Go'el to the Deaf, part 1

From Harlan Lane's book When the Mind Hears: a go'el was, in Hebrew culture, someone who was usually a family member who could assure justice or avenge wrong-doing (like buying a relative out of slavery). In our context, biblically, the role is as a redeemer, that is, someone who gives salvation or 'saves' the person. The exemplar would be Jesus. In the context of Deaf theology, the go'el would be someone who helps guard or 'save' or bring salvation to Deaf people, for example, by bring God's Kingdom to earth by promoting and evangelizing the use of signed languages.

All of the following have been, in one form of the other, historical guardians of Deaf people.

Jean Massieu, a Deaf man with five Deaf siblings, who had been appointed Abbe Sicard's chief teaching assistant, and a teacher, colleague, and friend of Laurent Clerc. His work as a go'el included developing the first formalized FLS (French sign language). He taught Laurent Clerc in school. In his youth he lived at the Bordeaux School for Deaf Children. As a teacher he was at the Deaf School in Paris, and then school for the deaf in Rodez.

Roch-Ambroise Sicard, principal of a school for the deaf at Bordeaux, and later at the school in Paris, he would invite Thomas Gallaudet to visit the school. His work as a go'el included writing the book, Theory of Signs for the Instruction of Deaf-Mutes, spreading the use of sign language in education. His work as a go'el brought salvation in the field of education by making instruction and the bible accessible. He was a teacher of Jean Massieu. He was born at Le Fousseret. He lived at the school for deaf in Bordeaux, and later at the school for the Deaf in Paris.

Ferdinand Berthier, deaf intellectual and educator, an early supporter of Deaf identity. Lane wrote of him, “Berthier's teaching and administrative duties at our school and his scholarly research and writing would have filled the life of the average man to overflowing . . .” (loc. 2549). His work as a go'el was evidenced by his promotion of Deaf culture, petitioning to form the first organization of Deaf people in France. He redeemed the Deaf community from social and political isolation.

Laurent Clerc, the first Deaf teacher of American Deaf students, who came from the Paris school for the Deaf with T. H. Gallaudet. Lane says he was “leading figure in the development of the signing community and its language in the United States” (loc. 7364) Clerc was born in La Balme les Grotte and remained in France until he moved to Connecticut in USA to teach. His work as a go'el is quite obvious, bringing education and a path to faith to the United States' Deaf people.

Abbe Charles-Michel de l'Epee, a French priest and the founder of the first public school for the Deaf in Paris. Lane said of him, “Epee was as consumed by the burning desire to do good, as others are consumed by their burning desire for passion” (loc. 1176). Perhaps his great character as a go'el was seen in his decisions to make education for the Deaf and his methods public; his openness redeemed Deaf people from oppression, and delivered them from a narrowness and selectiveness of oral-only methods.

Jean Massieu (b. 1772) portrait of Jean Massieu (b. 1772) black and white drawn portrait, middle age white male, long-ish hair curling over the ears, prominent nose, in contemporaneous 18th century suit with high collar and tie.