[b-greek] Re: Discourse Analysis - Already but Not Yet

From: Mike Sangrey (mike@sojurn.lns.pa.us)
Date: Mon Jul 31 2000 - 18:29:54 EDT

Thanks for the thoughts.

Edgar Foster <Ilvgrammta@aol.com> said:
> In a message dated 00-07-31 11:22:03 EDT, mike@sojurn.lns.pa.us writes:
>> The text (largely) provides the framework and Discourse Analysis (DA)
>> provides a way to objectively uncover that framework, thus attempting
>> a solution to our myopia.

> A few months ago, I would have readily agreed with Mike's assessment
> of DA. At this point, however, I'm not so sure that I would hail the
> purported objectivity of DA. While it is a valuable tool and at times
> it does in fact seem like an indispensable tool--nevertheless, it has
> its limitations and its own problems with subjectivity. In praxis, it
> is very difficult (near impossible) to come up with a
> presuppositionless, Baconian system in which every "idol of the mind"
> is eradicated. One has to have some type of starting point and DA is
> no different.

This is certainly true. I should have said, "I tend to believe DA
provides a more objective way to uncover that framework." However,
I was thinking of the following.

What DA does provide is at least two things: One, a vocabulary (or more
precisely several vocabularies) to describe what we each individually see.
This vocabulary, being substantially objective and the use of it being
subject to peer review, helps with the objectivity. And to be considered
along with that, one DA author, and unfortunately I can't remember who,
said that in several reviewed cases the different DA approaches yielded
substantially similar results in exegesis. That fact helps me accept
a "more nearly objective" supposition. Not perfect, just better.
In fact, the different approaches arriving at nearly the same result
lend scientific validity to the resulting exegesis.

Lastly, let me stress my whole hearted agreement with Edgar Foster that
individually we will never quite grasp the golden baton of objectivity.
Obtaining objectivity is a process only accomplished communally.
One can not hole up in one's viewpoint and ever hope to be objective.
My belief is that these golden batons can only be lifted by a communal
consensus of conviction.

Regarding whether DA is top down or bottom up: My intuition (I'm being
real subjective here!) tells me it is neither.[1] It is left to right
and therefore iterative. In other words, one allows the author to build
his/her argument up through the constituent hierarchy as one proceeds
through the text from beginning to end. This is why fronted constituents
are potentially prominent. In fact, other than the formal requirement of
a salutation, the initial constituents of a writing are hugely important.
Take Hebrews 1:1-2 as an example. That sentence is hugely important for
the correct interpretation of the next few chapters.[2] Additionally,
the exegete must always keep in mind that the higher level constituents
circumscribe the precise meaning of lower level constituents. I think
of this as a semantic umbrella with lower level constituents huddled
under it.

Please pardon the simplistic example: what does "run" mean? Needs
a context. What does "He is going to run" mean? Needs a context.
"'What did Chaney say, he is going to run?'" This still needs a context.
Is this dialog in a context with Gore or Bush? The meaning of the
sentence would be different in each case. And so forth. My example
is unfair to you the reader since I did not give you a context FROM
THE BEGINNING. I plopped down into the middle of it. If I had started
with a description of a Bush meeting leading up to the Republican National
Convention, set a time, a date, a place, and the participants, you would
have honed in much more quickly to the meaning of "run". In short, one
allows the author to build the context. DA provides a way of determining
and describing for your audience how you think that is being done.

The difficult thing is the exegete should start with the extra-textual
context of the original author all ready in hand. That context is sparse
at best. Thankfully, the larger constituents tend to be more forgiving
to misinterpretation by the simple fact that they require their lower
level constituents to fit under their semantic umbrella as supporting
material. However, being the clever people we all are, we are pretty
good at keeping our pet interpretations from getting too wet. :-)

[1] In support, though, Levinsohn says, "As each successive sentence of
the text is processed, the reader adds to or modifies this mental model."
The mental model is hierarchical in nature.

[2] In fact, that sentence is why I take the AGGELOI to be `messengers'
and not angels. The idea of "speaking" (LALEW) is forefront in the
author's mind. It is the first aorist finite verb. Messengers speak.
And the first reference to AGGELOI is articular, thus indicating that
the author thinks of the persons as already in the reader's cognitive
environment. Who are they? Well, I think they are the "PROFHTHS" of
verse 1. Why is PROFHTHS articular? Because they are already in the
cognitive environment from the original reader's extra-textual context.
To postulate that angels were already in the extra-textual context would
require their prominence. Our not being able to produce extra-Biblical
evidence in support indicates (to me) no prominence. Thus it seems
more likely that they refer to the prophets who were prominent to a 1st
century Jew.

Mike Sangrey
Landisburg, Pa.
       Every Christian library should have a plaque which states:
              "There is one book which explains all these."

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