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Saturday, January 26, 2008
  Testing metaphors for signs of life
Languages are in part composed of dead metaphors, words and phrases that are used with meanings that may once have been metaphorical, but which now no longer carry such metaphorical force. Wikipedia lists some good and some not so good examples, I think "windfall", "foot" (of a mountain or hill), "branches" (of government) illustrate the phenomenon well. Biblical Hebrew is doubtless no exception. So, Charles (considering the claim in Dille, Sarah J. Mixing Metaphors God as Mother and Father in Deutero-Isaiah. Journal for the study of the Old Testament, 398. London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004)
that:
the phrase bene-yisra’el (’children of Israel’), ... is so conventional elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible that it is essentially a dead metaphor
asks an interesting question: how would one prove this assertion?

Much of literary, and therefore biblical scholarship, is unprovable. However, often one can provide a way to disprove it, or to suggest that it might be true. In this case (it seems to me) that looking for usages of the term where the supposed connection with parenting is made explicit offers such disproof or confirmation. If in no, or only very few, case(s) does the author make a connection to parenting in the context, then it is likely to be a dead metaphor, if in many cases there is such a reference it is likely not to be a dead metaphor.

For if authors had a live sense of implied parenting when using the term then surely at least sometimes they would express these parental thoughts in the cotext?

So, I think that the phrase "as numerous as the sands of the sea shore" had essentially died, or at least was seriously indisposed in the biblical period. However, Job resurrects it:
Job 6:2-3 O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! 3 For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; therefore my words have been rash.
My gut feeling yet to be tested is that there are very few contexts in which use of the term "children of Israel" does elicit such a parental thought... more later if I have time...

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