Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Jonathan Robie » January 13th, 2013, 4:29 pm

I have barely dipped my toes in the waters of discourse analysis. Last week, I was in an interactive Bible study at church, and we were discussing Matthew 2:1-12. The leader asked, "what is the main thing that this passage is about"? That struck me as a question that discourse analysis people would have an answer for, and the first sentence seems very marked:

Matthew 2:1-2 wrote:Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα 2 λέγοντες· Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.


If I had to judge only by the syntax of this opening sentence, how does it identify the main topic of this passage, and the relationship between Jesus, Herod, and the Magii for the purposes of the passage?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stirling Bartholomew » January 14th, 2013, 2:20 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:I have barely dipped my toes in the waters of discourse analysis. Last week, I was in an interactive Bible study at church, and we were discussing Matthew 2:1-12. The leader asked, "what is the main thing that this passage is about"? That struck me as a question that discourse analysis people would have an answer for, and the first sentence seems very marked:

Matthew 2:1-2 wrote:Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα 2 λέγοντες· Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.


If I had to judge only by the syntax of this opening sentence, how does it identify the main topic of this passage, and the relationship between Jesus, Herod, and the Magii for the purposes of the passage?


Jonathan,

The topic, in a topic - comment or topic - focus articulation, is typically clause initial. This "sentence" falls into a Matthew like pattern with a long drawn out participle contextualizer οῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ... βασιλέως providing a setting for the main statement. The topic of the following clause is μάγοι which is clause initial. Note that μάγοι is not discourse old information so it is without the article. The scenario of Jesus birth prior to the Gospels does not automatically include μάγοι so it is probably hearer new as well as discourse new information. Perhaps there is a connection between the birth of the messiah and the appearance of μάγοι, but one would have to prove that this was an assumed part of the cognitive universe for Matthew's intended audience.
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Jonathan Robie » January 14th, 2013, 3:12 pm

Thanks - that's exactly what I was asking.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 14th, 2013, 7:35 pm

I would have thought that ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα is all-comment (thetic / presentation), though this is not treated in Nick Bailey's dissertation on NT thetics.
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Randall Tan » January 15th, 2013, 2:24 am

Steve Runge's, The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, is often a good place to start. I copy Steve's analysis below:

2 [TP Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ TP] γεννηθέντος
ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας
ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως
‹! ἰδοὺ !› μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα 2 λέγοντες
“ Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων
εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ
καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ ”

TP = Topical Frame
‹! ἰδοὺ !› is an attention getter that draws attention to what follows
The bolded elements are the focus of their main clauses.

This agrees with Stirling's reply to you.

Based on this analysis, I would say that "The main thing this passage is about" is the coming of the Magii to find out where the one who was born king of the Jews was. The topical frame (or perhaps this should just be seen as a genitive circumstancial frame without topical frame status) establishes the new setting for this event as coming after Jesus had been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of king Herod. Since Jesus had already been born as of the end of 1:25, what is new in this frame setting is location in Bethlehem & circumstance of it being during the reign of Herod. This seems to set the stage for Herod's reaction to being informed of this news & the convergence of events in Bethlehem. In the larger passage, the "main thing" would then be Herod's reaction & how this threat to the child Jesus is avoided by supernatural intervention.
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 15th, 2013, 3:33 am

Randall Tan wrote:This agrees with Stirling's reply to you.


I'm a little confused. Steve has identified μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν as focus but Stirling has it as topic.
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Randall Tan » January 15th, 2013, 4:03 am

As I understand it, Stirling & Steve don't disagree about it being topic. Steve just sees marked focus/emphasis here too. Perhaps the two of them can clarify. (I have some idea why Steve apparently makes this claim in the LDGNT, but I won't presume to speak for him. It also has been some time since I read Steve's Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament [which I highly recommend], so my recall of some details may be hazy & inexact.) In any case, it is at least topic & the "main thing" as it were in the inexact language used in the original question.
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stirling Bartholomew » January 15th, 2013, 1:37 pm

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
Jonathan Robie wrote:I have barely dipped my toes in the waters of discourse analysis. Last week, I was in an interactive Bible study at church, and we were discussing Matthew 2:1-12. The leader asked, "what is the main thing that this passage is about"? That struck me as a question that discourse analysis people would have an answer for, and the first sentence seems very marked:

Matthew 2:1-2 wrote:Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα 2 λέγοντες· Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ.


If I had to judge only by the syntax of this opening sentence, how does it identify the main topic of this passage, and the relationship between Jesus, Herod, and the Magii for the purposes of the passage?


Jonathan,

The topic, in a topic - comment or topic - focus articulation, is typically clause initial. This "sentence" falls into a Matthew like pattern with a long drawn out participle contextualizer οῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ... βασιλέως providing a setting for the main statement. The topic of the following clause is μάγοι which is clause initial. Note that μάγοι is not discourse old information so it is without the article. The scenario of Jesus birth prior to the Gospels does not automatically include μάγοι so it is probably hearer new as well as discourse new information. Perhaps there is a connection between the birth of the messiah and the appearance of μάγοι, but one would have to prove that this was an assumed part of the cognitive universe for Matthew's intended audience.


Some confusion might arise over assigning Topic Function to discourse new & hearer new information. As Helma Dik (2007:29-30) points out, a discourse Topic can be new information. She cites an example from Herodotus.
Herodotus 7.62.2
Κίσσιοι δὲ στρατευόμενοι τὰ
μὲν ἄλλα κατά περ Πέρσαι ἐσκευάδατο, ἀντὶ δὲ τῶν πίλων
μιτρηφόροι ἦσαν. Κισσίων δὲ ἦρχε Ἀνάφης ὁ Ὀτάνεω. Ὑρκά-
νιοι δὲ κατά περ Πέρσαι ἐσεσάχατο, ἡγεμόνα παρεχόμενοι
Μεγάπανον τὸν Βαβυλῶνος ὕστερον τούτων ἐπιτροπεύσαντα.


In this passage Κίσσιοι is a Topic in both occurrences, but is new information in the first occurrence. According to Helma Dik new/old information is not a the deciding factor in determining what is the “starting point” for a sentence. H. Dik’s definition “Topic Function is assigned to an element which the speaker regards as an appropriate foundation for constructing a message which is relevant to the subject matter of the discourse.” Helma Dik (2007:31)
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 15th, 2013, 5:13 pm

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:Some confusion might arise over assigning Topic Function to discourse new & hearer new information. As Helma Dik (2007:29-30) points out, a discourse Topic can be new information. She cites an example from Herodotus.
Herodotus 7.62.2
Κίσσιοι δὲ στρατευόμενοι τὰ
μὲν ἄλλα κατά περ Πέρσαι ἐσκευάδατο, ἀντὶ δὲ τῶν πίλων
μιτρηφόροι ἦσαν. Κισσίων δὲ ἦρχε Ἀνάφης ὁ Ὀτάνεω. Ὑρκά-
νιοι δὲ κατά περ Πέρσαι ἐσεσάχατο, ἡγεμόνα παρεχόμενοι
Μεγάπανον τὸν Βαβυλῶνος ὕστερον τούτων ἐπιτροπεύσαντα.


In this passage Κίσσιοι is a Topic in both occurrences, but is new information in the first occurrence. According to Helma Dik new/old information is not a the deciding factor in determining what is the “starting point” for a sentence. H. Dik’s definition “Topic Function is assigned to an element which the speaker regards as an appropriate foundation for constructing a message which is relevant to the subject matter of the discourse.” Helma Dik (2007:31)


OK, Some theories of information structure, like Lambrecht's, don't allow topic and focus to overlap. Others like Kirfka's do permit it if the topic is a contrastive topic. I can readily see that Κίσσοι in Hdt 7.62.2 is a contrastive topic (cf. the Μῆδοι in Hdt 7.62.1), but I can't really see that for Matt 2:1. I can't remember Dik's position on this this, however.

I do agree with Steve that μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν is the focus of the main clause of Matt 2:1, and I think it is all-comment (i.e. no topic) / presentational / thetic, with preceding temporal frames.
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby MAubrey » January 15th, 2013, 7:08 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:OK, Some theories of information structure, like Lambrecht's, don't allow topic and focus to overlap. Others like Kirfka's do permit it if the topic is a contrastive topic. I can readily see that Κίσσοι in Hdt 7.62.2 is a contrastive topic (cf. the Μῆδοι in Hdt 7.62.1), but I can't really see that for Matt 2:1. I can't remember Dik's position on this this, however.


I don't know if Lambrecht would necessarily disallow it, since for him, focus isn't defined by the newness of the information, but by whether or not the information is being asserted. At the same time, the idea of new information being associated with a topic probably wouldn't be accepted. So, I suppose he would say that focus may or may not be new information, but topic cannot be new information. Anyway...

Nick Bailey's discussion of ἰδοὺ deals with this construction: ἰδού + subject-phrase + finite-verb starting on page 339 of his dissertation. He argues that the construction mimics other thetic uses of ἰδού, but cannot be viewed as a predicator since the construction involves a finite verb. At the same time, it still is thetic/presentational,and thus, the pre-verbal subject is focal/asserted. In some instances, ἰδού is activating a participant that is known, but not directly accessible in the audience's mental representation (e.g. Matthew 12:46).

dare.ubvu.vu.nl/bitstream/1871/15504/4/4727.pdf
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