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In a book entitled The Sermon on the Mount: The modern Quest for its meaning, theologian Clarence Bauman (1985) discusses, inter alia, Jesus’ teaching on “anger”. The book opens with a chapter on Tolstoy: “Leo Tolstoy: The moral challenges of literal interpretation”: “Christ’s first commandment is “Do not be angry” (Matthew 5: 22-25). Tolstoy noted that the text had been tampered with by redactors. By the fifth century the word εικη, meaning “needlessly” or “without cause,” had been inserted into the initial uncondi-tional statement: “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause...”. But what did Jesus really teach about “anger”? The term used in Matthew’s Gospel (5:22) is of course not the English word anger but the Greek word orgizomai - and the two don’t mean the same. The term used by Tolstoy - the Russian word gnevat’sja - is different in meaning from both anger and orgizomai. But the word used by Jesus was neither English, nor Greek, nor Russian, but Aramaic. So what did that Aramaic word mean - and what did Jesus intend to say with it? Tolstoy’s impulse to look for the “literal interpretation” is understandable, but as this chapter shows, the idea that we can pinpoint what Jesus meant with one word, from a particular lan-guage (be it Russian, English, Greek or Aramaic) is simplistic. The paper argues that in order to fully under-stand Jesus’ teaching about “anger” in a precise and unbiased way, we need to go beyond single words of this or that language, and to try to articulate it through simple sentences couched in universal (i.e. universally-contestable) words. Furthermore, the paper shows that what applies to Jesus’ teaching about emotions applies also to Jesus’ “emotional practice”. What did he feel when he saw someone doing some-thing very bad, or someone to whom something very bad was happening? As the paper demonstrates, the “Natural Semantic Metalanguage” (NSM) developed by the author and colleagues allows us to replace crude formulations such as “Did Jesus feel angry?” or “What did Jesus teach about anger?” with questions which are far more fine-grained, and which enable us to reach far more fine-grained, and more meaningful answers.

About the authors

Anna Wierzbicka

Australian National University

Email: anna.wierzbicka@anu.edu.au
ANNA WIERZBICKA is a Professor in the Linguistics Program, School of Languages, Literature and Linguistics, Australian National University. Her work spans a number of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, cognitive science, philosophy and religious studies as well as linguistics, and has been published in many journals across all these disciplines. She has published over twenty books and edited or co-edited several others. Canberra, 0200, Australia


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Copyright (c) 2018 Wierzbicka A.

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