New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Volume 5. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Editor. Nashville: Abingdon, August 2009. Semiotics(by Daniel Patte)
SEMIOTICS (Grk, semeiotikos, an interpreter of symptoms and signs), the study of sign-communication and signification (the production of meaning) provides theoretical models for biblical exegesis and hermeneutics.
Communication through signs and the signs’ relationship to the worldwere already Plato and Aristotle’s concern. Augustine viewed signum as the universal means of communication, examined the relationship between natural signs and human-made signs, and pondered symbol systems and sacraments (“sacred signs”) as ritual acts involving material signs (e.g., water, bread, wine). For him “a sign is something that presents itself to the senses and something other than itself to the mind” (Augustine, De dialectica, 5: “Signum est et quod se ipsum sensui et praeter se aliquid animo ostendit”). This triadic view of sign, a framework for semiotic reflections in theology and biblical interpretation through the centuries, is reflected in Charles Sanders Pierce’s triadic hermeneutical model (logic, pragmatism, and communication) and Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic semiotic model; a sign is the arbitrary relation of a signifier (e.g., the four/five letters “tree”) and a signified (the mental concept of “tree”), with connotations resulting from the interrelations of signs in a system (e.g., a natural language).
Since a sign is always a sign of something tosome mind, Saussure’s followers, including Louis Hjelmslev, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, and A. J. Greimas developed analytical models to account for the ways readers produce meaning with any given text (a semiotic system), by relating it to other semiotic systems (in their culture), either through their narrative (or didactic) features, or through their semantic and symbolic features, or through their discursive and rhetoric features. Semiotic theory provides a powerful tool to understand the multiplication of critical methods and the multiplicity of biblical interpretations. Daniel Patte Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics (1979). Algirdas Julien Greimas and Joseph Courtés, Semiotics and Language (1982). Daniel Patte, Religious Dimensions of Biblical Texts: Greimas's Structural Semiotics and Biblical Exegesis (1990). Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (1916) Charles Sanders Pierce Collected Papers Vol 2 (1932)