Naked Bible Podcast 031: Exegetical Fallacies

Posted By on December 22, 2012

This episode continues the series on studying the Bible at the word level. The episode utilizes the audio of a short screen capture video that Dr. Heiser created to illustrate a range of exegetical fallacies that amateur researchers frequently commit when doing Greek and Hebrew word studies. For those to whom the term is unfamiliar, an “exegetical fallacy” is the academic term use to described flawed methodology in word study and the flawed conclusions that such methods yield. Enjoy this important podcast!

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9 Responses to “Naked Bible Podcast 031: Exegetical Fallacies”

  1. Eric says:

    Thanks Dr. Heiser for this and all your informative podcasts! This topic has always left me a bit puzzled. Referring to them as “fallacies” always seems overstated to me. I understand that context is ALWAYS king, but can’t some of these actually be helpful at times? All your examples are clear, but I can think of numerous examples that these “fallacies” might seem to actually aid in understanding a definition. It does seem clear that one should never rely on any of these as a primary source of meaning, but perhaps they still have some value? Bill Mounce has a blog that seems to make the case for overstatement better than I could:—-first-look. I would like to hear your thoughts.

    • MSH says:

      I can’t say I’d agree that making a language operate in ways it doesn’t operate in normal discourse is helpful for understanding that discourse. While it is true that languages *do* grow their vocabulary in adaptive ways (new words like “blog”; taking a noun and making it a verb – “texting”; new combinations in response to technology: “breadmaker”), the fact that such adaptation adds to the lexicon does not legitimize taking those phenomena and using such instances to go “exegete” other words in the language.

      I know Bill Mounce, and he wouldn’t endorse etymological *exegesis*; that isn’t what he’s talking about. He would never agree that context is secondary to such things. If you think otherwise, I’ll invite him here for a discussion.

      • Eric says:

        Thanks for the quick reply! I’m certainly not suggesting that Bill Mounce would ever argue that context is secondary. As you say, context is king. Context is the only reliable way to determine what an author meant. I just wonder if, once context is established, etymology could potentially add an additional nuance that that author intended. I’m not arguing it does (I’m a novice). I’m just trying to get my thoughts straight on this. Thanks for your comments.

        • MSH says:

          Some added thoughts:

          1. Even when a language corpus has compound words, there is no guarantee that the meaning of constituent parts “adds up” to the meaning of the word (i.e., any meaning in its semantic range).
          2. Even when such as the above occurs, there is no “hidden nuance” that transcends the “sum total” of the constituent parts’ combined meaning. A Kabbalist or other mystic, of course, would disagree.
          3. Even though #1 can occur, that provides no exegetical method for “parsing” the meaning of other words.

  2. Mark says:

    Merry Christmas Mike,
    Yesterday, I sort of stumbled into your website -but I have heard you before on C2C-
    while looking for a Hebrew dictionary/lexicon, at a layman/beginner level. Logos should go to the iTunes marketing model and sell chapter/book sections digitally online. After all,
    it is the 21st century. (Do they know that nobody uses a Gutenburg press anymore?)
    Because I’m interested in origins, I picked up a copy of Benner’s The Ancient Hebrew
    Language and Alphabet. It’s designed for newbies. But where do I go from here? In my
    spare time I’d like to learn a bit of Ancient Hebrew. I want to learn some of the geek stuff,
    but the complexity is a bit challenging for someone with no background in Ancient language. Keep up the good work. Thanks for any suggestion.

    • MSH says:

      I appears Benner seems to think that the “picture” of a Hebrew letter (or that the letter conveys) has something to do with meaning. It doesn’t. That might “work” for a few dozen words in the language (e.g., aleph/eleph), but 95% of the time viewing the letter combinations that spell words would produce nonsense.

      As to the specific answer to your question, though, it would depend on whether you are looking for a grammar or some sort of Hebrew-English lexicon.

      I like Futato as a grammar (it’s the one we use in MEMRA) because of the exercises.

      For a “newbie” that doesn’t know the Hebrew letters, I’d probably recommend the Theological Wordbook of the OT (but it is selective). If you knew the letters, I’d recommend either BDB (Brown-Driver-Briggs – good content, though the layout can be confusing), or: A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Based upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner by William Lee Holladay.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Hi, Mike! Came across your podcast on exegetical fallacies through revelations radio network feed & very much enjoyed it. I have a question for you. This might be what you were talking to previous poster about (not sure), but wondered what you think of teachers such as Chuck Missler who incorporate the literal meaning of a Hebrew letter’s pictograph into the translation/interpretation of a Hebrew word. For example, Missler states than part of the significance of God changing of Abraham & Sarah’s names was the insertion of “heh”, representing the Holy Spirit:

    “In the Old Testament, we note a more subtle abbreviation in the use of the heh, for the Ruach Elohim, the Holy Spirit. An example of this occurs in Genesis 17. When the names of Abram11 and Sarai12 were changed to Abra(H)am13 and Sara(H)14 it was accomplished by simply inserting the heh into their names, marking the involvement of the Spirit of God into their lives.”

    Or this example re: “the beginning& the end”:

    In the Old Testament, we frequently encounter the letters aleph, and the tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When used with a connector-bar, a maqqeph, the two-letter prefix, at-,is used as a grammatical element to indicate a direct object. There are also instances, however, where aleph tau is used as a pronoun to indicate the second person masculine singular; a hypocatastasis (“putting down underneath”), a kind of grammatical pun: “a hidden declarative implied metaphor expressing a superlative degree of resemblance.”18 For example, in Zechariah 12 we find the prophecy of the Messiah’s climactic appearance to Israel:

    …and they shall look upon me [aleph tau] whom they have pierced… Zechariah 12:10
    The untranslated aleph tau could be translated as follows:

    “… and they shall look upon me, the aleph and the tau, whom they have pierced.”

    …in which the aleph and the tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, are, thus, equivalent to the alpha and the omega in the Greek.


    • MSH says:

      Hi Kathleen!

      On the question about pictographs, it’s nonsense. It works for a handful of words, but since the biblical writers weren’t toddlers or writing dialgoue for Elmo or Sesame Street, that has no relevance. It isn’t how the language works.

      The alpeh and the taw stuff is some of the most egregiously awful “exegesis” I’ve ever seen or heard (and that’s saying something). It’s the direct object marker; there’s no mystery. And this same two-consonant marker was used in “pagan texts” (non-biblical stuff and cognate Semitic languages outside Israel). Pure nonsense or, as I put it on my PaleoBabble blog, “A spellbinding example of truly craptastic Bible interpretation (not to mention the old bromide about knowing enough to be dangerous).”

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