Monday, April 30, 2012

What's With All This "Knowing"?

Trey Smith

Technically speaking, this should be part of my "Questions" series, but since it's not tied to any specific passage, I'm just going to treat it as an independent post.

When I was a kid, we used to get the giggles big time whenever the biblical topic of "knowing" came up. (George Carlin takes aim at this subject in one of his famous stand-up routines.) The laughter bordered on absolute hysteria if an adult happened upon the scene and asked an innocent question like, "Does Billy KNOW Suzie?" We would gasp for air and the adult would quickly retreat, shaking their head all the way.

Anyhow, I was thinking about this weird definition of the verb, know, and so I decided to see if I could ascertain where this archaic definition originated. I should have known -- it originated in the Old Testament of the bible!

From my perspective, I sort of get how knowing and making love are very, very similar. When we make love with the object of our respect and affection, we come to know that person in a most intimate way. It is a wonderful thing when two people who share a deep abiding love let down their defenses and allow someone inside the usually well-guarded fortress of personality and identity.

But knowing in the biblical sense does not mean to make love; it simply means to copulate and a person easily can have sexual intercourse with someone you don't know at all!

Guys who "know" prostitutes don't really know them as individuals. People who engage in casual sex often don't know their partners all that well. In recounting their exploits, they may not remember their partner's name! (For the record, I'm no prude. I think casual sex between two or more consenting adults is fine and dandy as long as it is conducted responsibly.) Heck, there are loads of married couples who really don't know their spouse all that damn well either!

So, how is it that the early translators of the Old Testament settled on the word, know, as the codeword for the sex act? Why not simply be straightforward by using more appropriate words like intercourse, coitus or copulate?

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