Theory, Method, and the Macroanalysis of Ezekiel’s Prophetic Discourse

How does one determine the main idea and structure of a Biblical book? Throughout the Twentieth and into the Twenty-first century, scholars applied various linguistic methodologies to the study of the Biblical text as a means for quantifying and adding rigor to various interpretive methods, as well as providing new frameworks of understanding for approaching unresolved interpretive issues. More recent linguistic investigations include various analyses of the Hebrew verbal system, the analysis of information structure at the sentence-level, the use of cognitive linguistics to analyze metaphor and words, as well as various forays into discourse analysis. The present investigation expands the scope of previous linguistic explorations by developing a theoretical framework for quantifying the proposed global meaning and propositionalized semantic structure of a text. Although canonical interpreters and those applying literary approaches have discussed “meaning” and “theme” for decades, and have proposed conflicting outlines of scriptural texts and books, little work has been put forth to date that rigorously quantifies the move from local-level syntax to abstracted, macro-level, propositional meaning. Accordingly, the following discussion first raises considerations from the work of Teun A. van Dijk as the foundation for moving from the micro- to the macro-level of a discourse, as well as his distinction between literary superstructure and abstracted semantic macrostructure as a means for defining the role of cognitive poetics in macroanalysis. Second, select aspects of Walter Kintsch’s Construct-Integration model will provide theoretical foundations of text comprehension in order to account for how readers of Scripture comprehend a text in the development of abstract propositions and the storage of snippets of text in long-term working memory. Third, considerations from Relevance Theory will describe the inferential nature of language and refine the theoretical understanding of what occurs in the move from what is explicitly stated in the Biblical text to an author-intended interpretive inference (an implicated premise, conclusion, or propositionalized summary of global meaning). Fourth, this theoretical framework will be applied selectively to the Book of Ezekiel, which is largely composed of discrete oracles and units joined paratactically. This discussion will account for the move from local-level oracles to macro-level meaning across oracle boundaries possessing no overt discourse connectors, and this by appeal to the proposition-building nature of text comprehension, including semantic propositions deriving from the comprehension of literary texture (e.g. recurring vocabulary, phrases, echo, and other cohesion devices). Although this discussion of theory and method is applied to prophetic literature, its foundation on the universal processes of comprehension imply the validity of the results across all genres of Biblical literature. In terms of application, the resulting method (a) proves suggestive for future evaluations of various textual readings, such as the story or narrative of the Psalter; (b) provides methodological rigor for identifying textual macrostructure for teaching and preaching the Bible; and (c) outlines a more detailed understanding of macrostructure for developing comprehension testing questions for evaluating the main idea, prominence, and pragmatics of a minority-language Bible translation in relation to the underlying source text.

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