Re: exegetical significance

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Aug 14 1997 - 08:15:35 EDT

At 7:59 PM -0400 8/13/97, Andrew Kulikovsky wrote:
>Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>> At 7:35 AM -0400 8/12/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>> >At 02:21 PM 8/12/97 +0930, Andrew Kulikovsky wrote:
>> >
>> >>I would like to compile a list of Greek elements that have real exegetical
>> >>significance, so that those of us who are relatively new to Greek
>> >>exegesis have a good idea of what parts of the text are signicant and
>> >>what may simply be attributed to idiom, style or basic syntax.
>> Jonathan has already noted that he is wary of a "cookbook" approach. I'll
>> go further and say that I think this challenge is ill-conceived, although
>> it may do some good if people list some points of grammar and idiom that
>> others are not aware of.
>Actually I don't think people understood what I was actually asking. I
>guess I didn't communicate it very well. I have been doing Greek for 2
>years now and I am well aware that every element may possibly have
>exegetical significance. I am also well aware of the problems of "a
>cookbook approach" but what I really wanted was a list of elements that
>*may* be very significant for exegesis but may also be easily missed if
>the reader (particularly a beginner) is not aware of them - I guess what
>I am asking for is a list of obscure or unusual grammar rules (at least
>obscure and unusual when compared with English) that *may* be highly
>significant in a particular context. By acquainting yourself wit these
>rules (and other basic rules of syntax and grammar) the student then has
>a bit of an idea what to look out for when exegeting a passage.
>Now people are taught rules like this when learning to parse eg. the
>elongated vowel suggests the subjunctive, the S infix suggests future
>and with the augment, suggests aorist. QH suggest passive voice etc.
>These rules are not globally applicable yet the aid in helping students
>to parse.
>Is there anything wrong with coming up with a similar list for grammar
>and exegesis.

I think you've stated it all above: "These rules are not globally
applicable yet aid students ..." I think that the sort of rules you ask for
are BOTH an aid (in that they remind students of what to look for) AND a
delusion (in that they suggest that all other elements of significance are
self-evident). But it's my experience that some of the most fascinating and
significant things about Greek texts I've studied over the years is that
what is apparently self-evident is quite frequently the most elusive
feature of a text. This is true by no means of Biblical texts only: every
time I re-read Sophocles, I see things I've never seen before. I don't
think that we who are not native speakers/readers of ancient Greek can ever
read ancient Greek texts with our eyes wholly open to all that is there. So
charts of the sort you suggest, however helpful they may seem to be, are
perilous to the extent that they necessarily suggest a delimitation of what
is potentially significant in a text to be exegeted.

I have read of George Buttrick, when he was Preacher to the University at
Harvard (and can readily believe it, having often heard him preach in
Memorial Church there), that he put up an 8-foot poster board on his wall
to exegete the texts on which he preached, lined out in several columns
vertically and horizontally. Supposedly he did word-studies on all the
Greek or Hebrew words in the passage, probed them all himself and consulted
all the commentaries. I don't know what all his categories of horizontal
and vertical columns were, but his practice suggests an effort to be as
exhaustive as possible in the discernment of every potential item of
significance in a passage. What this suggests to me is what I think ought
to be the rule of exegesis (it used to be printed in the preface of the
AD TE--"Apply yourself wholly to the text, and apply the whole of the text
to yourself."

So I think I'd make a first rule that one should make sure that all the
verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs are parsed correctly and that every
item of information they can provide has been gleaned thoroughly. Then I
think the passage ought to be combed thoroughly in terms of its syntax in
terms both of what the syntactic combinations necessarily mean and of its
potential ambiguities. Then I think I'd pay close attention to the
diction--to the words and choice of words; I'd want to explore all
potential allusions in the passage, be they to OT, to possible other
ancient traditions, etc., etc.

In sum, I think that the model ought to be one that ensures as thorough a
discernment of the text's possibilities as possible rather than one that
reminds one not to overlook particular items. I would suppose that the
seminaries normally teach this sort of model of exegesis, but I've not been
to seminary nor been exposed to a course in exegesis. Still this is what I
think OUGHT to be taught.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243 OR

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