A Septuagintal Review of The Bloomsbury Companion to Discourse Analysis

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading in theoretical and applied linguistics this year so far. As I’ve chugged along, I came across Hyland and Paltridge, eds., The Bloomsbury Companion to Discourse Analysis, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. It looked like something that would be a useful tool to have on hand, so I was happy get a review copy of it from the publisher.

The book opens with this sweeping but, I think, accurate claim: “Discourse is one of the most significant concepts of modern thinking in a range of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences” (p. 1). To the extent that this is correct, biblical studies no doubt is swept into the mix. This volume is aimed at offering “an accessible and authoritative introduction to the many facets of this fascinating and complex topic” (ibid.). And so it does, as you can see from the extremely variegated table of contents:

Part I: Methods of Analysis in Discourse Research

1. Data Collection and Transcription in Discourse Analysis, Rodney Jones
2. Conversation Analysis, Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger
3. Critical Discourse Analysis, Ruth Wodak
4. Genre Analysis, Christine M. Tardy
5. Narrative Analysis, Mike Baynham
6. Discourse Analysis and Ethnography, Dwight Atkinson, Hanako Okada, and Steven Talmy
7. Systemic Functional Linguistics, J R. Martin
8. Multimodal Discourse Analysis, Kay L. O’Halloran
9. Corpus Approaches to the Analysis of Discourse, Bethany Gray and Douglas Biber

Part II: Research Areas and New Directions in Discourse Research

10. Spoken Discourse, Joan Cutting
11. Academic Discourse, Ken Hyland
12. Discourse in the Workplace, Janet Holmes
13. Discourse and gender Paul Baker
14. News Discourse, Martin Montgomery
15. Discourse and Computer Mediated Communication, Julia Davies 
16. Forensic Discourse Analysis: a work in progress, John Olsson
17. Discourse and Identity, Tope Omoniyi
18. Discourse and Race, Angel Lin and Ryuko Kubota
19. Classroom Discourse, Jennifer Hammond
20. Discourse and Intercultural Communication, John Corbett
21. Medical Discourse, Timothy Halkowski

This book’s two sections deal with quite different matters. The first is primarily theoretical and deals with the nuts and bolts of carrying out the task of discourse analysis, while the second part dives into more topicalized research material as it relates to discourse. However, every chapter includes an applied sample of whatever is under discussion and bibliography for further reading, two aspects that I think increases the overall value of this Companion.

As I read through parts of the volume, I thought I’d review it here by focusing on one particular concept I’ve been mulling for some time. The thoughts below are still half-baked, but hopefully they demonstrate the intersection between linguistics, the Septuagint, and biblical studies more generally.

Genre and Translation

Out of the chapters in the first half, I was interested in Christine Tardy’s on genre analysis (pp. 54-68). Genre is a sticky concept when you think (or read) about it for too long, so I was curious to see a recent treatment. One of the important points she makes is that genre studies have transformed within scholarly opinion from a linguistic concept to a rhetorical and social concept, a shift that may have important consequences for Septuagint studies.

A picture of the original translation of the Septuagint

In particular, I have often wondered whether the Septuagint, in particular the Greek Pentateuch, established a genre within Hellenistic Judaism – to be perhaps unhelpfully broad, let’s say it’s the genre “Greek Scripture.” Of course whether or not this is true depends on what one means by “genre.” I was interested that Tardy’s definition seems to make this genre-creation idea plausible in some ways.

Genres, she says, are not simply linguistic entities, but also “social actions” that function for particular purposes. These purposes are accomplished using

typified forms of discourse – that is, forms that arise when responses to a specific need or exigence become regularized. With repeated use, responses begin to conform to prior uses until the shape of these responses become expected by users. Genres, then, are recognizable by members of a social group. (p. 54) … [W]hat makes a text a genre is not its linguistic form but the rhetorical action that it carries out in response to the dynamics of a social context (p. 55).

That definition certainly seems fitting for the original translation of the Pentateuch into Greek. When inserted into the Ptolemaic Alexandrian milieu (even if only among Jews, who in the diaspora had become Hellenized), the translated Jewish scriptures became a new entity. No longer properly the Hebrew Torah, neither did the Greek Pentateuch fit into any established Greek literary slot. Yet it went on to furnish an exemplar to later Jewish translators for the other books, and even established a “biblical tone” – on account of the translation technique used – for what might qualify as Scripture.

Is that a Septuagint in Luke’s hand?

Now, that is not to say that having a “biblical tone” was a criterion of canonicity. “Credibility” may be the better word.  For instance, the Gospel of Luke is well known for the affinities it has with the syntax and style of the Greek Old Testament, which some suggest was intentional to mimic a biblical “sound” in the book. Tardy notes that the “conventionalized forms that genres take on over time are inherently tied to their socio-rhetorical contexts” (p. 57). So it seems plausible to say that, thanks to the Septuagint, “Greek Scripture” had become a kind of genre by Luke’s time, one that accommodated a variety of literary forms (e.g., historiography, legal code, gospel, etc.), and one that served a social purpose. What began as a translation technique for rendering Hebrew scripture into Greek came to function and was eventually accepted as a “typified” form of discourse – a genre – that had some scriptural value, or ethos, within the 1st-2nd c. CE milieu of Jews and Christians.

Of course, developing this line of thinking could influence answers to nearby questions. For instance, although it would take a lot of work and some highly persuasive findings, a genre approach to the language of the Gospels may affect how we think about the so-called Aramaic Hypothesis to some extent.

Concluding Thoughts on the Companion

I certainly didn’t read this entire Companion word-for-word. For one thing, that’s not what a “Companion” is for, anyway. It’s supposed to act as a tool sitting on your shelf that you reach for when you’re out of your depth in a particular topic. For another thing, not every contribution to this volume is strictly relevant to biblical studies, much less Septuagint scholarship, as you can see from the Contents. Nevertheless, it is always surprising – to me at least – how much seemingly bizarre and theoretical linguistic matters can bear upon significant aspects of biblical scholarship.

On a related note, although this blog is dedicated to Old Testament studies in its broadest sense, the main subdiscipline of interest to me is the Septuagint. By extension, and because of my particular methodological inclinations within Septuagint studies, this implies that I spend a lot of time working in Greek language studies. By extension again, linguistics is an important part of my work, dealing as it does with the intersection of languages, cultures, and texts. This is what makes the Septuagint so interesting and fruitful.


Thanks to Bloomsbury for providing a review copy, which has not influenced my opinion.


  1. Thanks, Will–a helpful and thoughtful “read” (as always). I wonder how she would discuss “genre” in the case of, e.g., sonnets, which are defined formally: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, following one of a handful of rhyme schemes and one of two logical schemes (12+2 or 8+6). Or perhaps sonnets would simply qualify as generic “poetry”.


    1. Fred, Good question. I usually get hung up distinguishing forms from genres. Perhaps you’re right that in the case of sonnet it is ‘poetry’ as genre and ‘sonnet’ as form?

      On Thursday, February 25, 2016, William A. Ross wrote:


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