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 and synecdoche.
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.