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Monday, November 14, 2011

The Code Model (CM) & the healing at Bethesda

The Code Model (CM) & the healing at Bethesda

I was reading the greek text of John 5 and came across a useful illustration how meaning is “radically underdetermined” in speech. 

John 5:2 NRSV   Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.  3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

If we read this passage and proceed on the assumption that meaning is contained or determined by the syntax and lexicon what happens in verse seven? At the end of verse six Jesus asks a simple question “Do you want to be made well?” The man’s reply is long winded and appears to be totally irrelevant. It looks like it was dropped into the text from some other discourse. Jesus appears to ignore it. Semantic analysis based on syntax and lexicon leaves us nowhere.

After the text of John was removed by time and distance from the original cultural setting the problem in verse seven became intolerable for some scribes and a gloss was inserted between verse three and five which read:

 “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.” NRSV notes

This is a glaring example of meaning being “radically underdetermined” in a text or speech. The code including syntax and lexicon underdetermines the meaning. What this example doesn’t illustrate is that meaning is always underdetermined. Even the most simple and apparently lucid statement is dependent on an inferential process providing “context” from the cultural framework. The code does not contain or determine the meaning.[1]      

[1] A Tale of Two Translation Theories, David J. Weber, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 2 (2005), p. 39.


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