Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The dastardly demagogue

The Book of Mormon uses a rare word, scriptorally speaking, to describe the villain Amlici. He is a "cunning" man.

All instances of that word in the KJV Old Testament go back to its older, non-perjurative sense, as in skillful. Only in the New Testament, and only once, do we find it denoting a bad person. That is, Ephesians 4:14, speaking of "cunning craftiness."

The Greek behind that phrase is "panourgia," which translates, fittingly enough, as specious or false wisdom. Indeed, the enemy of righteousness may appear to be a clever person, honey-tongued and quick-on-his-feet, but ultimately, he is a fool with a sad fate ahead of him.

I wonder if the Hebrews, without the long history of sophistry and rhetoric of their Hellenistic neighbors, truly had a societal concept, an archetype, of the "cunning man," the panourgia, the demagogue, among them.

The closest that the Old Testament seems to get is the tale of how Absalom organized rebellion against his father, David. His doomed uprising began with beguiling promises to the disaffected subjects of his father's kingdom. ((2 Sam. 15:4) But his grandstanding seems rather clumsy -- no Greek sophist would have been impressed.

If the "cunning man," the demagogue, is not to be found among the ancient Hebrews, from whence did the New World Hebrew expatriates, the Lehites, derive the concept? Is this an anachronism? Or is it in fact a subtle clue that the Lehites were not alone in their new home, that there were among them remnants of another people who did indeed understand the concept and used it against them?

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