The Present And Future Of Rhetorical Analysis
Vernon K. Robbins, Emory University
From The Rhetorical Analysis of Scripture: Essays from the 1995 London Conference, 24-52.
1. Proemium: We Are Participants in an Exciting
As Thomas Olbricht remarks in his informative autobiographical paper in this volume, the international interest in rhetorical analysis and interpretation is remarkable. A number of diligent, creative people have created a context of opportunity for us. It is my view that contexts of opportunity are also contexts of responsibility. At a time when people who embody multiple rhetorics come into our lives through our ears, our eyes, the printed materials we hold in our hands and the airplanes, trains, buses and cars that come into our cities and countryside, it is appropriate for rhetorical analysis and interpretation to become a major player in religious studies, the humanities, the social sciences and even the practical and hard sciences.
In other words, people are becoming more and more aware that the use of language is as important as the use of science for the lives of millions of people on this planet. We possess the scientific knowledge and the productive abilities to bring health and well-being to an overwhelming majority of people who inhabit the earth. People's use of words plays a central role in who benefits from our knowledge and abilities, who is put at a disadvantage, who is put to flight and who is destroyed from the face of the earth. In short, the ability to use language across this entire planet and throughout a growing part of our solar system makes us substantive co-creators of life and death. Those who have been privileged to be at the right places at the right time, to use again the words of our gracious host Thomas Olbricht, should look carefully at the opportunities we have to take positions of leadership toward constructive action in cooperation with highly different kinds of people.
The question is how we can use the resources, skills and insights that a host of hardworking people have made available to us to move [] toward these ends. I will formulate my answer first in terms of a general agenda, then I will divide this agenda into parts so each of us may identify the places where we have already been contributing individually to it and we may assess where we may join with others to participate even more vigorously in it.
2. Statement of the Case: Rhetorical Interpreters Should Reinvent Rhetorical Method and Theory into an Interpretive Analytics
Since its reintroduction into the field of secular and biblical literature during the last half of the twentieth century, rhetorical criticism has functioned both as interpretive method and interpretive theory. As a method, rhetorical criticism has brought new light to the argumentative nature of biblical literature. As a theory, rhetorical criticism challenges every method to break open its boundaries, to reassess its powers of reduction and to reconfigure its programs and goals. In my view, to meet the tasks that lie before it now, rhetorical criticism needs to move beyond the traditional interplay of method and theory into the mode of a comprehensive interpretive analytics.
This is a demanding task for those who wish to perform it with scholarly competence. In short, it requires three steps. First, one must acquire substantive facility with the skills, knowledge and insights in the range of ancient literature synthesized by Josef Martin's Antike Rhetorik (1974) and Heinrich Lausberg's Handbuch der Literarischen Rhetorik (1990). Secondly, one must absorb the lesson from Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg's The Rhetorical Tradition (1990) and Thomas M. Conley's Rhetoric in the European Tradition (1990) that the tradition of Greco-Roman rhetoric adapts, reforms, and revisions itself in the new social and cultural contexts that confront humans century by century. Thirdly, one must apply the knowledge, insights and skill of the rhetorical tradition as an interpretive analytics both to 'primary' texts and to texts we identify as 'commentary' and 'criticism'. To gain a basic understanding of what it can mean for rhetorical criticism to become an interpretive analytics during the twenty first century, let us look at the role rhetorical criticism plays both as method and as theory, then let us explore how it could function as an interpretive analytics.
Wilhelm Wuellner has helped us to see rhetorical criticism as both a method and a theory. In his words, []
In the commonly known rhetorical environment of speaker-author, speech-text and audience-reader, this means that rhetorical interpreters have focused primarily on the speech-text rather than the speaker-author or the audience-reader. Rhetorical criticism as method in biblical interpretation has a recent history that is known well. After initial beginnings with James Muilenburg (1969) and his students (Jackson et al. 1974), a series of studies by Wilhelm Wuellner (1976, 1978, 1979) and Hans Dieter Betz (1979) decisively moved New Testament studies toward a traditional mode of rhetorical criticism. The special focus was on epistles as speeches. When George A. Kennedy, professor of classical studies, assisted with this kind of analysis and interpretation (1984), a number of interpreters began to acquire the skills of rhetorical criticism and apply them to biblical texts (Watson 1991; cf. Watson & Hauser 1994).
As Wuellner's statement indicates, interpreters who use the traditional method of rhetorical criticism limit the resources of rhetorical theory and practice to analysis and interpretation of a text as a speech or argument. Limiting the focus in this manner, practitioners of this form of rhetorical criticism have been able to give rhetorical analysis and interpretation a status near to twentieth century scientific discourse. Its procedures are precise, its resources are explicit and its results are testable. Many have experienced this as a decisive gain. Rhetorical criticism in this form can go head to head with every other scientific form of analysis and interpretation in the field of biblical studies and hold its own. During the twentieth century, forms of analysis and interpretation that have acquired the nature of scientific precision and power have taken center stage in authoritative biblical commentary. If they lacked scientific stature, they needed philosophical stature. Bultmannian form criticism acquired both scientific and philosophical stature. Traditional rhetorical criticism has enjoyed philosophical support primarily from Aristotle's Ars Rhetorica, but it has staked its reputation on its use of authoritative terms and precise analytical practices more than on the philosophical soundness of its observations.
As traditional rhetorical interpreters have focused on the text as speech, they have approached the context of both the speaker-author [] and the audience-reader in the mode of historical rather than rhetorical critics. They have added a few new insights into social situations from classical rhetorical theory, but they have not revalued or reinvented our approach to the wily ways of speaker-authors or the selective ways of audience-readers. Traditional rhetorical interpreters enact a form of interpretation that, for the most part, reduces contexts in life to environments either of acceptance or rejection, of approval or opposition. In other words, the interpreter either submits to or rejects the author-narrator--taking a traditional position of submission or of suspicion. Likewise, the interpreter projects a polarized audience containing some people who respond favorably (the good, authentic people) and others who resist the argument (the bad, inauthentic people). This approach re-enacts the polarizing categories in which modern Western thought perpetuates authority and tradition, rather than analyzing and interpreting author, audience and interpreter with revalued and reinvented categories currently available to rhetorical criticism from modern communication theory, the social sciences and postmodern theory and interpretation.
As Wuellner has pointed out, traditional rhetorical interpretation not only limits its focus to texts as speeches; it limits the resources of rhetorical analysis and interpretation to a particular kind of time in relation to text--namely, the time of reading. To use Wuellner's words: 'Traditionally rhetorical criticism as method is almost exclusively concerned with the textual constraints while reading' (Wuellner 1991: 178). The interpreter does not programmatically investigate time before reading or after reading. Rather, the interpreter analyzes the persuasive nature of the text during the time of reading and re-enacts the categories of authority and tradition in either a positive or negative manner during this time. The traditional mode of rhetorical analysis and interpretation, then, is another form of 'restrained rhetoric' (Wuellner 1987: 453; Vickers 1982) on the scene of literary interpretation. It restrains the resources of rhetorical criticism by focusing its energies and resources on the text itself to interpret its potential to persuade during a time of hearing or reading.
Alongside rhetorical interpreters who have been focusing on the text as speech, some interpreters have been attempting to tap resources that lie beyond the boundaries of traditional rhetorical criticism. The resources of twentieth-century rhetorical theory have been most prominent in their approaches, and the resources lie in so many areas-- [] argumentation theory, communication theory, linguistic theory, speech-act theory, and so on--that it is not feasible to describe them here. In Wuellner's view, the incorporation of rhetorical theory during the twentieth century has worked in two ways. First,
This moves the rhetorical study of literature into the realm of political and ethical life both in the past and in the present (Miller 1989: 84; Booth 1988). We engage the past, present and future of antecedent speaker-authors, speech-texts and hearer-readers for the purpose of reconstruing the political and ethical issues that lie in our own past, present and future.
Moving beyond a reflective political and ethical life, postmodernism takes us to commentary as rhetorico-political activity. This means that we need to include rhetorical analysis and interpretation of antecedent and current commentary discourse in the context of our rhetorical analysis and interpretation of ancient texts. In other words, rather than simply accepting or rejecting the commentary of our past and present colleagues--simply re-enacting the dominating modes of authority and tradition in Western culture--interpreters should analyze and interpret commentary discourse with the same resources they use to analyze ancient texts.
Practitioners of rhetorical theory have grown in number during the last few decades alongside of practitioners of rhetorical method. What their discourse lacks in scientific stature, it regularly overcomes in philosophical stature. By achieving a mode of philosophical facility, rhetorical theorists have attained significant power and authority both in secular and biblical literary interpretation. A primary limitation of theoretical discourse is the limited range of its textual practices. Theoretical practitioners reinscribe only very limited dimensions of the texts they interpret, for very good philosophical reasons, of course. They limit their focus to dimensions of discourse under vigorous dis-[]cussion in the intellectual company they keep. The result is that in the process of contributing substantively to the reconfiguration of meanings and meaning effects in texts for a new time and place, rhetorical theory regularly adopts an authoritative, philosophical mode that excludes multiple aspects of the discourse in texts from analysis and interpretation.
This brings us to the issue of an interpretive analytics. Neither rhetorical method nor rhetorical theory, either separately or in a position of jousting with one another, will fulfill the tasks that need to be undertaken during the twenty-first century. We need a mode of rhetorical criticism that programmatically revalues and reinvents rhetorical criticism into a new modus operandi. Wuellner has given us glimpses into how we might proceed toward a 'revalued' (Vickers 1982) or 'reinvented' (Eagleton 1983: 105-6) rhetorical criticism (Wuellner 1987: 453; cf. 1991, 1993). But he has not programmatically created and put such a mode of rhetorical criticism into practice. My proposal is to reinvent rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics, and the remainder of this address will describe and delineate basic attributes of such an approach.
I first encountered the phrase 'interpretive analytics' in Dreyfus and Rabinow's description (1983) of the interpretive practices of Michel Foucault. As I understand it, an interpretive analytics uses the strategies and insights of both theory and method, but it uses these strategies and insights in a manner that perpetually deconstructs its own boundaries and generates new ones in the ongoing process of interpretation. The stance of the interpreter is to 'tak[e] seriously the problems and conceptual tools of the past, but not the solutions and conclusions based on them' (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983: 122). The goal is to replace 'ontology with a special kind of history that focuses on the cultural practices that have made us what we are' (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983: 122). The task of investigation is 'to find the rules which determined or controlled the discourse that there was' (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983: 123). The role of the interpreter is to adopt a form of commentary discourse that presents
In this mode, rhetorical criticism uses its resources to explore texts in their social, cultural, aesthetic, historical, political, ideological and psychological contexts. As an interpretive analytics, rhetorical criticism moves beyond method and theory, beyond the role of a subdiscipline of historical or literary criticism and beyond the role of a discipline that performs restrained rhetorical analysis and interpretation into a revalued and reinvented rhetorical criticism that brings resources from multiple disciplines of study into dialogue with one another on their own terms. The remaining task, then, is to display an overall program for rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics.
3. Reconstructing the Texture of Discourse
An initial task for rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics is to reinvent the terminology we use to describe the multiple dimensions of discourse within texts. Literary interpreters regularly reduce the rhetoricity of a text to four 'master tropes': metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony; while linguistic interpreters regularly reduce it to two: metonymy and metaphor (Vickers 1988: 439-53). Brian Vickers, in contrast, lists forty-eight figures and tropes in discourse as the domain of traditional rhetorical criticism. Rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics for our time and place needs to reinvent and revalue these categories in the context of the strategies and insights of modern and postmodern methods and theories (Vickers 1988: 491-98). I have used the term 'texture' as a means to reconfigure our approach to the rhetoricity of texts, and I have started by grouping and describing the textures of texts I see both my colleagues and myself interpreting. I have started by analyzing the multiple rhetorical dimensions of texts that secular and biblical interpreters currently interpret with some success. This analysis appears under the title The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse (1996a) and Exploring the Texture of Texts (1996b), but aspects of it have been appearing since the 1980s (see Bibliography under Robbins).
The metaphor of texture guides the generation of new terminology. [] Four major arenas of texture regularly appear in analysis and interpretation of texts in our books, journals and speech: (1) inner texture (intratexture); (2) intertexture; (3) social and cultural texture; and (4) ideological texture; (5) sacred texture (Robbins 1996b). I accepted the challenge to describe a basic spectrum of each arena of texture both as I saw it in the work of various colleagues and as I myself have been developing it. Thus, in each arena I have described and displayed a spectrum of textures in a text:
Whether or not your categories would be the same as mine is not the issue I would like to raise here. I hope, hovever, that the task is somewhat clear. As an interpretive analytics, rhetorical criticism needs to reinvent our vocabulary for referring comprehensively to dimensions of rhetoricity in texts by incorporating twentieth-century practices of interpretation into it. So far as I am concerned, this has been a natural initial step in the process of reinventing rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics for the twenty-first century.
4. Revaluing the Modes of Biblical Discourse
Once rhetorical criticism has a new vocabulary to describe the multiple textures of rhetoricity in discourse, it is in a position to revalue the modes of biblical discourse. Here I have to apologize to our colleagues who specialize in the Hebrew Bible. While I may make a few comments that indicate to you some of the revaluing rhetorical criticism can undertake in Hebrew Bible studies, I will focus on New Testament literature, which is the area in which I have performed specific rhetorical analysis and interpretation.
A major problem in New Testament studies is the separation between rhetorical interpreters of epistolary and narrative discourse. Another way to say this is that few rhetorical interpreters of New Testament literature have moved beyond analysis of epistolary discourse or speeches to analysis and interpretation of narrative and apocalyptic discourse. Since the appearance of Patterns of Persuasion in the Gospels in 1989 (Mack and Robbins), a growing number of interpreters have been working with rhetorical interpretation of narrative discourse (cf. Braun 1995). Only when rhetorical interpreters are able to approach narrative and apocalyptic discourse with similar facility with which they approach epistolary and speech discourse will rhetorical criticism become an equal player with historical, literary and social-scientific criticism in biblical studies. Again, the issue is the reinvention of rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics to enable rhetorical interpreters to find common ground with one another in all forms of discourse. My survey of the field suggests that the following steps may be a way to build on present achievements toward a [] comprehensive interpretive analytical approach to New Testament literature.
a. Assertions and Rationales
The first place I see us working together is with assertions and rationales--the components of the rhetorical enthymeme. A number of interpreters have been at work on the enthymeme during the last few years, and enthymemes exist throughout New Testament literature--in epistolary, narrative and apocalyptic discourse. David Hellholm has identified and discussed the enthymemes he sees in Romans 6 (1995), and Richard Vinson has listed the enthymemes he sees in the synoptic Gospels (1991). To activate rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics, we need to know all of the assertions that are supported by rationales in the New Testament. These appear in narration, in speech of characters and in combinations of narration and the speech of characters.
The reason we need to gather all the assertions and rationales in the New Testament is as follows. Culture is a logico-meaningful human construct, and the most immediate aspect of human activity to which language gives access is culture. To understand this, we need to begin to distinguish between the social and cultural aspects of human activity. The anthropologist James L. Peacock is an important guide for us at this point:
The way that culture is organized has been characterized as logico-meaningful, in contrast to the 'causal-functional' organization of society:
Once we have an exhibit of all the assertions (theses) and premises throughout the New Testament, we are on the doorstep of serious cultural analysis of early Christianity as it reveals itself to us through these early texts. The important thing will be that we do not reduce the analysis to propositional logic, but analyze the abductive, cultural logic operative within the juxtaposition of the assertions and the rationales (cf. Lanigan 1995). I will use an illustration from Revelation, since this is a book on which I have seen almost no rhetorical analysis and interpretation. A governing enthymeme for the discourse appears in Rev. 1.3: 'Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near'.
This is a 'literary' or 'text' enthymeme. It exhibits one example of early Christian reasoning about writing, reading the written text to others, and expectations that members of the community will do what they hear. Lk. 1:1-4 and Jn. 20:30-31 are two other examples, and there are many in the writings of Paul. 'The time is near' is the specific premise for the conclusion. The unstated general premise is that when the events of the endtime occur, it is only those who read aloud the words of the prophecy in this book and those who hear and keep what is written in it who will not be destroyed but will be taken into the world of the new creation. The reasoning in Luke 1 and John 20 represent significantly different cultural environments in first-century Christianity where writer were reasoning about the texts they were writing.
After the governing enthymeme in Revelation 1, Rev. 6.15-17 presents another richly textured enthymeme: []
A fascinating thing about the reasoning in this enthymeme is that not only kings, magnates, generals, the rich and the powerful will experience the wrath of God and his Messiah but also slaves and free people. One can see that this enthymeme is supplementing the earlier enthymeme with narration of events that exhibit how this endtime situation will play out on various people.
Common ground for rhetorical analysis throughout all the literature in the New Testament exists in the places where a text presents a reason or rationale for an assertion or thesis. This reasoning is an opening to the logico-meaningful aspect of early Christianity which is properly called culture. It is also the ground on which rhetorical analysts with specialties in different areas can begin to work seriously with one another.
b.Social and Cultural Analysis of Enthymemes
Once we have gathered all the assertions with their rationales, we need to reconstruct their unexpressed premises (cf. Robbins 1985; Robbins 1987; Mack and Robbins 1989) and analyze their social and cultural location (Robbins 1991) and import (Robbins 1993b, 1994d). The unexpressed premise in Rev. 1.3 is that those who hear the revealed word of God and do it will be taken into God's new creation rather than destroyed when God annihilates all the wickedness on this earth and creates a new world for the righteous. This reasoning is, in the sociological terms of Bryan Wilson, revolutionist, rather than conversionist, introversionist, gnostic-manipulationist, thaumaturgic, reformist or utopian (Wilson 1963; Wilson 1969; Wilson 1973: 22-26; Wilde 1978). Here we see the presupportions of a significant countercultural sector of early Christianity. This movement is, on the one hand, significantly different from the countercultural sector exhibited in the Gospel of John (Meeks 1972). It also is different from sectors of early Christianity that are subcultural, contracultural and liminal cultural in nature (Robbins 1993b, 1994d).
The social and cultural nature of the reasoning in assertions and rationales, then, is a gateway into early Christianity as a social and [] cultural movement during the first century. Rhetorical analysis, moving from rhetorical data in all the texts in the New Testament toward the data that has been gathered by historical, social-scientific and literary interpreters of the New Testament, can begin to fill out the social and cultural nature of early Christianity in a manner that interpretation has not yet exhibited.
c. Chreia Analysis of Enthymemes
The next step must be to identify the personage to whom each juxtaposed assertion and rationale is attributed. The attribution of speech or action to a particular individual occurs throughout all New Testament literature. Where assertions and rationales exist in New Testament literature without specific attribution in the text, interpreters regularly attribute them to the writer of the text. In other words, many assertions with rationales exist in narration in the Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation. Interpreters customarily attribute the reasoning in this narration to the writer of the text, using terminology like 'Mark says', or 'Hebrews says'. This means that the category of 'personage' is a dynamic medium through which the reasoning of early Christianity is transmitted to modern and postmodern interpreters and readers.
This is a substantive matter for rhetorical analysis and interpretation. First, rationales juxtaposed with assertions regularly break the bounds of any easily reconstructable logic. Assertions that appear to be syllogistic often do not proceed logically either from generally accepted premises or from premises explicitly stated in the discourse. The reason is that personal assertions are grounded in cultural views of the world. A sequence of assertions may not be a 'logical' sequence only within a particular cultural view of the world. The logic of the assertion is not the logic of a widespread spectrum of society but the logic of a particular cultural group. The logic will not be clearly deductive, even though the discourse may imitate deduction. Even more important, the logic may not be clearly inductive, even though again it may imitate induction. Rather, imitative deduction and imitative induction provide a context for authoritative, cultural assertions about humans, the divine and the world.
In accord with the cultural location of early Christian discourse, narrative functioning either as example or analogy provides both theses and premises (rationales) for cultural reasoning in New Testament literature. This means that inductive and deductive reasoning [] continually interact in decisive ways throughout New Testament literature. Wherever this happens in literature, deeply hidden social and cultural premises are at work in such complex and decisive ways that the task of exhibiting them is almost unending. Another interpreter will almost always be able to find yet another manner in which social and cultural presuppositions relate to one another in the context.
Rev. 1.3 occurs in narration in the opening of the book. Thus, the social and cultural reasoning of this enthymeme is embedded in the writer of this account. This is evident in the words of David E. Aune, for example: 'By calling his composition a prophetic book (1.3; 22.7, 10, 18, 19), he clearly implies that he is a prophet' (Aune 1993: 2307). In contrast, the enthymeme in Rev. 6.15-17 is attributed to kings, magnates, generals, the rich, the powerful, slaves and free people. This means that the text suggests that all of these people in addition to the writer of this text share the presupposition that 'the great day of wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'. In fact, it is an interesting issue whether the rationale in this enthymeme ('for the great day ...') in this enthymeme should be attributed to the narrator or to all the people described in the verse. The NRSV attributes it to the kings, etc., while the NEB (perhaps accurately) attributes it to the narrator.
Comprehensively grouping and exhibiting all the premises (stated and unstated) and theses throughout New Testament literature, with careful attention to whom they are attributed, would be a decisive contribution to New Testament studies. Presumably this has not been an interest among New Testament scholars during the rise and dominance of historical criticism, because historical interests emphasize the individual nature and contribution of each book rather than the overall relation of reasoning in each social and cultural sector of early Christianity as we can see them through the New Testament writings.
d. Rhetorical Elaboration
Early Christian discourse achieves its rhetorical power not only by enthymematic or chreiic assertion, but by elaboration and amplification. From the perspective of Greco-Roman rhetoric, the amplification may 'elaborate' in a manner that is implicitly or explicitly 'complete'. Any perception of completeness is cultural, that is, the discourse evokes images, values, emotions or reasons deemed to be 'sufficient' for a particular time and place. Greco-Roman rhetoricians at the time of the emergence of Christianity considered a complete argument to be [] present in a sequentially arranged presentation of a thesis accompanied by a rationale, a confirmation of the rationale, embellishment and a conclusion (Rhet. ad Her. 2.18.28; Mack and Robbins 1989: 56-7). New Testament discourse participates in this mode of 'complete argumentation' to an extent that is remarkable for a movement that explicitly grounds its images of authority in biblical and Jewish traditions rather than Greco-Roman traditions (Mack and Robbins 1989; Mack 1990).
Once rhetorical interpreters have an organized display of the juxtaposition of rationales and assertions throughout New Testament literature, an initial challenge is to analyze and interpret the presence of constituents of 'complete argumentation' in those assertions and rationales. What I mean is this. Juxtaposed rationales and assertions contain most of the rhetorical features a person uses to elaborate assertions and rationales. An assertion or a rationale, or both, may be an analogy, an example, an ancient written testimony, a contrary, or an exhortation. Since these are the basic media people use to elaborate assertions and rationales, it will be informative to get a clear picture of the rhetorical 'media', that is, the major figures and tropes that exist in assertions and rationales themselves. After analysis and interpretation of the assertions and rationales, then, the task will be to analyze the kinds of elaboration that exist throughout the discourse. At least three basic kinds of elaboration are beginning to appear (Robbins ed. 1993: ix).
The first is 'expansion', where the composition is periodic (Hock and O'Neil 1986: 100-103; Mack and Robbins 1989: 17-19; Robbins ed. 1993: xiii-xiv). This means that the discourse amplifies narrative, speech and/or dialogue to a point where it presents a statement that evokes the image of a 'conclusive' or 'final' assertion. The final statement may be a rationale, an analogy, a contrary, etc.--the tropes, figures and dynamics that chreiai contain in Mediterranean discourse.
The second is Theonian elaboration 'of the parts'--named on the basis of Aelius Theon of Alexandria's discussion of an exercise that elaborated 'the parts' of a chreia (Hock and O'Neil 1986: 72-73, 106-7; Robbins ed. 1993: xiv). This mode presents a sequence of arguments that amplifies the discourse on the basis of specific or common topics. Sets of opposites that characterize the dynamics of praise or blame in epideictic discourse underlie this form of elaboration.
The third is Hermogenian elaboration--named on the basis of the elaboration of the chreia in the Progymnasmata of Hermogenes of [] Tarsus (Hock and O'Neil 1986: 176-77; Mack and Robbins 1989: 51-2, 57-63). This kind of elaboration gives priority of value in argumentation to certain discursive 'media': introductory encomium, chreia, rationale, contrary, analogy, example, authoritative testimony and exhortation. This mode of elaboration embeds the dynamics of epideictic discourse in the reasoning environment of judicial and deliberative argumentation.
The degree to which different kinds of discourse elaborate their assertions and rationales and the means by which they elaborate them are central issues for New Testament interpretation. This takes us into significantly different cultures of discourse in early Christianity and into initial analysis and interpretation of final categories in different kinds of discourse (Robbins 1996c).
Contracultural people and groups, for example, give very few reasons for their views and behaviors. They presuppose the resources of a dominant culture, subculture or counterculture and invert certain views and behaviors to distinguish themselves in their setting. They need not elaborate, since their thoughts and actions simply are reactive to the culture in which they are embedded. They simply presuppose or invert the values of the culture in which they are 'inner negative participants'. A contraculture is, then, a group culture within a larger culture, and its membership is limited to a certain age group in a particular generation of people. In other words, contraculture is not a form of culture that spans more than one generation of people. This form of discourse will become part of a counterculture, subculture or dominant culture, or else it will become a liminal, marginal or extinct culture.
If a large enough group of people begin to elaborate contracultural discourse but are not in a position to be a dominant culture, their discourse becomes either counterculture or subculture discourse. Counterculture discourse features rejection of one or more 'central' and 'explicit' values in a major alternative culture and provides reasons in support of its alternative thought and action. Counterculture discourse, therefore, contains rhetorical elaboration. Where the actions of countercultural people look like the actions of other people in the setting, their discourse regularly provides distinctive reasons for the actions ('Yes, we offer healing to people, but not because Asclepius makes his powers of healing available but because belief in Jesus of Nazareth can bring healing'). To support actions that are different from other [] people in the setting, the discourse may recite a rather well-known proverb ('We anticipate that people will persecute us, because "a servant is not greater than his master"': Jn 15.20).
In certain settings, contraculture discourse can become subculture discourse. Subcultural people share the values of the dominant culture in the setting, but they claim to fulfill these values better than the dominant culture. Subculture discourse, then, also contains elaboration. 'Better than' or 'perfectly' may appear in this discourse to distinguish the thought and activity of members of this culture from others in the setting.
The presence or absence of rhetorical elaboration, and the inner dynamics of the elaboration, exhibit aspects of definition, distinction and social and cultural location in the discourse. Rhetorical analysis and interpretation of elaboration throughout New Testament discourse, then, would contribute in yet one more way to the program of rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics.
e. Jewish and Greco-Roman Modes of Argumentation
As mentioned above, an overarching issue in enthymemes, chreiai and elaboration is the 'final categories' in the discourse (Mack and Robbins 1989: 38, 58). Different cultures of discourse not only feature different topics and discursive media (like story, proverb, parable or miracle story) but 'final categories' regularly emerge as a distinguishing feature between one discursive culture and another. The Rhetoric of Alexander 1.1421b.21-1422b.12 gives the following list of final categories: right (dikaion), lawful (nominon), beneficial (sympheron), honorable (kalon), pleasant (hêdus), easy (hradion), possible (dynaton), and necessary (anangkaion) (Mack and Robbins 1989: 38). Using rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics, interpreters should ascertain the final categories operative in New Testament discourse. On the face of it, New Testament discourse appears to value the categories of right, lawful, beneficial, honorable, possible and necessary. In the place of pleasant and easy, it may feature categories like pure, holy and glorious. Uncovering the overlap, the differences and the priorities among various discursive cultures in New Testament discourse itself and among Jewish, Greco-Roman and early Christian discourse could contribute yet further to a program of rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics.
This raises the possibility for inviting specialists in Hebrew Bible, [] apocrypha, pseudepigrapha and rabbinic literature to join with analysts trained in the skills of Greco-Roman rhetoric for the purpose of delineating and displaying the interplay of dominant, subcultural, countercultural, contracultural and liminal cultural Jewish and Greco-Roman argumentation in New Testament discourse. Jack N. Lightstone's recent rhetorical work in the Babylonian Talmud (1994) augures well for the willingness of specialists to engage in cooperative work with us. My first experiment with this occurred at the SBL meeting in Chicago in 1994, where a series of interpreters analyzed Mk 7.1-23 in a context where they were aware of the patterns of elaboration in dominant Greco-Roman cultural discourse. It was a promising session, attracting excellent attention and attendance on the final morning of the meeting. In addition, George Kennedy is currently working on a book on comparative rhetorical analysis. It is possible that this book will provide helpful resources for this task. If we begin to get some good comparative ways to talk about the manner in which Jewish, Greco-Roman and early Christian discourse use final categories to configure topics and figures in argumentation, we will contribute in yet another way toward the program of rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics of New Testament culture.
f. Reinventing the Decades of First Century Christianity
Another topic under rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics is the possiblity of reconstructing a new account of first-century Christianity decade by decade on the basis of discourse in New Testament texts. At present the Acts of the Apostles, which is a highly ideologically driven narrative that appeared near the end of the first century, regularly establishes a basic, overall framework for scholarly conception of the emergence of Christianity. During the twentieth century, most New Testament interpreters have presented only the authentic epistles of Paul as a major challenge to the ideologically formulated picture the Acts of the Apostles gives of the first three decades of early Christianity. During the twenty-first century, all of New Testament literature plus first century Christian literature outside the New Testament should be included in the analysis.
Rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics holds the potential for providing resources to substantively reconstruct our picture of earliest Christianity. It is obvious from the work of Burton Mack that the first three decades of early Christianity contained at least five [] significantly distinctive cultures of discourse (Mack 1988). If a person does serious rhetorical analysis and interpretation in these different cultures of discourse, one finds significantly different topoi with significantly different modes of argumentation to support the theses they formulate in the context of these topoi (Robbins 1994d; Robbins 1996c).
As interpreters use rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics, they can give equal voice to the multiple modes of discourse in New Testament literature as they reconstruct the emergence of Christian speech and identity during the first century. This can overcome the problem that traditional rhetorical criticism regularly re-enacts the hierarchies and subordinations that authority and tradition established during the first century or some subsequent century. The means by which biblical discourse creates authority and tradition must become a primary focus of attention rather than simply the end result of the discursive activity of early Christians. One of the means by which the discursive practices created authority and tradition was to interrupt, exclude and/or subordinate other forms of discourse. Rhetorical interpreters should display the means by which various modes of early Christian discourse won out, rather than simply perpetuate the victories this discourse achieved.
Rhetorical interpreters could work together toward a vision of the overall interplay of discursive practices during each of the seven decades of the first century after the death of Jesus (Robbins 1996a: 240-43). We might fight most vigorously about the discursive practices of these Messianites during the first two decades from 30-50 CE. But very large issues also are at stake for the discursive practices from 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90 and 90-100. We have sufficient resources at our disposal to begin such investigations. Few rhetorical interpreters glimpse the prospects, though some do. If we use rhetorical criticism as an interpretive analytics to assist in this endeavor, we will contribute important new insights to the field of New Testament studies.
5. Reconfiguring the Discourse of Commentary
The last issue I will discuss is ideology in rhetorical interpretation. One of the most important issues the discussion of ideology raises is the kind of commentary discourse we generate to interpret New Testament [] texts (Robbins 1996b: 105-10). An interpreter's ability to choose one rather than another intellectual mode of commentary discourse was at least implicitly recognizable during the 1970s, and it became more and more obvious during the 1980s and 1990s. It was obvious that there were distinctively different modes of discourse at work in the analyses of Robert Tannehill and Hans Dieter Betz during the 1970s, even though both used the term 'rhetorical' to describe their analysis and interpretation. A rhetorical analysis of the different discourses they and other commentators use reveals two major ideological aspects of commentary discourse.
First, it is important to observe the mode of twentieth-century intellectual discourse commentators enact in their commentary discourse. Secondly, it is important to analyze the rhetorical aspects of the biblical text their mode of commentary reenacts. I will explain. Every commentator performs some configuration of modern and postmodern modes of intellectual discourse as they perform their commentary. Every intellectual mode of discourse makes its own range of ideological interests available to a commentator. The particular goals of the commentator along with the mode of intellectual discourse he or she performs invite certain aspects of a text rather than others to comprehend or grasp their commentary (cf. Moore 1992: 93). Commentators, then, reinscribe select aspects of a text as they perform a twentieth-century mode of intellectual discourse in their own particular way.
Tannehill and Betz were both engaged in a project of rhetorical analysis of biblical texts, but the discursive mode they used in their commentary was noticeably different. Here is a sample of Tannehill's commentary on Matt. 5:39b-42 in the Sermon on the Mount:
This commentary enacts a twentieth-century mode of aesthetic- literary discourse. This is a well-established form of discourse going back to T.S. Eliot, I.A. Richards and others. Tannehill adopts this mode in a form that re-enacts dimensions of the inner texture of biblical text than can be called its psychological-moral texture. Tannehill's discourse [] concerns 'us'--how we regularly live our daily lives and how the words in the biblical text attack our everyday assumptions and engage us in a reassessment of our regular patterns of behavior. Tannehill's performance of an aesthetic-literary mode of interpretation, then, invites the psychological-moral texture of the text to grasp his interpretive thoughts, words and actions.
Here, in contrast, is an excerpt from Hans Dieter Betz's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount:
This commentary enacts a modern mode of historical-philosophical discourse. This is a well-established mode made famous by Rudolf Bultmann in the twentieth century. Betz adopts this mode in a form that re-enacts aspects of historical, social and philosophical intertexture in the biblical text. Betz's commentary concerns 'them'--how the people who used and wrote this discourse lived with their loved ones, their friends, their neighbors, their superiors and their enemies. Betz's enactment of historical-philosophical discourse, then, only implicitly concerns the relation of the twentieth-century reader to the aesthetic, psychological and moral texture of the discourse that energizes Tannehill's commentary. Rather, Betz's mode of discourse enacts aspects of the text's 'intertexture'--the discourse's historical, social and cultural world--rather than its inner textual aesthetic, psychological and moral world.
Additional ideological issues come into view with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's published work in 1987-88. Her commentary discourse on 1 Corinthians enacts a form of twentieth-century feminist discourse. Here is a sample of it:
Fiorenza enacts a historical-ideological mode of commentary that has an interesting relation to Betz's commentary. She, like Betz, discusses 'them' rather than 'us'. Her focus is on the historical, social and cultural intertexture of the biblical text, namely the relation of the text to the historical, social and cultural context of the Corinthians. She merges this historical mode of commentary with an ideological mode of discourse that focuses on Paul and on women in the context of varying social and educational status in the Corinthian community. Paul does not foster 'independence, freedom and consensus' but 'subordination and silence'.
Elizabeth Castelli builds on Schüssler Fiorenza's work, using Michel Foucault's proposal for analysis of power relations in a text (1991). She focuses her analysis and interpretation initially on modern commentary on 1 Corinthians. Most interpreters, she posits, either spiritualize the text--removing it from any historical or social context that implies complex dynamics of conflict and competition--or they [] presuppose or assert continuity, authority and unity in tradition (1991: 24-32). Castelli's commentary, then, includes the ideological texture of modern commentary discourse on 1 Corinthians. After this, she turns to careful analysis of the inner texture of 1 Cor. 1.10-4.21 which I will not attempt to describe here. In her commentary, she concludes that Paul describes his role simply as 'mediation' of the gospel, so that his nature is 'contentless'; 'he is simply the conduit through which the gospel passes' (1 Cor. 1.17; Castelli 1991: 99). In this way Paul constructs a privileged status for himself: he has special authority to speak and he has 'an emptiness which removes him from the fray' (Castelli 1991: 99).
Characteristic of both Schüssler Fiorenza's and Castelli's commentary discourse, then, is a focus on Paul and how he constructs his authority within the discourse. Interestly, both commentators re-enact this aspect of Pauline discourse themselves, adopting a powerful, authoritative rhetorical mode of discourse filled with rich inner textual images and intertextual recitation. In many ways, then, their own discourse is imitative of the powerful and richly-textured discourse the New Testament writings attribute to Paul.
It is informative to place David Jasper's commentary on 1 Thessalonians in this context as yet another alternative. Jasper re-enacts a configuration of modern and postmodern Nietzschean philosophical discourse in his commentary. Like Castelli, he starts with the ideological texture of modern commentary. He, however, focuses on modern rhetorical interpretation of New Testament literature. In this context, he describes his own commentary in terms of sharp opposition to the approach of George Kennedy and Wilhelm Wuellner. In his words,
This discourse re-enacts, in a Nietzschean philosophical mode of intellectual discourse, an important aspect of the inner texture of Pauline discourse. The interesting thing is the manner in which, in one fell swoop, it attempts to exclude from serious consideration the range of textures in Pauline discourse that both Kennedy and Wuellner re-enact in their commentary. Jasper's commentary itself focuses on a much [] more limited spectrum of rhetoricity in Pauline discourse than either Kennedy or Wuellner. It is informative to see how the 'bold contrasts vigorously stated' in Pauline discourse 'grasp' or 'comprehend' the commentary discourse of Jasper. Jasper describes himself as 'in the exercise of no little Socratic suspicion of rhetoric' (1993: 39). He must vigorously state a bold contrast between his approach and the approach of Kennedy and Wuellner. And he fulfills his rhetorical goal. In contrast to the 'self-evident spiritual truth' he perceives Kennedy and Wuellner to present in the context of their analyses and interpretations of argumentation in Pauline discourse, Jasper recommends a second naïveté that can
An interesting aspect of this is the deep roots of Jasper's commentary discourse in romanticism. It is quite natural that he contrasts his approach to a pragmatically-based approach both to texts and to life. His discourse has no significant engagement with the interaction of body and mind characteristic of twentieth-century pragmatic discourse. Rather, it focuses on the reflective, reflexive, creative and self-aware mind that romanticism so beautifully features in its discourse. The texture of Jasper's discourse is, on the one hand, closer to Tannehill's aesthetic-literary commentary than to Betz's historical-philosophical discourse. Yet, on the other hand, the ideological interests of his discourse have an interesting relation to the commentary of Schüssler Fiorenza and Castelli. In the end, Jasper's commentary excludes a much wider range of rhetoricity in Pauline discourse than either Schüssler Fiorenza's or Castelli's, since they use multiple strategies and insights from rhetorical method and rhetorical theory to enrich their analysis and interpretation of the ideological texture of Pauline discourse.
Where, then, does this discussion of ideology and rhetorical criticism leave us? The major implication I want to evoke is that none of us has the final say on ideology. Ancient texts are richly textured environments of analysis and interpretation. Twentieth-century commentaries on these texts adopt various locations in various twentieth-[] century modes of intellectual discourse. From these locations, twentieth-century commentary discourse re-enacts highly different aspects of ancient texts.
The name of the game here needs to be perspicuity and humility. Rhetorical criticism offers resources to analyze a comprehensive range of textures in a text, and modern and postmodern modes of intellectual discourse invite commentators into rich environments of analysis and interpretation. This means that rhetorical critics need to analyze commentary discourse with the same range of resources with which they analyze and interpret ancient texts or texts of any era. The commentator who claims to deliver 'the' most decisive insight into the discourse of an ancient biblical text is adopting a mode that was highly fashionable in the modern era of 'hermeneutics' (Wuellner 1991: 172-75). The word is out that there is no 'one' insight that holds 'the' key to any text. Rather, every text invites commentators to re-enact multiple meanings and meaning effects in their new context. We have been entering a postmodern era of interpretive 'self-awareness' for some time now, and my recommendation is to build upon traditional, modern and postmodern rhetorical method and theory by reinventing it into an interpretive analytics both of biblical discourse itself and of past and present commentary on biblical discourse.
Pages maintained by Vernon K. Robbins. Copyright © Emory University.