Volume 4 - Issue 3

Structural analysis

By Carl Armerding

Since the mid-1960’s, a new star has risen on the horizon of biblical scholarship in the form of structuralism or structural analysis. As a literary rather than a historical discipline, the new structuralism has challenged biblical studies at the level of its most cherished assumptions. For well over a century, it has been assumed that truth from scripture derives from the intent of the writer as he addressed his own world in space and time. Only historical research could unlock the secrets of tradition history and composition, and ultimately the theological meaning of the text. Structural analysis by its very definition seeks meaning at another level. Deliberately eschewing historical and diachronic research, the structuralist claims to find in the writing itself, in the realtionships of words and themes, the key to interpretation. His focus has shifted to synchronic research in an attempt to look at the text as a given whole in all its internal and external relationships, and in an attempt to objectively assess the values inherent in the material.

Since the method arose quite independently of biblical studies, and because its assumptions are alien to the latter, one might expect the seed to find no fertile soil, but this has not been the case. In fact, many of the notable figures engaged in research of a more historical nature have welcomed structural research as an exciting new dimension to their own work.

The reasons for this phenomenon are no doubt complex. The attractiveness of novelty cannot be discounted, although to argue that the trend is but one more evidence of a thirst for hearing some new thing is in itself too facile. Perhaps the response expresses dissatisfaction with the results of historical research; a basic interest in history, so long the foundation of western intellectual endeavour, has been severely challenged during the sixties and early seventies, and perhaps the new search for meaning at a nonhistorical level reflects the philosophical trends of that era. In addition, biblical studies have recently faced a certain challenge from the secular departments of the university, particularly those of sociology, anthropology, linguistics, and literature. That the methodology of these disciplines should have a profound influence is perhaps inevitable, and the new interest in structure may be characteristic of a coming age of religious studies.

The Discipline

Modern biblical studies in structural analysis owe their origin to developments in linguistic theory which followed the publication of Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics in 1915.1 De Saussure and those who follow him argue that language reflects certain universal patterns, or structures, which in turn reflect universal orders within the human brain. All narrative is an expression of these deep structures, and the task of the student is to discover the nature of these patterns. In the years since 1915, and particularly since the Second World War, various forms of theory and application have emerged in an attempt to define and develop these basic ideas.

Prominent in biblical scholarship is the name of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Although himself interested primarily in primitive mythology, Lévi-Strauss has exerted a profound influence on others who have in turn applied his method to the biblical literature. In its fullest application, the work of Lévi-Strauss and other anthropologists and linguists requires a more sophisticated knowledge of linguistic theory than most biblical researchers can ever hope to command, but attempts to apply portions of the method to both Testaments have been made. In all of this activity, the debt to Lévi-Strauss and other theorists such as Roland Barthes and Roman Jakobson must be acknowledged.2

Robert Spivey lists three assumptions which govern the discipline: (1) appearance in human conduct and affairs is not reality; (2) reality is structured; and (3) the structure is code-like.3 Regarding a text or its content as the appearance, the structuralist will seek the deeper structure which may reflect reality. Lévi-Strauss employs the analogy of geology, in which a basic and fundamental substratum runs beneath the surface of the landscape. Similarly, there lies beneath the world of discourse and rationality ‘a category at once more important and more valid, that is, the meaningful’.4 In the terminology of de Saussure, the text or individual (parole) is governed by a code (langue), and it is this code which the endeavour seeks, for it is at this level that reality may be approached or apprehended.

While all structuralists would agree inter alia that such a structure exists, they are less agreed regarding its shape or nature. For Claude Lévi-Strauss, following the Prague linguist, Roman Jakobson, the basic aspect of human thought is found in the concept of binary opposition. All language, learning, and development is thus subjected to a pervasive Hegelian dialectical analysis. Noam Chomsky, among others, has rejected this as an oversimplification,5 and Lévi-Strauss himself has apparently had doubts about comprehensive nature of the paradigm. Using the model of the traffic light, he now finds that although red and green are binary opposites, the yellow light mediates between the two. In the same way, human expression, though essentially formed on the binary model, incorporates at many levels various integrating or mediating elements.6

Nevertheless, the structuralist often begins with a rather definite world-view which in turn colours his assumptions upon approaching the text. Both Barthes7 and Lévi-Strauss,8 for example, express their dialectical structures in a Marxist-Freudian analysis. Thus, even before looking at a given method, one must inquire as to what philosophical presuppositions might pigment the approach of the analyst.

Basic to the method, though still a matter of debate, is a concern for synchronic rather than diachronic research. The timeless, universal structures are pursued, not the ways in which meaning has been discovered in the past. A structuralist with a strongly antihistorical bias, like Lévi-Strauss,9 shows the tendency most clearly in his preference for ‘myth’ over the study of historical narrative, for it is in myth that the historical dimension most readily gives way to the universal and the timeless. Whether such an approach can ever be reconciled or viewed as complementary to historical research remains an open question. The majority of biblical scholars who espouse literary structural methods are inclined to think that synchronic and diachronic research are two sides of the same coin,10 although a question has been raised as to whether the new approach might not, by definition or default, exclude historical concerns.11

On the positive side, there is undoubtedly much to be gained by taking a fresh look at the text itself, at its internal and external relationships, and at its effect on hearer or reader. A brief survey of work on OT passages, to follow in a moment, will show the gains in understanding which have been derived, and it would appear that nothing done by a biblical scholar exhibits the kind of antihistorical bias which is integral to the anthropological system of Lévi-Strauss. The question is not whether this kind of synchronic research might be useful; compared to much of the arid irrelevance and speculation of recent form-critical endeavour, it shines the more brightly. More to the point is a question as to whether the recent work, when separated from the antihistorical world-view of the semiologist, can be called structuralism proper.


The first question which must be answered by the prospective practitioner, then, is whether he intends his structural analysis to truly grow out of the system which we have described as structuralism. At this point, biblical scholars fall into various categories. Daniel Patte represents those few who have made an attempt to understand and reproduce the system of French linguistic science.12 By contrast, R. C. Culley attempts to apply some insights from the method, but confesses that he is not ready to radically reevaluate the question of history, and opts for a less stringent analytical method which does not assume the broader framework of structuralism proper.13

Patte’s application of Greimas’ narrative structure

For Greimas’ narrative is that which evokes the value ‘narrativity’,14 and in his structure, six ‘hierarchically distinct elements’ are distinguished. These are sequence, syntagm, statement, actantial model, function, and actant.15 The terms and their definitions are highly technical, presupposing a reasonably sophisticated knowledge of linguistic theory.

First, the narrative is viewed as a series of sequences:

—initial sequence (related to the final)

—optional disrupting sub-sequence

—one or several topical sequences

—a final sequence (related to the initial).16

The sub-sequence, when present, explains how the initial sequence is opposed or disrupted: in this case, one or more of the topical sequences is concerned to show how the opposition is overcome in order to fulfill the initial sequence. In the parable which Patte employs to illustrate the method (Lk. 10:10–35), the action of the man going down to Jericho forms the initial sequence, and that of the robbers a disrupting sub-sequence. The initial sequence sets the agenda for the rest of the narrative. Here, topical sequences about priest, Levite, and Samaritan follow to fulfill the initial sequence: the first two fail and the third succeeds.

Second, each sequence breaks down into a succession of three narrative syntagms, namely, a contractsyntagm, a disjunction/conjunction syntagm, and a performance syntagm. In simplified form, the syntagms represent individualized actions of a stylized nature, and these make up the sequence. For example, the act of compassion is the contract syntagm, the approach to the wounded man is the element of disjunction/conjunction, and the remainder of the Samaritan’s actions collectively represent the performance syntagm.

Third, each syntagm is broken down into narrative statements, each of which may be compared to a basic sentence with a bare subject and predicate: someone (or something) performs an act to carry out the syntagm. In the performance syntagm of Patte’s example, the narrative statements would include ‘bound up his wounds’, ‘poured on oil and wine’, etc.

Fourth, each such action is assigned to a technical category of description called a function, such as arrival, departure, conjunction, disjunction, acceptance, refusal, confrontation, etc. Those in the Good Samaritan include acceptance (he had compassion’), and conjunction (‘and went to him’).17

Fifth, the roles of those who perform (or are acted on by) the various functions are classified in one of six actantial roles, or actants. These are Sender, Receiver, Subject, Object, Helper, and Opponent, and all of these are implicit or explicit in each narrative. (The person who manifests, or performs, a given actant may be called the actor.) At various points in Patte’s example, the Samaritan is found in the role of the Subject, the wounded man that of the Receiver, his welfare that of the Object, the robbers that of the Opponent, and the oil, wine, and donkey that of the Helper. The Sender is in this case unknown, unless viewed as providence or a similar force.

Sixth, the relationships among the various functions and actants are described by building an actantial model, and at this point the first level of the structural analysis has been completed.

It will be seen that use of such a model, even at the level of simple analysis, requires a measure of training in the method. But what is required at this level is little compared to the next. The exegesis is now carried into the realm of mythical structures, and ultimately to a semantic analysis, and for these Patte turns to the model provided by Lévi-Strauss.

Patte’s application of Lévi-Strauss’ mythical structure

Mythical exegesis aims to uncover the ‘deep structures’ operating in the unconsciousness of the myth. Lévi-Strauss begins by grouping together all the mythological texts of a given culture, for he believes that a basic myth is expressed in them as the sum of all its variants.18 To find the basic mythical structure, he reduces the events of these stories to short sequences called mythemes, each of which may be represented by the formula Fx(a), and read, ‘a function “x” is linked to a given subject (or state) “a” ’.19 Groups of mythemes are isolated in a given text, and from the grouping of related mythemes, Lévi-Strauss derives new mythemes which denote in broader terms what several constituent mythemes had implicitly expressed.

Patte applies the methods of Lévi-Strauss to Paul’s theological argument in Galatians 1:1–10.20 Admitting that in form it is very different from myth, he nevertheless finds that in the theological argument the basic unit is still the mytheme, in this case the short Pauline phrase which must be expanded to find its value. Thus the phrase ‘Paul an apostle’ is really two mythemes standing in opposition; ‘Paul as the common man’ and ‘Paul as an apostle’ make up one broad mytheme which incorporates the two into a fundamental opposition. ‘Proclamation by Paul’ moderates between ‘Galatians as slaves to an evil aeon’ and ‘Galatians as Christians’. The resurrection mediates between the dead Jesus and the risen Lord, and so forth. From these mediated oppositions the basic mythical structure emerges, and, in this case, ‘the gospel as teaching’ and ‘the other gospel’ opposition is seen as fundamental to the whole. The person of Paul, his experience, and his argument are seen as mediating the various oppositions. But the basic code is in the oppositions, and Patte suggests that the method will lead to a number of as yet unexplored ‘hermeneutical possibilities’.21

By this time it will be seen that true French structuralism remains the province of only select initiates. Whether or not there is a universal myth, and whether it can be reduced to simple formulae, will remain an open question to most students of the biblical literature. Meanwhile, however, this review of Patte’s aplication has perhaps illustrated the method such that one may understand why most biblical scholars have looked for modifications or alternatives.

Other Applications

R. C. Culley. Without agreeing to the presuppositions of structuralism, Robert Culley feels the method should go beyond the stylistic or rhetorical criticism. An earlier article illustrates what structural analysis on these terms might look like,22 and a fuller expression of his ideas appears in two later works. Of these, a short article analyzes three groups of brief biblical stories23, while a monograph combines questions on a common framework or structure in miracle stories with a concern for the oral development of those accounts.24

The former may be used to illustrate his method. First, Culley follows Lévi-Strauss in juxtaposing all examples of a type within a given body of literature, although since some types overlap, the groups will not always appear homogeneous. Culley is aware of this, and is also clear that ‘these labels are not meant to indicate genre’,25 for his concern is not with origin but with structure. Having grouped his stories, Culley proceeds to (1) ‘see what relationships can be detected among the stories within the groups’, and to (2) ‘see what relationships can be seen among the groups themselves’.26 In the miracle stories he finds the common pattern ‘problem/ miracle/solution’, while in the seven deception stories the pattern is ‘problem/deception/solution’.

Culley’s alignment with structuralism proper is more explicit in the next step. In moving from the surface to the deep structures (though he does not use the terminology), he finds a fundamental opposition between life and death in each group, and proposes a mediation of some kind in each story.

Somewhat questionable is Culley’s finding of death as a major motif in each. The seventh, the floating axe-head narrative of 2 Kings 6:1–7, has only (in Culley’s words) ‘a vague association with death because it shares a pattern with the other stories’.27 In groups II and III of Culley’s analysis, the ‘death’ structure is also forced: Lot’s two daughters (Gen. 19:30–38), and Tamar (ch. 38), are faced with childlessness, which ‘can be understood as a form of death’.28 At this point Culley stops, but we are left with the feeling that his analysis, on the level of ultimate meaning, has become as subjective as that of Edmund Leach, of whose work he once wrote a perceptive critique.29

R. Polzin. Unlike many of the newer structuralists, Robert Polzin is not slow to criticize form and source analysis as ‘counterproductive’,30 and he employs structural categories more than some of his colleagues.

In his study of the Book of Job, Polzin seeks to establish ‘three elements which we would consider fundamental to a structural analysis’, namely, the framework, the code, and the message of the book,31 and he relates these categories to the structural distinctions of A.-J. Greimas and Roman Jakobson.32

In establishing the framework, Polzin first divides the discourse into its largest sections on the basis of functional units; he finds four of these in the story corresponding to movements which mediate some conflict or contradiction. In a second step (described but not illustrated), he would employ a paradigmatic pattern thus isolated in order to move into the deep structures and discern the code, in the world of langue where the universals of human behaviour are to be found. In determining the message as a third step, he would ‘treat those aspects of the book (besides its components and its system) which must be known before its message(s) can be grasped’.33 While the code involves universal invariables, the meaning is external to the text and relates to the world at large.

A second work by Polzin examines three accounts of the occasional unusual relationship of the patriarch’s wives to a local ruler, as found in Genesis 12, 20 and 26.34 Here Polzin rejects form and source analysis, and again proceeds by three steps of his own.

The first looks for transformations from one version of the story to the next and also within each version, both in the basic ‘story-line’ as unfolded in Genesis, and in the role of the relationship itself from one version to the next. When these have been diagrammed structurally, the next step seeks to formulate the structural laws, presumably now at the deep structure, though they still operate at the level of the story itself. A third step relates the various transformations to one another, such that those about receiving blessing, for example, are related to transformations concerning the way in which mankind discerns the will of Yahweh.35

Polzin’s article, which provides a fine example of thematic (or stylistic) analysis, stops at what the linguist would call the surface level. The variants and invariants are precisely catalogued and set over against one another, but little in the analysis goes beneath the surface structure to the deeper realities hinted at in his earlier work.

Culley and Polzin are cited because they represent OT scholars who adopt certain structural methods. Culley is typical of a group which would openly reject the philosophical framework of structuralism, but still use some of its synchronic methods; and attempt to relate structural exegesis to diachronic research, especially to form criticism. Polzin, although beginning with a philosophical disavowal of structuralism, more openly espouses its tenets in his methodology. In some ways, his attempt to be a true structuralist is the more thorough, for he clearly bypasses all historical research. But even Polzin does not go all the way: his finished product is closer to what has increasingly come to be designated rhetorical criticism, and we now turn our attention to that development in biblical studies.

Literary Approaches

To describe the kind of literary approach which operates sans structuralist philosophical presuppositions, James Muilenberg has proposed the term rhetorical criticism.36 Without rejecting either form research, or an interest in the original author or setting, Muilenberg goes on to affirm that

What I am interested in, above all, is in understanding the nature of Hebrew literary composition, in exhibiting the structural patterns that are employed for the fashioning of a literary unit, whether in poetry or in prose, and in discerning the many and various devices by which predications are formulated and ordered into a unified whole. Such an enterprise I would describe as rhetoric and the method as rhetorical criticism.37

This enterprise is some distance removed from that of the followers of Lévi-Strauss, and much closer to that of scholars like Culley and Polzin. Muilenberg’s method requires the user to (1) define the limits or scope of the literary unit using its literary features; and (2) ‘recognize the structure of a composition and to discern the configuration of its component parts … and to note the various rhetorical devices that are employed’.38 A stress on literary features replaces the binary oppositions of Lévi-Strauss, while the absence of a theory of code and deep structure further puts this approach in a category different from that of the French structuralist. These differences, however, should not prevent one from observing the similarities that remain, especially as they relate to the methods employed by biblical scholars.

Muilenberg and his students have not been alone in calling for a literary approach to biblical exegesis. Edwin Good has argued for a strict separation between source and literary analysis, reserving the latter term for an enterprise more like Muilenberg’s rhetorical criticism.39 James Barr has also taken up the question by critiquing several continental and British movements, and suggesting that questions of theology and meaning must be combined with any literary approach;40 he cites the works of Luis Alonso-Schökel as a model for such discussion.41 Yet another name—‘Total Interpretation’—has been suggested by Meir Weiss, an Israeli scholar who looks at structural analysis as a literary approach to Hebrew poetry.42 Finally, David Robertson’s recent Fortress Guide appears to have eliminated historical and theological categories altogether in favour of viewing the Bible as ‘imaginative literature’.43

Pentateuchal Studies

This brief survey of related studies in the Pentateuch will begin by looking at the work of two structuralists proper—Roland Barthes and Edmund Leach; and will then sketch the contributions of three OT scholars—Paul Beauchamp, J. P. Fokkelman, and G. W. Coats.

Roland Barthes on Genesis 32:22–32. The short essay ‘La lutte avec l’ange,’44 by the literary critic Roland Barthes, provides a good place to begin, for it may be read in conjunction with a helpful critique which has been published by Hugh White.45 Without openly espousing any kind of source or form analysis, Barthes approaches the story of Jacob and his opponent as a type of myth or folklore in which the patriarch is opposed at the river by some form of genie. He discovers two possibilities of reading which could, as White points out,46parallel Gunkel’s sources, but Barthes views these discrepancies, not as options from which an original must be selected, but rather as two equally valid ways of reading. As a result, two different but complete structures are distinguished.

Building on the symbolic aspect of this ambiguity, he turns briefly to the structural theories of Greimas and Propp for a deeper level of significance. It is only at this level that Barthes would call his work structuralanalysis; for the earlier phase he uses the term sequential analysis or even textual analysis, and follows methods not alien to the world of biblical studies. But in applying structural theory, the task is no longer to understand a particular narrative but to relate it to a universal set of values expressed in the worldview of the structuralist. The struggle with the angel passes from the world of biblical revelation to the world of universal mythology, and the latter, not the former, is viewed as the realm of meaning.

Edmund Leach on Genesis 1–4. Perhaps the most celebrated foray into Pentateuchal studies by a structuralist came in 1961 when the Cambridge social anthropologist Edmund Leach wrote his first essay applying the methods of Lévi-Strauss to the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden.47 Leach begins by setting aside all source analysis, philological research, and sequential analysis of the text in an immediate search for the deep structures of Lévi-Strauss, namely, the pairs of binary oppositions mediated by other elements in the myth. By this arrangement along paradigmatic lines, an entire series of such pairs emerges, and the basic structure of Lévi-Strauss’ world-view is vindicated. Whether or not this kind of analysis contributes anything to biblical scholarship, however, is a question related to the broader issue of Lévi-Strauss’ view of the structure of reality, to be taken up again below.

Paul Beauchamp on Genesis 1. We turn to the work of a professor of OT who is also at home in French structuralist thought. While Paul Beauchamp’s Création et séparation48 owes a great deal to the literary methodology of his Rome teacher Luis Alonso-Schökel, reviewers have rightly discerned its affinities to that of Lévi-Strauss in its emphasis on the opposites of unity and separation. Here, however, the similarity to Leach’s work ends. Beauchamp’s lengthy first chapter is devoted to the surface structure (called the ‘literary composition’) of Genesis 1, in which the ten words and the seven days of creation form a framework for discussion of various themes—particularly that of separation—in a variety of contexts. While the analysis contains overtones of subjectivity in its widespread discovery of the motif, the theme is never pressed as a key to the ultimate structure of reality. Nor is Beauchamp uncomfortable with questions of a diachronic nature. Chapter Four of his book attempts to find not merely a sociological but an historical milieu for Genesis 1, and, if his conclusion that it relates to that of the Chronicler is not fully satisfactory, other material in the work is a great deal more so. Upon finishing the book, one feels that the great foundational chapter in Genesis has itself been the object of study.

J. P. Fokkelman. In his helpful preface to Narrative Art in Genesis,49 J. P. Fokkelman explains both presuppositions and method. ‘Narrative art’ is the key to interpretation because it was the key to composition, even in texts with a religious and historical base. By means of a ‘stylistic and structural analysis’, that is, a study of the text as a literary work of art, both literary and theological conclusions can be drawn.

In the Tower of Babel story (Gen. 11:1–9), the key to the narrator’s art is found in the pun on ‘Babel’ in v. 11. This word-play is seen as ‘a gate to the story and primarily to its sound stratum’.50 Furthermore, the narrative ‘occupies a special position in OT narrative art by the density of its stylistically relevant phonological phenomena which are closely connected or coincide with remarkable verbal repetitions’.51 With the direction thus set, Fokkelman finds two competing symmetries, one parallel and one concentric. In the hands of Barthes, this might have provided the basis for an elaboration of the phenomena of universal conflict and ambiguity, but Fokkelman develops the meaning in another direction. The unit is a biblical theology in miniature, a story of crime and punishment, hubris and nemesis, a balance between God and man.52 A stylistic analysis which exposes the basic forms of symmetry and the use of phonological phenomena here combine to provide the key to meaning.

G. W. Coats. Turning to another work on Genesis, G. W. Coats’ From Canaan to Egypt,53 we find both similarities to and differences from Fokkelman’s work. Coats is much more evidently a form critic (part of his task is to settle by structural means the question of sources in Gen. 37–47), but his approach is literary, and his first chapter is an extended study of the literary features of the story. Again, symmetry is important, although here the building blocks are generally a little more extended than the phrases or words with which Fokkelman works. The story ‘as it was preserved in the MT’54 is assumed as an object of study, and questions of plot and development are applied to the whole. After demonstrating the structure and development of a unified plot, Coats concludes that the present story is the product of a literary artisan, probably (as was argued by von Rad)55 from the era of Solomon.56 Another chapter brings together questions of meaning, drawing on the structural studies of the opening chapter to some extent, but much more dependent than Fokkelman on resolving questions of historical setting and function.

Summary and Conclusions

By way of critique, I wish to concentrate on a few of the basic hermeneutical issues, and by-pass for the moment some important secondary questions of method. I would first like to clarify what we mean by structural analysis as opposed to other approaches, and then review problems of meaning raised by the definition.

In its strictest sense, structural analysis is that form of textual or exegetical work performed by one whose view of reality is defined by structuralism. Conversely, ‘style criticism’ or ‘rhetorical criticism’ might better describe that concern for stylistic research which does not build on French structuralism. True structuralism is a comprehensive, antihistorical way of looking at reality, and structuralists like Paul Ricoeur have rightly questioned the mixture of historico-literary criticism and structural analysis which has become increasingly common in some biblical studies.

Perhaps the most important questions involving the use of structuralism are raised in the area of meaning. It may be helpful, then, to review the claims made for structural methods, and compare them to historical and evangelical hermeneutics. I here confess to having no expertise in epistemological debate, but in view of the foregoing discussion, a provisional response might be offered.

Structuralism. Meaning is found in the universal structures of reality. On the cover of a book of essays entitled Structural Analysis and Biblical Exegesis,57 there is a quote from Georges Crespy.

In the beginning was the structure. It was everywhere in the world and the world was organized by it.

It was in the minerals, in the crystals which always showed the same arrangement of their facets.

It was in the plant kingdom where the leaves are distributed along the stems and the veins along the leaves with an invariable regularity.

It was in the animal kingdom where physiological systems are connected to one another according to a schematic diagram whose programme was determined in the gametes.

It was in the rhetoric, skilled in decomposing the discourse into its parts.

The statement has been historicized along the lines of the prologue of the Gospel according to John. But is the structure a fact of history, a discoverable feature of what Christians understand to be the world? Is Crespy’s attempt to place the structure in a historical setting, that is, to postulate a beginning, an element alien to the system?

Structuralism does not see history as the realm of the meaningful. It looks rather for the ‘universal human mind’,58 and this category, it has been argued, is antihistorical by nature.59 It seems to me that most biblical scholars who are attracted to structuralism have not been sufficiently willing to face this claim, though structuralists from Lévi-Strauss to Ricoeur have repeated it. Unless the Bible is to be seen as (mere) myth, rather than a record of the unique redemptive acts of God in the history of a particular people, I am not sure that the hermeneutical structures of the new analysis even apply.

Historicism. Meaning is found at the level of an original text. Heir both to the Reformation and the Enlightenment, today’s ‘Protestant Literalism’60 has assumed that the meaning of a given text is to be found in what its author intended to say, given an understanding of his historical, cultural, and linguistic milieu. The meaning is univocal; the key to unlocking it lies in a historically based, scientific study.

To such a situation, structuralism affords new possibilities.61 The discovery of symbol, the promise of meaning at a level other than the obvious, the role of the Receiver as well as that of the Sender, all these offer hope for new kinds of meaning.

Theological hermeneutics. If we are uncomfortable with the vague promises and alien philosophies of structuralism, perhaps we should be equally so with the historicist option, though for different reasons. The former reduces meaning to a set of structural absolutes known only to certain philosophers and in many instances at variance with the unique role of Scripture as a witness to God’s unusual structure of reality. But the latter, by separating questions of meaning from literary research, has also lost a vital dimension. I would like to suggest a historical-literary-theological analysis as a valid corrective. Evangelical scholarship cannot cut itself loose from what the text meant in a given space and time, for the historical nature of the faith requires this dimension. However, as Robert Polzin, J. P. Fokkelman, and others have shown, the literary structure of the text has often been ignored. This structure, no less than the historical setting, may be a conveyor of meaning. This kind of literary analysis carries with it no antihistorical philosophical baggage. A theological exegesis will set the historical-literary analysis in a framework of both biblical and historical theology.

For an OT text, this naturally includes the whole range of biblical theology, but I would like to suggest a further dimension. Brevard Childs has recently revived, for a Protestant audience, the science of tradition, that is, the history of the use of a given text in church and synagogue.62 I know this is a rather un-Reformed thing to say, but I would suggest that we might benefit more from this kind of backward look than from some of the more inward reflections of current semiology.

There is much that is attractive about the new hermeneutical presence, particularly to evangelicals who have often felt burned by the rationalistic historicism of OT scholarship since Wellhausen. But I would remind you: we have a great concern about the vested interest in history as the arena of God’s redeeming activity. If we are attracted to structuralist exegesis at all, let us be so for the right reasons. It is not simply a handy way to circumvent a given documentary hypothesis, but rather an entire system of hermeneutics. Our response, no less than the structuralist challenge, must address this larger issue.

1 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in general linguistics (1915; ET New York, 1966).

2 See J. W. Rogerson, Myth in Old Testament interpretation, BZAW (New York, 1974), ch. 8; R. Jacobson, Int.28 (1974): pp. 146–147.

3 Outlined by D. MacRae in R. Boudon’s The uses of structuralism (ET London, 1971), p. ix, and cited by Spivey in Int. 28 (1974): p. 134.

4 Spivey, p. 138.

5 J. Lyons, Chomsky (London, 1974), pp. 84f.; cited in Spivey, p. 141.

6 Cited in Spivey, p. 140. Cf. Rogerson, p. 105; Jacobson, p. 156.

7 Spivey, p. 137.

8 Cited in H. C. White, Semeia 3 (1975): pp. 100, 113, 120.

9 Spivey, pp. 143–145.

10 E.g., D. Patte, What is structural exegesis? (Philadelphia, 1976), p. 85.

11 Spivey, pp. 143–145; J. Barr, The Bible in the modern world (London, 1973), pp. 63–65.

12 Patte, in What is structural exegesis?

13 R. C. Culley, Int. 28 (1974): p. 169.

14 Cited by Patte, p. 36.

15 Ibid., p. 37. For a list of Greimas’ major related publications, see Patte, pp. 36 (n. 2), p. 86.

16 Adapted from Patte, p. 37.

17 Patte, pp. 40–41. Patte here cites the discussion by Jean Calloud, L’analyse structural du récit. Eléments du méthode. Tentations de Jésus au désert (Lyon, 1973), pp. 16–17; ET Structural analysis of narrative(Philadelphia, 1976).

18 C. Lévi-Strauss, Structural anthropology (ET Garden City, New York, 1963), p. 213; cited by Patte, p. 55.

19 Patte, p. 55, following Lévi-Strauss, p. 207.

20 Patte, pp. 59–75.

21 Ibid., p. 75.

22 Culley, Int. 28 (1974): pp. 165–181.

23 Culley, Semeia 3 (1975): pp. 3–13.

24 Culley, Studies in the structure of Hebrew narrative, Semeia Supplements (Philadelphia/Missoula, 1976).

25 Culley, Semeia 3 (1975): p. 4.

26 Ibid., p. 3.

27 Ibid., p. 7.

28 Ibid., p. 8.

29 Culley, ‘Some comments on structural analysis and biblical studies,’ Uppsala OT Congress paper (1971), published in VT Sup. 22 (1972): pp. 129–142.

30 R. Polzin, Int. 28 (1974): p. 183; his comments here address in particular the way these disciplines have been applied to the book of Job. See also his sharp criticism of Klaus Koch’s Formgeschichtliche analyses (of Gen. 12, 20, and 26) in Semeia 3 (1975): pp. 81–83.

31 Polzin, Int. 28 (1974): p. 187.

32 Ibid., p. 187, n. 9.

33 Ibid., p. 188.

34 Polzin, Semeia 3 (1975): pp. 81–98.

35 Ibid., p. 94.

36 J. Muilenberg, JBL 88 (1969): pp. 8–9.

37 Ibid., p. 8.

38 Ibid., p. 10.

39 E. M. Good, JBL 92 (1973): pp. 288–289.

40 J. Barr, BJRL 56 (1973): pp. 10–33.

41 Ibid., pp. 30–31. For a short list of Alonso-Schökel’s relevant publications, see ibid., p. 31, n. 1.

42 M. Weiss, ‘Die Methode der “Total Interpretation”,’ Uppsala Congress paper (1971) published in VT Sup 22 (1972): pp. 88–112. Cf. Barr, BJRL 56 (1973): pp. 24–25.

43 D. Robertson, The Old Testament and the literary critic (Philadelphia, 1977).

44 R. Barthes, in Analyse structural et exégèse biblique, ed. F. Bovon (Neuchâtel, 1971); ET R. Barthes et al., Structural analysis and biblical exegesis, Pittsburgh Theological Monograph Series 3 (Pittsburgh, 1974).

45 H. C. White, Semeia 3 (1975): pp. 99–127.

46 Ibid., p. 105.

47 Published in Edmund Leach, Genesis as myth and other essays (London, 1969).

48 P. Beauchamp, Création et séparation (Paris, 1969).

49 J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative art in Genesis (ET Assen/Amsterdam, 1975).

50 Ibid., p. 13.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid., pp. 41–42.

53 G. W. Coats, From Egypt to Canaan: structural and theological context for the Joseph story, CBQMS (Washington, 1976).

54 Ibid., p. 7.

55 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, rev. ed. (ET Philadelphia, 1972), p. 435.

56 Coats, pp. 78–79.

57 Data in note 44, above.

58 Spivey, Int. 28 (1974): p. 143.

59 Ibid., pp. 143–145.

60 Norman Brown, in Love’s body (New York, 1968), p. 212; cited by Spivey, p. 143.

61 Spivey, p. 143. Cf. Barr, The Bible in the modern world, pp. 64–65.

62 See, e.g., B. S. Childs, Exodus (Philadelphia, 1974), pp. 23–25; 40–42; 84–87, etc. Cf. idem, Biblical theology in crisis (Philadelphia, 1970), pp. 164–183, on Exodus 2:11–22 as a test case.

Carl Armerding

Principal of Regent College, Vancouver