The biblical roots of English ‘love’
The concept of ‘love’ in a historical and cross-linguistic perspective
Seen from a broad cross-linguistic perspective, the English verb (to) love is quite unusual because it has very broad scope: it can apply to a mother’s love, a husband’s love, a sister’s love, etc. without any restrictions whatsoever; and the same applies to its counterparts in many other European languages. Trying to locate the origins of this phenomenon, I have looked to the Bible. Within the Bible, I have found both continuity and innovation. In the Hebrew Bible, the verb ’āhēb, rendered in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint with the verb agapao, implies a “preferential love”, e.g. it is used for a favourite wife of a favourite son. In the New Testament, the concept of ‘love’ loses the “preferential” components and thus becomes applicable across the board: between anybody and anybody else.The paper argues that the very broad meaning of verbs like love in English, aimer in French, lieben in German, etc. reflects a shared conceptual heritage of many European languages, with its roots in the New Testament; and it shows that by taking a semantic perspective on these historical developments, and exploring them through the rigorous framework of NSM and Minimal English, we can arrive at clear and verifiable hypotheses about a theme which is of great general interest, regardless of one’s own religious and philosophical views and commitments.
Keywords: the meaning of ‘love’, NSM, Minimal English, New Testament, from Hebrew ’āhēb to Greek agapao
Published online: 24 January 2020
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