Language: A Key Issue in Understanding Jesus and Christianity

Anna Wierzbicka

in What Did Jesus Mean?

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780195137330
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199867905 | DOI:
Language: A Key Issue in Understanding Jesus and Christianity

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This chapter argues that in the past, the understanding of Jesus’ parables and other sayings, in particular, the eschatological ones, has suffered from a lack of cross‐cultural awareness. Readers who were unfamiliar with the cultural, literary, and linguistic traditions, which underlay Jesus’ speech, were disturbed by the contradictions between his images – e.g., those of a loving father and a merciless judge. Jesus’ hyperboles and symbolic images, belonging to the traditions of the Jewish prophetic “Drohrede” (the language of threats meant as warnings and appeal), were taken literally, e.g., his references to “the furnace of fire” or to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” were interpreted as factual predictions of an everlasting “hell.” Drawing on historians like Jean Delumeau (1989), the chapter argues that the misinterpretation of the apocalyptic images of the Gospels (going back to St. Augustine) and the lack of attention to the Jewish cultural traditions, which had nourished Jesus’ ways of speaking, has contributed to the de‐Christianization of the West and must be overcome in the third millennium.

Keywords: cross‐cultural awareness; Drohrede; everlasting hell; Jesus’ hyperboles; symbolic images

Chapter.  4497 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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