Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part I: Origins and Audience

This is the first in a multi-part post explaining why I think rhetorical criticism is a valid and helpful tool for examining New Testament texts. 

Presupposition number one: every text, including biblical texts, have a specific origin and an intended audience.  That is to say that every text has at least one, if not multiple authors, writing at a specific time, in a specific place, for a specific audience.

This may sound basic, but is not accepted by all people, especially about biblical texts.  Yet, this is a presupposition I am working with.

The Bible critic has to locate, as closely as can be determined, who the author was, when and where was s/he writing, and to whom was s/he writing. With different texts, the answers can vary in the difficulty to answer.

For example, with Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, there is little dispute that this text was written by Paul, in the 50s C.E. to the Corinthian congregation.

Other books, on the other hand are more difficult to pin down.  Take the Gospel of Luke, for example.  "The Gospel according to Luke" was a title added later.  The original manuscript was anonymous.  Scholars differ as to who actually wrote the gospel, and so a level of caution should be used in assigning authorship.  Dating is less problematic and there is relative scholarly consensus that dates Luke between 75-90 C.E.  The intended audience is also problematic.  He addresses the gospel to Theophilus, but that name could be an individual, or could just mean "lover of God."  Therefore caution should also be taken in assigning a specific audience to the gospel.  Finally, the exact location of the writing and the audience is in question, but it seems fair to limit it to the Mediterranean.  Thus, for the Gospel of Luke, we can only narrow the question of authorship, date, so far.

In the second post I will discuss the notion of integrity of the text itself and genre. (Part II)

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