To Each Their Own Letter
and Rhetorical Strategies
in the Letters
of Ignatius of Antioch
New Testament Series
by Mikael Isacson
Almqvist and Wiksell, 2004
238 pages, English
Awhile back, Eisenbrauns’ Twitter “Deal of the Day” (DOTD) was a steal of a deal on Mikael Isacson’s To Each Their Own Letter: Structure, Themes, and Rhetorical Strategies in the Letters of Ignatius to Antioch. I couldn’t pass it up. Here’s the back-cover description:
The collection of letters by Ignatius of Antioch has until now mainly been treated as a coherent whole. This has been the case irrespective of analyses of the authenticity or theology of these letters, or of discussions about the identity of Ignatius' opponents. The present work underlines that each individual letter should be read as a specific act of communication between a sender and his recipients, and emphasizes that Ignatius wrote different letters to different addressees.
The five Ignatian letters to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia, and Smyrna are studied in order to highlihght the individual character of each letter. Tools from text linguistic analysis (discourse analysis) and rhetorical criticism are employed in order to allow the structure, the (main) themes, and the rhetorical strategy of each respective letter to emerge.
The five letters can be divided into two groups: letters to churches that Ignatius visited (Philapelphians, Smyrnaeans), and letters to churches that have sent delegates to him during his stay at Smyrna (Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians). The difference between these two groups affects the structure and the (main) themes as well as the rhetorical strategies. Ignatius shows greater acquaintance with the situation prevailing in Philadelphia and Smyrna than with the other churches.
The result has implications for several fields of Ignatian research: the systematic surveys of Ignatius' theology and the question whether the letters reflect the situation in Antioch or that in the receiving churches, as well as the "eternal" question about the authenticity of these letters.
Now, I need to make sure I tell you that I haven’t read the whole book yet. But this isn’t a book one sits down to enjoy over an afternoon. While reading it, I’ve made strenuous use of Logos on my iPod, looking up the references to the Apostolic Fathers, while tracking with Isacson’s analysis.
I have worked through the introduction and most of Isacson’s analysis of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, however. And I like what I see in his structural analysis and rhetorical analysis. Portions of the analysis are based on “textlinguistic” principles. If you’ve read much on discourse and textlinguistics, you’ll know that “textlinguistic” usually indicates the European and South African take on discourse stuff; “discourse analysis” usually indicates a North American approach. Anyway, this pleased me because a lot of Steve Runge’s stuff (Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (amazon.com)) shares the same theoretical basis, and you can even begin to map over Isacson’s terminology to Runge’s. For example, Isacson speaks of “metacommunicative clauses”, giving them an “Mc” abbreviation when discussing in his analysis; these roughly map to Runge’s “Meta-Comment”. “Text-summarizing expressions” (Tsum) are, I think, akin to Runge’s “Tail-Head linkage”.
The abbreviations Isacson uses are a bit obtuse. I actually wrote them down, plus their extensions and a Runge-map (where applicable), on my bookmark while I work through the book. This has helped immensely (I had forgotten what we used to do before hypertext) and made chugging through the analysis easier.
If you’re into writings of the early post-apostolic church, then you probably want to consider Isacson’s stuff. I will probably consult it when I review the relevant portions of the Apostolic Fathers Interlinear I’m presently working on.