Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

"Fishers of Humans," the Contemporary Theory of Metaphor, and Conceptual Blending Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

"Fishers of Humans," the Contemporary Theory of Metaphor, and Conceptual Blending Theory

Article excerpt

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And Jesus said to them: "Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of humans." (Mark 1:17)

Although "fishers of humans" (...) is a patently metaphorical expression, the cognitive linguistic view of metaphor is conspicuously absent from its modern interpretations. It is largely for this reason that divergence, incoherence, and speculation abound in scholarly views on its sense and objective.1 The present study endeavors not only to redress this but also to reinvigorate investigation into the historical origin of the Twelve. E. P. Sanders suggests,

apart from what we learn from the symbolic nature of the number twelve, we do not know Jesus' purpose in calling [the disciples].... The call of the early disciples ... gives us no knowledge about how Jesus gathered about himself a small group of followers.2

His concerns seem to be widespread, although John P. Meier presents an exception.3 We will offer a cautious historical construction only after close consideration of the expression "fishers of humans" alongside the Contemporary Theory of Metaphor (CTM) and Conceptual Blending Theory (CBT).4 The first section of the article will outline CTM and the multivalent usage of the source domain fishing in antiquity. The second will establish the conceptual metaphor by way of analysis of the Markan narrative. The third will discuss "fishers of humans" in light of CBT, and the final section will review the relevant secondary literature and suggest a historical construction sensitive to the issues of narrative and memory. By expounding on the compatibility of the strange metaphor with both the Markan narrative and the hypothetical pragmatic concerns of a forward-thinking, Galilean charismatic, we intend to show up the scholarly predisposition to reach at whispers of intertextuality.

I. CTM and a Multivalent Metaphor

Metaphors seek to understand one thing in terms of another. Thus, sin, a somewhat abstract concept, can be understood either in terms of dirt, a more tangible and embodied reality, or again in terms of a dangerous animal that is ready to devour the unprepared, or again in terms of a weight to be carried. In the jargon, sin is the target domain and dirt, dangerous animal, or weight are the source domains.5 Invariably the lesser known (more abstract) is explained in terms of the better known (more tangible). We structure sin in terms of dirt when we wish to speak of its removal, in terms of a dangerous animal or even snare when we seek to understand human vulnerability, or a weight when we seek to understand the consequences of sin for the sinner. In other words, different source domains are used to structure the target domain depending on what aspect of the target domain is being considered. By "structuring" we mean the mapping of constituent elements from the source domain to the target domain. Thus, in the conceptual metaphor of sin is a weight, the thing weighed down by an object is mapped to the person who acts wrongly; the object is mapped to the wrongful act; the weight of the object is mapped to the nature of the wrongful act; and so on. It can be said that sins are burdens; they weigh one down, and they can be too heavy to bear. Our "rich" knowledge of lifting or carrying weights can lead to metaphorical entailments, that is, the mapping of nonconstituent elements of the source domain onto the target domain.6 For example, as we know from experience that others can help in carrying a heavy object, in the Christian tradition Jesus can be seen as carrying the believers' sins; for example, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Pet 2:24). Some metaphorical expressions (and their underlying conceptual metaphors) are so familiar that we do not even have to think about what they mean. The meaning is already given, being mediated through language and culture. Instances here are:

And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door;

its desire is for you, but you must master it. …

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