No Rage in Outrage.

I spend so much time complaining about the idiotic things non-linguists say about language that I like to give public kudos when they say sensible things, and this footnote on page 727 of How to Read the Bible (see this post) is so full of interesting details it’s worth quoting in extenso (the topic is the passage in Deuteronomy in which the temple is said to be the place where God “caused His name to dwell”):

On the Akkadian roots of this expression see Richter (2002). Richter’s thesis is that the “name theology” attributed to Deuteronomy by modern scholars is the result of a great misunderstanding: the biblical phrase “to cause My name to dwell” is essentially a cognate translation of the Akkadian expression šuma šakānu, which refers to the erection of a “display monument” marking a victory and a claim to the land where the monument is erected. Despite this erudite element [...], her critics have rightly countered that Deuteronomy itself offers ample evidence of its far more abstract concept of deity than that of earlier writers. As Richter herself notes of this phrase, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history contain, beside the Hebrew cognate of this phrase, other noncognate expressions, “to build a house for the name” of God, to “offer praise to the name,” and so forth. These would suggest that, whatever the origin of “to cause My name to dwell,” the idea of God’s “name” as a kind of a divine hypostasis is reflected in these other uses; “name” had been freed from its specific meaning in the original Akkadian idiom. Indeed, her overall argument appears to be based on a misconception, that because a word or phrase meant X in its original language, it will also mean X when borrowed by another language. Reality is full of examples of precisely the opposite. Thus, the French loan-word outrage suggests to most speakers of English an element of anger that is quite lacking in French. The reason is that English speakers unconsciously analyze the word as a combination of out + rage, whereas French speakers, having no morphological out, do not isolate the element rage (indeed, most native speakers will correctly perceive -age as the nominalizing suffix of outre, “beyond” [Latin ultra]). The legal phrase corpus delicti originally meant “the body of the offense,” that is, “the actual facts that prove that a crime or offense against the law has been committed.” But many people (including some lawyers) with a poor grasp of Latin understand corpus in the specific sense of a “(dead) body,” corpse. It is true that in a murder trial, the corpse does constitute the corpus delicti, but the phrase of course has much wider applicability — it can mean the stolen bicycle or the broken storefront window as well. Nevertheless, corpus delicti has actually developed in English the secondary meaning of a dead body — even in some dictionaries. Other examples could be given. Thus, the fact that šuma šakānu had the meaning it had in Akkadian does not guarantee that it ever had the same meaning in Hebrew. [...] Indeed, it is not hard to imagine the learned Deuteronomist borrowing this foreign idiom with the specific intention of creating an authoritative-sounding equivalent that would support his new theology. That is, he consciously took over šuma šakānu to help legitimate the idea that God had merely caused His “name,” but not Himself, to dwell in the earthly temple devoted to Him.

Extra points for talking about corpus delicti developing “the secondary meaning of a dead body” rather than calling it an error!

Comments

  1. Yes, he is generally blissfully sensible about language, at least as far as I can tell. Here’s another quote, however, which — though, again, sensible about language — seemed to me a slightly loose analogy.

    Animal Sacrifices

    Inside the temple was a special coterie of the god’s servants. These were the priests, who in many ways were comparable to the slaves or household staff of a high official or king. Their job was to do all that was possible to insure that the god was properly served and so was able to look to the prosperity and success of the city in which his temple stood. This involved, among other things, offering animal sacrifices to the god — and this, like the idea of the temple itself and the divine statues, is so far from the experience of most of us that it requires a willful act of imagination to recapture its essence.

    Why did peoples of the ancient Near East (and elsewhere) pile the altars of their gods with the still-warm carcasses of sheep or bulls? Ancient texts themselves offer a host of explanations: this was the deity’s food (indeed, in the Bible itself God refers to “My sacrifice, the food of My offerings by fire” [Num. 28: 2]); the life of the slaughtered animal was offered as a substitute for the offerer’s life (that is, “better it than me”); the animal was a costly possession given up as a sign of fealty or in the hope of receiving still more generous compensation from the deity. To these traditional explanations have been added more recent ones that see the sacrifice as establishing a tangible connection between the sacrificer and the deity. Others have sought to stress the connection of the sacred with violence or see the function of religion overall as defusing violence that would otherwise be directed at other human beings.

    Even if it were possible to recapture the original idea behind animal sacrifices — and it isn’t— the search for such an original idea can tell us little about the function of sacrifices in Israel during the biblical period (or in any other ancient society). As one scholar has recently argued, that would be like trying to understand the meaning of a word by searching for its etymology: the word “silly” is an adjective originally derived from sele, a Middle English noun that meant happiness or bliss, and “silly” itself used to mean “spiritually blessed” or even “holy”— but that does not mean that the word nowadays has any such associations in the minds of English speakers. Similarly, the function of sacrifice— or any ritual act— cannot be understood by trying to reconstruct the original circumstances that gave rise to it.

    Kugel, James L. (2012-05-01). How to Read the Bible (Kindle Locations 6969-6990). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    Although of course you can’t tell the meaning of a word from its etymology, doesn’t the etymology often shed a lot more historical light than Kugel seems to be saying can be shone on animal sacrifices?

  2. John Cowan says:

    (This comment seems to have vanished in posting.)

    I can’t prove it, but I think it very likely that Kugel has studied linguistics, even if he’s not a linguist by trade. Lumping him with the non-linguists is not really fair to him or them (any more than it would be to lump me with them).

  3. The classic in this line was Barr’s “Biblical Semantics” — a satisying demolition (among other things) of all misty-eyed notions of the philosophical / mystical meanings of Biblical Hebrew.

  4. “Even if it were possible to recapture the original idea behind animal sacrifices — and it isn’t” seems an odd thing to say. I can see that you could never be sure that you had correctly recaptured it, but I don’t see why people shouldn’t try.

  5. The legal phrase corpus delicti originally meant “the body of the offense,” that is, “the actual facts that prove that a crime or offense against the law has been committed.” But many people (including some lawyers) with a poor grasp of Latin understand corpus in the specific sense of a “(dead) body,” corpse.

    If you’ve read Dorothy Sayers’ “Have His Carcase” (the title itself a Latin pun), you will remember that the investigation is initially hampered by the fact that a) it’s not clear whether the body is the result of suicide or murder, and b) the reason it’s not clear is that the body was discovered and then washed away by the rising tide before it could be moved above high water – it is eventually recovered, and the detective remarks that

    ‘Twould make a man drink himself dead on gin-toddy
    To have neither a corpus delicti nor body,
    But now, though by destiny scurvily tricked, I
    At least have a corpse – though no corpus delicti.

  6. “Even if it were possible to recapture the original idea behind animal sacrifices — and it isn’t” seems an odd thing to say. I can see that you could never be sure that you had correctly recaptured it, but I don’t see why people shouldn’t try.

    I don’t follow you. He’s not saying nobody should try, he’s saying it’s impossible to recapture the original idea. And it is. You can try all you want, you can have brilliant ideas that inspire other people to think differently about history and religion, you can do all sorts of fine things, but you can never go back in time, talk to the people involved, and find out what they were thinking.

  7. I understand Kugel’s point as follows:

    In the distant past, people X start doing animal sacrifices. We can’t know what it meant to them (or why they did it, if you prefer), but we might make interesting speculations. Later on, other people Y performed animal sacrifices. Even if we knew what animal sacrifice meant to X (or what its function was), that would not tell us what it meant to Y.

    Analogously, the word “silly” once meant (or “was used for”) something. Later on it meant something else. If all we knew was the first meaning, we would not be able to determine the second meaning.

  8. That’s all very well chaps, but then you might as well stop studying history because you can’t work out how people were thinking at the time.

  9. mollymooly says:

    OutRage is a group whose name reflects the out+rage analysis. I guess that it is just a pun; the namers need not have laboured under any illusion about the word’s etymology. The “out” part is at least as important as the “rage”.

  10. Ah! I’d never thought about the origin of outrage before, and may have unconsciously associated it with rage. From now on, the French connection will be a useful corrective to such assumption.

  11. That’s all very well chaps, but then you might as well stop studying history because you can’t work out how people were thinking at the time.

    Once again: nobody has said anyone should stop studying anything. Furthermore, history is not primarily about “how people were thinking at the time,” it’s about what happened in the past, which we can find out about in any number of ways: archeological finds, documents, you know the drill. The quote you are so strenuously and inexplicably objecting to is specifically about “the original idea behind animal sacrifices” — in other words, how people were thinking at the time. And there is no way of knowing that. If you have a time machine, please do share; otherwise, neither you nor anybody else can recapture the original idea. Like the man said.

  12. … how people were thinking at the time. If you have a time machine, please do share; otherwise, neither you nor anybody else can recapture the original idea.

    Does there have to be a “the” original idea ? Can’t there be many, or none at all ? I think “idea” is being conflated here with “purpose” and “function”. What is “the” original idea or “the thinking” behind sexual intercourse, for example ?

    A social activity may have no deliberate purpose, but may still have one or several functions (not necessarily seen as such by the participants, but ascribed by an observer). The distinction is clear in the title of an early book by Luhmann: Zweckbegriff und Systemrationalität (Systemic rationality and the notion of purpose).

  13. J. W. Brewer says:

    How did “outrage” end up with the final syllable being homophonous with “rage,” rather than the typical run of words with (I’m assuming without looking each of the up . . .) the same ultimately-French-derived “-age” suffix, e.g. wastage, cordage, demurrage, courage, verbiage, etc etc etc?

  14. How did “outrage” end up with the final syllable being homophonous with “rage,” rather than the typical run of words [...]?

    An excellent question! Fortunately, the OED entry (updated 2004) answers it:

    N.E.D. (1904) gives the pronunciation as (ɑu·trĕdʒ) , apparently meaning /ˈaʊtrɪdʒ/ , although the symbol used is not the one used in other words with the suffix -age; an alternative pronunciation with /-ɪdʒ/ is given in all editions of D. Jones Eng. Pronouncing Dict. up to and including ed. 14 (1988). The current pronunciation is attested already in Walker and must have been used by speakers who laid the stress on the second syllable (occas. shown by metre in early modern English); it was perhaps encouraged by the combined influence of the adjective outrageous, in which the stress falls on the a, and the unrelated word rage.

    I had not realized the current pronunciation was so recent, so I’m glad you asked.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Over the last few years I have become very interested in ancient religions, and I have come to the conclusion that there is a very simple explanation for animal sacrifices: long before God was remade in man’s image, God (or Goddess) was imagined as a carnivorous animal, like the ones which were a threat to the life and liveihood of hunter-gatherers. The way to keep a carnivore from seeing you as meat or eating the animals you have been reserving for yourself is to deliberately provide it with meat. So meat was indeed the god’s food! And meat sacrifices (mostly animal, sometimes human) were kept up long after the image of God took human form, when herding and agriculture had replaced the old hunting way of life. This theory is supported by many details of ancient rites, legends and iconography throughout the ancient world.

  16. I’ve always assumed that “outrage” came from “out” + “rage” and outrager came from outre. It never occurred to me the two words were related rather than coincidentally similar (despite the ubiquity of French loanwords in English).

    How did “outrage” end up with the final syllable being homophonous with “rage” … ?

    I’d assume the long A is due to the folk etymology. I’m wondering if the reanalysis dates back to middle English.

  17. I’m wondering if the reanalysis dates back to middle English.

    Well, considering hat’s comment, I guess not.

  18. Over the last few years I have become very interested in ancient religions, and I have come to the conclusion that there is a very simple explanation for animal sacrifices: long before God was remade in man’s image, God (or Goddess) was imagined as a carnivorous animal, like the ones which were a threat to the life and livelihood of hunter-gatherers. The way to keep a carnivore from seeing you as meat or eating the animals you have been reserving for yourself is to deliberately provide it with meat.

    Very interesting indeed! Kugel has a passage that struck me powerfully:

    The ritual act itself is what is important, not its symbolism or purported meaning. To a certain way of thinking, ritual does something. (As the American writer Flannery O’Connor, a devout Roman Catholic, once said about the Eucharist: “If it’s a symbol, the hell with it.”) Animal sacrifices in Israel were conceived to be the principal channel of communication between the people and God. In prayers, of course, people spoke to God, but for all that, prayer was not primary. The sacrifice—the passage of a small, palpable, breathing animal from life to death and from the world of the living upward through the flickering flames of the altar—spoke louder than any prayer. As Platonis Sallustius, a fourth-century philosopher and author of On the Gods and the World, observed, “Prayer without sacrifice is just words.”

  19. ” history is not primarily about “how people were thinking at the time,”

    Well, intellectual history is. (Don’t worry, it’s a classic anglo-american omission on your part!) And the presupposition is that you can have a reasonable hypothesis about what people were thinking “at the time” from what they said, and sometimes, from what they didn’t say.

  20. Fair enough, but a reasonable hypothesis is a reasonable hypothesis and nothing more. Marie-lucie’s hypothesis strikes me as very reasonable, but there is no way of knowing whether it is true, nor will there ever be a way of knowing. Which doesn’t, of course, mean we should stop talking about it; it just means we need to keep inherent limitations in mind. As a budding historical linguist, I had to learn this very well.

  21. Published works of intellectual history also exhibit what the historians who write them were thinking, at the time they wrote, about the ways the people they study used to think and write in their time.

  22. Animal sacrifices in Israel were conceived to be the principal channel of communication between the people and God.

    But would they deliberately kill the goose laying the golden eggs?

  23. “Fair enough, but a reasonable hypothesis is a reasonable hypothesis and nothing more.”

    Nothing less, either. The real, historical existence of Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell are also ‘reasonable hypotheses’.– plausible, given the evidence, but not direct objects of knowledge.

  24. Oh great, now you’re going to start waving Luhmann around.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    Animal sacrifices in Israel were conceived to be the principal channel of communication between the people and God.

    In the ancient cultures, the sacrificed animals did not just have to be killed, they had to be (at least partially) burned, so that the smoke from the roasting meat would drift upwards and dissipate into the sky, reaching the god or gods in heaven. The smoke was the channel of communication carrying the “essence” of the animals along with the priests’ prayers and invocations. The meat was not totally burned, but once roasted it was usually distributed as food to the persons attending the sacrifice, whether priests, servants, or members of the public (according to the amount of meat available).

  26. Conrad: plausible, given the evidence, but not direct objects of knowledge.
    Hat: Oh great, now you’re going to start waving Luhmann around.

    Luhmann does not invoke such a notion as “object of knowledge”, and thus not direct or indirect object of knowledge.

    Hat, you might consider that there are probably many fields of study, with their own methodologies and vocabularies, with which you are not familiar. An indication that one has encountered such a field is often the irritable feeling that it can be dismissed by intuition or common sense.

    You will remember my tendency, several years ago, to dismiss certain kinds of argument here about matters in linguistics. I usually tried to base my dismissals on common sense. It took a while for me to learn that I probably didn’t understand what was being discussed. At that point I retreated into Jocular Remarks.

    There’s nothing wrong with common sense per se, we all have to start somewhere. But common sense will simply not bear the load you sometimes want to place on it. As it collapses, it releases toxic clouds of irritability and moralizing.

  27. But also, sometimes, non-toxic clouds of jocularity.

  28. I am recalling a story (which I probably encountered in high school or some book of myths) about how Prometheus tricked Zeus, when dividing up sacrifices between humans and gods, into leaving most of the edible part for humans by offering him tasty-looking fat which turned out to be wrapped around bones. Ergo, henceforth, humans burn the bones and eat the meat.

    And it occurs to me that I don’t even know what writer is the earliest known soyrce of that story. High schools never offer myths with sources named, just all jumbled together: “These are the Greek myths.” And no acknowlegement that there even could be alternate versions, idiosyncasies of individual authors, or change over time. This does the subject a horrible disservice and pretty much strips away any chance at understanding the stories (yeah, as a hypothesis, and all that)

    Furthermore this mythological mishmash may be used as evidence for vague statements about Greek culture (by the way the most popular versions of these stories are Ovid’s, how Greek is that!) I obviously knew that high school literature and history studies werent very sophisticated, but the more I think about it the worse it seems.

  29. High schools never offer myths with sources named, just all jumbled together: “These are the Greek myths.”

    That’s my recollection of Mrs Singer’s 9th grade English class. Yet it appears that the introduction to the book we used “includes commentary on the major classical poets used as sources, and on how changing cultures have led to changing characterizations of the deities and their myths.”

  30. Just want to say that I too find marie-lucie’s theory very interesting – especially since it is “supported by many details of ancient rites, legends and iconography throughout the ancient world”.

    My nonsarcastic take on this: similar to keeping the wolves away, certain defensive efforts (which we now call religious) were made to keep the gods out. As it became gradually clear over long periods of time that that was impossible, special pens (temples) were set up to accomodate the gods while keeping them separate.

    I don’t think I have ever encountered the idea that “religions” may have a fundamentally defensive character. Nowadays, in certain TV programs (Joyce Meyer Ministries), viewers are exhorted to welcome God into their lives. The assumption is that he won’t bite if treated according to his kind – sort of an extension of today’s enlightened view of sharks.

    In one of Romero’s zombie films, one of the characters suggests that instead of attempting to kill the zombies, diplomatic steps should be taken to achieve a compromise separation of concerns and territories.

  31. It says here that the Prometheus-fat-bones-trick story is from Hesiod.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Stu: I like your comment about “keeping the gods out” of everyday human lives, and sacred enclosures as “pens”. This fits very nicely with my interpretation. “Sacred” and “taboo” have a lot in common: approaching the divine without due preparation (as a priest, for instance) is courting disaster, like walking into a lion’s den. The concept of a loving God came very late, I think, and is not fully accepted even by those who uphold it: I don’t know if “God-fearing” (rather than “God-loving”) is still considered the proper attitude among fundamentalist Christians, but they still see their God as dealing out strong punishments (“acts of God”) for the alleged “abominations” of some of the population.

    Ø: Thanks for the link. I don’t think it says that Hesiod invented the story, only that he retold it.

  33. Lewis and Short give the “literal” meaning of templum as “a space marked out; hence, in partic., in augury, an open place for observation, marked out by the augur with his staff”. It says that the word is “probably for temulum”, and refers to the Greek root TEM as in τέμνω “cut, slaughter, sacrifice”.

    A pen is an open place for observation.

  34. Lewis and Short give the “literal” meaning of templum as “a space marked out; hence, in partic., in augury, an open place for observation, marked out by the augur with his staff”. It says that the word is “probably for temulum”, and refers to the Greek root TEM as in temno meaning “cut, slaughter, sacrifice, divide” etc.

    A pen is also an open place for observation.

  35. One concept of human sacrifice was that in creating a building or a ship, a person had to be killed so that his spirit would inhabit the structure and look after it. Over time this changed to an animal sacrifice and eventually to a bottle of champagne. In our society, what is the meaning of sacrificing a bottle of champagne when we launch a ship?

  36. The wide availability of cheap “champagne” nowadays means that to break a bottle of it against a ship is more like discharging bilge than duty,

    To move with the times, something of value must be found that might appeal to the gods of the seas. I think iPhones would be a good candidate. But the gods might not like getting an iPhone in pieces because it was struck against a stern. I suppose it will have to be sent by Fed Express.

  37. For “struck against a stern” read “broken against a bow”.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    maidhc: One concept of human sacrifice was that in creating a building or a ship, a person had to be killed so that his spirit would inhabit the structure and look after it.

    There are some traditions (Polynesia, Northwest Coast) in which, before erecting a ceremonial pole, a person was thrown into the hole prepared for the pole and crushed by it as it was set in place. I am not sure what was the significance. This form of sacrifice could not have been done for a ship. Which tradition are you alluding to?

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Gruesome! Thanks LH.

  40. Alon Lischinsky says:

    I don’t think I have ever encountered the idea that “religions” may have a fundamentally defensive character.

    Well, there is a famous paper by Melford Spiro called “Religious systems as culturally constituted defense mechanisms”, but I guess that’s not the kind of defense you meant.

    Then again, I think that the idea of idea of religion as fundamentally about appeasing hostile spirits has a long history in anthropology. Collingwood’s translation of Waitz’s Anthropologie der Naturvölker (1859) puts it like this (all emphases mine):

    The fear of the dead, and the honour shown to them, among all uncultured nations, are partly connected with the belief that the departed souls return to the earth […] to plague the living. This is essentially the essence of the religious ideas which we find developed with remarkable uniformity among savage peoples.

    My own first exposure to this idea came, I think, from Adorno & Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment:

    Everything unknown and alien is primary and undifferentiated: that which transcends the confines of experience; whatever in things is more than their previously known reality. What the primitive experiences in this regard is not a spiritual as opposed to a material substance, but the intricacy of the Natural in contrast to the individual. The gasp of surprise which accompanies the experience of the unusual becomes its name. It fixes the transcendence of the unknown in relation to the known, and therefore terror as sacredness.

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