Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

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Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion


Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Definition of reference.

Reference is the occurrence of a word, phrase or clause that refers to a personage or tradition known to people in a culture. In Mark 6.15, 'But others said, "It is Elijah"', refers to a 'prophet' who is the center of attention in 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 2 in the Bible, in certain extra-biblical literature and in scattered references to him in other literature of the time. Socio-rhetorical criticism uses the term 'cultural' to refer to the status of a phenomenon that appears in a wide range of literature that spans many centuries. By the first century, Elijah was a cultural rather than simply a textual figure. People could refer to him without reference to any particular oral or scribal text. Likewise, Acts 14.12: 'Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker', presupposes stories in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and other literature in Mediterranean antiquity about the 'father' of gods and about the special 'messenger' of this and other gods. Simple reference to personages like this evokes a wide range of meaning effects that are more properly called cultural than oral-scribal.

From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 110.

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