A Literary-Structural Analysis of the Prophet Micah

This is a thorough revision of a study that was published in "The Bible Translator" 69/2 -- Volume: 69 issue: 2, page(s): 277-293; online: August 5, 2018;, SAGE Publications (October 15, 2019).
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  A Literary-Structural Analysis of the Prophet Micah   ( ) TTTThe Problemhe Problemhe Problemhe Problem Matthieu Richelle summarizes the problem facing discourse analysts as follows: “The organization of the book of Micah has for a long time been a source of perplexity for exegetes. 1   Whether it is a question of discerning an overall plan for the book or of finding the structure of each oracle the proposals are numerous and contradictory (2012, 232),” resulting in “a  variety of structural trails” (Allen 1976:257). For example, D. J. Simundson has identified four typical ways that Micah has been divided: (a) judgment (1–3), mostly salvation (4–5), mix of 1  Luther commented: “They have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one things to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see  what they are getting at” (cited in Allen 1976:257, n. 56).   judgment and hope (6–7); (b) major seams identified by the word “hear” or listen (1–2; 3–5; 6–7); (c) twofold structure based on hear” or listen (1–5; 6–7); (d) guilt and punishment (1–3 with interpolation 2:12–13), future salvation (4–5); postexilic application (6:1–7:7), liturgical hymn (7:8–20) (Simundson 2005:291292). McComiskey attributes the apparent “jerkiness of style” to Micah’s “binding together of independent oracles into this coherent book” (McComiskey 1993, 594).” In sum, then, “We are faced with a broad spectrum of opinions on the delimitation, unity, and function of this text” (Dempster 2017:48). I certainly do not claim to cut the Gordian knot on this issue by proposing a method of organizing this prophetic work in a way that will satisfy most Bible commentators and scholarly critics. 2  My aim in this short essay is simply threefold: (a) to outline a basic method of doing a discourse analysis; (b) to apply this approach in producing a “quickanddirty” structural outline of the book of Micah; 3  and finally, (c) to briefly suggest why such macrostudies are important for scholars, teachers, preachers, and Bible translators in particular.  A Method for Analysis and Assessment A Method for Analysis and Assessment A Method for Analysis and Assessment A Method for Analysis and Assessment In brief, my methodology seeks to identify four principal aspects of discourse structure, namely, its breaks, bonds, bounds, and bumps. 4  The “breaks” are points where we note a shift or discontinuity with respect to form (e.g., shift to direct speech), content (e.g., a new topic), and/or function (e.g., an example given to illustrate a prior exposition). The “bonds” of a text are literary elements that contribute to the “cohesion” (form) and/or “coherence” (content) of posited structural unit, such as a “paragraph” of prose. The breaks and bonds operate together 2  See Clark and Mundhenk 1982:46, where their tripartite arrangement of Micah is summarized: A. chs. 13; B. chs. 45; and C. chs. 67; this differs, also in its finer details, from the structure outlined below. 3  In view of space limitations, this study is partial, provisional, and hence only suggestive of some of the major issues that will need to be considered in a fuller, more comprehensive exegetical examination of this book. For this reason too reference to the Hebrew base text has been kept to a minimum. “The Hebrew text is fairly well preserved” (Allen 1976:253—a summary of major proposed emendations is given on this same page; cf. also McComiskey 1993:625626). “The Dead Sea Scrolls have generally confirmed the value and validity of the Masoretic Text…so it should be given primacy” (Barker and Bailey 1998:35). 4  For additional information regarding this methodology, including the terminology used and a more detailed application, see Wendland 2004:125130, 229245; 2014: chs. 2, 12; and 2017. My analysis may be compared with a typical formcritical approach, which also pays close attention to all discourse units, large and small, e.g., Ben Zvi 2000). In general, I agree with Anderson’s observation that “all the features and devices that contribute to the total artistic effect of oracular poetry have to be considered when we try to map the patterns and structures of poetic discourse” (1995:523).  to establish the initial and final “bound[arie]s” of a given unit or a sequence of them, while the “bumps” (projections) refer to places in the text where we note a convergence of stylistic features, thus indicating a semantic “peak” and/or an emotive “climax” (usually involving a theological assertion of some type). In accordance with the preceding approach, we may distinguish six main types of “discourse marker” (“communicative clue”) 5  that indicate six principal aspects of compositional structure: unitinitial  Aperture  Aperture  Aperture  Aperture   (A), unitfinal Closure Closure Closure Closure   (C), unitinitial coupled with unitfinal Enclosure Enclosure Enclosure Enclosure   (E); unitinternal Bonding Bonding Bonding Bonding   (B), unitadjacent transitional  Juncture  Juncture  Juncture  Juncture   (J), and a periodic topical Peak Peak Peak Peak   point (P), which occurs within or at the close of a distinct unit. 6  These markers operate in concert and serve to establish the main thematic and/or pragmatic segments, or interior boundaries, of the prophecy (stanzas and strophes). The most important discourse constituent is a unit beginning (aperture), which may be indicated by several literarystructural features, for example: a vocative, imperative, asyndeton, a formula, a new topic, and the reiteration of lexical items or concepts found at the onset of a preceding unit (technically termed structural “anaphora”). 7  These distinguishing characteristics (only the most important of which are indicated in the structural outline below) must be studied together in order to reveal and/or to support the textual divisions being posited. Thus, a weak “aperture” may be confirmed by a previous strong indication of “closure,” for example, the second element of an “enclosure” (or “inclusio”) that demarcates the preceding unit, or the recurrence of lexical material that concludes the arrangement of some prior unit (termed structural “epiphora”). Furthermore, the more diagnostic features that are manifested at a proposed structural border (termed “convergence”), the more credible and convincing that boundary is—and will presumably sound aurally to an audience (e.g., 1:16). Prominent thematic and/or formal (artisticrhetorical) elements may also appear together at a given structural border, or within a delineated unit, to mark and emphasize a discourse “peak” point. 5  “Communicative clues” are “stylistic properties…[that] guide the audience to the intended interpretation” of a text (Hatim and Munday 2004:65). 6  Normally in Micah, I have found the Peak point to occur at the end of a poetic unit, thus helping to mark Closure. 7  Typical markers of “closure” must also be taken into consideration, but they are not as diagnostic, e.g., a concluding segment of direct speech (inner quotation), an elaborate set of figures of speech, or a rhetorical question (Wendland 2017:137141).     Application Application Application Application  A summary of the main discourse units (cycles, sections, paragraphs) of Micah is given below, along with the chief literarystructural “markers” (communicative clues, i.e., A, C, E, J, B, P) that appear to support the proposed arrangement. Three levels of structure are indicated: “cycles” > “stanzas” > “strophes,”—that is, moving from the largest to the smallest level of poetic organization (each “strophe” consisting of a group of related bi/tricola. The various units are identified by descriptive/explanatory headings that summarize their main discourse form, content, and/or function (the cycles are not distinguished since they are similar in nature, but through their general similarity they reinforce one another to create a progressive ideational and hortatory intensification of the prophetic message). 8  CYCLE ICYCLE ICYCLE ICYCLE I – (1.12.13) FROM JUDGMENT TO DELIVERANCE—FIRST ITERATION SuperscriptionSuperscriptionSuperscriptionSuperscription (1.1) – A prophetic annunciation formula: “the word of YHWH that came to Micah…” (  ֣ָ ְי־רַבְדּ֙ ָכיִמ־לֶא   ֗ָ ר֣ֶשׁֲא ) (A) Stanza OneStanza OneStanza OneStanza One (1.27) –  Judgment pronounced against Jerusalem and Samaria   Strophe 1Strophe 1Strophe 1Strophe 1 (1.25) – Each cycle begins with “listen!” (  עְמִשׁ ), here followed by a vocative (A), as Micah, speaking for Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 1:2), begins his testimony (a “covenant lawsuit”) 9  that resonates from the “holy temple” of heaven against all violators. The strophe continues with the impressive figurative language of a “Divine Warrior” theophany (vv. 2b4) (B) (Barker and Bailey 1998:48), introduced by the emphatic visualizer “Just look!” (  ֥ֵִ ־יֽִכּ ). This initial unit concludes with a pair of sharply accusatory rhetorical questions, as the spotlight of God’s judicial accusation progressively narrows in scope, ending with the incisively pointed indictment: “Is it not Jerusalem?!” (   אוֹ֖לֲ ֽָלָשׁוּרְי ) (v. 5b) (P, C). 8  One can discern some differentiation; thus, Cycle I indicts the Northern (Ephraim) and Southern (Judah) Kingdoms in more general terms; Cycle II focuses on the corrupt leadership of Judah; Cycle III condemns the entire population for many flagrant violations of their social and moral covenant with the LORD. For further details regarding each of the proposed literarystructural poetic units, including some of the prominent aspects of phonological marking, consult the preceding “Exegetical and Translational Guide Questions” for Micah. 9  For a discussion regarding the suitability of this genre designation (versus, for example, “legal procedure”), see Barker and Bailey 1998, 48.    Strophe 2Strophe 2Strophe 2Strophe 2 (1.67) – The alliterative “And I will set Samaria” (  י֥ִתּְמַשׂְוֹ֛ְמֹשׁ ) for ruin (cf. also “Samaria” in v. 5b, J) initiates the judgment portion of this strophe (A), as YHWH now speaks on his own behalf. Imagery of destruction continues (B), and the unit ends with a pronouncement of punishment that fits the crime, i.e., lex talionis   (“prostitution” = adulterous idolatry!) (C). Stanza TwoStanza TwoStanza TwoStanza Two (1.816) – Micah laments the future ruin of Samaria and Jerusalem  10  Strophe 1 Strophe 1 Strophe 1 Strophe 1 (1.89) – The stanza and opening strophe begin with the anaphoric transitional expression “Because of this [wickedness]…” (   ֙תאז־לַ  ), while the antecedent of “I” shifts from YHWH to Micah (vv. 78, A). The focus of the Lord’s concern shifts from Samaria to the primary referent, “Judah,” finally and most ominously, right “up to [the very gates of] Jerusalem” ( םֽָלָשׁוּרְי־דַ  ) (P, C). Strophe 2Strophe 2Strophe 2Strophe 2 (1.1012) – A “funeral lament” is initiated (A) as the prophet predicts the fall of cities surrounding Jerusalem, using an elaborate series of  wordplays involving dire events and place names (B). 11  The second strophe ends with mention of “a disaster [lit., ‘evil’] from YHWH” (  ֔ָ ְי   ת֣ֵֵמ   ֙עָ ), coupled with another reference to “the gate of Jerusalem” ( םֽָלָשׁוּרְי   רַ   ֖ַשׁְל ) (cf. v. 9b; P, C). Strophe Strophe Strophe Strophe 3333 (1.1314) – The chain of imperatives and sonic plays on the names of places nearby Jerusalem resumes (B), now including the fort city of Lachish ( שׁיִכָל ), which was supposed to protect Judah’s capital city. The consequential conjunction “Therefore” (   ֵכָל ), a repeated mention of “Gath” ( ת֑ַ ) (vv. 10, 14; E, inclusio  ), and reference to a crucial failure in leadership on the part of “the kings of Israel” ( לֽֵָְשׂִי   י֖ֵְלַמְל ) concludes this strophe (C). 10  This would occur during various Assyrian army invasions, ca. 734700 BCE (5.5). 11  For example, “Tell it not in Gath” (v. 10a): the Hebrew word for “tell” ( דַָ , nagad  ) sounds like the name of the city, Gath ( תַ ,  gat  ); “don’t dare to weep!” ( וּ֑כּְבִתּ־לַא   וֹ֖כָבּ ) (v. 10b). For other significant paronomastic references in this prominent literaryrhetorical segment, see Barker and Bailey 1998:5862; Dempster 2017:66.
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