1 Comment

Source and Target, Target, Target Domains

If you know even the basics of contemporary metaphor theory, then you know that in the metaphor “Richard is a gorilla,” what we know (or think we know) about gorillas is the “Source domain.” The metaphor works by taking what we know and expect and how we reason about gorillas and mapping those inferences and expectations on to Richard, who in this case is the “Target domain.” For more on the basics of Source, Target, and cross-domain mapping, you can review The Basics to get up to speed.

multipletargetsMoving beyond the basics, you probably also know that the same Source domain can be used in a variety of ways to map inferences and reasoning onto a variety of different Target domains: Richard can be a gorilla, but so can Susan, that linebacker over there, the stock market, metaphor theory, etc.

Building on the principle that one Source domain can have multiple Target domains, it is also possible to use a singe Source domain as a unifying image to talk about several related or interconnected Target domains. Several diverse Targets can be brought together in a way that allows the Source domain to shape our understanding of each. These divergent Targets are then also seen in a new relationship to each other.

Whether or not these multiple domains are “actually” related may be open to debate; in much the same way that a metaphor can create seeming similarity, metaphor can also create seeming relationship. But even if the Target domains are somehow related apart from the metaphor, the use of a single Source domain highlights similarities while down playing differences. (Metaphor always both highlights and hides, but in this case this function is working across several Target domains instead of just one.)

I recently preached a sermon on Psalm 133. By it’s very nature as a psalm of ascents, used by pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to the Temple, but speaking of Aaron, the High Priest during the time of tabernacle and wilderness wandering, there is already a dynamic of multiple target domains in the primary anointing metaphor of the psalm.

Add to that the fact that “the Anointed One” is a good translation of both the Hebrew  “Messiah,” and the Greek “Christ,” AND add to it the fact that the sermon is being preached in a Christian congregation at a very different time and place, and all of a sudden the Target domains start piling up.

A single image in the psalm is used to navigate all of these Target domains. The diversity of topics is mediated by the unity of the imagery. In the end, a single Source domain is used to help us look at several Target domains from a new perspective, and to relate them in a new way.

The primary text for this sermon is Psalm 133:1-2.

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.

The Source domain here is the moment when Aaron was consecrated by anointing with oil and set into his office as High Priest. The sermon evokes details (some even multi-sensory) in the Source domain for the purpose of mapping these details and relationships on to several Target domains. Repetition adds unity to the sermon and helps guide the process of interpretation that the hearers themselves must perform.

So the Source domain is Aaron and the anointing oil. What is the Target domain? Expressly, the Target domain is living together in unity.

But who is experiencing this unity and how? The answer to that question leads to multiple Target domains. Once the Source has been sufficiently evoked, it is mapped onto:

  1. The pilgrim people of God singing this psalm of ascents;
  2. Jesus as the Anointed One and His function as High Priest and Sacrifice;
  3. Jesus as Resurrected High Priest and Mediator; and
  4. the congregation hearing the sermon as another instance of the pilgrim people of God.

From Aaron the High Priest, to OT pilgrims, to Jesus on the cross, to Jesus at the right hand of God, to the people in Ann Arbor, MI–that’s quite a journey for a single sermon! The one Source domain used to view multiple Targets helps keep the sermon (the preacher and the hearers!) focused. It lends thematic congruence and provides both structure and unity to the whole. At least I think so. But I preached it. You can judge for yourself:

The sermon moves from a moment in the history of the OT people of God, to a later moment in the history of the OT people of God, to the person of Jesus the Messiah and His work on the cross, to Jesus and His ongoing work for us, to a moment in the history of the present-day people of God. The sermon maps from Source to Target, Target, Target, and Target.

This approach to the imagery in Psalm 133 is appropriate in part because of the way it was already being used: the post-exilic pilgrims were reaching back to a moment in their past history as a people and using it to look forward to their future experience at the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the same time, the whole stream of Messianic expectation also invites viewing “the Anointed One” through this lens. The continuity between the OT people of God and the Church (cf. Paul) provides rationale for moving from the experience of the pilgrims in the text to the experience of the hearers today.

In all of these moves, the preaching of this Psalm is similar to the dynamic of typology, a way of viewing the Old Testament and OT prophesies that is broad enough to allow for more than one fulfillment of a pattern, promise, or type. So the promise of a return from exile can be fulfilled partially by the people of God as they came back from Babylon. But the promises of the prophets themselves seem to suggest there is more going on.

Jesus shows up on the scene and claims that all of God’s OT promises are about Him. So the return from exile is also accomplished for God’s people in a real and significant way by the work of Jesus as Savior and Messiah.

Even then, the fulfillment of the promise is not limited to the work of Jesus in history, but is carried forward into the ongoing work of the Church: to be baptized into Christ, to live IN Christ, is to be finally arrived home, planted back into the Promised Land, albeit by faith and not by sight.

AND the fact that our faith will one day be sight means that the promise hasn’t run its course and come to an end in baptism. To the contrary, the New Creation is spoken of in the same kinds of terms as the return from exile. The promise of homecoming will ultimately be fulfilled in the resurrection of the flesh.

The movement is from the OT people of God, to Jesus, to the Church, to the New Creation; from Source to Target, Target, Target, and Target.

mountainrangeThis typological approach to the Old Testament is the opposite of a rectilinear understanding of prophesy, a theory that suggests there can be one and only one fulfillment to any promise.

I remember a prof at seminary describing typology like foothills leading into a mountain range: the prophet looks and sees a fulfillment close on the horizon.

But beyond and behind, though connected to and inline with this fulfillment, are several others–each going above and beyond the one before, so that the cross can be seen in the distance, and beyond even that, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises that is the eschaton.

Which makes of us also pilgrims on a journey, still in the foothills of God’s promises in Jesus Christ, but eyes firmly fixed on the mountain of God’s City yet to come.

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

One comment on “Source and Target, Target, Target Domains

  1. In the ninth paragraph above is this closing sentence; “Repetition adds unity to the sermon and helps guide the process of interpretation that the hearers themselves must perform.” I love that sentence, Right on brother As the Dufflepods in C.S. Lewis’s “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” state “I couldn’t have said it better myself. You are talking like a book!”

    PS Another great sermon. Sure am glad I don’t have to follow you into the pulpit anymore. One of the joys of retirement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: