The Bridgework of Exegesis


As the vital matrix of language changes the bridgework of exegesis must translate from the fixed form of the text, the sense of what has been written, into the prac­tical realm of action, that is to say from the written to the spoken word. The necessity of preserving an interpre­tive function is a deep rationale for the idea of the church. This is an archaic cultural attribute in so far as the roots of the clergy are supposed by anthropologists to extend from paleolithic shamanism (Abbe Brueil's interpretation of Lascaux). The priestly members of society set the calendar in order, adjusting sun time and moon time, relating measured perceptions to local circumstances--growing seasons, weather patterns, the "Lords of the Soil," native landmarks, the animal and vegetable populations, and the subtler complexities of culture including the many "languages" of music, art, technology and institutions--as well as verbal discourse.

In our time very few traditional cultures have maintained an unbroken line of transmission. Perhaps the Hopi indians offer the best example in the Americas of cultural continuity through a living g tradition of everyday formal instruction in a coherent life path, passed on directly as put into prac­tice. In Tibet, the Ka-Gyud order of Vajrayana Buddhism has explicitly maintained such a transmission; although as as consequence of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, the tradition has suffered a forced transplanting, its essential teachings have been planted like a seeds in new soil.

In the history of Western Christianity there have been many heretical sects promoting various interpretations of the living Gospel as a practicing tradition. The Protestant notion argues probabilities for the reinterpretation of the Gospel, without any other human intercession, through Divine inspiration directly to any person. As such it has contributed mightily to the sense of individual dignity,  in that any may potentially receive illumination. But this thesis contributes nothing toward our confidence in the transmission of a specific teaching beyond the acceptance of this or that event as an Epiphany. However we may acknowledge Martin Luther's translations, they may yet fall short of convincing us that the next person we meet who happens to cell himself a "Lutheran" will surely be a man of God. And scholars advise us that the language of the New Testament is Gospel, Greek in the form of transmission, and not the Aramaic which the supposed historical Jesus spoke. Nowhere is Jesus supposed to have written His words down Himself. Nor do we any better with the ancient Hebrew language and the words Abraham and Moses heard, but did not read. But within Judaism and Christianity, as within the other great religions institutionalized in the temporal world, there have been specific traditions dedicated to the esoteric practice of the discipline directly related to the experience of ecstasy, the divine light, baraka, or enlightenment--however the name may be called. 

Indeed, the history of architecture provided a cardinal set of examples of injunctive language. It is from this discipline that so many of our metaphorical terms describing the injunctive processes derive. Thus the tradition of masonry: the setting of block upon block of stone, and that of what is called "Free masonry," being a metaphorical application of the general and obvious principles of stone masonry, but freed, as it were, from the material stone. What we do, when we set out to use injunctive language rather than our everyday descriptive discourse is to agree to follow what Brown has formulated as the Convention of Intention: "What is not allowed is forbidden."

Our assumption here is that we begin from a tabula  rasa, a clean slate. With the invention of writing--among the Elamites in the Szagros mountains, and then with the Sumerians in the great river valley draining into the Persian Gulf, sometime around BC 3200 (Campbell, v.II)--the tabula was tabbari, the hand-held "little table" or tablet, upon which the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) marks were pressed (see above). The little table started off empty, blank, clean. It could naturally be regarded as a symbolic face of the earth before marked with the presence of life consciousness: the material basis, Aristotle's hule--stuff--before the great reversal of entropy (creation or appearance of life). Writing became the formal mapping of speech (from sound to sight, auditory to visual, Right Cortical Hemisphere to Left). The art of the caves (BC 35,000) was mimesis, or symbolic mapping of something seen into another form in which it could also be seen.

With the setting of language into a visual record, a self-referential function became possible because it was a form taken out of the form. Before, one could only show how one saw; now one could show how one could say how it was that one saw. Theories of seeing, comparison of visions at a second order of complexity. Perduring of the token of the word, in time; instant speech becomes fixed in space rather than transient in time. Much mischief follows as a consequence--although it is difficult to emend a clay tablet, they could be forged, broken, lost.

But papyrus and then paper could be written over--mis-copied--why one discovers typographical errors in the most carefully published records; and we have no assurance that the Addenda and Corrigenda are themselves accurate and complete. Anyone can publish anything. And so it is with the written word. Centuries after the writing, one's supposedly immortal woes are capped with marginalia, canceled, elaborated beyond intention; the living language also changes. Thus the convenience brings its own perils and we are no better off for preserving a true sense of meaning save in those few extant traditions that have maintained side-by-side a living passage of the teachings in their precision and a practical basis for relating the constant elements to the changing situations of life in the world. The courts thus are charged with maintaining a sense of the intention of the Founding Fathers of our country as expressed in the document of the Constitution fixed in the written form (as amended!)

Kurt von Meier
Circa 1975