How to Write and Exegetical Essay: by E. Angelova
How to Write an Exegetical Essay
Prepared by Emilia Angelova
The meaning of the term "exegesis"
The term "exegesis" refers to the process of carefully reading a text. To work toward the exegetical analysis of a given work means to work toward the critical interpretation of that text while taking into account the text's specific means of expressing its ideas. An exegesis identifies an idea in the text and then shows how the text argues for this idea. When showing how a text argues for an idea, exegesis pays special attention to the means that the text uses to develop this idea, e.g., particular usages of terms, imagery, contrasts between metaphoric and literal meanings, etc. Every exegetical analysis must be brought to completion. To complete the exegesis means to formulate the conclusions and major inferences identified in the process of reading the text.
Steps of exegetical analysis (for the purpose of essay writing)
- Carefully study the essay question and try to identify one major issue at stake in the question. Then, keeping in mind the issue at stake, identify in the text a) a small number of passages and b) a larger context of reference in that further explains these passages. Try to identify a relationship of necessary interdependence between the nature of the issue at stake and the concrete way in which this issue is treated in the text, e.g., the important terms, the imagery, metaphors and their necessary relationship to the task of expressing exactly this idea. Think of justifications for using the given imagery to express exactly this idea or problem. After having worked out a clear idea of the necessary ways in which the major area finds its expression in the text, select the specific relevant passages that you need in order to substantiate your argument.
- Begin writing with the intention of providing the most compelling and succinct proof of your thesis. First begin by formulating your thesis as succinctly as possible. Clearly state the precise formulation of your thesis in two or three sentences. Your conception of the inter-relatedness of the text and the idea behind it, as well as the specific ways that you will prove your argument must already be clearly present at this initial point of the essay. Second, always keep in mind that, above all, it is the idea that you must argue for and defend. You must pay specific attention to the textual imagery and concrete ways of expression, yet all your effort in dealing with the text must be subordinated to the goal of proving the idea, i.e., the concrete argument that you have set out to develop. Do not use examples from the text without having clearly tied them to the point of the argument you seek to make.
- Clearly establish the connections and transitions from one line or paragraph of your argument to the next. Make sure that virtually every single sentence you put down contributes toward the clarification and growth of meaning of the argument as you intend to develop it. Clearly state the conclusions that follow from your analysis and the argument that you have developed throughout the paper. At the level of your conclusions, from the viewpoint of the overall conception presented in your essay, you may try to point out contradictions and difficulties that you have discovered lying unresolved in the text.
Material prepared by Emilia Angelova for distribution
at the Univerisity of Toronto
© 1995 Emilia Angelova