Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part VI: Greco-Roman Education

This is the sixth in a multi-part post explaining why I think rhetorical criticism is a valid and helpful tool for examining New Testament texts.  In part I, I talked about texts having an origin and an audience.  In Part II, I spoke about texts having integrity and a genre.  In part III, I discussed he shortcomings of literary criticism.  In part IV, I discussed Audience Oriented Criticism. In Part V, I talked about the oral nature of the Greco-Roman culture.  In this post I will talk about the Greco-Roman education system.

It is widely accepted that there were three levels in Greco-Roman education (see H. I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, and Stanley F. Bonner, Education in Ancient Rome).

The first level of education was led by a didaskalos or grammatistes, and the curriculum included the rudiments of learning letters, numbers, syllables, words, writing and recitation, and some reading of the poets.

The second level of education was presided over by a grammatikos and the curriculum increased in difficulty, including more reading and recitation from longer passages of well-known authors such as Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Apollonius of Rhodes, and others.  Students were called upon to read, recite, and explain the text. At this stage, students would proceed to more complex exercises, preparing them for a full study of rhetoric.  These preliminary exercises, or progymnasmata, covered the rudiments of rhetorical composition.  There are four extant progymnasmata, dating from the first through fifth centuries C.E.: Theon (first century C. E.), Ps-Hermogenes (third/fourth century C. E.), Apthonius the Sophist (fourth century C. E.), and Nicolaus the Sophist (fifth century C. E.).  Even at this level of education, students were familiar with the rudiments of rhetorical composition and recitation.

Finally, a very few students with the means, would continue to tertiary education which took two forms: rhetoric and philosophy.  Students overwhelmingly chose rhetoric.  This third level of education was led by a rhetor.  at this stage that the rhetorical handbooks such as Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria and Pseudo-Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium became the model for education.  These handbooks prepared the student for the five necessary tasks of composing and delivering a speech: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Therefore, anyone who could competently write Greek (i.e., the biblical writers) probably had attained some level of Greco-Roman education.  Even if they did not continue to tertiary education, they were probably familiar with the rudiments of rhetoric.  The same holds for those who would recite the text to others.

My point is that rhetoric dominated both the print and oral culture.  Those who could read and write understood rhetoric and were flooded with rhetorical modes of communication.  Rhetoric was the medium of literary and much of the oral communication of the day.

In my next post I will talk about the typical audience member and their familiarity with rhetorical modes of communication. (Part VII).

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