Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Paul and Rhetoric (once more)

I'm currently writing a short piece about the value of applying the categories from rhetorical handbooks to Paul's letters. Those who want of a short and readable introduction to the subject see Steve Walton, ‘Rhetorical Criticism: An Introduction’, Themelios 21 (1996): 4-9. The problem is the legitimacy and benefit of applying the categories of oral discourse to a written medium. As such scholars such as Mark Nanos, Markus Bockmuehl, and Stanley Porter have questioned the applicability of Graeco-Roman rhetoric to Paul's epistles.

There are a whole host of issues, responses, and counter-responses that come up in assessing this subject. The conclusion I am coming to is that Paul’s letters exhibit a functional rhetoric, although evidently not a formal rhetoric. Paul did not write Galatians with Aristotle’s Rhetorica by his side, nor is it likely that he dictated Romans with a view to imitating Quintilian or Cicero. Rhetorical parallels are evident, they affect the structure of his letters and the texture of the argumentation, but they do not control or determine the various facets of his letters. A conscious or unconscious amalgam and adaptation of epistolary structures, Jewish exegetical techniques, traditional Christian material, biographical self-references, Greco-Roman rhetorical forms, sermonic exhortation and explanation, apocalyptic and wisdom motifs, evangelistic zeal, and pastoral concern make Paul’s letters what they are. As such, it is necessary to integrate a study of rhetoric, in its various forms, into a comprehensive and holistic analysis of Paul’s letters.


metalepsis said...

I think your right here Mike in terming it a functional use of rhetoric, namely because the interpretation of Paul using both ancient and modern rhetoric gives us at least 'one' window into deciphering what Paul was trying to say. On a rather pragmatic note those who offer interpretations of Paul using these devices have certainly made me sit up and listen.

Eric Rowe said...

I basically agree. But there must be something to be said for the impact that having been educated in such rules of rhetoric from boyhood would have on Paul. No?