Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tasting the Heavenly Gift in Hebrews: God and the Senses (7)

While I will return, as promised, to the full exposition of the sensuous language in the Gospel of Philip, I just came across this rather succinct note on the sensuous language in the Epistle to the Hebrews by Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on Hebrews:

Readers quickly become aware of Hebrews' appeal to the senses of readers/auditors.  The smell of sacrifices is only implied (13:16), touch appears by way of contrast (12:18, 20), and taste is metaphorical (6:5).  But the author constantly appeals to the hearing of his listeners (2:1; 3:7; 4:7; 5:11; 12:19).  Most of all, the sense of sight is invoked, as the readers are asked to "behold," "consider,"  and "see" what the author seeks to convey (2:9; 3:1; 7:4; 12:3; 12:21).  Using oral discourse to portray visual scenes (in "word-pictures") is a common rhetorical technique (ekphrasis), and Hebrews uses it effectively, especially in 9:1-5 and 12:18-24. (8-9)
I had been slowly compiling a list from Hebrews for my "God and the Senses" series, but, thanks to Luke Timothy Johnson, it appears there is no need.  Tasting also shows up in terms of Jesus "tasting" death.  I might also note that touch works almost in an opposite means as in Augustine (where one moves from anesthesia to full feeling), since the contrast is that we have come not to something that can be touched (Sinai) but to the heavenly Jerusalem (which transcends touch--and sight, as many commentators note).  Taste, however metaphorical, works the other way:  one tastes the heavenly gift (6:4-5)--that which is transcendent.  Taste is transcendent, while touch and sight are transcended.  Speech works differently, however, since creation and destruction of the world occur through divine speech and and voice respectively.  Orality is the glue that holds it all together, quite appropriately for such a highly rhetorical work.  Overall, the activation of the senses whether literally or metaphorically, important for engaging one's audience in rhetorical performances, has not seemed to have gotten its due for Hebrews, even if Hebrews engages the senses only to transcend them in the end.  

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