Introduction to the Paperback Edition
Little did I know what a fortunate circumstance it was when the phrase "socio-rhetorical interpretation" appeared in the subtitle of this book and the phrase "socio-rhetorical criticism" appeared on the jacket. At the time, I only knew I was trying to work my way toward a method that brought information about Mediterranean society and culture into interpretation of the Gospels and Acts. Subsequently, the phrase "socio-rhetorical" has appeared in the title of an article on the multiple accounts of the Woman who Touched Jesus' Garment (1987), a response to studies of paraenesis in biblical literature (1990), and a look at John Knox's second century dating of Luke and Acts (1991);1 and the phrase is beginning to appear in writings where authors perceive their own approach to be related to the approach in this book, Jesus the Teacher.2 In addition, Bertram L. Melbourne and Mary Ann Beavis have built creatively upon the analysis in Teacher in well-crafted monographs that focus on a particular aspect of the teacher-disciple relation in Mark.3
A socio-rhetorical method of analysis first suggested itself to me after I compared the we-passages in Acts with accounts of sea voyages in Mediterranean antiquity.4 This study in 1975 revealed that traveling in a boat on the sea with other people created a social environment that made it natural for some authors in antiquity to use first person plural "we" for literary accounts of sea voyages. The inference I drew from this observation was "socio-rhetorical" --namely, that a well-known social environment in the culture could play a key role in the rhetoric of a literary narrative. In this instance, the social environment under consideration has a vivid narrative quality; being in a boat on the sea is a story we all experience together.
Among other things, the sea voyage study revealed that some social environments have a beginning, middle, and end. This suggested a new approach for analyzing the "socio-rhetoric" of Jesus's relationship with his disciples in the Gospel of Mark. We know that a primary rhetorical aspect of stories is their beginning, middle, and end. But I had not been taught to think programmatically about the beginning, middle, and end of a social environment. Analysis of community rituals could have been a natural [[xx]] place to think about temporal sequence interacting with social environment, but such analysis has not been a traditional part of New Testament study. In any case, I became aware that the social environment of a teacher-disciple relation had to have a beginning. The rhetoric associated with that beginning brought me to an analysis of Mark 1:14-20, Jesus' calling of two sets of brothers to follow him.5
The analysis of Mark 1:14-20 involved two different steps. First, it investigated the wording of these verses in a mode regularly hailed as "intrinsic criticism." Within a repetitive framework in which Jesus went to a place and spoke out in an authoritative manner, a three-step progression brought implications of Jesus' announcement of "the gospel of God" into the lives of two sets of brothers who began to "follow him." Thus, the article began with rhetoric regularly perceived to be internal to the wording in the text. Second, the article investigated language and action in the Septuagint and Greco-Roman literature that was present in the Markan episode, since some commentators had suggested that some of the action and speech in this opening sequence replicated action and speech in texts antecedent to the Gospel of Mark. This was, I now understand, an attempt to understand the "intertextuality" of these verses, that is, their relation to other texts. Frankly, I was surprised to discover that there were "call stories" in Greco-Roman literature so close both in language and function to these Markan episodes. Also, I had never supposed that analysis of antecedent biblical literature would show that the language attributed to Jesus in this context has a fascinating relation to God's speech when he calls Abraham (Genesis 12:1-2) but has virtually no relation to Elijah's speech when he calls Elisha (1 Kings 19:20). In addition, I felt informed by the subtle intermingling of language and action both from biblical tradition and from Greco-Roman tradition in these episodes. In this way, then, analysis of the beginning of the teacher-disciple relation as presented in Mark brought me, first, to intrinsic analysis and, second, to intertextual analysis.
As I moved beyond the beginning of the teacher-disciple relation to its middle and end, I began to realize that the Markan story concerns the natural, socio-biological life-cycle of a male human being.6 Jesus' "calling" of certain men into a teacher-disciple relation shares many dynamics with the passage of a modern male from "the novice phase of early adulthood" into "middle adulthood." At the end of the process the disciples are "on their own" with the challenge of "settling" into what they have learned.7 This means that the Gospel of Mark builds into the socio-biological cycle of males a teacher-disciple cycle that is "socio-rhetorical" from beginning to end. The cycle begins only if a rhetorical encounter between a teacher and a potential disciple evokes a willingness by both to accept their [[xxi]] respective roles; the cycle has a middle phase only if rhetorical give-and-take continues between teacher and disciple; and the rhetorical dynamics at the end of the cycle, where the teacher challenges them to "go on their own," have a direct relation to the dynamics in the beginning and middle phases.8
The rhetorical observation about the cycle soon raised a "social" issue. What kind of social environment does the Gospel of Mark evoke for Jesus and his disciples? Investigation of rabbinic sources reveals a "schoolhouse" tradition. A teacher teaches in a "house" and people come to him requesting to be his disciple. It was obvious that the Gospel of Mark envisioned an alternative social environment--one in which the teacher encounters people at their place of work and convinces them to follow him as he travels from village to village. Investigation of the rhetorical situations in which Jesus had gotten disciples to follow him, then, led naturally to investigation of social environments for teacher-disciple relations in Mediterranean society.
As I sought a way to analyze the social and cultural aspects of the teacher-disciple cycle in Mark, articles on role theory in the standard handbooks in cultural anthropology and social psychology were helpful.9 I have often wished I had supplemented the approaches gleaned from these articles with more explicit anthropological practices of interpretation like those found in Van Gennep's The Rites of Passage10 and Victor Turner's The Ritual Process.11 If James Peacock's The Anthropological Lens had appeared earlier, it would have been possible to show how the analysis in Teacher presents an "ethnography" of teachers and their disciple-companions in Mediterranean antiquity.12 In other words, the commentary could have alerted the reader that to my "traveling" to an environment of foreign literature to perform "fieldwork" that yielded data with which I would accept the tasks of "interpretation," "generalization," "deduction," and "introspection."13 In other words, I was intentionally trying to approach the Gospel of Mark like an anthropologist would approach a "foreign" group of people in a "foreign" land. It seems to me that our investigations badly need to confront the reality that New Testament texts are "foreign" to our literature, society, economics, politics, and culture. Adopting the approach of a cultural anthropologist, then, is an important part of any investigation of a New Testament text.14 In any case, detailed exploration of Mediterranean literature--which includes not only biblical and post-biblical Jewish literature but also Greek and Roman literature--led me beyond intrinsic criticism and intertextual analysis into social and cultural analysis.
But another dynamic also was at work. This book results from training in biblical studies that emphasizes: (a) the Jewishness of the New Testament, [[xxii]] (b) sixteen years of co-existence with colleagues in a Department of Classics, (c) encounter with contemporary literary theory in the Critical Theory Seminar in the School of Humanities at the University of Illinois, (d) immersion in ancient and modern rhetoric and rhetorical theory under the tutelage of Thomas M. Conley, (e) introduction to the rhetorical chreia during a sabbatical at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, and (f) college training in philosophy and (g) English literature. All of these circumstances created the "socio-ideological" location of the strategies of interpretation. Perhaps most noticeable in the reading strategy is the interest in opening doors to adjacent fields of study at points where many colleagues work vigorously to close doors. Why do some colleagues insist that "all the precedents we need for understanding the Gospels lie in biblical and Jewish literature"? Why do others seem to insist that Greco-Roman literature is "the" literature we have to study to understand the Gospels? Why are some colleagues antagonistic toward any kind of analysis they consider to be "extrinsic" to the text? Why do some colleagues pay almost no attention to the intricate features of the text itself? From my point of view, all of these approaches to the text are informative. Every particular approach yields interesting results for interpretation, but each approach is severely limited if it is "the only" approach. The challenge is to be able to pursue these arenas of interpretation both with precision and in ways that cohere with one another.
In the midst of these dynamics, "ideology" becomes a major issue. My ideology is different from the ideology of some colleagues, yet many aspects of my ideology appear to be shared by a growing number of colleagues. At the beginning of this book I tried to exhibit aspects of my ideology. Referring to Kenneth Burke, Clifford Geertz, Henry J. Cadbury, William Wrede, Theodore J. Weeden, Robert Tannehill, and Norman Petersen was my way of showing basic dimensions of my ideology as I approach the text. My ideology is dialogical rather than oppositional. I strive for inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. Also, my goal is to be "incarnational" rather than "gnoseic" in orientation--that is, I consider the body and the culture of the body to be as important as the mind and the culture of the mind.
I realize only too well that this socio-rhetorical investigation was more "intuitive" than discretely programmatic, even though I attempted to be programmatic about it. As late as 1989 I could not explain clearly to my colleagues and students how the method worked. During the summer of 1990, with the aid of colleagues at the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas meetings in Milan, Italy, and the Catholic Biblical Association meetings at the University of Notre Dame, the basic language and framework for describing the method began to emerge. [[xxiii]]
I have introduced the framework already--namely the four arenas of interpretation which socio-rhetorical criticism emphasizes: (a) rhetorical-literary features internal to the text; (b) intertextual aspects of the text; (c) social and cultural dynamics in the text; and (d) ideology. Since August of 1990, students and colleagues have helped me to reflect further on the method and to identify the strategies at work as one explores these four arenas of a text. It may be informative, then, to take another run through the method, going back to revisit the place where I began this introduction.
A revisitation of the beginning place for socio-rhetorical criticism brings an awareness that the method is a call for biblical interpreters to work consciously at two tasks at once: (a) reading the text; and (b) opening the world of the text. Jouette Bassler understood this when she wrote: "[Robbins] has developed a methodology that permits a satisfying integration of the Jewish background of Mark's Gospel with its Greco-Roman background, while retaining a sensitivity to the literary dimensions of the text as well as an interest in its reader."15 The term "rhetorical" asks the interpreter to hear the text of Mark as a story--to listen to all of the voices in the story, including the narrator's voice, and to look around at all that is happening.16 The prefix "socio-" asks the interpreter to open the text to the past, present, and future world we see, hear, and imagine as twentieth, and soon twenty-first, century people. It may seem unnecessary to emphasize the importance both of the text and of the world of the text, but most interpreters establish strategies of interpretation that limit both dimensions of Mark. As Daniel Harrington phrased it: "... this work [Teacher] breaks new ground in several areas. Whether a fruitful harvest is to be gathered from it in the future depends on the willingness of Marcan scholars to move beyond the familiar confines of OT backgrounds and literary-theological analysis."17 In other words, most interpreters do not think the Gospel of Mark was produced and used in Mediterranean society and culture, even though it was written in Greek; and many of the same interpreters read the text as a christological or theological tractate rather than a story. I was pleased, then, when James Swetnam joined in a similar refrain by saying that "the book helps free New Testament criticism from the self-imposed strait jacket it has been in and opens the New Testament to a more nuanced approach."18
Why might it be difficult for Markan scholars to move beyond the "familiar confines"? All New Testament interpreters, I think, have a goal of "reading the text to open the world of the text." But the issues are: (a) how one should read a New Testament text; and (b) what world of a New Testament text one is trying to open? Robert Tannehill, Norman Petersen, Willem Vorster, David Rhoads, and Donald Michie, as well as others, [[xxiv]] have worked diligently to help us see and understand the narrative qualities of the text of Mark.19 Their goal has been to bring its narrative story world into view. Ironically, as they did this, the "world" of Mark, that is, the world in which the Gospel of Mark emerged as a social product and functioned as a social tool, vanished from sight. Suddenly we were asked to believe that the Gospel of Mark was written and read in a "house of language" where people interacted only with their own thoughts, emotions, and beliefs--which looked, incidentally, mostly like current Euro-American thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. As the narrative dimensions of language appeared, the social dimensions of language disappeared.
Meanwhile, a host of other scholars were emphasizing that an incredibly vigorous social-economic-political-military world was "going on" while the Gospel of Mark was being written, read, and copied. The "readers" who had been working so hard to open the story world of Mark insisted that this world was "extrinsic," external to the "real" issues of interpreting the text. But the "social world" people continued their work, and in 1988 and 1989 three books on the Gospel of Mark pushed their way into the conversation.20 Certain interpreters may be "digging in" to protect themselves from the onslaught. But there is a fast growing number of interpreters who wish both sides would come together, talk to one another, and join in the task of reading the narrative in such a manner that it opens the world not only of individualist Euro-Americans but also of other times, places, and peoples. In fact, one of the "readers," namely Norman Petersen, found a way to look out of the "house of reading" into the world in which Paul lived, and he won a Biblical Archaeology Society award for his effort.21
The challenge before us is to establish an environment that brings together the narrational and social dimensions of language in texts. Socio-rhetorical criticism has such a goal in view. This method presupposes that language is a social possession and that one of the social functions of language is to tell a story. This means that the task of interpretation is so large that no single person can achieve the insights necessary for interpreting all the aspects of a text. The task requires efforts by teams on various fronts who are willing to bring their insights and information together. Using Mieke Bal's vocabulary, we need an interdisciplinary method grounded in a multidisciplinary approach that uses both transdisciplinary and disciplinary practices in its interpretive strategies.22 The goal of all of this, I would argue, should be to free and embolden the texts to speak in new ways and to free and embolden interpreters to engage new information and new insights.
How can such a multiple team effort come into view? Socio-rhetorical criticism envisions a method grounded in a multidisciplinary approach, that is, an approach which "declares the concepts that constitute the program [[xxv]] of [its] theory applicable to several disciplines."23 Semiotics, which can be defined either as "the science of the life of signs in society" or as "the study of everything in a culture as a form of communication," is one of the most widely known multidisciplinary approaches.24 Socio-rhetorical criticism functions within the multidisciplinary presuppositions of "social semiotics."25 The primary interest is in "distinction," not "opposition."26 The bias is dialogical rather than dualistic as it seeks similarities and differences that both interrelate and differentiate phenomena. Mikhail Bakhtin presents a congenial voice as he perceives language to be always already in dialogue with other socio-ideologically located voices.27 In other words, the language a person uses comes from previous or contemporary usage by people in various social environments. Thus, any particular use of language is a dialogue that interrelates and differentiates people, practices, and thoughts.
Socio-rhetorical criticism is not only grounded in the multidisciplinary approach of social semiotics, but it employs transdisciplinary approaches. A transdisciplinary approach has a certain autonomy outside established institutions and is often perceived as based on "fact" or something "obvious." But such an approach is not integrated within a determined discipline.28 Bal considers thematic approaches to be transdisciplinary, because they cross "the boundaries of different disciplines unimpeded and without being excluded from the academic community."29 The basic bias of thematic approaches is "the postulate of unity."30 Socio-rhetorical criticism uses thematic approaches as it explores similarities among groups, traditions, and texts in Mediterranean society and culture. Other transdisciplinary approaches are based on differentiation. Various gender approaches are representative, and the differentiating bias leads naturally to an "appeal," in the search for differences, "to different disciplines at precise moments of the analysis."31 Socio-rhetorical criticism uses differentiating strategies as it uncovers and postulates distinctive configurations of meaning and action in and around the texts under consideration.
In the midst of favorable reviews of Teacher as a "ground-breaking contribution," the aspect of socio-rhetorical criticism that uses transdisciplinary strategies of interpretation has brought criticism from some reviewers. Paul Maier's review is a prime instance. On the one hand, he referred to some of the "parallels" in Teacher as "striking," like: "Xenophon and Mark both portraying the teacher (Socrates and Jesus, respectively) as accepting a sentence of death required by the deity, through a legal process involving the local court system--an unjust death which will be remembered. Dio Chrysostom, in another example, tells of Persians at one of their feasts taking a condemned prisoner to 'give him royal apparel: ... But after that they strip him and scourge him and then hang him.'" [[xxvi]]
On the other hand, Maier complains that I have "move[d] beyond the evidence" when I assert that "Mark appears to have structured the scenes from Jesus' hearing before Pilate ... according to the tradition among the Persians." Maier's argument is that Mark not only wrote before Dio, but "parallels can hardly prove ... that the earlier event may be historical while the later is a literary copy of the first.... [T]he similar condemnations that Socrates and Jesus suffered were historical in both cases."32 The clue to Maier's objection appears to lie in his final comment: he wants to suppose that both the mocking of Jesus as a king and the Persians' abuse of a prisoner are "historical." His major objection, then, appears to be to the possibility that the mocking of Jesus by the soldiers is "a literary copy" of "any other event anywhere."
There are two problems with his complaint. First, Maier appears to presuppose that an historical event that "occurred in the manner in which it is now recited" underlies both texts. I consider such an approach to "move beyond the evidence." Staying with the evidence in the texts, my emphasis was on Mark's "structuring" of the scenes, not on "any" underlying historical event. In other words, I am interested in "how the story is being told" by Mark, because this is what "culture" is all about. Things may or may not have happened in the way people talk about them, but "the way people talk about them" is very important "cultural" data.
Second, Maier imposes a "genetic literary-historical" paradigm on a discussion guided by a "social semiotic" paradigm, namely, he supposes that I think Mark "copied a literary text" about the Persians' abuse of a prisoner. At this point, I am not concerned with a literary text Mark has copied but with Mark's "written performance" of a cultural tradition.33 Dio's text is a recitation of "what people say happens at the Sacian festival," like a particular recitation of "what people say happens on Thanksgiving day" in an American home. My presupposition is that "knowledge" about these activities can be called appropriately a "cultural text." This means that all kinds of people have this cultural knowledge, even though they have never read it in a book. These people can and do "perform the story" both in oral speech and in writing, because it is part of their culture. A "literary" performance of it may be the source for a scholar's knowledge about what people were saying, but this does not mean that the activities did or did not exist historically. The question is whether people talked about the ritual at the Sacian festival only during the second century C.E. when Dio traveled there. I think not. I think Dio was reciting a "cultural text" that eastern Mediterranean people already knew during the first century. The issue is whether the similar structure between the account in Mark and Dio suggests that the "Markan performance" -- which is different in structure from Luke and John in this regard -- is a reconfiguration of the cultural text concerning the humiliation of the prisoner-king at the Persian Sacian festival. [[xxvii]]
To put this another way, I was proceeding in a "social semiotic" manner, not in a "literary-historical" manner. The difference between the two approaches is at some points significant enough that it begins to be clear that they belong to two different paradigms of research.34 The similarity in structure between the Dio account and the Markan account of the humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus still suggests to me the possibility that Mark's performance is a reconfiguration of the cultural text about the humiliated prisoner-king in the Greek East. A literary-historical interpreter functioning within "genetic" boundaries of analysis may resist this observation, but a social-semiotic approach is likely to see the similaries as very suggestive for interpretation of the Markan account.
Since socio-rhetorical criticism is grounded in social semiotics rather than genetic literary history, it often uses disciplinary methods in different ways and at different moments in the act of interpretation. It is not an unexpected circumstance, therefore, when Maier introduces "his" customary disciplinary practice at a point where I am using a different analytical practice. But we must clarify for one another the kind of conclusion we are drawing and how we are drawing it. I am intentionally trying to introduce new practices into New Testament study, because I think the current practices close the world of the text far too much. Since socio-rhetorical criticism presupposes that "practice interpenetrates theory from the beginning" and that "theory is always determined by disciplinary practices,"35 it uses many practices that are different from the practices of literary-historical criticism.
Another aspect of socio-rhetorical criticism is to presuppose that a text has texture. This metaphor for a written document arises from places in Clifford Geertz's writing that refer to the "webs" of signification humans spin.36 From the perspective of socio-rhetorical criticism, the webs of signification in a text produce a surface that looks different according to the different angles from which one approaches it. The term "texture" has a congenial relation to thick description, material culture, and interwoven and interweaving networks of signification and communication. The signs in the text signify the cognitive, emotive, social and material meaning potential in texts.37 For this reason, different approaches can yield significantly different experiences of sight, touch, sound, and emotion. Stephen Tyler recently has called our attention to the textured nature of texts throughout all their aspects:
An interesting use of the term texture with texts occurred in John Crowe Ransom's The New Criticism in 1941, where he distinguished between structure and aesthetic texture. When Ransom spoke of texture, he was referring to an inner quality of poetry--namely its "incessant particularity" which was "capable of enlisting emotions and attitudes."39 He considered texture to be "the non-structural element in the poem."40 Socio-rhetorical criticism expands the image of texture so that structure is seen to be part of the texture of a text. Ransom himself came close to this toward the end of his book, when he referred to "textured structure,"41 but he builds his critical agenda on a differentiation between structure and texture that will not allow him to move beyond the dichotomy at the end. Socio-rhetorical criticism perceives the manner in which a piece of literature both makes and breaks structures to be part of its inner texture. In fact, the method presupposes that the distinctive texture of any text results partly from the particular way it makes and breaks meaning boundaries as it communicates.
Michael Fishbane used the title Text and Texture for a book in 1979.42 The interpreter exhibits the texture of texts, Fishbane says, when the interpretation complements analysis of the structures "on the surface layer of textual discourse" with the "dialectical tensions operative beneath the surface of the text."43 From the perspective of socio-rhetorical criticism, this spatial reference to that which is "on the surface" and that which is "beneath the surface" of texts is inaccurate. A text only has surface, but it is a textured surface, thick with interwoven webs of signification. The issue is what kinds of strategies, filters, and grids an interpreter uses to hear or look at the text. As these strategies, filters, and grids value and devalue signs in the text, the interpreter sees, hears, or perceives one kind of texture rather than another.
This use of the term texture is close to the socio-linguistic perception of M.A.K. Halliday when he proposes that in texts language is "texture," that is, in texts language exists in relation to a wide range of environments.44 On the one hand, this means that texts have no meanings in and of themselves. Texts contain signs to which reader-interpreters attribute meanings. On the other hand, this means that texts receive [[xxix]] meanings as people living in social environments attribute meanings to them. In other words, every meaning perceived to be "in a text" is attributed to signs in that text by a reader-interpreter. The meanings in the text are dependent on the kinds of knowledge the reader-interpreter brings to the text. The signs may call for greater meanings than they receive, but if the reader-interpreter does not give these meanings to the signs, these meanings will not be "in the text." The meanings in the text, then, are dependent on the "textures" of meaning reader-interpreters perceive them to have.
To restate an observation made above, the four arenas of interest to the socio-rhetorical interpreter and critic are four kinds of texture in the text: inner texture, intertexture, social and cultural texture, and ideological texture. Socio-rhetorical criticism begins with inner textual analysis designed to detect persuasive dimensions of discourse. In other words, the analysis of internal discursive features occurs within an ideology that is more interested in the "rhetoric of poetics" than in the "poetics of rhetoric." Again, the major bias is a commitment to language as a social product and tool. This means that all attempts to enclose words, phrases, or sentences in "a" meaning are frustrated by the range of social meanings and social conversations in which the language in the text is engaged.
Since, as mentioned above, interdisciplinary approaches use disciplinary practices, the socio-rhetorical analysis in this book uses various disciplinary strategies and usually exhibits the strengths and limitations that attend them. At the outset, the analysis of repetitive form is implicated in the discipline of grammar and syntax. Frans Neirynck's display of duality and "series of three" in the text of Mark provides the basis for analysis of "three-step progressions" in the passion predictions.45 Rather than analyzing three-step progressions throughout all of Mark, however, the study focuses on three-step progressions that exhibit the formal structure or outline of Mark. This move is implicated, as the reader will recognize, in the disciplinary practice of outlining a text.46 Beyond this, the analysis of three-step progressions in the narrative is implicated in "literary-historical" practice that identifies "units" in the text. This study places special emphasis on "summaries," "introductions," and "conclusions" in the narrative. This means that the analysis in this book presupposes that the text contains "textual units," and this concept of units was influenced by but was trying to move beyond the disciplines of source, form, and redaction criticism.
Since completing this book, as many readers know, I joined with Burton Mack in rhetorical analysis of the Synoptic Gospels using the Greco-Roman rhetorical handbooks called Progymnasmata.47 This was a way of deepening the "rhetorical" part of socio-rhetorical criticism. I was, of course, pleased with Mary Patrick's comment that "Rhetorical criticism of the kind [[xxx]] Vernon Robbins practices may well emerge as the strategy of choice for interpreters who intend to keep that first audience in view."48 It seemed important, however, to address George Kennedy's observation that "almost no use is made of the concepts and terminology of classical rhetoric as set out by Aristotle, Cicero, or Quintilian, though in his own way Robbins does deal with invention, arrangement, and style."49 I think most readers will agree that I have addressed this cricitism directly in my contributions to Patterns of Persuasion in the Gospels.50
After the work on rhetorical analysis, I have worked intently on social analysis in order to address some uncertainty about what "socio-" adds to the method.51 My first attempt at deepening this aspect of the method has been an analysis of the social location of the implied author of Luke-Acts.52 A subsequent analysis addresses the social dimensions of "territory" in Luke-Acts.53
In the process, I have discovered that John H. Elliott's A Home for the Homeless is an interesting complement to Teacher. Elliott's book does not focus on rhetorical criticism, but it is exceptionally rich in a kind of social and ideological analysis that socio-rhetorical criticism welcomes.54 The study begins with observation of a pattern of repetition in the inner texture of 1 Peter. The term oikos tou theou (household of God) occurs throughout 1 Peter in correlation with paroikos (resident alien), paroikia (alien residence or residence as aliens), and parepid�mos (visiting stranger). It is "their recurrence at key points in the structure of the document," the pattern of repetition, that attracts Elliott's attention.55 Toward the end of the book, Elliott displays the inner texture of the document in a "periphrastic outline" which contains an epistolary salutation, five major sections, and an epistolary conclusion and greetings. This outline "attempts to reflect the literary structure and composition of the text as closely as possible while also explicating its integrating theme and emphases."56 This outline has a close relation to the detailed outline in Teacher, which is designed to reveal the inner structure and progressive development of the teacher-disciple cycle.
Before proceeding to the social analysis, which is the major focus of the study, Elliott performs intertextual analysis. Since lexical studies are a natural way into intertextual study, Elliott works through the LXX, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, New Testament, rabbinic literature, and Greco-Roman literature looking for the key words repeated in 1 Peter,57 much like Teacher works through the occurrence of didaskalos (teacher) and math�t�s (student-disciple) in the same literature. Noticeably, Elliott does not seek rhetorical patterns that accompany the language. Nevertheless, the quotation of Ecclesiastes and Psalms of Solomon, and the distillation of linguistic evidence in the Encyclopedic Dictionary of [[xxxi]] Roman Law58 display the pertinent Greek words in context, much like the quotations in Teacher.
After the intertextual survey, Elliott turns to the social and cultural texture of 1 Peter. His first strategy of social analysis is to present a social profile of the addressees of 1 Peter.59 The letter evokes this profile through reference to geographical location; ethnic composition; legal, economic, and social status; religious allegiance and the social form such religious affiliation assumes; and the nature and historical circumstances of the conflict in which they are involved. The second strategy is to seek the political, economic and social implications of "household."60 In both of these strategies of analysis, the task is to analyze data produced by social, political, and economic historians for the purpose of exploring the meanings of the language of 1 Peter in its "context of reference" and its "context of culture."61 In other words, the goal still is to understand the language that stands in the text of 1 Peter.
The lens through which Elliott now views the text, however, uses filters and highlighters that focus on social values, meanings, boundaries, conflicts, etc. rather than filters and highlighters that focus on patterns of repetition, levels of narration, oppositional conceptual structures, language in antecedent and contemporary literature, or other phenomena. In these two chapters of A Home for the Homeless, therefore, Elliott is seeking to understand the social meanings of the language in 1 Peter in a manner consonant with the presuppositions of social semiotics. From the perspective of socio-rhetorical criticism, Elliott is introducing practices of analysis that contribute to the endeavor to see and hear the social and cultural meanings of the words in the document.
Finally, Elliott's book presents ideological analysis in chapters on "the socioreligious strategy of 1 Peter" and "group interests and ideology." Thus, the book approaches the text from four angles: inner texture, intertexture, social and cultural texture, and ideology. The book differs from Teacher in its emphasis on social texture and ideology rather than inner texture and intertexture. But the book addresses all four arenas of interpretation in a manner congenial to the basic strategy of socio-rhetorical criticism.
Ched Myers' Binding the Strong Man62 represents another interesting study alongside Teacher. Myers begins his book with reference to Ronald Reagan's 1984 political campaign, and this leads to a discussion of "symbolics and social practice," "ideological strategies of legitimation and subversion," "theology as ideological strategy," and "gospel as ideological narrative." In this book, then, ideology is the first arena of discussion, and analysis of the text of Mark flows from this discussion. From the standpoint of socio-rhetorical criticism, the fascinating thing is the amount [[xxxii]] of analysis that continually interweaves observations about inner texture, intertexture, social and cultural texture, and ideology.
Myers performs his textual analysis in a mode he calls "a socio-literary reading strategy."64 Since this "literary" approach to the text, like Elliott's analysis, is not informed by rhetorical analysis, the commentary overlooks argumentative dimensions of the text and gives little narrative sense of the text beyond chapter 4 in Mark. Nevertheless, the approach displays a rich panoply of strategies for analysis of inner textual features not present in the "sociological exegesis" Elliott displays in his book.65 Observing a "campaign of direct action" and "construction of new order" both in the first half and second half of Mark,66 Myers works from the beginning to the end of the Gospel using observations about patterns of repetition, frames that open and close units, transitions, chiastic arrangements, and various other inner textual features to support his reading of the narrative.
In the midst of the analysis of inner textual features, Myers refers regularly to intertextual features--citations, allusions to, or adaptations of other traditions. While he considers the Gospel's intertextuality to center around the Hebrew scriptures, he works also with Pharisaic oral codes, doctrines attributed to the scribes and Sadducees, "texts" of the Roman money and military system, and "texts" of folk traditions. Thus, in the spirit of socio-rhetorical criticism, Myers explores intertextuality in Mark. The intertextual phenomena signify "texts" in the Mediterranean world that interact with the Markan story as it unfolds.67
Throughout Binding the Strong Man, Myers uses explicit social and cultural knowledge to interpret the meaning of the inner textual and intertextual aspects of the text. For example, his "reading" of Jesus' exorcisms and healings in Mark 1:21-38 includes a wide range of social and cultural issues concerning symbolic reproduction of social conflict, ethnomedicine, cities and villages, household, and sacred spaces like synagogues and temple.68 Thus, like socio-rhetorical criticism once again, interpretation in this book is grounded in a social semiotics that considers "meanings" to be part of the social and cultural texture of the text.
Myers' reading of Mark convinces him that the narrative projects an ideology of non-violent resistance. He is fully aware that this "consciousness" emerges from his own particular "reading site," in other words, the particular angle of vision with which he approaches the text. He would like the reader to entertain the possibility, however, that the text arose out of a social environment on the margins of both Jewish culture and Greco-Roman culture in which people actively resisted the strategies of domination that characterized both Jewish and Greco-Roman institutions. This interest in ideology, along with the other interests in the approach, means [[xxxiii]] that the volume explicitly attends to the four arenas of importance to socio-rhetorical criticism.
Burton L. Mack's A Myth of Innocence is a third book of interest alongside Teacher. In this instance, the approach sounds a message of "intertextuality" at the outset. Mack emphasizes that a text contains "layers of accumulated constructions" that exhibit "the patterns of early Christian movements."69 This means that "the words" in the present text are a configuration of words from previous sites of composition intertwined with words articulated in the final site of composition. This intertextual focus drives Mack to gather evidence systematically for written collections of material that have been reconfigured and re-contextualized in the Gospel of Mark. For a different reason than in Myers' book, then, the reader loses sight of the narrative qualities that present dramatic interaction between a teacher and his disciple-companions. Rather than exhibiting inner textual features of Mark, Mack's book synthesizes the evidence for pre-Markan collections in a manner unsurpassed by any recent study. Once Mack has located the previous "sites" among parables, pronouncement stories, and miracle stories, he analyzes each collection in a mode related to Elliott's use of sociological imagination to interpret the "socioreligious strategy" of 1 Peter. Rather than using Elliott's more "domesticated" form of analysis, however, Mack uses Jonathan Z. Smith's form of "imagining religion."70 Also, Mack explores the inner texture of each collection with insights from rhetorical handbooks in Mediterranean antiquity. But Mack's analysis of inner texture is saturated with intertextual and ideological dimensions in the spirit of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault.71 His form of intertextuality is ideologically charged to differentiate subtle nuances of difference between social situations, much like a trained German shepherd distinguishes between latakia pipe tobacco and marijuana. It is inaccurate, so far as Mack is concerned, to sort among Christians simply on the basis of Aramaic or Greek language, or basic geographical location. Rather, the "literarily" oriented scholar must develop a highly nuanced and even intuitive form of analysis to "imagine" religion in antiquity. For other aspects of Mack's book, I refer the reader to the review article on "Text and Context in Recent Studies of Mark."72
In truth, the most interesting recent book alongside Teacher is Bernard Brandon Scott's Hear Then the Parable.73 This book not only shares with socio-rhetorical criticism an interest in opening doors to adjacent disciplines of study, but it also shares specific strategies of analysis. Scott's book displays extensive analysis of the inner texture of the parables. Since the heritage of his language is structuralism, he refers to inner texture as surface structure. Nevertheless, his observations are not limited to oppositions, and his insights do not remain "on the surface." As he builds his [[xxxiv]] work on patterns of repetition, alternation between narration and speech, opening and closure, three-step progressions, and chiasmus,74 intricate aspects of rhetorical argumentation in the parables emerge. He explores in great depth, for example, the use of analogy (parabol�) from various spheres of life in Mediterranean society, a topic of great importance in ancient rhetoric. Also, he is attuned to the use of example (paradeigma) in argumentation. He often enters the realm of the proposition and the rationale of the parable as he explores the "logic" of the story.75 In other words, without the benefit of ancient rhetoric, he has nevertheless moved significantly beyond form and redaction criticism, structuralism, and formalist literary criticism into rhetorical argumentation internal to the parables.
In addition to inner texture, Scott explores the intertexture of the parables in a manner that deserves the highest praise. In section after section he displays texts from the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, rabbinic literature, and Greco-Roman literature that shows how the language, stories, and myths are engaged in dialogue with values, concepts, traditions, and expectations in Mediterranean society and culture.
Perhaps most noticeable to the reader of New Testament commentary, however, is the rich use of insights from social historians and social and cultural anthropologists to explore meanings in the parables. In socio-rhetorical terms, the social and cultural texture of the parables richly emerge as the reader sees the implications of kinship and patron-client relationships, limited good perceptions, and honor and shame conventions.
In the midst of this richly textured environment of interpretation, Scott explicitly explores ideology in the text and in interpretation, in a manner akin both to Elliott and to Myers. He does not explore his own ideology as richly and openly as Myers. But Scott shares with Elliott, Mack, and Myers an insight into ideology that integrates social, cultural, conceptual, and theological aspects of meaning, rather than separating these from one another in the manner of some modes of theological interpretation. Because Scott's book explores systematically and programmatically the four arenas of inner texture, intertexture, social and cultural texture, and ideology, it is the most comprehensive companion to Teacher currently available to readers of the New Testament.
The most interesting article alongside Teacher is Clarice J. Martin's recent study of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.76 The article weaves back and forth through inner texture, intertexture, social and cultural texture, and ideology in a manner that displays a thickly interwoven matrix of meanings and ideologies in and around the text. [[xxxv]]
Martin begins with past studies of inner texture of the story in the Acts of the Apostles where an Ethiopian eunuch, riding home on his chariot after his visit to Jerusalem, converts to Christianity as a result of Philip's interpretation of a scriptural passage to him. The past studies Martin cites were produced by interpreters guided by a theological ideology that devalued social and cultural meanings and established boundaries around New Testament study that shut it off from cultural anthropology and social history. Yet their thematic observations help to establish the beginning for her study. In past studies of the Ethiopian eunuch episode, interpreters observed the role of the Holy Spirit in the preaching and evangelism in the episode itself77 and in the broader narrative of Luke-Acts.78 Also, interpreters observed Philip's "witness" to the death and resurrection of Jesus in the story and the theme of witness throughout Luke and Acts.79 Moreover, they observed the "joy" of the Ethiopian at the end of the story (8:39) in relation to the theme of joy throughout Luke and Acts.80 Thematic inner textual features, then, establish the beginning point for Martin's analysis.81
As Martin works with the inner texture of the episode and the overall narrative, she observes an ideological phenomenon that provides a transition to intertextual analysis. In the story about the Ethiopian eunuch and throughout Luke and Acts, there is a presupposition that Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the experiences and activities recounted about Jesus and early Christianity. The Ethiopian eunuch is reading in the 53rd chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah about the lamb that does not open its mouth as it is led to slaughter. Philip, of course, uses the opportunity to tell the eunuch "the good news of Jesus." But for Martin, this moment in the story has taken us to Isaiah 53. After a moment in Isaiah 53, Martin observes that three chapters later in this same book Isaiah prophesied that eunuchs who keep the sabbath, who choose the things that please the Lord God, and who hold fast to the Lord's covenant will go to God's holy mountain, be made joyful in God's house of prayer, and their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on the altar, because the Lord's house "shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:4, 7-8). This prophecy reverses the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:1 that forbids eunuchs from entering "the assembly of the Lord."
Since the eunuch has, according to the story in Acts, gone up to Jerusalem to worship and is now returning home in his chariot (8:27-28), the intertexture of the story in Acts must extend beyond Isaiah 53 to Isaiah 56. The temple has become a "house of prayer for all peoples" as this chapter predicted, since the eunuch has just worshipped at the Temple and is now returning. But the intertextuality of the story with Old Testament scripture extends even further than this. The eunuch is not simply a [[xxxvi]] eunuch; he is an Ethiopian. In Psalm 68:31 it says that Ethiopia will "stretch out her hands to God." This verse also has been fulfilled in the story. Without saying that Psalms also are considered to be fulfilled in the activities in Luke and Acts, Martin expands the intertexture of the story beyond the book of Isaiah to a Psalm that speaks about an Ethiopian. But now we need to know who Ethiopians are. Thus, Martin has found a passageway through intertexture to a context for exploring the ethnographic identity of Ethiopians in Mediterranean antiquity.82
Aided by Frank M. Snowden, Jr.'s studies of blacks in antiquity,83 Martin brings to the reader's attention that "Ethiopians were the yardstick by which antiquity measured colored peoples. The skin of the Ethiopian was black, in fact, blacker, it was noted, than that of any other people."84 In addition, Ethiopians persistently were characterized as having "'puffy' or 'thick' lips, tightly curled or 'wooly' hair, [and] a flat or 'broad' nose."85 Martin works through classical art to Homer, Herodotus, and Seneca to enrich her description of Ethiopians in Mediterranean society and culture.86
When Martin completes her ethnographic analysis and interpretation, she returns to Luke and Acts to exhibit a thicker texture for its ideology of promise and fulfillment. In Luke there is reference to "all flesh" seeing the salvation of God (Luke 3:6), to repentance and forgiveness of sins being preached to "all nations" (Luke 24:47), and to people coming from "east, west, north and south" to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Luke 13:29). At the beginning of Acts there is a proclamation that the mission in Acts will reach to the "end of the earth" (Acts 1:8c). From this thicker picture of the inner ideology of Luke and Acts, she moves to Mediterranean cultural ideology about "the end of the earth" and concludes, using Homer, Herodotus and Strabo, that Ethiopia lies on the edge of the "Ocean" at the southernmost limit of the world. Her conclusion, in turn, suggests that the identification of the eunuch as Ethiopian should be significant, because in its context of culture87 this baptized Ethiopian is returning to his home at the end of the earth.
From this observation about cultural ideology, Martin returns once again to Luke and Acts and observes that these two volumes participate in a cultural ideology that focuses upon Rome as the center of the Mediterranean world. As a result of this ideology, using the words of Cain Felder, "the darker races outside the Roman orbit are circumstantially marginalized by New Testament authors" and the "socio-political realities" of this "tend to dilute the New Testament vision of racial inclusiveness and universalism."88 When Martin turns to biblical maps for the New Testament to find Ethiopia, she discovers a "politics of omission." Only one map of the Roman World at the Birth of Jesus in The Westminster [[xxxvii]] Historical Atlas to the Bible includes Mero�.89 In all other cases, a person can find this area only in some maps for the Hebrew Bible. This "politics of omission" is not only present in investigations of the New Testament, however. Quoting Snowden, Martin emphasizes that a similar omission has existed in classical scholarship, despite rich data of various kinds. But then, she observes, post-enlightenment culture itself has marginalized and omitted not only blacks but also women and other groups. It is necessary to activate a hermeneutics of suspicion, she therefore suggests, that can intercept ideologies that thrive on a "politics of omission."90
At the end of Martin's article, she addresses the issue of interpretation itself. Her words are as follows:
In Martin's interpretation, then, there is concern about boundaries that nurture a "politics of omission" and a plea for interpreters to bring to light the ways in which both the texts we interpret and the methods we use to interpret them marginalize, exclude, and hide persons, groups, and ideologies. Her article is an excellent example of the manner in which the new paradigm of investigation and interpretation may proceed. From my perspective, her study has used socio-rhetorical strategies of interpretation. She has worked carefully in the inner texture both of Luke-Acts and the Hebrew Bible, identifying ideological moments that expand intertextual exploration beyond a genetic mode to a broader literary mode that leads to social and cultural exploration of the meaning of her text. Instead of functioning within tightly sealed boundaries, Martin finds passageways through boundaries into arenas of exploration that shed additional light on the story in Acts. As she moves through passageways to other arenas of exploration, Martin does not forget the text she is interpreting. She continually comes back to it to find the interwoven webs of signification within its contexts of utterance, culture, and reference.92 Moreover, she does not flee from environments of closure. She continually returns to them to look for passageways to other arenas of disciplinary investigation that have produced data that will help her explore additional webs of signification in her text. [[xxxviii]]
In order to expose ideologies that perpetuate closure and to encourage ideologies that nurture openness, therefore, a person can work carefully through inner textures to intertextures and ideologies that open to complexly interwoven social and cultural textures of signification. Since all of these aspects of the text are complexly interwoven into one another, an interpreter must weave in, out, and through them to provide a "thick description" that thwarts strategies that hide their own omissions and limitations, and that weakens a politics that makes people and issues marginal or invisible. Openly using the four arenas in view in socio-rhetorical criticism, we can develop approaches that celebrate dialogue, that show interplays of closure and openness, and that encourage us to announce our agendas in public forum and to listen as people show us the implications, limitations, and biases of these agendas.
This finally means that one of the major issues is the knowledge we attribute to the narrational voices in our texts. Do those voices know anything about the society and culture out of which they speak, or are they "naive"? One of the most distinctive aspects of Teacher is its "reading" of the text after analysis of inner texture, intertexture, social and cultural texture, and ideology. For this reason, it does not give a reading in which narrational voices in the text speak primarily out of Euro-American individualist society and culture. Instead, the reading equips the narrational voices with as much social, cultural, and ideological information about ancient Mediterranean culture that I could muster at that time. Hopefully, others will join in this endeavor and improve it in many ways. Since modern knowledge about ancient culture is informed by the issues of living in an international world of foreign societies and cultures, these narrational voices open the "foreign world of the text" in a manner that richly informs our faith and lives as we live in the midst of "foreign cultures" at the turn of the century, which is also the turn of a millenium.
I am grateful for the many reviewers who have supported the course of analysis I tried to chart in Teacher. It has been exciting to see the growing number of books and articles building on this initial work.93 It seems certain now that the 90's are bringing more coherent and synthetic uses of adjacent disciplines to the study of the Gospels and Acts. I will be pleased if socio-rhetorical criticism as it began in Teacher can continue to nurture an environment of interpretation that encourages people to develop a genuine interest in people who live in foreign cultures with values, norms, and goals quite different from our own. Only if we can build a method of analysis like this within our Christianized culture can Western Christianity be a leader in the work of reconciliation and equitable distribution of food, wealth, and respect on the planet earth during the twenty-first century. [[xxxix]]
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