadly dull? Doesn't that describe about 90 % of critical scholarship? What
makes it seem deadly dull is that it is precise, and academics are taught
to take pains to not overstate their case, so that academic prose is
cluttered with "maybes" and "perhaps" and "ordinarily". Furthermore,
academics are taught that it is bad to become too personally involved with
their work, so that simple declarative sentences involving first person
pronouns are re-written in the passive tense.
The terms "etic" and "emic" were designed, in fact, to be mnemonically
helpful. They were originally coined by the linguist Kenneth Pike on
analogy with the difference between phonemics and phonetics, so he was of
course assuming an audience that was familiar with those terms. The terms
then got seized upon by anthropologists, especially Marvin Harris (who,
BTW, was NOT deadly dull).
>"local"Well, if we're shooting for conceptual utility and accuracy, without
>vs. "global"? "parochial" vs. "universal"? "object-language"
>vs. "metalanguage"? Any of these strike you as acceptable subs?
pejoratives, as an anthropologist I'd rather stick with emic and etic.
However, among the terms you suggest, local vs. global, and parochial vs
universal both have too much in the way of pejorative overtones.
"Object-language" vs. "metalanguage" is probably a better (more neutral)
duality, but I fail to see that they are less "deadly dull" than emic and
etic. Some people confuse "emic" with "subjective" and "etic" with
"objective", but that's really not a good equation because emic is meant to
refer to a community of speakers, whereas "subjective" is meant to refer to
a personal condition.
So actually, I think the terms emic and etic are quite appropriate and
Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
Northern Arizona University
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
I was not unduly worried about a lack of a reply from you. As you
inferred, your correspondence with Bob largely covered the ground, and I
largely agree with what Bob said. One thing I would add, however, is that I
would have no problem with someone claiming to be a prophet who was (or
believed themselves to be) inspired by a God other than the Christian God.
Even the Book of Kings has no problems talking of "Prophets of Baal". My
definition of "divine inspiration" for the sake of this argument would
include, I think, those in the posession states you mentioned. From a
faith-stance one might question the source of the inspiration, but
inspiration of some sort there definitely is.
As for your point about Pilate, I shall let the Gospel of John
(11:49-51) speak for me.
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke
up, "You know nothing at all!
50 You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the
people than that the whole nation perish."
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he
prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation.
If Caiaphas, who was plotting Jesus death at the time, could be described as
a prophet, so could Pilate or anybody else. Of course the Bible is aware
that people who do not believe in its God can be inspired by him.
Incidentally, although this passage may, on a cursory reading, appear to
back your prophecy=prediction case, it does not do so when more carefully
considered. Caiaphas is predicting nothing that he does not know it is in
his hands to perform. The "prophecy" is that Jesus death would be "for the
nation" (huper tou ethnous). Now quite what that means is another argument.
To end, I would stress that no-one is denying that there is a
predictive element to prophecy, but merely that it is not the only thing or
even the most important thing.
JOHN E STATON
Thanks to you and Bob for a stimulating discussion. Hopefully, a few
personal end-notes won't strain the patience of yourself and others
1. 'predict' v. 'foretell'
You may have noticed an absence of the word 'predict' from my later
notes. It does seem to have certain connotations that would seem to
presuppose an answer to the question of what precedes the utterance.
'Foretell' seems more neutral, hence a better choice.
2. the emic/etic distinction
The distinction itself seems clear enough, but the more one mulls
over how it might be applied to what actually goes on in critical
exegesis, the murkier things get. At first, it seemed to be just
the distinction that was needed to differentiate critical from
uncritical scholarship, but that now seems questionable. Important
as this subject might be, however, it's undoubtedly best pursued
This discussion having started before the SBL meeting in Atlanta,
a collection of commentaries caught my eye as I was perusing the
book booths there one day. The commentary on Revelation in this
particular collection was written by Craig Evans. I didn't have
time to do much except scan the first couple pages, but what
particularly struck me was Evans' comment that the term 'prophecy'
was notoriously difficult (my words, not necessarily an exact
quote). Unfortunately, I either didn't read or don't recall
precisely what difficulty he had in mind, or whether he provided a
suggested resolution to it, but it's comforting in a way that we
haven't been just spinning our wheels on questions that've been
answered to everyone else's satisfaction.