As is typical with this kind of philosophical idea, dualism cannot be proven not “right” or “wrong”. At most, it can be considered useful or non-useful depending on how much it helps simplify complicated philosophical problems. In any case, dualism has had an immense influence on succeeding thought. Early Christians, medieval scholastics, and early modern philosophers like Descartes in turn adapted it as a central part of their philosophies. Perhaps the most basic idea distinguishing Christianity from Judaism is dualist: that the material world is inherently corrupt, and should be abandoned in favor of spiritual quests and declarations of faith. Since modern intellectual culture in large part descends from Christianity, even non-Christians today (at least in Western cultures) will find it hard to avoid thinking in dualistic terms.
The goal of this post is to point out one error that results from dualistic thinking. The critical point is that Biblical Hebrew dates to before Plato's time, and thus does not share the assumptions of dualistic thought. In particular, a verb in Biblical Hebrew frequently refers to both a thought and an action. In dualism, thoughts and actions are as different as any two things in the world can be, and it's inappropriate to use the same word for both. But in the Bible's non-dualistic language, thoughts and actions that typically go together share a word, and the meaning is inferred from context. Not realizing this leads to many incorrect translations.
In the following table I have listed several Hebrew verbs. For each, I list what it means as a thought, and as an action. Finally, I give examples of Biblical verses, translated in the usual way, for which I think the other of the two meanings would make much more sense.
|YDA||know||experience, acknowledge||Tree of knowledge of good and evil|
Adam knew his wife
|ZChR||remember||address, implement||God remembered his covenant|
Please remember and strengthen me [Shimshon]
|AMR||intend||say||Do you [Moshe] speak in order to kill me?|
|ShMA||obey||hear||We will do and we will hear.|
|DAG||worry||take care of, ensure|
|SMKh||be happy||celebrate||You shall celebrate on your holiday (Chazal: "'Celebration' means meat and wine")|
I'm guessing there are other such verbs – feel free to suggest in the comments.