Below is Part II of the first draft of my master’s thesis research proposal. You can find Part I here.
In my analysis of the rhetorical function of Jesus’ question-asking in the Gospel of Luke, I will build upon the methodology pioneered by Douglas Estes in his book The Questions of Jesus in John. The thesis will seek to closely examine the syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties of Jesus’ response to at least seven distinct conversations in which he is challenged by an opposing entity. To borrow language from Estes, the purpose of this thesis will not be to understand what the questions of Jesus in Luke are saying as much as it will focus on what, exactly, they are asking. Understanding how questions work linguistically and the role they play in narrative dialogue will be of the utmost importance. Bringing together the fields of rhetorical biblical criticism and erotetic logic, I expect my analysis to reveal a portrait of Jesus as a rhetorical challenger who leads his interlocutors into dialectical traps. Such a study may be undertaken using a variety of biblical criticism tools. However, it should be made clear that my study will only make use of rhetorical and literary narrative criticism. For the sake of focus, closely related approaches (e.g. redaction criticism, source criticism, historical Jesus studies) will not be utilized.
As mentioned above, my secondary material focus will be foundational texts in the fields of rhetorical biblical criticism and erotetic logic. Special attention will be given to the argument and methodology of Douglas Estes’s book, The Questions of Jesus in John (Leiden: Brill, 2013), as it is currently the only book to undertake an exhaustive study of the rhetorical function of questions in a New Testament text. Brief attention may be given to other related texts—for example, Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein’s theories regarding the rhetorical and philosophical purpose of questioning—as necessary.
The primary text of my thesis will be the Gospel of Luke, specifically the question-based confrontations found in 2:48-49, 5:21-23, 6:2-4, 10:25-37, 18:18-19, 20:1-8, and 20:22-24 (Note: these selections are subject to change as my thesis develops). Brief attention will also be given to other passages from the Lukan text as is germane to the present work.
Limitations and Delimitations
As is also the case with biblical studies, the field of erotetics is quite vast, and significant works have been published in a diverse number of languages, especially French and German. The most substantial limitation of my thesis will be my use of primarily English sources. Comparatively speaking, more work has been done in the rhetorical analysis of questions in Hebrew Bible texts (though it still largely remains an unexplored subject). While I may consider some of the research in this particular field of work, I will be unable not be utilizing these sources extensively, as I currently have little experience with the Hebrew language. However, it is difficult (if not impossible) to undertake a serious study of New Testament rhetoric without at least a relative familiarity with Koine Greek, and I plan to utilize extensively those sources that illuminate the Greek text of Luke and related Hellenistic works.
Any discussion of a Gospel literary portrait of Christ has the potential for consideration of a wide-ranging number of related issues, including redaction criticism (i.e. Did the Jesus-as-Challenger motif really originate with Luke?), the “Synoptic Problem,” and historical Jesus studies. For this reason I have chosen to delimit the focus of my thesis solely to a rhetorical and literary narrative analysis of the Lukan text. This does not mean, however, that social-scientific consideration of question-asking in first-century Hellenistic thought will be completely excluded from my study; indeed, a separation of Luke’s use of rhetoric from his social context would be nearly impossible, since our social and historical settings inform how we argue and persuade. Finally, the sheer number of questions asked in the Gospel of Luke would be overwhelming for any single graduate thesis (the number of questions asked by Jesus alone in the third Gospel totals roughly 106), so I will further confine my study to seven specific passages in which Jesus confronts his interlocutors with a question (see above).
My thesis will be organized as follows:
- Chapter 1: Introduction to Thesis (3,000 words)
This section will include the general introduction to my thesis. This introduction will consist of my statement of the problem, in addition to a preliminary examination of the current status of the problem (to be further explored in Chapter 2). Chapter 1 will also include my thesis statement itself. Additionally, I will also include a discussion of the criteria for the selection of my primary texts to be used in my argument, as well as a brief introduction to my methodology (to be further illuminated in Chapter 3).
- Chapter 2: Lit Review (5,000 words)
This section will examine how other scholars of Lukan rhetoric have addressed Jesus’ response to questions in the Third Gospel, and will seek to show why current considerations of interrogative rhetoric are insufficient/unsatisfactory. I anticipate that many who have dealt with this subject in the past have—as Estes has previously noted with his study of Johannine question rhetoric—simply chosen to read Jesus’ questions as veiled propositions. I will also examine how commentators throughout history have treated the passages germane to my thesis.
- Chapter 3: The Science of Question-Asking: Erotetics and Rhetoric (5,000 words)
This section will serve as a defense of my major premise that the use of erotetics can be helpful in observing the Jesus-as-Challenger motif in the Lukan text (to be further explored in Chapter 4). I will also briefly consider the history of the philosophical perception of the rhetorical function of questions, as well as interrogative logic (erotetics)—that is, a twofold study of what questions are and how they work—especially within the context of narratival rhetoric.
- Chapter 4: Jesus the Challenger (6,000 words)
This chapter will be the exegetical crux of my thesis. Taking cues from Estes, I will examine the rhetorical impact of the questions of Jesus in seven passages from the Gospel of Luke. Using these passages as case studies, I will carefully explore the rhetorical function of each question Jesus asks in challenge/dialogue situations, noting its persuasive and rhetorical qualities, and will ultimately suggest that Luke’s depiction of a questioning Jesus causes a portrait of Jesus-as-Challenger to emerge from the narrative. This chapter will also include a very brief discussion about the notable absence of Jesus questions once the narrative arrives at the Passion episode—i.e. Why does Luke spend most of his Gospel building up an image of Jesus-as-Challenger and then blatantly undercut this same image once Jesus is put on trial?
- Chapter 5: Conclusion (2,000 words)
The conclusion of my thesis will contain a reexamination of my research problem, and restate how I have sought to answer my research question.
Total: ~25,000 words, (~75 pages)
This sounds like a great thesis proposal! I haven’t read Estes, but it sounds like you will be replicating his approach. If that is the case, then do you need to spend more time reviewing and critiqueing his model to show why it is the best approach?
Thanks for sharing what you have!!
Thanks! I do plan on spilling a decent amount of ink on Estes’ approach in Chapter 4. Currently, Estes’ approach is the ONLY approach, but perhaps as I expand my study I will stumble onto something different/better.
Interesting for me to follow this, Joshua. The details of both the thesis project and of the subject matter and its analysis are important in many cases, tho few people “care” or CAN follow.
A couple things come to mind: Have you checked a possible set of resources not probably catalogued within the typical “Biblical Studies” or exegesis categories: Discourse analysis done by linguists? It’s “way back” now, but in the mid 70s, some of the Summer Inst. of Linguistics or other Bible Translator linguists were delving into discourse analysis deeper… mainly as a linguistic function, more than for biblical interpretation in the theological sense. I don’t know what’s been done since…. Pike himself (noted linguist) may have been in on that (since deceased) and maybe John Alsop (not the noted theologian/apologist), and no doubt others.
Another: I understand about the necessary delimiting of your study, but I wonder about some potential confusion areas: Gosepl of Luke was no doubt composed in Greek, but Jesus likely spoke in Aramaic. What about the translation issues involved, IF one is presuming the questions were actually posed by Jesus in the basic form in which author “Luke” relates them? (Maybe you are not presuming this, or will leave that matter aside and deal only with Luke’s rhetorical devices as forms of lit and written story-telling.) However, for understanding Christian origins and for theology most people, in “orthodox” settings, DO presume the Gospel writers are largely echoing what Jesus actually said.
Personally, I think there is a big and important difference between the Gospel writers perhaps picking up on the themes he may well have spoken about (via oral tradition, etc.) and giving any kind of detail as to exact questions posed, in certain settings (opponents, their responses, etc.). Thus, it seems to me you’d have to limit your analysis to just that of LITERARY rhetorical devices, not conversational, and those of Koine and Greek lit. of the time, not Aramaic. Or maybe you ARE… I’m not sure.
Howard, thanks for the comment and your suggestion on discourse analysis! I’ll have to check it out.
As I mentioned in my delimitations section, I won’t be focusing on transmission history or issues related to redaction criticism—I’m solely interested in how Luke chooses to portray Jesus literarily. So I’m not operating on the assumption that the questions Luke places on the lips of his Jesus are in fact accurate representations of the questions asked by the historical Jesus (or even IF the historical Jesus asked questions). I’m only operating on the assumption that Luke makes the rhetorical/literary/narrative choice to depict Jesus as a questioner. Therefore, it doesn’t matter too much whether the historical Jesus spoke Aramaic or Greek—it only matters that Luke, writing a Greek Gospel, chose to depict Jesus in such a way.
Your final paragraph hits the target I’m aiming for. Estes has mentioned in his book that while conversational rhetoric is indeed a horse of a different color than narrative rhetoric, it is still extremely important to have a basic grasp of how questions are used in natural discourse in order to understand how they are used in narrative. Questions in narrative form are useful and relatable solely because we experience question-answer dialogue in natural discourse.
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