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The Matthean Beatitudes in Their Jewish Origins

A Literary and Speech Act Analysis


Michelle Howell Hancock

The Matthean Beatitudes in Their Jewish Origins: A Literary and Speech Act Analysis examines how Matthew used Jewish concepts as paradigmatic utterances for the Matthean community. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew was the most Jewish of the Synoptic Gospels, and Matthew’s paradigm was the needed transition for understanding the role of the new community post-70 AD. The importance and role of Jewish concepts is evident in Matthew’s work. More specifically, the literary nature of the Beatitudes demonstrates a composition that evolved from oral origins. Speech act theory is utilized to point out the oral features of the text as well as to reveal what Jesus did in his sayings. Moreover, a speech act model is presented and applied to the Beatitudes’ pericope. Their significance lies in the authoritative utterances of Jesus. By employing speech act theory on the Beatitudes, the sayings of Jesus are investigated to illustrate the force of his eloquence on the Christian community.


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Chapter 7: Speech Act Theory and the Beatitudes 231


CHAPTER 7 Speech Act Theory and the Beatitudes he Beatitudes were formed in a context of utterance. In his 1955 Wil- liam James Lectures at Harvard University, James Austin called atten- tion to how a speaker does something in an utterance. The foundation of speech act theory is the presupposition that in speaking there is the act of doing something (cf. Austin 1975:6–7; Patte 1988:88–90; White 1988:2; Briggs 2001a:229–230; Botha 2007:275; Poythress 2008:337–338). Searle has argued, “all linguistic communication involves linguistic acts” (1969:16). Austin de- scribed utterances as “performative” because “it indicates that the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action” (1975:6–7; cf. Searle 1969:16; Ester- hammer 1993:285–304; McDonald 2003:57–63). Meaning is not to be found simply in words but, instead, in the contextual “language game” of utterance (Wittgenstein 1958:§7; cf. Skinner 2002:103–106). Before Austin, Wittgenstein claimed “the speaking of language is part of an ac- tivity, or a form of life” best described as a language game (1958:§23). With Austin, the activity Wittgenstein propagated was formalized by focusing on what we do with words. By looking past the linguistic symbols of words and sentences, meaning will be discovered within the performance of speech acts for which those symbols were employed (cf. Searle 1969:16–17). Searle affirms that a suitable “study of speech acts is a study of langue” (1969:17). For Searle, the...

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