Monday, June 20, 2011

Handmade

In our modern culture of industrialized goods, often there is a big premium placed on "handmade" goods. Handmade things are special in the sense that they are unique (if they are handmade, it's more than likely that no two are alike) and more often than not, personal (I think of friends who knit things for friends — handmade).

In the LXX and NT, the same word can be found: χειροποίητος. It's interesting that the word means, literally, "handmade." However, in the Scriptures, handmade things are seen in quite the opposite light; they are symbols of idolatry and if I'm not mistaken, the majority (if not all) of the occurrences of the word is used negatively. To make this point clear, translators of OT will make this case by rendering the Greek word as an "idol" or "image" (E.g., Lev 26:1; Isa 2:18).

In the OT, the critique appears to be against the handcrafted item of a god as opposed the unimageable YHWH (See the two examples above). And in the NT, the invective is against "handmade" circumcision as opposed to the spiritual/heart circumcision and the "handmade" temple as opposed to the spiritual temple (E.g., Mk 14:58; Acts 7:48, 17:24; Heb 9:11). While this might have been a prominent theme that flowed through Jewish thought, I didn't think that Greco-Roman culture gave all that much thought to this until I came across Seneca's letters today (albeit his very different angle). In it he writes:

"You are doing the finest possible thing and acting in your best interests if, as you say in your letter, you are persevering in your efforts to acquire a sound understanding. This is something it is foolish to pray for when you can win it from your own self. There is no need to raise our hands to heaven; there is no need to implore the temple warden to allow us close to the ear of some graven image (simulacri), as though this increased the chances of our being heard. God is near you, is with you, is inside you (prope est a te deus, tecum est, intus est). Yes, Lucilius, there resides within us a divine spirit, which guards us and watches us in the evil and the good we do. As we treat him, so will he treat us. No man, indeed is good without God — is any one capable of rising above fortune unless he has help from God? He it is that prompts us to noble and exalted endeavors. In each and every good man: A god (what god we are uncertain) dwells" [this last sentence is seen as a quote from Virgil's Aeneid].
--Seneca, Epistle 40.1-2

Though I'll probably have to study more about the kind of theology (if any) Stoic philosophers subscribed to, this paragraph from Seneca is an interesting parallel.

1 comment:

Ben said...

VERRRRY insightful... uhh i think you're getting to that level Dr. Suh