Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Meynet's Rhetorical Analysis

AP: The following is simply a summary of the method proposed by R. Meynet in his book L'analyse rhétorique, which focuses on structural analysis. Since this is the only exposition of the method in application to the Bible, it is appropriate to consider it for a moment. The title is a little misleading, since it is limited to commenting on the dispositio.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to antecedents of the method, which he calls "foundational texts." The authors cited, from the 18th century on, characterized their studies as "rhetorical analysis," but in reality they worked on the identification of the literary structure of various pericopes and biblical books. The second part of the book contains a "systemic exposition" of the proposed method, starting from the tested presupposition that the interior marks to the text, linguistic elements that connect with each other to form figures.

The author presents the inventory of the relationships of identity and opposition between linguistic elements on the various planes: lexical, morphological, syntactic, rhythmic, and discursive. These "markers" help to reveals the composition of the text.

The second chapter describes, in their increasing complexity, the figures of composition that structure the discourse according to the various levels: the member, the segment (of one to three members), the piece (of one to three segments), the part (of one to three pieces), the passage (of one or more parts), the sequence, the section, the book. In relation to his predecessors, Meynet increases the number of levels and uses a different terminology.

In dealing with parts, he analyzes those composed of one, two, and three pieces. He then turns to the passage, which, according to Meynet, is composed of one or several parts and represents a coherent whole. Of the units considered, this is the first with the possibility of being autonomous, and constitutes the minimum unit of reading or recitation. Those before can be isolated but not separated. Treatments of sequence, section, and book follow naturally with greater brevity.

Having completed this overview, Meynet lays out the four steps of rhetorical analysis, suggesting practical tips for carrying them out:
1. Rewrite the text as many times as necessary, in order to visualize its arrangements on the different levels. 
2. Describe it what has been visualized. 
3. Situate it in its context when it refers explicitly or implicitly to other texts of Scripture. 
4. Interpret it, which is the special object of rhetorical analysis, reflecting on what the analysis has allowed one to understand. Meynet proposes an interesting rule: When two units are found in a simultaneous relationship of identity and opposition, if the former predominates, it is appropriate to attach importance to the opposition, and vice versa. The book ends with a conclusion, followed by indexes of biblical passages, technical terms with a glossary, authors, and a bibliography. 
This book is a good systematization that sorts ideas and commits the reader to discipline and rigor in the treatment of the texts, which will help considerably in their interpretation. At the same time, the analyses of various NT passages made by the author once their structure has been determined will be read with interest and profit.

It is a pity that the method is restricted exclusively to biblical rhetoric and does not build bridges, as other authors have done in their research, between this and classical rhetoric. Aware of this shortcoming, at least apparently, Meynet dedicates the conclusion of his book to asking whether one should speak of Hebrew rhetoric, biblical rhetoric, Semitic rhetoric, or more broadly of "oral rhetoric," and asks about the relationship between biblical and Greek rhetoric, attempting to give an answer to the two questions. With regard to the first, he thinks that many antecedents of Hebrew rhetoric are Semitic and can be defined as special features of biblical and Semitic rhetoric in general in relation to Greek rhetoric. He does not deny that particular literary schemes like parallelism or chiastic structure are to be found in Greek literature, since in fact they appear with some frequency, but he asserts that these and other similar phenomena are more frequent in biblical rhetoric and, in general, in Semitic rhetoric, since they are found in other ancient and later literary corpora, such as in the traditions about Mohammed in Arabic literature.

Nonetheless, the author observes that, though people now speak of a "biblical rhetoric," its precursors and founders used the terminology and tools of classic Graeco-Roman rhetoric in reference to it. 


*The above is taken, with only slight modification, from Antonio Piñero and Jesús Peláez, The Study of the New Testament: A Comprehensive Introduction, trans. David E. Orton and Paul Ellingworth, Tools for Biblical Studies 3 (Leiden: Deo, 2003), 510-513.

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