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This letter is in response to: Language of Sentiment by Ellen van Wolde.

Dr Gosnell Yorke of the Research Directorate at my home institution directed my attention to a stimulating paper by Professor Ellen van Wolde entitled "Language of Sentiment," which was recently published on the SBL Forum. Having studied the conceptualization of anger in the Hebrew Bible for several years now, I'd like to comment on this interesting piece of work.

Professor Van Wolde focuses on the "anger is a hot fluid in a container" metaphor first identified 30 years ago by George Lakoff and Zoltan Kövecses in American English.[1] Their ahistorical approach has been severely criticized by Dirk Geeraerts and Stefan Grondelaers,[2] who demonstrated that much of the supposed linguistic evidence for the existence of this compound metaphor in various modern languages could equally well have its basis in Classical humoral theory. Constituting a mere application of the Lakoff-Kövecses model on Classical Hebrew material, the publication by Paul A. Kruger,[3] on which Van Wolde also heavily relies, is even more flawed Methodologically.

When carefully evaluated in terms of the ancient Israelite humoral theory, Classical Hebrew expressions for anger provide surprisingly little evidence for notions of exploding containers, which Van Wolde claims to be a salient feature of anger concepts in the Hebrew Bible. The "hot fluid in a Container" model works rather nicely in English because evidence suggests that people tend to understand the circulatory system in terms of plumbing.[4] This source domain, as well as images of pressurized containers exploding, was evidently absent in ancient Israel. One does find traces of volcanic imagery in theophanic descriptions of divine anger and, related to this, isolated metaphors that were motivated by the mental image of hot ovens used in metallurgical craftsmanship. In my doctoral dissertation,[5] which will soon be published in the Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, as well as numerous subsequent publications on the topic of anger in the Hebrew Bible,[6] I've emphasized the need of establishing the cultural basis of figurative expressions in accordance with the principles of linguistic relativity. To interpret all the Classical Hebrew words and expressions for anger in terms of the supposed dominant metaphor for this emotion in American English constitutes a gross misinterpretation of the evidence. For example, at least three of the most common words for anger in the Hebrew Bible have as their basic meaning "foam, froth" (khemah, za`am, qetseph). Mayer I. Gruber [7] has argued that the established relation between epilepsy and anger served as motivation for this figurative use, especially since the froth is repeatedly said to flow from the mouth of the angry subject.

Finally, with regard to Van Wolde's account of the prototype scenario of anger in the Hebrew Bible, I'd like to refer her to the final chapter of my dissertation, in which I provide an alternative delineation of the typical process based on a careful analysis of several conceptual metaphors and metonymies for ire in Classical Hebrew.

Dr. Zach Kotzé,University of South Africa

[1] G. Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. What Categories Reveal About the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Z. Kövecses, Emotion Concepts (New York: Springer, 1990).

[2] D. Geeraerts and S. Grondelaers, "Looking Back at Anger: Cultural Traditions and Metaphorical Patterns," in Language and the Cognitive Construal of the Wold (eds. J. R. Taylor and R. E. MacLaury; Berlin: Gruyter, 1995), 153-79.

[3] P. A. Kruger, "A Cognitive Interpretation of the Emotion of Anger in the Hebrew Bible," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 26/1 (2000), 181-93.

[4] W. P. Banks and S. C. Thompson, "The Mental Image of the Human Body: Implications of Physiological Mental Models of our Understanding of Health and Illness," in Metaphor: Implications and Applications (eds. J. S. Mio and A. N. Katz; New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996), 99-126.

[5] Z. Kotzé, The Conceptualisation of Anger in the Hebrew Bible (Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch, 2004).

[6] Z. Kotzé, "Research on the Emotion of Anger in the Old Testament: Recent Trends," Hervormde Teologiese Studies 60/3 (2004), 843-63; idem., "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things in the Hebrew Bible: Insights from the Cognitive Linguistic Theory of Metaphor," Old Testament Essays 17/2 (2004), 242-51; idem., "Humoral Theory as Motivation for Anger Metaphors in the Hebrew Bible," Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 23/2 (2005), 205-9; idem., "Conceptual Metaphors for Anger in the Biblical Hebrew Story of the Flood," Journal for Semitics 14/1 (2005), 149-64; idem., "Metaphors and Metonymies for Anger in the Old Testament: A Cognitive Linguistic Approach," Scriptura 88 (2005), 118-25; idem., "A Cognitive Linguistic Methodology for the Study of Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 31/1 (2006), 107-17.

[7] M. I. Gruber, Aspects of Nonverbal Communication in the Ancient Near East, 2 vols. (Studia Pohl 12; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1980).

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Citation: Zach Kotzé, " In Response to van Wolde," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited May 2007]. Online:


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