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

Socio-Rhetorical Hermeneutics and Commentary

Vernon K. Robbins, Emory University

EPI TO AUTO: Studies in Honour of Petr Pokorny on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, pp. 284-297

It is a great pleasure to begin a discussion of socio-rhetorical hermeneutics and commentary in a volume dedicated to Professor Dr. Petr Pokorny. He has performed a major role of leadership in the application of new methods and the development of new hermeneutical theory in his home context of the Czech Republic, and his unending devotion and love for the field of New Testament study has enriched the lives of people in many countries throughout the world. It has been the pleasure of my wife and me to welcome Professor Pokorny both to Emory University and our home in the United States. We also have enjoyed the gracious hospitality of Professor Pokorny and his wife Vera in Prague. During our visit in October 1993, a robust crowd of students and professors listened intently as he translated my lecture on socio-rhetorical criticism during my delivery of it at Charles University. With the subsequent publication of The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse (Robbins 1996a) and Exploring the Texture of Texts (Robbins 1996b), basic guides to socio-rhetorical interpretation are now available to interpreters. A basic question remains, however, concerning how an interpreter should use the insights in these two books. The term "socio-rhetorical" is currently appearing in significantly different contexts, and interpreters are pursuing somewhat different goals with strategies they consider to be socio-rhetorical in nature. It is an honor to reflect on the nature of socio-rhetorical hermeneutics and commentary in a volume dedicated to Professor Pokorny.

This essay unfolds in two sections. The first section identifies central features of the hermeneutic that guides the socio-rhetorical approach described in the two books cited above. The second section contains an initial attempt to delineate a procedure whereby socio-rhetorical commentary may produce a mode of interpretation that takes the rich tradition of New Testament commentary into yet richer fields of historical, social, cultural, ideological, and theological insight to equip it with flexibility and tenacity for the twenty-first century.

Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation as a Rhetorical Hermeneutics

The first step is to associate socio-rhetorical criticism with rhetorical hermeneutics. There are strong reasons for exploring the relation of socio-rhetorical interpretation to hermeneutics. All knowledge, according [[285]] to Edward Farley, "has a hermeneutic character: to grasp reality in its complexity involves interpretive activities." The reason is that "[a]nything that is actual has different dimensions that call for different kinds of interpretive responses" (Farley 1988: 12). A goal of socio-rhetorical criticism is to invite correctives of the Enlightenment tradition into basic procedures and goals of the Enlightenment tradition. This means that socio-rhetorical interpretation invites disciplined interaction of "various types of knowledge and modes of thinking" to explore "experiential, pluralistic, hermeneutic, critical, rational, political, and aesthetic dimensions" of texts (cf. Farley 1988: 60). The presupposition is that texts are "historically engendered deposits of wisdom," and that important "knowledge occurs in conjunction with the reinterpretation" of them (Farley 1988: 10). Adapting further words of Farley, the conviction underlying a socio-rhetorical approach is that interpretation of texts "has to do with capacities of responding to and interpreting the complexities, the various dimensions, of reality," and this calls for "broader, more flexible paradigms of interpretation" (Farley 1988: 60-61). It is essential that multiple modes be dynamically and critically juxtaposed with one another in the approach, since "[c]oncrete reality occurs in a large system of ever-changing relations and events" (Farley 1988: 6).

Underlying this approach is a special interest in "religion" as a phenomenon of great importance within both the past and the present experience of humans. I share the presupposition of Farley that religion is not a region or entity but an aspect of human, historical, and personal processes, events, and relations. The grasp of this aspect calls for a complex and flexible posture of interpretation which includes, among other things, philosophical scrutiny of the strangeness of the human being and its experience of the world, as well as a probing of the complex strata of human language (Farley 1988: 61). Texts, then, that are perceived especially to be "religious" texts call for a wide-ranging, complex, and flexible approach to interpretation.

If socio-rhetorical interpretation is hermeneutical in character, what does it mean for the hermeneutic of the approach to be rhetorical? Steven Mailloux has championed a concept of "rhetorical hermeneutics" that is highly instructive in this regard. In his words, "[r]hetorical hermeneutics is the theoretical practice that results from the intersection between rhetorical pragmatism and the study of cultural rhetoric" (Mailloux 1991: 233). Socio-rhetorical interpretation, as an approach that uses rhetorical strategies of analysis, that operates out of the insights of pragmatism into the function of language and the making of texts (Langsdorf 1995), and that approaches religious discourse as cultural rhetoric, is naturally grounded in rhetorical hermeneutics. A rhetorical hermeneutics

views shared interpretative strategies not as the creative origin of texts but rather [[286]] as historical sets of topics, arguments, tropes, ideologies, and so forth which determine how texts are established as meaningful through rhetorical exchange (Mailloux 1989: 15). Socio-rhetorical hermeneutics, then, "ground[s] itself within rhetorical histories" and provides "thick descriptions of interpretative practices that are mindful of the shifting political positions of those who engage in them" (Mailloux 1989: 16-18; cf. Leff 1997: 197).

A. The Interactionist Nature of Socio-Rhetorical Hermeneutics

As a hermeneutical approach, socio-rhetorical criticism has a natural affinity with theological study of religion. Theological studies are accustomed to a practice of parsing different dimensions of a tradition and constructing a system that explains the relationships of the parts to one another and to the whole system (cf. Robbins 1996a, 1996b). Yet hermeneutics is under attack from at least two sides. E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley have sharpened the attack from the side of the sciences (1990, 1993). For them, hermeneutic methods focus on "understanding" in a manner that excludes explanatory modes of analysis that are systematic, focused on the general rather than the specific, and testable (Lawson and McCauley 1993: 201-202). In a section of an article entitled "The Harmful Effects of Hermeneutic Method," they introduce the problems with a hermeneutic approach in the following manner:

That approach appeals to the particular over the general. It is unconcerned with systematic patterns. It is usually historicist in the extreme. Most importantly, though, it privileges in the study of religion not only religious texts but the category of texuality in general (Lawson and McCauley 1993: 214).

From their perspective, hermeneutic methods introduce a "textual straightjacket" that "leaves many features of symbolic-cultural systems (not just religious systems) in a cognitive vacuum" (Lawson and McCauley 1993: 214). One of the accompanying results is the neglect of religious practices in non-literate societies. Another is the inability to investigate the beginnings of new religions, since the earliest stages of a new religion do not yet possess developed texts or traditions (Lawson and McCauley 1993: 217). For them, "only novel explanatory theorizing can break through the confines of the hermeneutic circle" (Lawson and McCauley 1993: 203).

Hermeneutics is also under attack from the side of rhetorical interpretation. Wilhelm H. Wuellner assaults hermeneutical theory for suppressing the rhetorics of texts with a "theory of extracting 'the' meaning (usually restricted to theological, occasionally also ethical, but rarely any other meanings)" from a text. For him, rhetorical interpretation should explain the text's power and explore "possibilities" manifestly awak-[[287]]ened by the language in the text (Wuellner 1988: 286-87; cf. Robbins 1993a: 446). Wuellner's concern, then, is from the other side, warning that "rhetoric cannot be reduced to a social science, nor to linguistics, speech act theories, or a communication science" (Wuellner 1991: 180). J.D.H. Amador, extending Wuellner's approach, argues that in the dominant modes of rhetorical interpretation in New Testament studies "the understanding of the rhetorical effect of a discourse is directed by a hermeneutic which continues to locate textual 'meaning' in the original act/context/event of composition and performance." Thus, "the hermeneutical center [the authoritative touchstone] for further textual interpretation and application is a "reconstructed meaning-as-historical-meaning" (Amador 1996: 263). Here again is an attack on the historicist orientation of rhetorical criticism. But it differs decisively from Lawson and McCauley as it turns away from "scientific" models of explanation toward the rhetorical power of the text.

Lawson and McCauley describe the way forward as "interactionism" rather than "exclusivism" or "inclusivism" (1990: 15-31). For them, exclusivism takes two forms. One emphasizes the centrality of explanation and only uses methods of the natural sciences [behavioral psychologists, sociobiologists, etc.]; the other considers all inquiry to be ultimately interpretive [such post-modernist philosophers as Rorty] (1990: 15). From this perspective, both Wuellner and Amador take a strong exclusivist approach. In their view, rhetorical interpretation should have nothing to do with science--the reductionist move which is foundational for every scientific approach corrupts rhetorical interpretation at the outset of its procedures. Inclusivism is a more moderate approach, since it includes both explanation and interpretation. In the view of Lawson and McCauley, inclusivist approaches could be "a two-way street," but in fact they subordinate explanation to interpretation (1990: 18). Current inclusivist approaches take one of three positions. Scholars asserting the first position claim that explanation in the context of human matters is simply unrealizable on a practical level. Scholars holding the second position argue that "understanding is not only the goal of inquiry in the human sciences but must also be the method of inquiry." Scholars taking the third position assert, in a context where they have no antagonism toward explanatory modes, "that all discussions of human interests and intentions are fundamentally interpretive and that, virtually by definition, human interests and intentions pervade all human activity" (Lawson and McCauley 1990: 18-20). In the face of this subordination of explanation in the context of study of human activity, Lawson and McCauley assert that new explanatory theories now exist that have "one foot in the hermeneutical circle but another outside it as well" (1990: 22). This development provides the possibility for "interactionism," which "ac-[[288]]knowledges the differences between interpretation and explanation and champions the positive values of each" (1990:22).

In the end, the approach of Lawson and McCauley appears, at best, to be inclusivist. It appears to invite only those interpretive methods that meet certain criteria established by methods of "explanation." On the other hand, Wuellner and Amador have established an exclusivist position, allowing no place for the historical and social sciences at the table of rhetorical interpretation. A socio-rhetorical hermeneutics, in contrast, introduces an interactionist approach to hermeneutics. Its procedures are multiple, dynamic, and non-polarizing. A primary goal of socio-rhetorical interpretation is to integrate the study of religion as a humanistic discipline, a theological discipline, and a social-scientific discipline. The choice of the term "rhetorical" moves beyond the confines of literary studies to the interrelation of communication, theology, philosophy, and the social sciences. The prefix "socio-" in the phrase "socio-rhetorical" moves beyond the confines of historical studies to the interrelation of cultural discourse, social contexts and sociological and anthropological theory.

The key to socio-rhetorical interpretation lies in the manner in which it establishes dialogical interaction among multiple disciplinary strategies of interpretation. Citing Plato, Mailloux asserts that "Unlike the spoken work in dialogue, the written text remains powerless to correct its receiver's misreading" (Plato in Mailloux 1997: 380). A major strategy of socio-rhetorical interpretation is to place dialogue at the center of reading and interpretation of a written text. No strategy of reading a text is excluded from the conversation. This does not mean that "anything goes." Rather, it means that the approach invites disciplined strategies of interpretation to interact with one another on a level playing field�inviting them to shed light on one another's insights and ideologies. The interpreter, of course, both designs and referees specific moments of interpretation, thus socio-rhetorical interpretation recognizes and invites investigations of the ideological orientation of all interpretations. If the interpretation enacts a socio-rhetorical hermeneutic, it will be guided by interactionism rather than exclusivism or inclusivism.

B. Socio-Rhetorical Hermeneutics as Ethnography of Orality, Writing, and Reading

How can a rhetorical mode of interpretation establish an interactional environment among social-scientific, humanistic, and theological analysis? The answer in socio-rhetorical interpretation is to interpret a text like an anthropologist interprets a village. This leads to an ethnography of texts (cf. Garrett 1989). The interactionism of socio-rhetorical interpretation is grounded in ethnography of orality, writing, and reading [[289]] (J. Boyarin 1993; cf. Noakes 1993; Robbins 1991: 318-26; Robbins 1993b; Robbins 1994). This means that the subject of interpretation is not simply the content of the text but the interaction between its content and its mode of production. Interpreters who enact socio-rhetorical hermeneutics will investigate the historical, linguistic, social, cultural, ideological, and theological phenomena that, working together, function as the material, means, and mode of production of the discourse. One of the distinctive features of a socio-rhetorical hermeneutics�as it operates in a dynamic relation with historical, social-scientific, literary, and theological hermeneutics�is its investigation of "operational models" as well as "representative models" exhibited by the discourse in the text. Representational models are "indigenous models of their world that people can more or less articulate." Operational models are "indigenous models that guide behavior in given situations and that tend to be out of awareness" (Holland and Quinn 1987: 5 in D. Boyarin 1993: 228). Many, though fortunately not all, current historical, social-scientific, literary, and theological interpretations work solely with the representational models New Testament texts articulate. These interpretations do not work their way into the operational models that guided the discursive behavior that the discourse exhibits but does not articulate. To put this another way, the socio-rhetorical features of New Testament texts themselves regularly show us quite a different process of transmission and interaction (operational model) than the text articulates (representational model).

Undoubtedly the most dramatic articulation of a representational model in the New Testament is the two-volume work Luke-Acts, which claims to present to the reader the process that produced Christianity from the day Zechariah received the promise of his son John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-23) to the "two whole years" Paul spent in Rome "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered" (Acts 28:30-31). Books in the New Testament like the Epistle of James, the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Revelation of John show us that a very different process produced early Christian discourse than the focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus, supported with scriptural recitation, articulated in Acts. Many current historical, literary, social-scientific, and theological approaches simply work out of the representational model articulated by Luke and Acts, supplementing it here and there without serious investigation of the operational models that exhibit dramatically different processes than Luke and Acts articulate. Socio-rhetorical hermeneutics--as ethnography of orality, writing, and reading--guides interpreters into both the operational and the representational models in the discourse and establishes a dialogue among them in interpretation. [[290]]

Socio-Rhetorical Commentary:
Interpreting the New Testament as Hermeneutical Rhetoric

There is yet the question of the relation of socio-rhetorical commentary to socio-rhetorical hermeneutics. The relation between the emerges in Michael Leff's presentation of "hermeneutical rhetoric" as a counterpart to "rhetorical hermeneutics" (Leff 1997). The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse (Robbins 1996a) and Exploring the Texture of Texts (1996b) are grounded in socio-rhetorical hermeneutics. Interpreters who use the interpretive strategies of these two books to write socio-rhetorical commentary will produce hermeneutical rhetoric. "Hermeneutical rhetoric" describes "how interpretative processes become inventional resources in texts that purport to address extraverbal reality." The issue is "how hermeneutical strategies enter into the production of political rhetoric" (Leff 1997: 198). A socio-rhetorical hermeneutics, without commentary, "can provide thick descriptions of how interpretative practices change at different times and in different rhetorical communities, but it offers no account of how members of a community can invent new interpretative strategies while remaining within that community" (Leff 1997: 203). In contrast, socio-rhetorical commentary as hermeneutical rhetoric "focuses upon interpretation as a source of invention and suggests how traditions can be altered without destroying their identity. It offers a view of community as a locus of deliberating subjects who change themselves and one another by renewing and revaluing moments in their history" (Leff 1997: 203-204). Thus socio-rhetorical commentary "cuts across the bias of theory and practice and manifests itself through concrete application" (Leff 1997: 204).

Leff shows how Abraham Lincoln used the Declaration of Independence as a ground and vehicle for dealing with issues of his own time: a clear case of hermeneutical rhetoric (Leff 1997: 204). While Leff's discussion of hermeneutical rhetoric presents a basic guideline for understanding the relation of socio-rhetorical hermeneutics to socio-rhetorical commentary, his own analysis, focused only on the Declaration of Independence, is too limited to serve as a model for socio-rhetorical commentary on the New Testament. A major challenge for socio-rhetorical commentary on the New Testament is to identify the multiple modes of hermeneutical rhetoric that functioned within early Christian discourse. At present, four primary modes appear as "grounds" and "vehicles" within New Testament discourse for dealing with issues of their own time: (a) sayings of Jesus; (b) stories about Jesus; (c) Old Testament scripture; and (d) stories about followers of Jesus (cf. Leff 1997: 204). The Q material, Mark 4, Mark 13, and major portions of the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John use sayings of Jesus as major grounds or vehicles for [[291]] hermeneutical rhetoric. The four gospels also contain substantive sections that use stories of Jesus as major grounds or vehicles for hermeneutical rhetoric. Large portions, though not all, of the New Testament use Old Testament scripture as major grounds or vehicles for hermeneutical rhetoric. New Testament letters and Acts, and a few sections in the Gospels, use followers of Jesus as major grounds or vehicles for hermeneutical rhetoric.

Perhaps the best way to show how this works is to identify moments in New Testament discourse when major shifts occur in modes of hermeneutical rhetoric. For the purposes of this essay, we will look briefly at 30-50, 50-70, and 70-100 CE.

A. Oral and Anecdotal Traditions as Messianist Rhetorolects during 30-50 CE

During the first two decades of early Christianity (30-50 CE) the primary vehicles for the hermeneutical rhetoric of followers of Jesus were sayings and stories of Jesus. Different groups of "messianists" viewed Jesus as a person through whom God had worked in remarkable and extraordinary ways. As people enthusiastically transmitted sayings and stories of Jesus during this formative period, they created a spectrum of messianist rhetorolects that, while differing significantly from one another in topic, argumentative style, and reasoning, nevertheless agreed with one another in their focus on Jesus as truly exceptional in the realm of God's activity. "A rhetorolect is a form of language variety or discourse identifiable on the basis of a distinctive configuration of themes, topics, reasoning, and argumentation" (Robbins 1996c: 356). On the basis of data available to us, five major rhetorolects appeared in early Christian discourse during the first two decades (30-50 CE): wisdom, miracle, apocalyptic, opposition, and death-resurrection. Analysis of these five rhetorolects in a socio-rhetorical mode is at its very beginning stages (Robbins 1996c: 357-61).

It will be possible to understand and explicate the nature of the hermeneutical rhetoric in each of the five rhetorolects only when there has been socio-rhetorical analysis of the questions, if-then statements, when-then statements, rationales, negatives, commands, analogies, comparisons, examples, authoritative testimony, and narrative story in them (Robbins 1997). Analysis of questions is important, since questions place topics in a formative position for the creation of culture. If-then statements are also important, since with these statements people express their convictions and hopes in a mode that is almost argumentative. When-then statements are more assertive than if-then statements. A person entertains greater probability with an assertion of "when" than "if." When people present rationales, they begin to move into a fully [[292]] argumentative mode concerning their convictions about action and belief: this because of this. Negatives are important, because they exhibit those social, cultural, and ideological topics over against which a culture builds its positive assertions. Citations of authoritative testimony show the traditions this emerging culture uses to authenticate its assertions. Narrative is important, since small, limited stories generate paradigmatic principles of behavior and function as building blocks in an overarching story that may emerge as a representational model for all the discourse.

One of the most important aspects of these rhetorolects is the manner in which reference to antecedent scripture is presence or absent in them. Currently, many interpreters proceed as though scriptural recitation were present in every rhetorolect at work in early Christian discourse. Initial analyses of the five rhetorolects indicates that this is not the case. Rather, the process by which early messianist rhetorolects were "scripturalized" is one of the major tasks New Testament interpreters need to undertake and exhibit. The Gospel of Thomas calls attention in dramatic fashion to the potential for early Christian rhetorolects to be transmitted in a cultural environment that did not "scripturalize" them (Robbins 1997). The four New Testament Gospels and the letters of Paul, in contrast, exhibit diverse ways in which the early messianist rhetorolects were infused with scriptural discourse. By the time Christian writers penned texts during the last thirty years of the first century, the activity of scripturalizing Christian discourse had become such a common practice that people considered this manner of speaking, writing, and reading to have been present from the earliest days of the Christian community.

B. Pauline Letters as a Primary Shift in Hermeneutical Rhetoric during 50-70 CE

50-70 CE reveals the emergence of Pauline discourse, which moved decisively away from sayings and stories of Jesus as major vehicles for addressing critical issues that arose in early Christianity. Pauline discourse makes stories about Paul, his associates, and his communities the primary vehicle for its hermeneutical rhetoric. The first moment visible to us appears in 1 Thessalonians 1-3, a text written ca. 50 CE�a time when sayings and stories of Jesus had functioned for two decades as the major] vehicle for dealing with the issues of the time. In 1 Thessalonians the activities of Paul, Paul's associates, and people in certain Pauline communities take center stage as the vehicle for Paul's hermeneutical rhetoric.

In 1 Thessalonians, the new vehicle for Christian hermeneutical rhetoric appears in 1:2-3 where Paul gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians' "work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus [[293]] Christ." The subject matter here is not anything Jesus said or did but what members of a community with whom Paul associates himself are doing. Paul evokes the validity of his hermeneutical rhetoric with a claim that "God has chosen" the Thessalonians (1:4). The initial rhetorical move, then, is to confirm the members of the Thessalonian congregation as a primary vehicle for this hermeneutical rhetoric through God's action rather than anything Paul has done. In 1:5, Paul introduces himself and his associates as a correlative to the Thessalonians: "We" brought you the gospel "not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction." God's power and the Holy Spirit accompanied the activity of Paul and his associates in such a manner that Paul is also not choosing himself and his associates of his own volition for this hermeneutical rhetoric: God has chosen them and God and the Holy Spirit work through them. Then 1:6 adds "the Lord [Jesus]" to the circle of people: the Thessalonians became imitators of Paul and his associates, "and of the Lord," when they "received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit." Now a hermeneutical circle emerges in which Paul, his associates, the Thessalonians, and the Lord Jesus all received the word of God in much affliction and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul does not rehearse any specific story that exhibits Jesus' acceptance of God's word in affliction and joy. Nor does Paul attribute to Jesus any saying in which Jesus expresses his joy at receiving the word and wisdom of God Either of these moves could shift the vehicle for Paul's hermeneutical rhetoric to Jesus himself, which would transform the discourse into a hermeneutical rhetoric characteristic of other apostles. Rather, Paul evokes a confirmation of his assertion by appealing to the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit without using either a story or a saying of Jesus as a vehicle for his argumentation. In 1:7-9 Paul announces the Thessalonians as the focal point of his discourse and supports their central place with a rationale (v. 8) and a confirmation of the rationale (vv. 9-10). The Thessalonians have become an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia, because [the rationale] the world of the Lord has sounded forth from them and their faith in God has gone forth everywhere and because [the confirmation of the rationale] the people in Macedonia and Achaia know (and tell) the story that the Thessalonians welcomed Paul and his associates among them and turned from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for God's Son from heaven, whom God raised from the dead. The "story" that takes center stage is a narrative about Paul, Paul's associates, and the people in the Thessalonian community. A potential story hovers in the background with the reference to God's raising of Jesus from the dead, but Paul is careful to maintain the centrality of the Thessalonians as the vehicle for his hermeneutical rhetoric. The genius of Paul's discourse is to refer to action by God and Jesus [[294]] in a manner that evokes a validation of the story about Paul and his associates and communities without allowing "the central story onstage" to become the story of God and Jesus' action.

In 1 Thessalonians 2-3 Paul embellishes the story of himself, his associates, and the Thessalonians, repetitively evoking the importance of this story by referring to God and the Lord Jesus Christ. He adds information about himself and his associates in Philippi (2:2), the churches in Judea (2:14), and the sending and returning of Timothy (3:1-6). As Paul develops the image and story of himself, his associates, and the believers in the communities whom he visits, he evokes the tradition of Jews in Judea who killed the prophets and the Lord Jesus, and drove Paul and his associates out (3:14-16). This is done in such a manner, however, that it keeps the story of Paul, his associates, and his communities on center stage. Paul's hermeneutical rhetoric skillfully evokes actions by God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that validate this newly emerging story.

The effect of the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians is to introduce a mode of hermeneutical rhetoric into early Christian discourse that reaches full fruition in the Acts of the Apostles. One of the decisive achievements of this discourse was to shift the locus of the hermeneutical rhetoric from sayings and stories of Jesus, whom the hearers had never seen, to actions of people whom the hearers were experiencing directly. The special attribute of this mode of discourse, then, is "direct" rather than indirect mediation of power. Hermeneutical rhetoric that used Jesus' sayings and stories as the vehicle of its assertions place the speaker in a secondary, indirect position of authority. Paul's hermeneutical rhetoric, in contrast, places all who associate with Paul in a primary, direct position of authority. Jesus' actions now play a "background" role along with God and the Holy Spirit. Paul adds no detail to describe the actions of Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit. All the detail��the events of importance for the story he presents��are details about himself, his associates, and the communities he visits.

C. Biography, Historiography, Epistle, and Apocalypse as Representational Discourse during 70-100 CE

During the period of 70-100 CE, Christian writers who had not participated in the discourse either of the historical Jesus or of the first two decades of earliest Christianity began to formulate representational models of the time of Jesus' life, the earliest two decades of Christianity, and the time of Paul's dramatic influence on early Christian discourse (50-ca. 64 CE). The fullest and most influential, representational product to emerge was Luke and Acts. These two volumes purport to give a historical account of the life of Jesus, the activity of the earliest followers of Jesus, and the time of Paul. [[295]]

All four gospels move the operational processes of the stories and sayings of Jesus into representational processes by means of a hermeneutical rhetoric in which Old Testament scripture hovers over the stories and sayings of Jesus like the Declaration of Independence hovers over Lincoln's Gettysburg address (Leff 1995). Each gospel does this in its own way, but a primary feature that all the New Testament gospels share with each other that they often do not share with gospels not included in the canon is a "New Testament mode" of scripturalizing the stories and sayings of Jesus.

The Acts of the Apostles moves the aspect of Paul's hermeneutical rhetoric that focuses on the activities of himself and his followers into a representational model that scripturalizes stories of select followers of Jesus. The pastoral and catholic epistles, in turn, transform operational Pauline discourse into representational Christian discourse. The Apocalypse of John transforms apocalyptic discourse of Jesus into representational divine discourse and action, again employing a thick scripturalizing mode. The challenge for socio-rhetorical commentary is to exhibit and perpetuate the hermeneutical rhetoric at work in the transformation of the earlier operational processes into the later representational processes.


It is possible for interpreters to use social and rhetorical strategies of analysis and interpretation to advance goals of a historical, literary, social-scientific, theological, or ideological hermeneutics that are not constitutive of a socio-rhetorical hermeneutics. A socio-rhetorical hermeneutics is dynamically interactionist, creating a dialogical and dialectical relation among multiple disciplinary modes of analysis and interpretation. Likewise, a socio-rhetorical hermeneutics is grounded in ethnography of orality, writing, and reading. If social and rhetorical analysis limits itself to historical, literary, theological, or ideological aspects of the New Testament, rather than approaching the texts as socio-rhetorical discourse, it enacts some other hermeneutics than a socio-rhetorical hermeneutics. Socio-rhetorical commentary is a counterpart of socio-rhetorical hermeneutics. In rhetorical terms, socio-rhetorical commentary is hermeneutical rhetoric grounded in ethnography of orality, writing, and reading. Socio-rhetorical commentary enacts the operational and representational processes within New Testament discourse in an inventional mode. Beginning with socio-rhetorical features in the operational discourse, socio-rhetorical commentary produces a hermeneutical rhetoric of questions, if-then statements, when-then statements, rationales, negatives, commands, recitations of ancient authority, and narrative story in early Christian discourse. The production of socio-rhetorical commentary [[296]] moves, then, from the operational to the representational processes, creating dialogical and dialectical interaction between these processes in its inventional activity. The overall goal is to perpetuate the operational and representational processes of early Christian discourse in a socio-rhetorical mode that enacts self-critical ideological engagement, interactive theological articulation, and ethical social and cultural practice.


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Noakes, Susan (1993) "Gracious Words: Luke's Jesus and the Reading of Sacred Poetry at the Beginning of the Christian Era," in Jonathan Boyarin (ed.), The Ethnography of Reading. Berkeley: University of California Press: 38-57.

Robbins, Vernon K. (1991) "The Social Location of the Implied Author of Luke-Acts," in Jerome H. Neyrey (ed.), The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers: 305-32.

-- (1993a) "Rhetoric and Culture: Exploring Types of Cultural Rhetoric in a Text," in [[297]] Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht (eds.), Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays from the 1992 Heidelberg Coference. JSNTSS 90. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press: 443-63.

-- (1993b) "Progymnastic Rhetorical Composition and Pre-Gospel Traditions: A New Approach," in C. Focant (ed.), The Synoptic Gospels: Source Criticism and the New Literary Criticism. BETL 110. Leuven: Leuven University Press: 111-47.

-- (1994) "Oral, Rhetorical, and Literary Cultures: A Response," Semeia 65: 75-91.

-- (1996a) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology. London and New York: Routledge.

-- (1996b) Exploring the Texture of Texts: A Guide to Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International.

-- (1996c) "The Dialectical Nature of Early Christian Discourse," Scriptura 59: 353-62.

-- (1997) "Rhetorical Composition and Sources in the Gospel of Thomas," Society of Biblical Literature 1997 Seminar Papers 36:86-114.

Wuellner, Wilhelm H. (1988) "The Rhetorical Structure of Luke 12 in its Wider Context," Neotestamentica 22: 283-310.

-- (1991) "Rhetorical Criticism and Its Theory in Culture-Critical Perspective: The Narrative Rhetoric of John 11," in P. J. Martin and J. H. Petzer (eds.), Text and Interpretation: New Approaches in the Criticism of the New Testament. New Testament Tools and Studies 15. Leiden: E.J. Brill: 171-85.

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