December 4, 2009

Did Paul's Rhetorical Skills Develop?

Completely aside from the question of how often Paul had a secretary (anamnuesis) and how that might have affected his written vocabulary, I've previously considered that letter writing is a developing skill (actually a very involved process) which one generally improves at over time, in various ways. I've also suggested that IF Galatians shows less 'polish' than Romans, then we should argue that probably shows less effort and thought went into 'publishing' the 'final draft' (regardless of which one came 'first').

J.K. Gayle posted some thoughts about Literary development more broadly, but today I'm specifically wondering about Rhetorical technique. I've been skeptical of Rhetorical Criticism in the past, until a friend at SBL encouraged me to give it more consideration. So here goes...

Assuming the Rhetorical Critics are right, it occurs to me that the 'wildness' of Galatians (being fitted into a standard Aristotelian outline) could arguably make Paul seem like *even more* of an amateur. In other words, the less disciplined composition of each 'section' might still reveal a less experienced writer. I'm not sure, but if Galatians fits more 'obviously' into Aristotle's format, doesn't that smack of an amateur? And wouldn't Paul most likely pick up more sophistication with Rhetoric after living in Greece, or during his extended association with Tyranus of Ephesus?

Obviously, my own thinking is somewhat circular (because I already have firm opinions on Pauline Chronology) but I'm suddenly dying to know what others might think about this. Maybe one of our Biblioblogging NT Rhetoricians (BW3 or BWG - the G is for Georgia) or someone else who's read more on Paul's Rhetoric than I have might be kind enough to stop by and answer these four questions:
1) Does the rhetorical(ly structured) view of Galatians necessarily prevent it from having been a one-draft effort?

2) Granting a classically rhetorical outline for Galatians, is there anything else about the composition that reveals a more or less experienced writer?

3) Have any rhetorical scholars noted clear signs of ongoing development in Paul's rhetorical style and/or abilities?

4) Has anyone ever attempted to rank Paul's letters in order of their rhetorical skill, with or without considering chronological issues?
I'm guessing no, maybe, maybe, and no/yes, but the true scoop is probably more complicated. As always, my interest is to work towards reconstructing the True Story, no matter how challenging or difficult it may be.

So hey, Brandon, you got your ears on?


J. K. Gayle said...

And wouldn't Paul most likely pick up more sophistication with Rhetoric after living in Greece, or during his extended association with Tyranus of Ephesus?

Bill, This is a fantastic post. Your questions really need answering even if you're suspicious of circularity in your own argument.

Luke records Paul in Athenians, a rhetor among Athenian rhetors, using rhetoric. We could imagine Aristotle - if he could get past a barbarian in the heart of the fatherland, dazzling the Hellene brothers - applying rhetorical criticism to Paul's speech. Before I get to your very good questions, let me say a couple of things. First, Aristotle may not have been Paul's only influence when it comes to "rhetoric qua rhetoric." I always wonder how much the Romans (i.e., Cicero and Quintilian and others) might have influenced Paul. For example, Paul tells Corinthian men to silence their women in the assembly but mentions no such thing to the men in Rome, and why not? Could it be that men in Rome had already culturally and legally not allowed women to be rhetors in any public context? Cicero et al mediate Plato and Aristotle et al very rigorously in ways that Paul seems to follow carefully. Second, then, I wonder if "rhetorical criticism" as applied to Paul needs to be more nuanced. (There are very clear schools of thought within "rhetorical criticism." Neo-aristotelianism kicked things off by insisting that the rhetorical critic focus almost exclusively on the effect on the audience as the measure of effectiveness of the rhetor and his speech [or her speech, when allowed]. But there are many other "lenses" of RC; e.g., [Neo-Aristotelian, Generic,
Feminist, Metaphoric, Narrative, Fantasy-Theme, Pentadic, and Cluster] the eight that Sonja Foss reviews in Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice.)

I guess I'm calling for more depth and nuance here. When rhetoric scholars James Kinneavy and George Kennedy get into the intersection of rhetorical studies (even "rhet crit") and biblical studies, they fail to understand all the serious issues in the latter. Likewise, I think, BW3 glosses over "rhetoric" by considering it only in (or at best mainly with ref to) the context of NT or biblical studies.

As for your Qs:

1) my answer, No.
2) I'm hung up on your qualification "Aristotelian outline." Why not a Ciceroian outline? Why not neo-Aristotelianism or feminism?

3) maybe C. Joachim Classen is your answer. There's his Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament, and in various books and journals his essay, "St Paul's Epistles and Ancient Greek and Roman Rhetoric."

4) I'd love to see you do this, but whose measure of rhetorical skill would you use?

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks, Kurk. I assume it's clear that I haven't studied Rhetoric. In most things BS, I hear something being discussed and my skepticism stems from their monolithic approach. I'm finding this word "develop" can be a helpful way of cutting through that, in communication. Again, however, I know virtually nothing about NT Rhet Crit.

As to your A's:

1) seems reasonable
2) give me a more basic qualification, and I'll change the post. for now, I'll make it say "classically rhetorical". Sorry, I was under the wrong impression about A.
3) What did Classen say about development in P's Rhet?
4) Is that a "no"?

I've already posted my Pauline Chronology. The more I think about the letters, the more I think ranking them rhetorically doesn't prove anything.

(The best thing I've ever written might have been written this year, but everything I've written this year hasn't been on the same level.)

However, these questions are still something else worth considering, I think. You never know...

J. K. Gayle said...


Has anyone studied rhetoric... enough? I appreciate very much your fresh take on Paul. You're pointing out a need, an area of neglected scholarship!

I'm sorry now I came on with my comment here with so much nuance. Rhetorical criticism is fascinating, and I'm really urging you to choose your angle with respect to Paul's discourse.

Perhaps, discourse analysis (the way text linguists do that) would be a way to start with an analysis of the rhetoric. I've taken a stab before at a feminist rhetoric criticism of Paul's writings, but not in a developmental way. I do think he changed the way he wrote, the ways he thought, and his views of women and slaves and gays, over time. The chronology you might establish really helps us get to some of the direction of that change.

Paul is the only one in the NT to use Aristotle's little "-ike" suffix, and he used it on the word "logic" in Romans 12! Now that's fascinating, given Paul's rhetoric in Romans, how it favors Greeks and Jews and seems to be silent toward the Roman empire, a kind of snubbing. At any rate, I digress, a bit.

I'm out of time for now but will send you Claussen's essay and try to get back to your other questions a bit more. I know I won't stop thinking about them for a long time!

Bill Heroman said...

Ah, good. Then I have not lived in vain, today. :-)

Chronology is the bedrock of History. Without a proper chronology, we lack proper perspective in viewing historical things - writings and/or events. Therefore, development is an important aspect of everything.

Thanks for the encouragement, Kurk.

I'm still hoping Brandon Wason will comment, also...

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton