Friday, October 08, 2010

Exodus 3:14, Being, and Reading Texts as Discourse

I once had a conversation with a colleague and friend who suggested that Exodus 3:14 teaches us that God is Being. Here is my response to this claim:

I'm not sure how a metaphysician goes about
concluding that God IS being from Exod 3:14 or any
other sacred passage, for that matter.

As you well know, reading is a complicated affair. One
key to reading a text closely is taking note of the
multifaceted discourse levels that constitute a
particular text. As J.P. Louw argues in the essay,
"Reading a Text as Discourse," discourse
considerations are linguistic, para-linguistic and
extra-linguistic. In order to avoid going beyond a
text, one needs to be mindful of the discourse
constraints that govern conclusions derived from the

Linguistic features refers to things like syntax,
style, nominalization and embedding; some
para-linguistic features are punctuation, intonation,
speech acts and genre, whereas extra-linguistic
features include spatio-temporal context, the medium
of presentation and textual history and background.

The point of alluding to Louw's paper is that I see
nothing in the grammar of Exod 3:14 that would lead
one to conclude that God IS being. Witherington points
out that Moses probably would have employed ANI ASHER
ANI, if he was calling God "I AM." Moreover, the
imperfect state is used for the verb in Exod 3:14
indicating what God will be, rather than delineating
what he is, per se (compare how HAYAH is employed in
Exod 3:12). Even one famous ancient Greek translation
of the Hebrew scriptures renders EHYEH ASHER EHYEH at
Exod 3:14 as ESOMAI hOS ESOMAI. In light of this data,
I find it difficult to accept [Etienne] Gilson's suggestion.

Pax tibi,

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