Guide to New Testament Interpretation

Structural Criticism (Strukturalistisch)

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Structural Criticism (Strukturalistisch) [of the New Testament] Daniel Patte

Structural criticism of the NT takes many forms, including "structural exegesis," "semiotic analysis," and "narrative criticism." It is developed out of semiotic theories (see Bal, and Greimas and Court├ęs) regarding the production and communication of meaning. It is called "structural" because a text "makes sense" for readers only insofar as they recognize (1) different features in this text and (2) an interrelation--a structure--among these different features.

Thus, a word ("blue") is meaningless as long as one does not recognize that it is different from other words ("blew," "red") and how it is related to other words, either in the text (e.g., in a sentence) or in language (e.g., it belongs together with words about colors, and not with verbs of action). So it is with all the features that can be perceived in a text, from the smallest features--such as letters, syllables, words, their denotations (what they refer to), their connotations (the values associated with them)--to larger features, such as characters, actions, situations, subplots, and plots (narrative structures); metaphors and other figures, allusions to other texts, figurative units, and the symbolic worlds (semantic structures); characters addressing interlocutors, narrator addressing a narratee, implied author addressing an implied reader (discursive structures). Since readers recognize different features and different structures in any given text, they perceive different "meanings."
Structural criticism of the NT takes three main forms, because a critical study can thoroughly analyze only one kind of structures at a time. "Narrative critical studies" elucidate the meaning produced by the narrative structures of the text (e.g. Aletti on Luke); "structural exegeses" the meaning produced by the semantic (or mythical) structures of the text (e.g., Patte on Matthew, Malbon on Mark); "semiotic analyses" the meaning produced by the discursive structures (e.g., Delorme on the Synoptic Gospels, Panier on Luke).

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