This study assumes that Biblical scholars are correct
when they point to synthetic thinking as a key concept for understanding
the Hebrew mentality. However, it will emphasize that there are other
aspects to the synthetic thinking of the ancient Hebrews besides stereometry
For instance, the Hebrews lived life and viewed
life in the concrete and not the abstract. As a representative of the
Hebrew tradition, Christ used activities in nature to communicate points
he wanted to make about human activity. He spoke of the human realm as
analogous to, for instance, a mustard seed, a fig tree, a grain of wheat,
yeast and leaven, and the wheat and the tares. Whereas Christ used analogies
from nature, the modern man of science tends to develop theories of human
activity based on an understanding of his technological devices. He makes
his machines and then views mankind in terms of them. For instance, the
brain is often considered a highly sophisticated computer, the heart considered
a pump, and the organism considered an input-output stimulus-response
system. This modern orientation is particularly beneficial when it comes
to gaining some control over the contingencies of life but is problematic
when it removes one from life as experienced. One does not experience
his heart as a pump or brain as a computer and, hopefully, himself as
an input-output system. Since the scientific viewpoint is a frame
of reference different than life as experienced, it can be termed abstract.
To begin to understand the concrete world of the Hebrews
one must imagine a world where one was unable to rely upon technological
devices. Their primary form of communication was eye to eye and body to
body -- few scrolls, no photographs, no telephones, no televisions nor
computers. The ancient world was almost entirely limited to direct person
to person interaction. Except for the few who were literate, the communication
of informa tion and the means of entertainment occurred through direct
contact with people in one's presence rather than those on the page or
on the screen. Furthermore, the Hebrews were immersed in a more direct
exchange with the world as well as each other -- no clocks, no Six O'Clock
News weather reports, no air conditioners nor sun glasses. Something is
appealing about this solely concrete existence, yet it should be interjected
that the Hebrews were thereby without the advantages of abstraction --
noteably a scientific outlook which remains in service to the concrete.
The ancient Hebrews also had a concrete orientation
to matters of life and death. Now a blanket is quickly thrown over death.
If at all possible, it is something removed to the hospital or nursing
home. In modern society death is in the abstract in that it is usually
one or more steps removed from personal experience. One reads about or
hears about it daily, yet it is something for which one remains unprepared
at the time it does enter the concrete world of felt experience. Today
a piece of meat is bought in a cellophane wrapper and then cooked and
eaten with no thought to the fact that it once participated in the life
of an animal. In contrast to this life style, the Hebrews, for reasons
that will soon become clear, even bothered to pound out the blood before
eating the flesh of an animal they had quite likely slaughtered themselves.
Moreover, since they did not have the benefits of modern medical science,
the ancient Hebrews were more often required to incorporate the realities
of disease and death into their personal experience.
The ancient Israelites had not developed a subjective
distance that is necessary to perceive something as a 'thing in itself'
or a Cartesian 'substance'. They were much more imbedded in creation and
their clan. The 'corporate personality' dominated their orientation to
each other. The notion of the autonomous individual -- with a subjective,
private mind in contrast to a measurable, mechanical, and objective public
body -is a relatively recent development that did not occur until
after the Copernican Revolution and did not root itself in the thinking
of the masses until the spread of Cartesian rationalism. (See the first
chapter of M. Polanyi's Personal Knowledge for some interesting
thoughts.) Nor did the Hebrews have in their history the idea that man
has a mechanistic, machine-like body that houses a free-willed
soul or rational mind of a different order.
They did not approach the human body in a scientific,
analytic manner. In a sense they did not even approach the human 'body'
for which they hadno term. A physical, anatomical 'body' would not have
been a part of their concrete experience. As Johnson has noted, psychical
functions were tied closely to the physical. H.W. Robinson stated, "Psychical
and ethical functions are considered to be just as appropriate to the
bodily organs as the physiological..." (Hebrew Psychology, p. 353)
Thus, the Hebrewsdid not conceive of an anatomical which was separate
from what is today termed the emotional. Likewise, the emotional, as embodied
experience,was a concrete physical event. The Hebrews had a more naive,
experientialawareness of themselves bodily.
Perhaps the origin of the meaning of Hebrew anthropological
terms can be found in this basic concrete awareness. Ruah is a good example
of this possiblilty since it was an onomatopoeic word referring to breath-wind-spirit.
The Hebrews understood breath to be human wind. The nature of breathing,
its importance to human functioning, and the meaning of ruah were integral;
naming something and knowledge of that thing were intertwined. This Hebrew
awareness, as Wolff has said, "presupposes a synopsis of the members
and organs of the human body with their capacities and functions." (p. 8) At the time of the ancient
Israelites, a body structure and its function were relatively undifferentiated.
Thus, a Hebrew did not conceive his breath to be separate or perhaps even
distinct from its activity or its functions as understood at that time.