Discourse Analysis - Already but Not Yet

CWestf5155 at aol.com CWestf5155 at aol.com
Tue Aug 1 13:41:28 EDT 2000

In a message dated 7/31/00 10:35:15 PM Mountain Daylight Time, eweiss at gte.net 

<< > [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.
 But ... whereas the AGGELOI of 1:4 might be the PROFHTHS, I find it
 difficult to reconcile this with 1:6-7 wherein the quotes from the
 Psalms, which use AGGELOS in the LXX, seem to refer to divine messengers
 (i.e., "angels"). I am a complete novice at DA, but I find it hard to
 explain why the author would change his meaning for AGGELOS from
 "prophet" to "angel" in the space of a couple verses, especially since
 the later verses seem to flow from the earlier ones.

I hope you'll forgive me if I include some responses to some of the earlier 
postings on the subject of discourse analysis.  I think that Mike is doing a 
good job of representing some of the trends in discourse analysis.

One of the main reasons for the "already but not yet" status of DA in NT 
studies is that it is so new that we are still forging the 'rules', the 
terminology and the reputation. One of the reasons that I might not choose DA 
as an exegetical approach to feature in a major series would be that I would 
need to select and settle on a specific methodology and a specific 
specialist, and I wonder who I would choose at this point (if I were an 
impartial editor).

There are 3 major approaches to DA and at least two others: SIL (Longenecker, 
Levinsohn, Callow, Buth); South African (Louw & Nida, Cotterell & Turner), 
Functional/Systemic (Jeffrey Reed, Porter, Guthrie); Swedish & European. All 
of these will differ significantly in methodology & terminology.  Also, you 
have within and outside of these circles many who are quite creative with 
their terminology.  So the confusion proliferates for anyone attempting to 
get a handle on this interdisciplinary approach.

All of these schools are legitimate children of certain schools of 
linguistics, which account for their major differences.  And here is my 
defense of Discourse Analysis: it is linguistically-based on studies of 
language.  It studies patterns above the level of the sentence--but the word 
level and clausal levels are absolutely included in the study.  It just 
doesn't stop with the sentence level--it keeps going.

But then, I have a bias towards starting from the bottom and going up.  I 
think that top-down analysis is more limited and less objective.  And how do 
you work at objectivity?  You try to include as much formal criteria in your 
methodology as possible.  For instance, in determining prominence, you look 
for zones of turbulence which contain marked grammatical forms as well as 
connectives and particles that are associated with foregrounding.  I actually 
think that you could feed this data into a computer and get a good idea of 
where prominence occurs.  However, prominence is used to do different things, 
and other factors must be weighed in.  You can do a lot formally, but 
interpretation is part of the language model, so you won't ever get rid of 

Let me focus on just a couple of applications: translations and Greek New 
Testaments provide chapter & paragraph divisions and headings--most of them 
seem to 'make sense'--and that often appears to be the basis of their 
determination.  It is also very common to discuss the structure of a text in 
commentaries--see the WBC commentaries, for instance. So we are already 
involved in the results of analysis above the sentence level at one point or 
another. I think that if you neglect Discourse Analysis, you can be 
unwittingly driven by another scholar's interpretive calls. One of the first 
things you study in Discourse Analysis is how context, headings and paragraph 
divisions can alter meaning.  I'd like to see these things openly 
re-evaluated based on a consistent methodology, rather than primarily 
intuition.  That's how I stumbled into Discourse Analysis.

It's great you're discussing Hebrews--in two different courses I have taken 
Heb. 1:1-3:1 (in English) and provided different headings and slightly 
different paragraph divisions.  The effect is like a shift in a kaleidascope. 
The mainline material of each version is different.  In both clases, everyone 
does a double-take. Both versions are entirely convincing because of the 
power of the headings and the paragraph breaks.  Then, we look at the formal 
evidence in the Greek, and see which version has more suppport.

Mike--I like your connection between the prophets and angels, and the focus 
on LALEW--I see it the same way.  However, I see prophets, angels and 
apostles as subsets of the group 'messengers' (all in the same semantic 
domain).  I often consider the possibility that AGGELOI could be (human) 
messengers, but I think when they appear in context with prophets and 
apostles, they are distinct--and also there is a tradition that angels gave 
Moses the Law, which comes into view in Ch. 2.  That clinches it for me.  But 
the cohesive effect of them belonging to the same group is almost the same as 
if they were the same referent--there are linguistic studies on this 
phenomena--and then think of how this creates a context for  'apostle' in 3:1.

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton  


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