Semiotic exegesis

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The semiotic Exegese is a method of biblical Exegese .

"A text is a syntactic-semantic-pragmatic work of art, in whose generative planning the intended interpretation already participates."

This method is about constructing your own text in order to understand what it wants to say with its composition of characters . One is not concerned with the intention of the author when writing the story, but with semiotic exegesis it is assumed that there are several possible interpretations and not just one. She understands the texts as contexts of signs and wants to find out what the signs themselves represent for a sense of the text. Charles Sanders Peirce provides the basis for this with his triadic symbol model, which is based on his theory of categories.

According to semiotic exegesis, each text also has its own universe of discourse . It therefore comes from a separate, alien world in which other laws rule. It is important to note this strangeness of the text and to take it seriously in order to be able to fully understand it.

In semiotic exegesis (inter alia after Charles W. Morris ), the individual signs are examined on three different perspectives. In intra- and intertextuality (and extratextuality) the sign is considered in terms of its syntagmatic , semantic and pragmatic properties.


Syntagmatic Analysis

The syntagmatic analysis asks about the structure of the narrative and what and how is told. It deals with the context of signs and assumes in principle that the function of an individual sign can only be clarified and properly analyzed through its position in the entire sign structure. You proceed in two different steps: First, the syntagmatic of the microtext is analyzed, which can be done, for example, with the help of a model by Vladimir Propp. In this model, the action of an acting person is assigned a function (or a motif); consequently, value should not be placed on the actors themselves, but on their “area of ​​action”. Accordingly, all predicates of a text should be given a function that suits them, so that the structure and content can be developed piece by piece at the end.

In the second step, the syntagmatic of the macro-text follows, with which one clarifies the question of what results from the position of the text with regard to the entire Gospel.

Semantic analysis

The semantic analysis asks about the meaning of the sign according to its position in the respective syntagm. For this approach, it is of the utmost importance to ignore your own encyclopedic knowledge, to anesthetize it. This is the only way to define the character with the help of the actual text. Semantics is therefore concerned with the interpretation of the signs as given by their context. The first thing to look at is the mark in relation to the microtext. At this point, the only question is what the reader learns about the meaning of the symbol from the microtext. In the next step one tries to find a definition of the characters with the help of the macro text. Finally, one uses the encyclopedic semantics, in which one looks up in various encyclopedias and selects meanings for the sign that advance one's own interpretation.

Pragmatic analysis

The pragmatic analysis deals with the question of how the text acts on you; it asks about the relationship between the text and the reader. The pragmatics assumes that not only the recipient acts, but also the text, the symbolic structure, acts. There are no “innocent signs”, a text always takes a stand. The reader is therefore not in control of the reception, there is always an interplay between text and reader. The pragmatic analysis confronts me as a reader with the question “What does the text suggest to me, how I should see the world?” The analysis proceeds in three steps. First, the previous work steps are reflected and summarized. Then the text is viewed in terms of its ideology. How does my actions change when I read it as truth? I have to ask myself what my world will be like if I agree to the signs. The last step is a highly subjective examination of the text. The question arises as to where I want to follow the text and agree to it and where not.


Intertextual analysis is about the relationship between two or more texts. According to Julia Kristeva, for example, every text is a “mosaic of quotations”. According to her theory of championed intertextuality, several statements in the space of a text that come from other texts interfere. A text is therefore related to many others, or at least can be associated with them. By reading different texts intertextually, the “meaning potential” of these texts changes.

In the intertextual analysis in the context of a semiotic work, three variants of intertextuality can be distinguished: the production-oriented, the reception-oriented and the poetic (or experimental) intertextuality. The production-oriented perspective deals with the question of the sensory effects that arise when reading the texts that were used in the text to be interpreted.

The reception-oriented perspective is about clarifying the question of the connection between different texts in historically verifiable readings. The poetic perspective deals with the question of the sensory effects that reveal themselves when reading texts together. However, it is not necessary for them to be in one of the contexts listed above.


  • Stefan Alkier: Executions and Liberations: Delusional Vision Reality in Acts 12: Sketches of a semiotic reading process and its theoretical foundations . In: Stefan Alkier / R. Brucker (eds.): Exegesis and discussion of methods (= DANCE 23). Tübingen / Basel 1998, pp. 111-134.
  • Stefan Alkier: Miracles and Reality in the Letters of the Apostle Paul. A contribution to an understanding of miracles beyond demythologization and rehistorization (= WUNT 134). Tübingen 2001.
  • Stefan Alkier: New Testament Science: A Semiotic Concept . In: C. Strecker (Ed.): Contexts of writing. Culture, Politics, Language , Volume 2. Stuttgart 2005, pp. 343–360.
  • Umberto Eco: Lector in fabula. The cooperation of the interpretation in narrative texts . Munich / Vienna 1987.
  • Umberto Eco: semiotics. Draft of a theory of signs (= supplements 5). Munich 1987.
  • Umberto Eco: Sign. Introduction to a term and its history . Frankfurt am Main 1977.
  • M. Pfister: Concepts of Intertextuality . In: U. Broich, M. Pfister (Hrsg.): Intertextualität. Forms - functions - English case studies . Tübingen 1985, pp. 1-30.

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