Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rhetoric for Sundays

In a previous post on rhetoric for Sundays I talked about how churches label the different parts of the church.  Specifically, I think how churches label the parts of the church communicates a great deal to the congregation. 

Today, because our church was so full I was asked to sit in the Narthex of the church in order to make room for visitors.  It made me think of something that has always puzzled me, and that is why my church calls the foyer the Narthex.

The Narthex was a common element of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church architecture.  A Narthex is the traditional name for the entrance to a church that is not considered part of the church itself.  It was where those who were not considered worthy (such as catechumens, but not full members) were allowed to come to hear the service, while not entering (and perhaps defiling) the sacred space of the church proper.  As time went on, this distinction between full members and non-members was lost, but the Narthex remained. 

So, what does my church communicate by their labeling of the church entrance hall as a Narthex?  They are communicating through uncommon language the sense that the church is a sacred space.  They are communicating that in entering the church, one is stepping on hallowed ground.  Not because the church itself (i.e., the building) is holy in its own right, but rather, that this is the place that God comes to meet his people.  The use of this word also tells the congregation that it is trying to reclaim church traditions rather than throw them aside in an attempt to be "inviting." Is the naming of the church foyer a Narthex a wise choice?  I am not sure, but I can tell you it was deliberate and clearly communicates a great deal about the message and stance of the church.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Friday Figure

This week the Friday Figure comes from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6:3 reads:
"But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,"
This verse displays the figure (or rather trope) synechdoche.  The Rhetorica ad Herennium defines synechdoche as the trope in which "the whole is known from the part, or the part from the whole." In the case of Matthew's verse, the person is represented by the right and left hand.  This is an interesting use of the trope because the whole person is denoted by both hands, but separately and unknown to each other. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Silva Rhetoricae

I would like to point you to a fantastic website for those interested in rhetoric.  It is the site Silva Rhetoricae (Forest of Rhetoric) administered by Gideon Burton out of BYU.


The site is designed around the metaphor of a forest.  Burton wants to highlight both the macro and the micro of the rhetorical discipline.  On the left hand side is a column named "trees" in which he has links to his pages on the big categories in rhetoric.  Included are such headings as the "branches of oratory" the persuasive appeals in oratory, a timeline of rhetoric, rhetorical pedagogy.  Clicking on a link brings up the related article in the center column of the site.  On the right hand side Burton has a column with the title "flowers." Here he looks at the micro of the rhetorical world with a list of links to the rhetorical figures of speech in alphabetical order.

Burtons articles are concise and well written.  The only lack of the site is that sometimes an article is missing citations of the ancient sources.  This is frustrating for me as I often use his site to find specific locations of rhetorical terms in the ancient literature and sometimes he has the citation and sometimes he does not. 

Overall, this is a great site for easy navigation of the rhetorical discipline.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rhetoric in the News

What is rhetoric?

I have a general conception of what the average person thinks about rhetoric, but just to test this idea, I thought I would try and find a way to gauge just what the public thinks.  In our wonderful technological age, one way to do this is to do a google search.  At least it will demonstrate the use of rhetoric in digital print.

A simple google search on the term rhetoric brings up 22,800,000 hits.  Wikipedia's definition is first on the list, followed by and Webster's dictionary.  Their are a couple of sites dedicated to rhetoric, and a couple of links to Aristotle's Ars Rhetorica

I pulled up the three dictionary entries, and only one surprised me.  Wikipedia gave a definition grounded in Aristotle, as did Webster, but the entry was shocking to me, not as a commonly held view, but as a dictionary definition.'s definition is as follows:
"(in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast."
That was the first definition.  There are subsequent definitions that are more in line with the classical formulation, but that one was first.  Interestingly, I think that at least has the pulse of the public view of rhetoric.  But how do we test this?  Again to the rescue, google news search.  This will show how the word is actually being used by journalists.

Look that the following headlines:

Japan sharpens rhetoric but yen hits 15-year high

Raise in rhetoric but not in pay by Plymouth Council

My turn: Large gap between Miller's promises, rhetoric

Rhetoric on immigration does nothing but scare

Columnist: Republican rhetoric ignores need for job rescue bill 

These are just on the first page.  In every one of these headlines, rhetoric is used in a negative way.  In essence, rhetoric stands in for the term "lies." I think these headlines get very much at the heart of what most people think of when they think of rhetoric.  They think that rhetoric is a way of telling lies in a way that doesn't sound so bad.  It is the "dressing up" of lies, or at least distortions of truth and making them sound good.  


In an interesting side note, a google image search has this image on the first page.  It reinforces the view demonstrated by the headlines, namely that rhetoric is just a pile of $#!+.

 So, where does this conception of rhetoric come from? It is not entirely without basis.  Rhetoric can be used, and too often is used, to "dress up" lies.  Yet, is this its only use?  If so, I would understand an outright condemnation of rhetoric, as some see 1 Cor. 2: 1-5 (see last post).  Yet, I think that rhetoric can also be used to communicate truth.  I think the biblical writers used it in such a manner. 




Monday, August 23, 2010

Paul and Rhetoric

With the following words Paul talks about his own preaching and Christian proclamation: 

1Cor. 2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.
1Cor. 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
1Cor. 2:3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.
1Cor. 2:4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
1Cor. 2:5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
 Some, including Corin Mihaila, on whose book I just completed a review for RBL, claim that these five verses are Paul's condemnation and rejection of rhetoric, specifically in Christian preaching.  I will leave the specifics for the release of the review, but for now I will only say that Mihaila, who really takes his cue from Bruce Winter's book Philo and Paul among the Sophists, claims that the word "wisdom" (sophia) in this passage refers to "sophistic rhetoric."

Thus, when Paul claims that he did not come with "lofty words of sophia," or that the Corinthians' faith should not rest on "human sophia," he is talking specifically about sophistic rhetoric. 

For a background on sophistic rhetoric, or more specifically, the "Second Sophistic" movement, one should look at Winter's book.  He discusses not only the specific use of rhetoric by sophists in the second sophistic movement, he notes that the movement was already present in the first century, counter to some mainstream scholarship.  The existence of the second sophistic in the first century has great implications for NT scholarship.  It raises the level of rhetorical awareness present in the Greco-Roman world at the time of the writing of NT documents.

Another aspect of the second sophistic which Winter points out, has little to do with rhetoric, but rather with social practice.  Sophistic rhetors paraded around like present day movie stars.  They acquired an entourage of admirers as they traveled from city to city giving wonderful panegyrics to each city they visited.  The size and social status of their entourage depended upon their rhetorical skill.  The entourage members could gain status through their association with a gifted orator.

The question to be asked is whether Paul in I Cor. 2:1-5 is condemning all rhetoric, or rather, its specific application by the sophists and the social model that the sophists represented?  I think, given Paul's rhetorically gifted writing style, that the latter is more appropriate, but this question will receive greater attention as this blog rolls along.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rhetoric for Sundays

This morning in church, our pastor highlighted some of the beautiful rhetoric of the gospel.  Much of the rhetoric of Jesus, especially in the gospel of Luke, has to do with paradox and antithesis.  Jesus exalts the poor and lowly and brings down the lofty and proud. 

To illustrate this powerful message, we examined the story of the bent woman in Luke 13.  With some wonderful rhetoric of his own, our pastor preached on this passage.  He referred to the fact that our world, as this woman,  is bent and twisted.  Yet, it was only with the bending of rules and regulations that Jesus was able to make the bent woman straight again.  There is a wonderful linguistic antithesis between bent and straight, and his bringing in the "bending" Sabbath rules illustrates this message all the more profoundly. 

This is also the use of another figure, that of antanaclasis, or the using the same word in close proximity but in different ways.  It is used quite literally with regard to the woman, she is bent and hunched over, yet it is used figuratively or metaphorically with the use of "bending" the rules.

Are there rules or regulations in our life that keep the world bent where God might have us straighten it?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday Figure

This week's Friday figure comes from the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 1-4 is one sentence in the Greek and displays several figures.  Here is the verse:

"Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs." (NRSV)

The first figure to notice here is the period.  A periodic sentence is a close-packed uninterrupted sentence that communicates a complete thought.  In this case, this long sentence (which the NRSV splits into three) communicates the superiority of God's son.  Also, it is periodic in its use of other figures.

The sentence begins with a comparison (syncrisis) in the form of an antithesis.  The comparison is between the revelation of the son in "these last days" to the revelation "of old" by the prophets.  The sentence ends with a comparison of the son to the angels, this time giving a value statement both that the son is greater and that the name he has inherited is more excellent.

Sandwiched in between these two comparisons is the figure notatio or character delineation, which the Rhetorica ad Herennium defines as "describing a persons character by the definite signs which, like distinctive marks, are attributes of that character."  The Greek actually uses the term Character (χαρακτὴρ), which the NRSV translates as "imprint."

Finally, in an ornamental flourish, the sentence begins with a nice alliteration that can only be recognized in the Greek:

Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι

Polumeros kai polutropos palai

This is indeed an impressive and rhetorical beginning to the book of Hebrews. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Strange Exegesis

Anyone who has read Philo knows that he can come up with some very strange but also remarkably insightful interpretations of scripture. 

Philo, an Alexandrian Jew and a near contemporary of Jesus (b. 20 B.C.E.) used what is called allegorical interpretation.  That is, he would look at OT passages and apply them allegorically to his present situation. 

One such interpretation has implications for the application of rhetoric to NT texts, that is his treatise Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat (That the Worse is Wont to Attack the Better.).

In this treatise Philo applies an allegorical interpretation to the story of Cain and Abel.  It is clear that he is using the LXX translation of Genesis because of the textual problem with the Hebrew text.  The Greek text translates as "Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Let us go out to the field.'" The Hebrew on the other hand is missing the second clause and simply reads, "Cain said to his brother Abel."

The field is necessary for Philo's interpretation.  He argues that Cain, by inviting his brother to the field (or plain) is actually inviting him to a battle.  Not to a battle with weapons, but to a battle of words, a rhetorical contest so to speak. 

For Philo, Cain is merely a lover of self, while Abel is a lover of virtue.  Abel has the truth and virtue on his side, but Cain has the power of words. 

Philo argues that Abel should have refused the invitation knowing that he was not as gifted a rhetorician as Cain and that he would be slain. 

What Philo is referring to is the practice of the Sophists of his day to make the worse argument the better.  Essentially, to use their rhetorical skill for unjust and wicked purposes, to defend the morally indefensible through lofty words. 

Philo's response is twofold: 1) the morally upright should decline to engage in rhetorical battles that they cannot win, and 2) that the morally upright should train themselves in rhetoric in order to be able to win the rhetorical battles for the sake of the good and just. 

So, what does this mean for NT rhetorical critics.  It is evidence of a sophistic movement at the time of Jesus and into the time of the writing of NT documents.  It is also evidence, in my opinion, that rhetoric was pervasive in the culture, and that in order to gain a hearing for one's message, one needed to present it in a rhetorically persuasive manner.  I have found evidence of such rhetorical arguments in the NT and this blog means to point out some of these rhetorical devices.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Parable of the Loving Father

Everyone has heard of the parable of Prodigal Son.  It is one of Jesus' most touching and powerful parables.  Yet, in this post I would like to suggest a name change for the parable based upon classical rhetoric and how a first century Mediterranean audience would have heard the parable.

I wish I had come up with this argument, but the credit must go to my Doktorvater Mikeal C. Parsons (“The Quest of the ‘Rhetorical’ Jesus.” Pages 30-44 in Literary Encounters with the Reign of God. Edited by Sharon H. Ringe, and H. C. Paul Kim. New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.).

The Greeks had a practice called inflection, which was used in the preliminary exercises under the term klisis and is also a figure of speech called polyptoton. 

For those unfamiliar with Greek, the Greek language has five different cases.  A case determines the function of a noun in a sentence.  We only have remnants of this in English.  For example, "I" is in the subjective case (i.e., the subject of the sentence) and "me" is in the objective case (i.e., the direct or indirect object of the sentence).  Thus the sentence "I hope you give that car to me."  Every noun in Greek can be in all five cases, the case determining the function of the noun.

In the preliminary exercises (progymnasmata), students were taught to inflect the main subject of a chreia or fable in different cases.  Using the different cases for the subject helped to highlight and draw attention to the main subject, making it easily identifiable to the audience.

What happens when we apply this practice to the Parable of the Prodigal son?  We get the following results.

The term father (πατήρ) occurs twelve times and in all five cases; while the term son occurs eight times and only in two cases.  The results are striking.  Not only is the father mentioned more often, he is mentioned in all five cases, including the fairly rare vocative case.  The son on the other hand is mentioned less often and only appears in a measly two cases.

An ancient audience would have heard this parable and, probably even unwittingly, understood that the father was the main subject.  Unfortunately this practice does not carry over into English and the effect is lost. 

The conclusion should be glaring.  This is a parable about the father and his tremendous love, not the son and his wayward actions.  Therefore, I propose that the name of the parable be changed to "The Parable of the Loving Father."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gap Theory and the Ending of Mark

In 2007, my Baylor colleague, Dr. Kathy Maxwell defended her dissertation in which she explored literary gap theory.  That theory, in essence, claims that authors deliberately leave information out of a composition in order to let the audience "fill in the gaps."  The purpose is to bring the audience in and make them participants in the story, speech, etc.

Consider the following quotation from Theophrastus, one of Aristotle's disciple and an early rhetorician.

"Not all possible points should be punctiliously and tediously elaborated, but some should be left to the comprehension and inference of the hearer, who, when he perceives what you have left unsaid becomes not only your hearer but your witness, and a very friendly witness too.  For he thinks himself intelligent because you have afforded him the means to show his intelligence." (Eloc. 222).
 Could not this gap theory bolster the opinion of many scholars that the confusing ending of Mark at 16:8 was a deliberate decision.  The ending of Mark, with the terrified women fleeing from the empty tomb and saying nothing to anyone has confounded biblical scholars for 2000 years.  Many have proposed that the ending was lost or that Mark died before he was able to finish his gospel.  It seems incomprehensible that Mark would end the gospel as he did and not in a "more proper" manner as did Matthew and Luke.  But, I think it is very possible, and even more powerful, if Mark left the ending open in order to encourage audience participation, to draw the audience into the narrative and puzzle out the meaning for themselves.

Modern stories use the same rhetorical tactics. [[Spoiler Alert]]  Just two quick examples: the recent movie Inception has an open ending which caused the audience in my movie theater to gasp out loud, both times I saw it.

Take also The Usual Suspects.  That ending is actually remarkably similar to the ending of Mark.  After puzzling the whole movie about one question: Who is Keyser Söze?  The Super villain is finally revealed, only moments later to disappear, "and like that, he's gone!"  Both of these open endings, rather than pushing audiences away, draw them in to contemplate the story again and again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part VII: Rhetoric as a Tool

In this, my last post on why I think rhetorical criticism is a valuable tool for investigating NT texts, I will summarize my previous conclusions (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI) and discuss why an ancient audience would be sensitive to rhetorical devices.

At the outset, let me say that I do not think RC is "the" tool or magical key that will unlock all of the long hidden secrets of the NT.  RC is only one tool in the bag of the NT critic and does not mean that the critic should ignore other valuable tools, historical critical or otherwise.

In this series I have made the argument that an ancient audience would have been sensitive to the practice of classical rhetoric.

First I discussed the fact that NT texts have a historical location, they were written by a specific person, at a specific time, in a specific location, and to a specific audience.

Moreover, I have argued that it is that audience, and that text, which is determinative for interpretation.  The text has integrity and a genre, and it is valuable to study the text itself, not just its parts in an attempt to uncover the world behind the text.

I have also pointed out that literary criticism, while looking at the integrity and genre of a text, ignores the world behind the text and thus removes the text from its historical situation.  In addition, literary criticism uses modern categories to interpret ancient texts.

I have argued that it is the original or "authorial audience" that should be determinative for interpreting a text.  Therefore, a critic ought to try and recreate the authorial audience and attempt to gain the competencies that that audience brought to the text. 

In an attempt discover these competencies I talked about the oral nature of the Greco-Roman world and its educational system.  I concluded that anyone writing or reading a text aloud would be aware of at least the rudiments of rhetoric.  They would then compose and read texts to more or less conform to the rhetorical mode of communication.  Therefore, even an uneducated audience member would be familiar with rhetorical figures and devices.

Much as modern literary theory dominates forms of communication in the present, so rhetorical theory dominated forms of communication in the ancient world.  Even an uneducated person today knows how stories are supposed to be told, even if they do not know the categories, such as plot, characters, conflict, denouement, etc.  So, an ancient audience would have certain expectations of how stories ought to be told or letters ought to be written, and these categories were built upon rhetorical theory.

Now, one must be careful at this point.  The rhetorical handbooks were limited in scope.  They were meant to train would-be orators to deliver specific kinds of speeches.  Therefore, one cannot slavishly apply rhetorical criticism to texts of other genres.  Yet, one can look for aspects of rhetoric in other forms of literature, such as the gospel and the epistle.  Even though these were not ancient speeches, as products of an educated class, they retain certain rhetorical forms.  These forms can be valuable for uncovering certain aspects of the text.  It is my hope that this blog can shine a light on many parts of NT texts that can be read anew through the lens of rhetorical criticism.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rhetoric for Sundays

This last week, while driving between Waco and Fort Worth, my wife and I saw a billboard which read

"Repent Christians"

We were intrigued.  The message was so simple, so brief.  This billboard took advantage of the rhetorical figure of brevitas.  The Rhetorica ad Herennium defines brevitas as "expressing an idea in the very minimum of essential words"

Yet, perhaps the message of billboard was too brief.  In our culture, this billboard could mean almost anything.  It could be a message from Atheists to Christians, condemning them for any number of atrocities that they are accused of.  Or, it could be a group of fundamentalists or "purists" attempting to reform the church.  So, which was it?

There was a website listed on the billboard,

It turns out to be the latter, a group of Christians puritans who think that the church right now is not pure enough.  The website cites statistics of various impurities among the "born again." 

The billboard?  Intriguing in its rhetorical brevity.  The message?  I leave that up to you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Friday Figure

This week I will highlight one of my favorite rhetorical figures: Climax. 

Climax is a figure in which one creates a chain of actions or events, but before proceeding to the next link in the chain, one repeats the preceding link.  The figure builds toward a climax, hence the name of the figure.

This week's example of climax comes from Romans 8:29-30.

This one can be recognized in English (NRSV):

Rom. 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
Rom. 8:30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 
The chain begins at the beginning of verse 29 with God's foreknowledge leading to predestination.  Then there is a short break, and the chain picks up again where it left off with predestination, leading to a calling, leading to justification, and finally coming to its climax with glorification. 

This is one of my favorite figures because of the rising tension, the repetition, and finally, the culmination in the climax. 

I ask just this question: did Paul just stumble upon this elegant figure?  Or, rather, was this a purposeful ordering of words?  If so, was it a conscious decision to use a rhetorical figure of speech?

Car Repair and Rhetoric

So, I'm stuck in Arlington, Tx at the Jeep dealership after my wife's car would not start this morning as we were leaving her company meeting.  Don't know if it is the battery or something else, but it would not start, even with a jump.

I wouldn't expect to find expressions of rhetoric at a car dealership, but I did not have to look long before I found two figures of speech in the dealership labeling.

The first was on the drop off door.  There was a little mail slot with the label: "Early Bird Drop Off."  This figure of speech (actually trope) is so familiar to us that we probably do not think of it as a rhetorical figure, but it is the figure of metaphor.  The person who has to drop off the car before the shop opens is referred to as an "early bird."  For a biblical metaphor referring to a person as an animal, see Luke 13:32 Where Jesus refers to Herod as a fox.  The metaphor in this case is a rhetorical way to call Herod wily and dishonest, a trickster.  Metaphor's often invoke vivid imagery and describe a person or thing in a way that has an emotional impact. 

The second was on a banner which referred to the dealership as "your one stop shop for everything Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep."  The term "one stop shop" is also easily recognized in our culture and displays the figure homoteleuton.  Homoteleuton refers to words with similar endings.  In English, we typically call this rhyme, but the Greeks called it homoteleuton.  For an example of this figure in Greek see Luke 6:22
μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν μισήσωσιν ὑμᾶς οἱ ἄνθρωποι καὶ ὅταν ἀφορίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ ὀνειδίσωσιν καὶ ἐκβάλωσιν τὸ ὄνομα ὑμῶν ὡς πονηρὸν ἕνεκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου·
makarioi este otan misesosin umas oi anthropoi kai otan aforisosin umas kai oneidisosin kai ekbalosin to onoma umon os poneron eneka tou uiou anthropou. 
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
 Notice the four verbs in this sentence that end with the third person plural aorist active subjunctive ending ωσιν (osin).  One needs to read this verse in Greek to recognize the figure.  Reading it aloud makes the rhyme inherent in the figure obvious.  The rhyme and rhythm of this figure usually makes the statement pleasant to the ear, striking, and perhaps most importantly, memorable.

Perhaps the greatest rhetorical oddity about this whole adventure is the situational irony.  Brooke's Jeep, which has been a wonderful and carefree car, was just paid off this last week.  We received the title in the mail on Monday and here on Thursday, the car breaks down. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Rhetorical Question

Though this is a blog about rhetoric and the New Testament, I will periodically post about rhetoric in contemporary times.

I live in Waco, Tx, a fairly conservative city in the midst of a very conservative state, and on I 35 between Dallas and Waco, there is an interesting billboard.  I was not able to get a picture of the billboard, but found pictures of the same message on a google image search.
 The billboard near Dallas actually combines the two messages.

This billboard demonstrates the power of the rhetorical question.  These two questions are not supposed to be answered.  They make a point.  They reinforce what the audience is already predisposed to believe, and they do so in a striking and forceful fashion.  The rhetorical question elicits a response from the audience.  It makes the audience own the answer.  Placing this statement in question form is more powerful than just leaving it as a statement.  The two questions are better and more forceful in question form than if the billboard were to say, "Obama's hope and change sucks!" or "I really miss George Bush!"  Inviting audience participation makes the comment resonate on a personal level.

This billboard, standing in the midst of an already conservative state, conveys its simple message using the rhetorical figure: rhetorical question.  One thing about this figure is that it works.  Perhaps that is why, of all of the figures of speech used by the Lukan Jesus, the rhetorical question is his favorite.

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).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part V: Orality in the Greco-Roman World

This is the fifth 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 this post, I will discuss the oral nature of the Greco-Roman culture.

If a critic should attempt to read a text as a member of the intended audience, then s/he must gain some of the competencies of the original audience.

The first of these, which seems to obvious to mention, is that the original audience member for NT texts had to understand Greek.  Notice, however, that I said "understand" Greek, not "read" Greek.  That is because very few original intended audience members could read at all.  Estimates of literacy vary, but most hover around 10-15% for the Roman Empire.  Therefore, if an audience member were to receive an NT text, they would have to receive it with their ears, that is, someone would have to read it out loud to them.

There are three main reasons that an ancient audience member would most likely have heard a presentation of an NT text rather than reading it privately (silently.) 1) Most people could not read.  2) Even if they could read, procuring a copy of a text was expensive and hard to come by (if you wanted your own copy of, say, the Gospel of Mark, you would have to find someone willing to loan you theirs long enough for you to hand copy it or pay a scribe to do so).  3) Greeks and Romans actually preferred to have written documents read aloud, even if they could read and could afford books.  For good work on literacy and the oral nature of the ancient Mediterranean, see Harry Gamble's Books and Readers in the Early Church, and Whitney Shiner's Proclaiming the Gospel.

In this culture, the public oral presentation of written texts was common and it is very likely that most of the original audience members for NT texts heard an oral presentation.

In the following post I will talk about the Greco-Roman education system and why that is important for Rhetorical Criticism. (Part VI).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part IV: Audience Oriented Criticism

This is the fourth 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 this post I will discuss audience oriented criticism (AOC).

AOC began as a response to the shortcomings I discussed in part III.  Audience criticism attempts to take seriously the fact that texts were written at a specific time, by a specific person(s), to a specific audience (see my part I).  These things have to do with the world behind the text (see part III), which is almost entirely ignored by literary critics.

AOC also attempts to avoid the pitfalls of Reader Response Criticism (RRC), in its propensity for assigning validity to every reader's interpretation of the text.  In RRC, there are as many valid readings of a text as there are readers. AOC attempts to remedy this unending expansion of valid meanings by privileging one audience, namely, the authorial audience.

Authorial audience is a concept that is derived from Peter Rabinowitz in his book Before ReadingThis concept has also become foundational for my NT mentors, Mikeal Parsons and Charles Talbert.  Authorial audience, or as Rabinowitz calls it, hypothetical audience, is the audience that an author has in mind when s/he writes a book. It is the intended audience.  We saw in part I, that determining the intended audience can be a tricky endeavor.  Yet, even when a specific audience cannot be determined, the critic can usually narrow the audience somewhat.  We can be relatively sure that Luke did not write his gospel for 21st century Christians living in America.  Even though we do not know his specific audience, we can limit it to a first century Mediterranean group of people.

The authorial audience brings with it certain competencies and expectations that the author takes into account.  Therefore, the critic should attempt to read such texts as the authorial audience would have.  For the 21st century critic, this involves gaining some of these competencies.  In the next post I will discuss some of the competencies which an ancient audience would have had to be able to understand a text. (Part V).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Rhetoric for Sundays

This is the first in another recurring post in which I will discuss some issue regarding the modern church's message.

In this inaugural edition, I want to speak about labeling in church buildings.  Specifically, I would like to note the name of the sanctuary in a church I visited yesterday for a wedding. 

As you can see from this wonderfully professional photograph, this church has renamed the Sanctuary "The Family Room."

Now, I must admit, I was a little judgmental of this church when I first walked in.  It has been some time since I have been in what one might call a "mega church," or even a large church, one that is greatly concerned with growing its numbers.  In fact, I do not even know if the desire to grow numbers was at the heart of this sanctuary naming decision.  Yet, everything about the church was foreign to me, from the coffee shop in the lobby, the receptionist desk, the computer kiosks to check in Sunday School children, the leather chairs in the waiting room.

In all of this, what struck me most was the name of the Sanctuary.  Lets take a moment to think about the rhetoric behind this naming.  I assume, that whoever renamed the sanctuary, "The Family Room" thought that "Sanctuary" was too Christianese and too intimidating.  Sanctuary implies holiness, right.  We don't want people to think that they have to be holy to enter the Sanctuary.  Lets make it a little bit more inviting.  Lets call it "The Family Room."  We, as a church are a family, and this is where we gather.  Yes, that sounds very inviting.

Now, lets bring in one more rhetorical aspect of this renaming, namely, that it is dripping with irony.  What is the connotation of family room for most people.  Yes, I assume it is where most families gather in their homes.  But, what do they gather around?  Yes, again, the Television.  The Family Room in most homes is the entertainment room.  I certainly do not think that was in the mind of those renaming the Sanctuary, but the irony is fantastic.  And, sure enough, walk in this church's "Family Room," and what do you find?  Two giant projector screens.  So, what was meant to be a welcoming name and message to visitors, becomes exactly what it really is, namely, "this is the place where our family comes to be entertained."

Is that what the church should be saying?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part III: The Shortcomings of Literary Criticism

This is the third 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 this post I will discuss literary criticism as a way to read a text with integrity and genre.

Literary criticism of the Bible, which I practiced for some time, seemed to be a great advance over previous forms of biblical criticism such as form, source, redaction, etc...  Literary criticism does exactly what I called for in part II of this series, namely take seriously the integrity of a text and assign a genre to the text.  Literary criticism attempts to read any text as a whole and as a literary unity.  This, at least to me, seems preferable over forms of criticism that dismember the text into separate parts.

One specific form of literary criticism that has been adapted to biblical texts is that of narrative criticism (NC).  NC reads biblical narratives as stories.  Thus, the gospels are treated like stories and read through the lens of literary categories such as plot, characters, characterization, story time, narrative sequence, setting, conflict, etc.  An easy place to access the methodology of narrative criticism is Mark Allen Powell's book What is Narrative Criticism.

To go further, I must define three concepts: 1) the world in behind the text, 2) the world in the text, and 3) the world in front of the text.  The world behind the text refers to the historical situation which created the text, i.e., the author, the place of composition, the sources of the text, the social situation of the writing, etc.  In short, form, source, and redaction criticism focus on the world behind the text.  The world in the text refers only to the narrative world of the text.  It is not concerned with anything that went into the writing of the text, but is only concerned with the world the text creates.  Finally, the world in front of the text refers to the world of anyone who comes to read the text, in whatever time and situation that might be.

NC is only concerned with the world in the text.  It brackets off all questions of what came before and any questions about the audience of the text.  NC is a valuable tool and one which has produced many important works, such as R. Alan Culpepper's Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel and Rhoads and Michie's Mark as Story.

Despite all of Narrative Criticism's advantages, it fails the criteria of my first post, namely that all texts have an origin and an audience.  By ignoring the world behind the text and the world in front of the text, NC ignores the author, the time, the place, and the audience.  While insights can be gained from NC, its shortcomings are also glaring.

Another form of literary criticism which has gained some sway in the biblical guild is that of Reader Response Criticism (RRC).  RRC looks at the text as a unity and gives it a genre and attempts to read it according to literary patterns, yet RRC gives preference to the world in front of the text.  That is, RRC privileges the reader.  Whatever response a reader comes up with, that is the proper interpretation of the texts.  Therefore, a text has as many meanings as it has readers.

For myself, a Christian, who holds that the Bible has authority in my life, RRC seems to devolve into chaos as the text can now mean anything, or nothing, depending on who reads it.

I would contend that some forms of biblical criticism, like form, redaction, etc., give too much attention to the world behind the text, others, like NC, give too much to the world in the text, and finally, some, like RRC, give too much to the world in front of the text.

Another problem that literary critics have run into is the question of whether categories developed to study modern literature are valid for studying ancient literature.  There has been increasing backlash against using such categories.  Are there not better categories used by the ancients themselves?  We will leave the answer to that question for another time.

In my next post I will discuss audience oriented criticism, which I think steers a middle ground in this interpretive matrix, attempting to draw these three worlds together. (Part IV).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Introducing the Friday Figure

This is the first in a recurring post called the Friday Figure.

Every Friday I will post a figure of speech from the New Testament with relatively little comment.  These are just for your reading pleasure.

The first figure comes from Luke 6:43.  This one needs to be read in the Greek in order to recognize it.

Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν δένδρον καλὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν σαπρόν, οὐδὲ πάλιν δένδρον σαπρὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλόν.

ou gar estin dendron kalon poioun karpon sapron, oude palin dendron sapron poioun karpon kalon.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit." (NRSV)

There are actually two figures here.  The first is homoeoptoton, which means "similar cases."  The figure is formed by stringing together several words that have the same endings due to their cases.  In this case there are 8 of 15 words end with the neuter/masculine accusative singular ον ending.  In addition, four more words end with the Greek ν.  Bringing in these other four words also creates the figure homoteleuton, meaning "same endings."  In English, the closest we have to this practice is that of rhyme.

Try saying this phrase five times fast.  The rhythm is striking.  This rhythm comes from the rhyming endings and from the meter.  If one scans this line, it looks like this.

– ˘ / – – / – – / – – / – – / – – / – – // – ˇ / – – / – – / – – / – – / – – / – –

Listen to the drumming or chanting rhythm.  Did this happen on accident?  I think not. 

Why Rhetorical Criticism Part II: Integrity and Genre of Texts

This is the second 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.  That is merely to say that all texts, including those in the Bible were written by a specific author or authors, at a specific time to a specific audience.

In this post I will talk about texts having an integrity and a genre.

I contend that all texts have integrity in the sense that they should not be broken up into little pieces, separated, cut, pasted, tweaked, and in any other way be modified to fit some historical theory.  This call for textual integrity is in response to the abuses of other forms of biblical criticism.  For too long in the biblical guild, texts were dissected to determine what lay behind them.  For example, form critics on the gospels attempted to remove layers of the text to arrive at some primitive form in the hopes of finding something Jesus actually said.  The same can be said of source and redaction critics as they focused on what came before the text, and unfortunately end up all too often ignoring the text itself.  This is not to say that nothing good came out of these various forms of historical critical studies of the NT.  But, these are issues that I am just not interested in.  I contend that a text should be read as it was meant to be received by an original audience.

This leads us to my second point in this post: all texts have a genre.  In order to understand a text, one must understand the genre in which it belongs.  For example, one does not read the Psalms in the same way one reads I Samuel.  Likewise, one should not read Revelation with the same expectations as when one reads a Pauline Epistle or a Gospel.

Once again, this seems very basic, but all too often readers of the bible ignore genre and read it all like it was an instruction manual or a textbook.

In my next post I will speak about literary criticism as one way to read a text with textual integrity and genre considerations. (Part III).

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)

Syncrisis in the Stephen Episode

Though most of my posts at the beginning of this blog will be of an introductory nature, I thought it wise to pepper in a few posts about how the practice of rhetorical criticism, as I define it, can actually be beneficial to the NT critic.

One problem that has lingered and divided scholars for quite some time is the question of whether Luke was anti-Jewish.  Scholars come down on all sides of this issue.

Though the following example does not ultimately prove or disprove Luke's anti-Jewishness, it does, I think, speak definitively on the matter for the text in question.

One text that has been used to argue that Luke was anti-Jewish is the Stephen Speech in Acts 7:2-53.  The culmination of the speech, which leads to Stephen's stoning reads,

Acts 7:52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.
Acts 7:53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

Many take this as a condemnation of the Jews, namely, the age old cliche that "the Jews killed Christ."

But, looking at the broader context, one sees the rhetorical practice of syncrisis in this speech.  According to the progymnasmatist Theon, “Syncrisis is language setting the better or worse side by side.”

In a 2005 Ph.D. Seminar paper, I argued that Luke is not anti-Jewish in this passage, but rather is presenting a syncrisis, a comparison.  He is comparing two groups in the present time with two groups in Israel's history.  All of the groups are Jewish: some promote God's will and agenda and some oppose it.

The syncrisis looks like this in the Stephen speech looks like this:

Good: Joseph (God was with him 7:9)   
Bad: 10 Brothers (Patriarchs, Jealous, sold Joseph 7:9,thus rejecting God’s representative)

Good: Moses (God appears to him in a burning bush, sends him to liberate the Jewish slaves, raised up as a prophet, received living oracles 7:30-39)
Bad: Israelites in wilderness (reject Moses, unwilling to obey him, made a golden calf to worship, rejected the worship of God 7:35-41)

Good: Moses, David, and those who worshipped God through the tabernacle (The moving tent of testimony, used by Moses and the ancestors, built according to the plan God gave Moses. David used this and found favor with God, 7:44-46).
Bad: Soloman (Built a temple, but God does not live in temples built with human hands. Thus, Soloman rejected the tabernacle in favor of a permanent house, 7:47-49).

Good: Prophets (prophesied the coming of the Righteous One 7:52)
Bad: Ancestors (killed the prophets 7:52, thus rejecting God’s representatives)

Good: Stephen (full of faith and Holy Spirit 6:5, did great signs and wonders 6:8, face shown like an angel 6:15, sees a vision of God 7:55-56, Death imitates that of Jesus 7:59-60)
Bad: Sanhedrin (Killed the Righteous One 7:52, Kill Stephen 7:58, thus rejecting God’s representatives)  

Good: Church (Begun with the coming of the Holy Spirit Acts 2, made up of the Apostles 8:1)   
Bad: Saul (Approves of the death of Stephen 8:1, persecutes the church 8:3, thus rejecting God’s representatives)

As you can see, the Stephen speech gives six opposing groups of Jews.  Those who promoted God's will and were praised by Stephen, and those who opposed God's will and were denigrated by Stephen.  Then if one looks into the narrative of the Stephen episode, one can see that this comparison is continued by Luke, giving a comparison of two more groups.  Far from being anti-Jewish, Luke is actually claiming a continuation of the "best" in Israel's history in both Stephen and the Church.  The church therefore, far from being anti-Jewish is a continuation of God's chosen people and claims as its heritage Joseph, Moses, David, and the Prophets.  Seeing the syncrisis in this passage helps one to determine, at least in this passage, whether Luke is anti-Jewish.  In the case of this passage, I think the answer is a resounding NO!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What is Rhetorical Criticism

In another post I hope to discuss briefly the history of the current discipline of rhetorical criticism.  For now though I merely want to state what I mean when I refer to rhetorical criticism. 

Why is this necessary?  Because, depending on who you are and whom you have studied, rhetorical criticism might mean various and sometimes quite different things.

When I speak of rhetorical criticism, I am speaking of the use of classical rhetorical materials as a lens through which to view New Testament texts.  By classical rhetorical materials, I mean rhetorical handbooks and treatises, the progymnasmata (preliminary exercises) and works by classical rhetoricians (speeches, court defenses, etc.).  Since I am concerned with New Testament texts, I prefer to use rhetorical materials that either predate or closely follow the writing of the NT. 

The primary texts on classical rhetoric that I have found useful to this point are those by Cicero (de Inventione, Orator, Rhetorica ad Herrenium, de Oratore), Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria), Aristotle (Ars Rhetorica, Rhetorica ad Alexandrum), and the extant progymnasmata by Theon, Apthonius, Nicolaus, and Hermogenes.

We will see in upcoming posts why I have chosen this specific form of rhetorical criticism.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Figuring Jesus

The following is my dissertation abstract.  You can download the full pdf of the Dissertation here.

Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke

Keith A. Reich, Ph.D.
Mentor: Mikeal C. Parsons, Ph.D.

This dissertation examines Luke's use of rhetorical figures of speech on the lips of Jesus as a means of persuading his audience to accept a role-reversing message that challenged the social, religious, economic and political systems in the Roman Empire. A figure of speech is the use of either words or thoughts in a way that is uncommon or out of the ordinary. Because figures of speech are the "uncommon" use of language, they stand out to an audience and grab their attention. They are an artful ordering of words designed to be powerful, memorable, and to seize attention. This dissertation takes seriously the adage that says, "It’s not what you say, it's how you say it." The form of the Lukan Jesus' speech is just as important as the content of that speech. To ignore the form of Jesus' speech is to ignore the power and persuasiveness of his message.

Luke uses figures of speech in various ways to persuade his audience of the gospel message. He uses figures of speech to fulfill the stylistic virtues of clarity and ornamentation. Fulfilling these stylistic virtues makes the Lukan Jesus' argument easy to follow and impressive, serving as an ethos argument to portray Jesus as one who speaks like the social elites. Further, Luke uses figures as a means of argument and persuasion to draw the audience to side with Jesus and to participate in his message. These figures serve as arguments of ethos, logos, and pathos and create audience members who are invested in the character of Jesus and the gospel message. Finally, Luke uses powerful and memorable figures of speech to proclaim a message of role reversals in the major social, religious, economic, and political systems of the Roman Empire. Using figures of speech that are highly refined and artful allows the proclamation of this role-reversing message to resonate with the audience and ultimately to form its members.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rhetoric and the New Testament

This blog will seek to discuss the relatively new field of exploring the New Testament through rhetorical criticism.  But, before I jump right into posts about the practice of rhetorical criticism, let me tell you how I came to be a proponent of RC.

It all began in my 2005 doctoral seminar taught by Mikeal Parsons.  The Seminar was on rhetorical criticism and the book of Acts.  Dr. Parsons was doing research for his commentary on Acts in the Paideia series which has since been published.  We students did a fair amount of the data collection for that commentary.

Our three main sources for ancient rhetoric were Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria, Ps-Cicero's Rhetorica ad Herennium, and the four extant Progymnasmata by Theon, Hermogenes, Apthonius, and Nicolaus.  We began the semester by reading Quintilian and Ps-Cicero's works.  Anyone who tries to plow through a five loeb volumes in a week knows what fun it can be.  After reading these works, I was a thorough skeptic.  I did not possibly see how all of these rules meant to instruct ancient orators as to how to compose and deliver a public speech had anything to do with the books of the New Testament.

So, what changed my mind.  I suppose you can say that Dr. Parsons gave the students a "gateway drug" in the form of the progymnasmata.  The progymnasmata, or preliminary exercises, were lessons given to secondary students in the Greco-Roman education system.  After moving beyond primary education, but before entering tertiary education in philosophy or rhetoric, a student would undertake the progymnasmata.  The number of exercises vary slightly, but include such things as practice in composing chreiai, maxims, narratives, comparisons, prosopopoiiai, etc.

Each student in our class was given the assignment to summarize one of the preliminary exercises and to find an example of it in the book of Acts.  I was given the exercise of syncrisis (comparison) and found a wonderful example of syncrisis in the Stephen episode in Acts 6-8.  I will post on that at another time.  I found syncrisis not only present in Acts, but also of great use in explaining the text.  I was hooked.  Ancient rhetoric could be used to enlighten our understanding of New Testament texts.

The subsequent years of Ph.D. study saw me further converted to using rhetorical criticism on the NT, culminating in my Dissertation entitled: Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke.