Allegorizing our new header

Now that we have a new header for our blog, I anticipate that people will occasionally ask what it means. Indeed, Andy already asked in a recent comment for the back story on the goat. (Nick directed him to the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, which is the story that gives the background of the image.) So, I was thinking that it might be interesting to come up with a deeper meaning in our image than just whether the goat gets across without the troll eating him.

We already know that the bridge signifies our ongoing effort to bridge scientia and sapientia. (You can read more about what that means here.) At the moment, the troll simply comes from my strong conviction that bridges should always have trolls under them (and trolls are cool).

So, I’m looking for suggestions on what you think the picture means. You can offer an interpretation of the whole image, or just some specific detail in the picture. Either way is fine with me. We’ll see what suggestions we get and, in memory of Origen, try to come up with a good theological allegory for our new header.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on May 30, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. The troll represents the obstacle of movement along the theological bridge from knowledge to wisdom.

  2. The question then is this blog the bridge or the troll!:-)

  3. The birds represent death if one does not move from knowledge to practice.

  4. Never mind….I just read the Norwegian depiction of the Billy (great name) Goat (keep the jokes to yourself) Gruff Story. This is really an allegorical interpretation for William Wallace!!!!

  5. Origen would be so proud of this!

  6. I like the idea of leaving the troll as a generic obstacle to theological progress. Then, we can just fill in the blank with whatever obstacle happens to be annoying us at any given moment. Like, right now my troll is the fact that my oldest daughter keeps playing the same five notes over and over again on the piano. Please make it stop.

    The goat, then, is your intrepid Th.M. program director and primary blog contributor, bravely leading the way past the obstacles toward true wisdom and understanding.

    Since the crows are on the scientia side of the bridge, I think they should represent the cold, dead sterility of a purely academic theology.

    And, how about the fact that you can’t see what’s on the other side of the bridge signifies that the journey is never really done. The divine mysteries continually expand before you in an endless pursuit of wisdom.

    • While I like the idea of Marc being the goat (!), we should really ramp this allegorization up and say (of course) that Jesus is the goat leading us. A goat, because like the scape goat of old he carries our sin, and takes it into the wilderness. But an eschatological goat in that all the treasures of sapientia are found in Him as we follow through the desert into the promised land.

  7. Can we do anything with the pipe in Troll’s mouth and the strange “mushroom” that is growing next to the bridge? Some kind of altered state of mind that leads to revelation? Is that too much gnosticism?

  8. I was wondering if either of those would get comments. How about the mushroom represents the dangers of seeking knowledge of God through direct mystical experiences (i.e. drug induced visions) apart from the biblical text? And the pipe could represent the fact that trolls know how to have a good time.

  9. A Study in Alexandrian and Antiochene Text/Event Typology: The Scientia et Sapientia Blog Banner as ‘Text’ in Light of Its Historical ‘Event’ in the Source Material of the Norwegian versus Russian Documentary Hypothesis. The use of a semester’s class work in vainglorious attempts at humor.

    The banner heading for the blog Scientia et Spientia stems from a long debated ‘text’ picture of the Norwegian tale Three Billy Goats Gruff. It is the purpose of this paper to show that this ‘text’ picture can best be understood and interpreted by using proper Patrisitc typology in conjunction with the relationship of the ‘text’ of the picture to the ‘event’ it depicts, the ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’, or more truthfully, to the Russian source material ‘Three Gruff Serfs’ from which the Norwegian story was based.
    This banner heading picture is derived from the classic Norwegian folk tale ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’ (De tre Bukkene Bruse). A little known fact about this story is that is that the Norwegians plagiarized it from Russia stemming from their involvement in the Great Northern War (1700-21). As allies, it was normal for interaction between the foot soldiers and of course they shared stories around the campfires in the cold Northern winters. The Russian story, три грубоватый крестьянин (Three Gruff Serfs), was a very popular Baltic village story about three disheveled serfs who were trying to escape from the land. In trying to row cross the river that marked its boundary, they were waylaid by a treacherous vodyanoy, the slimy ‘grandfather’ of the river who was wont to take souls into the depths to become his watery slaves. The three desperate serfs were able to cheat him by indicating that they were merely scouts for their lord who would be coming over the river shortly to claim territories beyond it. They insinuated that a lord makes a far better slave then three lowly serfs. Furthermore, these rapscallions indicated that they would assist him in capturing their lord by calling to him from the other side. The vodyanoy knew how shrewd the local lord was and that he was always looking for more land to occupy. He also knew he would make a nice collection to his underwater menagerie. He agreed and let them pass. On reaching the far bank the serfs shouted out their freedom and mocked the vodyanoy’s stupidity and then went in their way.
    Now the Norwegians at this time were in need of some serious cultural identity. Having been pummeled by their neighbor Sweden for the last one hundred years, they were just now unifying and coming out from under the Swedish influence. They took this story as their own, contextualizing it to their own environment, substituting their local troll for the Russian vodyanoy. Of course trolls live under bridges so they put a bridge over the river. It is not clear why they substituted three goats for the three serfs but scholars believe that it was because of the penchant for Norwegians to avoid morality tales involving humans, opting for the more Aesop like animal fable. Additionally, the popularity it engendered led to changing it from a deception based story in order to teach children they can be clever without lying (i.e. in the three goats, each one asked not to be eaten because the next one was bigger and thus fatter. The third one was big enough to kick the troll and escape. They did not lie, but used their wits to extricate themselves). Since this story there has been a great debate raging on the border between Norway and Russia about whose story it is. There was little evidence until a document was discovered in Soviet Leningrad that was likely penned during the early years of St. Petersburg (c. 1705) that tells the story of три грубоватый крестьянин. This indicates that indeed it was first a Russian story. This document, titled Codex Lenigradis Gruffius, now resides in the State Hermitage Museum.
    While some may contend that such a dependence on both the original three Goats Gruff story as well as extra three-Goats-Gruffian material is antithetical to an appropriate understanding of this picture (that we should be able to derive all we need to know from the picture itself) in fact we are not committing any false dependence on background information. Thus the ‘event’ of three goats/serfs is not placed above, in any way, the importance of the ‘text’ of the picture. Rather the redactor (artist) has pieced together a pictorial narrative that has to be understood by its source material unless frivolous interpretation is engaged in. Thus we need to look at interpretive methodology and to properly ‘exegete’ this picture. As any good exegete knows, allegoria, as used by the early Alexandrian exegetes like Philo and Origen, is replete with fantastical relationships in texts to show tangential relationships without considering the text in context. Therefore, a more proper exegesis would be to examine it in light of typos, which exegetes from both the Alexandrian school (e.g. Cyril of Alexandrian) and Antiochene school (e.g. Theodore of Mopsuestia) would regard as appropriate.
    It is markedly clear that the artist is depicting the uncertainty that the first goat of the story is undergoing in facing the prospect of crossing the bridge. It is not clear if he knows in fact that the troll resides under said bridge, but there is some evidence that would lead us to conclude that he did. One such textual indication is in the gathering of the crows. There would be no other reasons for three crows to gather save for the expectation of a goat-gruff carcass to feast upon. It is also clear that the goat would probably have seen the smoke rising from the pipe. This is not some naturally occurring fire smoke which would be in a more billowing pattern. Instead it is a tight curl of smoke wafting up to the sky, which is plainly indicative as sourced from a pipe.
    Now, knowing the background here helps us get a better understanding of the ‘text’. By the Norwegian tale, we know that the goats had eaten all the grass on their side and were looking to the sweet, sweet grass on the other. It would be safe to assume that the troll indeed took up residence and has in fact unceremoniously dispatched many previous goats, whether gruff or not, who attempted crossing to the sweet, sweet grass fields that lay beyond (in fact, Gustavus Nordmank, the late Norwegian Classics scholar, surmised that the troll in fact actually planted and cared for these fertile fields to lure such goats to cross the bridge, however, there is debate on this matter, but it stands as an interesting hypothesis.) Additionally, we know that the small goat is clever and so he would understand the meaning of the smoke emanating from under the bridge. Therefore from the literal ‘text’ of the picture, it is clear we have a nervous and yet willing goat ready to partake of the juicy grasslands across the bridge.
    However, according to Alexandrian and Antiochene practice, we know that there is also a deeper meaning to this picture. This meaning is rooted in the typos relationship tied to the original Russian story. Thus it is very evident that the three serfs are a type to orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. Their trip on the boat is a type to the movement of these from a place of slavery (their serfdom) to a place of lush new hope, i.e. they go from a place of where they are misused in the service of scholastic hegemons, to a fertile place where they can grow and prosper together in freedom. The boat therefore is the connecting device between the former and the latter. The vodyanoy is a type to the ignorance of the world that would rather suck down these three and make them a slave to the world system, in other words to make them a slave to ‘the man’.
    The Norwegian derivation, however, alters this understanding a bit since it sends the goats one by one over the bridge. Thus indicating that these are separate entities and any one in particular could be taken out by the troll. This would give us a completely different interpretation. Instead, we can easily assume that the artist, and here we can faithfully use some Origenian thought, had the truth of the Russian story in mind, whether conscious or not, that could be revealed to those understanding the mystery that is contained within the ‘text’ picture. Thus he expressed in the familiar Norwegian garb, the actual typology of the original Russian event. Thus the single goat represents all three orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy united together. The bridge is the journey from the empty fields of vain academic pursuit to the lush fields of where the three can freely be expressed for the betterment for all. The troll stills represents the attempt of ‘the man’ to derail this effort. Thus from our use of typology and a proper understanding and use of the original source material, we can see that the text reveals to us that scientia and sapientia, represented in the three ‘orthos’ of the goat, have at time languished in periods of drought, but that the successful crossing of the bridge, i.e. the reading of the blog, will open the visualize to a new understanding of their importance united together and thus ‘fatten’ his mind and ministry.
    A final note is in the often, and to be honest, overwrought discussion of the meaning of the words on the bridge. There have been numerous articles stating the meaning and significance both of their inclusion and placement on the bridge. However, it is abundantly clear that this was not part of the original artists work and can be ascribed to later artistic addition. It serves as a later gloss to try to explain the meaning of the bridge. Thus we should omit this variant reading and stay with the original ‘text’ picture.

    It was a holiday morning, what can I say.

  10. Oh and mushroom, pipe with smoke? Clearly allusions to Carroll’s caterpillar and thus scribal additions.

  1. Pingback: A study in text/event typology…kind of « scientia et sapientia

  2. Pingback: A study in text/event typology…kind of | Everyday Theology

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