Phenomena or Legomena?

It’s common enough usage in ordinary English to say — when feeling a bit pretentious — “phenomena” where one might equally say “things.” A phenomenon is some furnishing within the universe. Robert Jenson loves to stress that dead metaphors have serious theology at their heart, and that, in this case, the optical metaphor at the root of phenomenon (from Greek, phaino, “to shine forth,” “to be manifest”) belongs uniquely to the history of post-Platonic metaphysics, in which the relation of beings to Being is understood to be that of images to prototype, the former mirroring the latter “across a haze of metaphysical distance.”

He suggests, in his ST II and elsewhere, that perhaps a more biblical metaphor for conceptualizing the furniture of the universe would be that of speech: after all, God creates by a mere word; he speaks, and we are.

Thinking about that, it’s fascinating to consider that the commonplace Hebrew expression for ordinary accumulations of things has an aural image at its root: “acharey ha-devariym ha-eleh,” says Gen 22:20, which we can only coherently translate into English as, “After these things,” but which is crying out for the more straightforward translation, “After these words.” The LXX preserves the root metaphor: “μετὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα.”

This entry was posted in Being and beings, Genesis, Hebrew, Metaphysics, Robert Jenson, Translation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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