Theologians' minds think about many things. Among others they are dealing with soteriology (the study of salvation), angelology (the study of angels), hermeneutics (the study of understanding and interpreting texts), history, philosophy and not least actual theology itself. But there is one topic that does not get a lot of attention, namely art.
Why is it that exactly the Bible, a book that is full of songs, poems, parables, narratives, pictures and the like, never really gets analysed according to them. It almost seems like whenever a theologian publishes anything about art – which happens quite rarely anyway –, it is only dealing with art history. But what about the meaning, the origin, the goal and especially the essence of art? Why aren't these examined?
Well, one reason might be that this is a topic which is difficult to capture since there is not even a common term to circumscribe this theological discipline. The problem is that, in opposition to terms like eschatology (the study of the last things), anthropology (the study of man/humankind) or ecclesiology (the study of the congregation's nature and functions), we can't easily take an ancient Greek equivalent for the word “art” and create a -logy out of it, simply because there is none.
Both the English word “art” (from Latin “ars”) and the German word “Kunst” (from “können”) derive from a stem that means something like “ability” or “skill”. But the meaning of both words has changed and been widened over the last two centuries, not least by the Erweiterter Kunstbegriff (Joseph Beuys). So, the Greek word τέχνη (téchne), meaning “artisan craftwork”, is not an applicable equivalent anymore. Also, it would be a bad choice to call the biblical study of art “technology” since that term has a very different meaning already. But there is one interesting side note: deriving from τέχνη there is the word τέκτων (tékton) which is usually translated “carpenter” and according to Mk 6:3 Yeshua's (Jesus') profession. Thus, according to the original meaning of the stem, one could call Yeshua an “artisan”. But, as I will try to point out, he has a much greater meaning for art in general than only that.
In fact, according to the widely accepted assumption that there is no art without passion, one would have to call Yeshua, who has performed the ultimate expression of passion (cf. Jn 15:13), the role model of any artist. And with that in mind I would like to rethink the translation of the prologue of the so called Gospel of John.
Thereby I am specifically thinking about one term, namely λόγος (lógos). While this is usually translated “Word”, in ancient texts we can see that it actually has a much greater meaning. So, this single term in fact covers meanings like “proverb,” “statement,” “item,” “concern,” “book,” “text,” “thought,” “motivation,” and “revelation” or, according to the modern art term, one could summarise all these by using the word “art.”
On that note, we could translate Jn 1:1 as follows: “In the beginning was the Art, and the Art was with G-d, and the Art was G-d.”
But here we are encountering two difficulties: first, the most obvious choice for a name of the biblical study of art, namely “logology” is, just like “technology” as well, given a different meaning already, and second, some might say now that I did not take into consideration that the same is true for λόγος itself which had become an important term since Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, throughout Stoicism and even within Philo's writings.
Indeed, Hellenistic-Jewish texts from the first century CE describe λόγος as some kind of mediator between the transcendent G-d and the world (κόσμος), and thus identify it with the תורה (Torah). But the question is: did Yochanan (John) actually refer to Hellenism at all?
Given the fact that Yochanan – assuming that he wrote Jn, 1 Jn, 2 Jn, 3 Jn and Rv – makes much more use of Hebraisms, Aramaic words and Jewish symbols than any other author of the New Testament, I believe that it is just fair to assume that he much rather refers to the Hebrew term דבר (davar) as equivalent to λόγος than to its Hellenistic concept.
If we take a look into the תנ"ך (Old Testament), we can see that דבר (as a noun) occurs more than 1400 times, and the King James Version uses 85 different words to translate it of which the most prominent ones are “word,” “speaking,” “speech,” “thing,” “anything,” “everything” (with kōl) “commandment,” “matter,” “act,” “event,” “history,” “account,” “business,” “cause” and “reason.” So, the Hebrew דבר even widens the already great horizon of the Greek λόγος and therefore is the probably best fitting equivalent for the modern English term “art.”
This unique meaning and importance of דבר becomes even more obvious, if we compare the biblical creation account to Egyptian mythology. As opposed to the latter one, where the Egyptian god, acting like a human magician, calls the name of a thing and the thing comes into being, the biblical G-d creates things first (cf. e.g. Gn 1:3) and gives them names only afterward (Gn 1:5), even though He creates through his דבר resp. λόγος (cf. Ps 33:6). This might also be part of the reason why even as a verb דבר, unlike its synonym אמר (“say,” “speak”), does not require an object or direct speech. דבר is, one could say, autotelic and in this sense, as a noun, divine.
So, I would like to propose that we should call the biblical study of art “davarology” which, by the way, also underlines the vital importance of art throughout the Holy Scriptures. Now, we just need some people to do that kind of work... Well, if you, dear reader, are interested but don't really know which questions to ask, here is one: can art be communicative at all, if it is aimless?
Stay blessed and להתראות,

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