Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Dictionary of Socio-Rhetorical Terms

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Or texture:

paideia: instruction on how to live a successful life according to the values of Greek society.

parable: one of the forms in NT literature, it is a story told by Jesus, often incorporating an element of surprise, that illustrates an ethical, moral or theological point.

parallel members: These are pairs of poetic or narrational lines of texts that are connected in theme, words and subject to form a complete thought unit.

patriarchal society: a society dominated by males. The NT society was patriarchal and hence the literature from that period is marked by a distinctly male perspective. Feminine voices, views, and perspectives are rarely found. It has been one of the tasks of feminist criticism to call attention to this aspect of the NT literature.

patron: A patron, or benefactor, is one who enters into a contract with a client and provides goods that are not normally available to the client. In return, the benefactor receives honor and loyalty. Click here for examples.

patron-client contract: One of several common social and cultural topics, it is initiated by means of a positive challenge, a positive gift. It ties persons of significantly different social statuses, hence the goods and services in the ongoing reciprocal relationship are different. The relationship is asymmetrical since the partners are not social equals and make no pretense to equality. The patron-client contract provides things not normally available in the village or urban neighborhood, things that at times are badly needed. In return, the client gives the patron honor and loyalty. Patron-client relationships seem to be implied in the Gospels when people approach Jesus for "mercy." Furthermore, all positive relationships with God are rooted in the perception of patron-client contracts.

patterns: point to the convictions expressed by the words in a text and to the manner in which the text attempts to persuade and convince the reader. Analysis of innertexture includes looking for repetitive, progressive, narrational, opening-middle-closing, argumentative, and sensory-aesthetic patterns.

peasants: Included in common social and cultural topics, peasants came into existence after the growth of the preindustrial city. They are rural smallholders under the control of outsiders. They have to exchange part of what they produce for manufactured goods which they cannot make themselves, in some form of instrumental exchange in which they play only a subordinate role. Concerning lifestyle, the peasant operates in terms of the family labor year. First, he and his family must grow enough food to keep him and them and their livestock until the next harvest, with enough seed-grain to plant next year's crop. Second, the peasant had to produce a surplus: enough to obtain the occasional iron implement or utensil, to contribute to local festivals, and to make a loan to a neighbor in need. Only by contributing to festivals and making such loans could he acquire the reciprocal right to call on his neighbor when himself in adversity. From such festivals stem the little traditions of peasantry--peasant social insurance. Third, and (from the peasant's viewpoint) last, he had to produce "funds of rent" adequate to satisfy his landlord or tax collector, the feared representative of the high culture or "Great Tradition." Click here for examples.

politics of omission: used in the context of ideological texture, the politics of omission refers to what biblical scholarship has chosen to leave out. For instance, critics have pointed out that Nubia, the capital of Ethiopia, fails to appear on most all maps of the New Testament world. Ideological critics call attention to the implications of such omissions. Many times these omissions reveal the biases and political agendas of scholars.

post-industrial society: a society that has existed since the industrial revolution (1800's c.e.). Our post-industrial, urban-centered society is very different in many respects from the pre-industrial, agrarian based society of the NT world. Modern conveniences, such as cars, electricity, and phones make our world very different from the first-century Mediterranean world.

postmodern criticism:

poststructuralism:

precreation rhetorolect/belief system/form of life: One of six major first century Christian rhetorolect/belief systems. First century Christian precreation belief blends human experiences of the emperor (like the Roman emperor) and his household (firstspace) with the cosmos (secondspace), with the presupposition that God has an eternal status as a loving heavenly emperor with a household and community populated by loving people. The result of this blending is the presence of the loving Emperor Father God in God’s heavenly household before all time and continually throughout God's "non-time." God’s Son existed with God during "non-time" before time began with the creation of the world. This "eternal" Son does what His Father asks him to do, and heirs and friends of the eternal emperor and his eternal son receive eternal benefits from their relation to this eternal household and community. In the space of blending (thirdspace), God functions as heavenly Emperor Father who possesses eternal blessings He will give to people as a result of his love for the world and the people in it. People may enter into this love by believing, honoring, and worshipping not only God but also his eternal Son and members and friends whom God sends out with a message of eternal blessings. Precreation belief, then, features love that is the source of all things in the world and the means by which people may enter into God’s eternal love. In this belief system, God’s light is embodied love that provides the possibility for entering into eternal love, rather than being limited to light that is the basis for the production and reproduction of goodness and righteousness. The goal of the blending in precreation belief is to guide people towards community that is formed through God’s love, which reflects the eternal intimacy present in God’s precreation household and community. Back to Rhetorolect/Belief Systems table.

prefect: the ruler of an individual territory in the Roman governmental system. Pontius Pilate, for instance, was the prefect of Judea from 26-37 c.e. (during the time that Jesus lived).

premise: it is the rule (often time unstated) that governs a thesis and its rationale. A premise, thesis, and rationale make up a syllogism. Here is an example: premise - all birds have feathers; rationale: (because) the sparrow has feathers; thesis (therefore) the sparrow is a bird.

priestly rhetorolect/belief system/form of life: One of six major first century Christian rhetorolect/belief systems. First century Christian priestly belief blends human experiences in a temple or other place of worship (firstspace) with a concept of temple city and God’s cosmos (secondspace). Reasoning in priestly belief presupposes that ritual actions benefit God in a manner that activate divine benefits for humans on earth. In the space of blending (thirdspace), people make sacrifices by giving up things that give them well being in the form of giving them to God or seek special mysteries about God. Things like food, possessions and money but also things like comfort and honor may be given up to God in ritual actions. Some of these things may be given to God by giving them to other people on earth, or by allowing other people to take things like honor or fame away without protest. The greatest sacrifice people can offer to God, of course, is their entire life. Usually, in contrast, a person gives up only certain highly valued things in life. Much early Christian priestly belief somehow relates to Jesus’ death on the cross, but another dimension of it relates to the mysteries of God. Priestly belief features beneficial exchange between God and humans in a context of human ritual action. The goal of the conceptual blending is to create people who are willing to engage in complex ritual actions to receive special divine benefits that come to them, because these ritual actions are perceived to benefit God as well as humans. In other words, ritual actions by humans create an environment in which God acts redemptively among humans in the world. Back to Rhetorolect/Belief Systems table.

progressive texture: an aspect of inner texture, it resides in sequences (progressions) of words and phrases throughout the unit. Sometimes words alternate with one another throughout the unit, like "I...you," "now...then," "because...therefore," "good...bad"; sometimes words form a sequence of steps like "I,I,I...they,they...we,we,us"; sometimes words form a chain like "hope and righteousness...righteousness and God...God and people who believe". Click here for examples.

pronouncement story: a term used in form criticism to describe a unit in the gospels; other examples include "parable," "miracle story", and "story about Jesus."

prophetic rhetorolect/belief system/form of life: One of six major first century rhetorolect/belief systems. First century Christian prophetic belief blends experiences in a “kingdom” that has political boundaries on earth (firstspace) with God’s cosmos (secondspace), with the presupposition that God transmits God’s will in special ways into the speech and action of prophets. The reasoning in the belief system presupposes that the prophet has received a divine message about God's will. The prophet speaks and acts in contexts that envision righteous judgments and actions by kings, who should be God's leaders who establish justice on the earth. As a result of the nature of God's message, the prophet regularly experiences significant resistance, and often explicit rejection and persecution. In the space of blending (thirdspace), God functions as heavenly King over his righteous kingdom on earth. The nature of prophetic belief is to confront religious and political leaders who act on the basis of human greed, pride, and power rather than God's justice, righteousness, and mercy for all people in God's kingdom on the earth. The goal of prophetic belief is to create a governed realm on earth where God’s righteousness is enacted among all of God's people in the realm with the aid of God’s specially transmitted word in the form of prophetic action and speech (thirdspace). Back to Rhetorolect/Belief Systems table.

purposeful action: one of three "body zones" of sensory-aesthetic texture, purposeful action deals with the hands, feet, arms, fingers, legs, and the activities of these organs: to do, act, accomplish, execute, intervene, touch, come, go, march, walk, stand, sit, along with specific activities such as to steal, kidnap, commit adultery, build, and the like. The following representative nouns and adjectives pertain to this body zone: action, gesture, work, activity, behavior, step, walking, way, course, and any specific activity; active, capable, quick, slow, and so forth. In our culture, this body zone would cover the area of outward human behavior, all external activity, human actions upon the world of persons and things.

purity codes: an aspect of common social and cultural topics, they are social constructions specifically concerned with the general cultural map of social time and space, about arrangements in and around the space, and especially about the boundaries separating the inside from the outside. The unclean or impure is something that does not fit the space in which it is found, that belongs elsewhere, that causes confusion in the arrangement of the generally accepted social map because it overruns boundaries. Click here for examples.

qualitative reasoning: an aspect of argumentative texture, it is the kind of argumentative pattern that occurs when the quality of the images and descriptions encourages the reader to accept the portrayal as true and real. This occurs when analogies, examples, and recitations of ancient testimony function in a persuasive manner. See logical reasoning.

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Definitions based upon Vernon K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996 and Vernon K. Robbins, The Tapestry of Early Christianity: Rhetoric, Society, and Ideology, London and New York: Routledge, 1996.