Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Rhetoric’ Category

June 25th, 2013 by Daniel Rodriguez

On γαρ’d

Douglas Campbell’s Deliverance of God has generated lots of discussion, especially on Romans 1:18-32. The γαρ in 1:18 has been a problem for interpreters long before Campbell came to it. But Campbell’s work is making folks take another look at the particle in this verse.

Koine “traditionalists” (is there a better word?) assert that γαρ is a discourse connector which logically joins two parts of a discourse, normally in an explanatory way.  This sense is typically translated “therefore”. Example: I have a broken leg, therefore I will not be playing football. If one only reads the NT, then clearly this is the most frequent usage.

But there is other Greek literature out there. Consider Euripides’ Bacchae. In places like lines 477, 483, and 612, γαρ is used to signal a switch in speaker (like from Dionysus to Pentheus or the Chorus leader to Dionysus). This is evidence for how the particle could function in rhetoric, particularly in a Socratic dialogue. To be fair, just because Euripides used γαρ this way sometimes does not automatically mean that’s what Paul did in Romans 1:18. However, it is evidence that I don’t see many people consider before they dismiss it. A better question for the traditionalists might be Why can’t the γαρ in Romans 1:18 indicate a speaker change?

In addition to Euripides, there’s biblical evidence as well. Consider the translation Greek of the LXX. In Job, when he converses with his “friends”, γαρ is twice used in a change of speaker (Job 6:2; 25:2). Also, by my count there are over 45 instances of γαρ symbolizing a speaker change in LXX Isaiah (tweet me if you want the list and begin discussing who is speaking where in Isaiah). (Maybe this requires an intro to the various voices in Isaiah, but…) One of the clearest examples is Cyrus talking to Yahweh in Isa 45:15— συ γαρ ει θεος, και ουκ ηδειμεν, ο θεος του Ισραηλ σωτηρ (You are the God people cannot see. You are the God who saves Israel. ERV)

Long story short: γαρ is a very small form that gets used in lots of contexts. Identifying what the form means from context-to-context should be determined by those contexts, not by a lexicographic straight-jacket.

So does the γαρ in Romans 1:18 signal a switch from Paul’s voice to the Teacher’s voice? I think the evidence suggests so.




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May 2nd, 2013 by Joel Watts

Palam, Aperte, Silentium – Something Hidden in Plain Sight? (The Gospel of Mark)

I briefly made use of this in my book, but it bears more examination and given the question I was asked yesterday (see below), I wanted to write a short post on it. James P. Scott, the great writer of resistance, has three transcripts available for writers and audiences alike. They are the public, the hidden, and the double-meaning transcript. The double-meaning transcript allows for the “subordinate group politics” to act itself out in plain sight (Scott, Domination, 18–9). This acting-out involves using folk ways, words, and other things only the group would recognize to tell a story of resistance, but the difference between this and the hidden is the public performance of the former.

There is something along those lines in Latin rhetoric as well, at least according to Quintilian. Palam involves language used by orators and poets meant to be plain or forthright.1 Aperte is that language which is “open,” or rather, open to those who understand it.2 Finally, silentium is used only when there is a need, when the outside and hegemonic group is prancing around with its power, and is done in such a way as to allow the orator/poet to speak freely but to have the audience apply their meaning to it.3 Like the doubling-meaning transcript to the hidden, silentium exists as a subordinate to aperte. It takes place only at the must crucial of times, but in plain view.

Yesterday, I was asked privately (so, no names) about the possibility of understanding the final production if one doesn’t understand or know of the source material. The Gospel of Mark, I contend, contains this apertesilentium rhetoric, where the author is using a known story (namely that of Jesus) to present a hidden transcript in pubic (the double-meaning; i.e., the mirrored-reflection of the Jewish War and the messiahs who followed). My convoluted answer is that yes, on some level every audience will understand something of the final production even without knowing the source material or intention of the author. This doesn’t remove the original intent, nor does it suggest reception is the dominant aspect of the production. On another level, an audience may pick up on that something is being said but not clearly heard, even without the source material. This, I believe, drives our examination for the sources of these works today. But, there will always be an audience who understands the production as the author intended, namely the first audience (hence the importance of Matthew and Luke in reading Mark).4

Unfortunately, we today find it difficult to hear the silentium because the story is now so invested in our culture we see ourselves as the source material, hearing no cues as to the hidden meaning(s). Are we wrong, then, in reading Mark as a simplistic historical narrative of the life of Jesus? Hardly, but we aren’t fully reading it with the ears of the first audience. We have replaced the aperte with our need for palam and that prevents any serious investigation into the Gospel.

short post, short editor, going home now. 

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  1. This is an apple.
  2. This is an apple, where apple means generic “sin.”
  3. This is an apple, whereas apple represents “sin” but a positive view of sexual lust if we were, say, either in grade school or Victorian England.
  4. What the public audience hears is the story of Jesus as a prophet, who lived and died for Israel. What the hidden audience will hear is that Jesus is as the Prophet like Elijah against false pretenders. What the double-meaning audience would hear (again, based on my hypothesis) is only by believing in Jesus and his Resurrection can one undo the plague of Vespasian along with the irony, the false flattery, and other aspects of rhetoric whereby Mark has hidden a rebuttal to the false messiahs and apostate believers, not to mention a redrawing of Christian eschatology. What is always left unsaid is the
June 20th, 2012 by Joel Watts

Aristotle on the Poet as Creator

For this reason poetry is something more scientific and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts.

By a “general truth” I mean the sort of thing that a certain type of man will do or say either probably or necessarily. That is what poetry aims at in giving names to the characters. A “particular fact” is what Alcibiades did or what was done to him. In the case of comedy this has now become obvious, for comedians construct their plots out of probable incidents and then put in any names that occur to them. They do not, like the iambic satirists, write about individuals. In tragedy, on the other hand, they keep to real names. The reason is that what is possible carries conviction. If a thing has not happened, we do not yet believe in its possibility, but what has happened is obviously possible. Had it been impossible, it would not have happened.  It is true that in some tragedies one or two of the names are familiar and the rest invented; indeed in some they are all invented, as for instance in Agathon’s Antheus, where both the incidents and the names are invented and yet it is none the less a favourite. One need not therefore endeavor invariably to keep to the traditional stories with which our tragedies deal. Indeed it would be absurd to do that, seeing that the familiar themes are familiar only to a few and yet please all.

It is clear, then, from what we have said that the poet must be a “maker” not of verses but of stories, since he is a poet in virtue of his “representation,” and what he represents is action. Even supposing he represents what has actually happened, he is none the less a poet, for there is nothing to prevent some actual occurrences being the sort of thing that would probably or inevitably happen, and it is in virtue of that that he is their “maker.”

March 26th, 2012 by Joel Watts

The Historical Pompey v. The Historical Jesus

ideology in cold blood lucan

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First, I’m not going to get into the full discussion – I will side with McGrath because I happen to trust his scholarship, and what’s more, that his scholarship is not driven by an agenda; however, I do find that a study of the way history was recorded, used, and promoted is one which helps the conversation with those who have somewhat of a sane view of the acceptance of facts.

One of those ways is Lucan’s use of the Roman civil wars several generations before his to create a hope for a return to the Republic. In writing De Bello Civili, Lucan uses several rhetorical techniques of the time, and some he seemingly invented, to juxtapose tyranny and freedom. He develops historical characters of which little is actually known, into full fledged heroes of the Roman people – if only the Roman people could accept them as such. Lucan’s hero, his one out of the many, is Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Pompey, the great Roman general. But, Pompey is nearly a complete fabrication of the author’s mind. It’s not that Pompey didn’t exist, but Lucan’s Pompey (we’ll call him LPompey) never did as Lucan portrays him. Lucan creates LPompey to be his hero, to play up the themes of honor, laws, and a host of other issues which the author needs symbolized in a shorten manner. Bartsch writes,

One Pompey is more or less the narrator’s creation; his presence relies on the frequent intervention of the narratorial voice to praise his achievements and his character and to paint them in as tragic a light as possible. For the narrator, Pompey is in the end a hero and Rome’s darling; his death is the last gasp of the moribund Republic.

Pompey is brought to life, and perhaps a different life than his actual one, by the voice of the narrator. Different LPompeys exist for the different crowds. Lucan is not so much concerned with the historical figure of Pompey, but for the reception of LPompey. LPompey appeals to the many because he is the one who stood against Caesar. Lucan quietly asks the audience to do the same, with the warnings and caveats of martyrdom and the like. I would go so far as to suggest Lucan’s Republic (LRepublic) which he is desperately fighting to restore hope for is itself a creation of the author. Yet, they exist because not because of the historical situation, but because they are constructed first in the mind of the audience and then in the mind of the author (the reverse is true in propaganda, after all. The author is not just telling a story, but crafting a story which the audience will accept; therefore, it is only proper that the audience comes first in story creation). Why does Lucan’s story work? Because LPompey and LRepublic were known to exist, but their memories are resurrected in such a way as to allow the author to shape them into his creation, so that they fit his need.

The same must be said for the Historical Jesus. Paul’s Jesus (PJesus) was no doubt a historical figure. But, when we come to the Gospels, we begin to see a development of Jesus – MJesus, MatJesus, and LJesus along with JJesus. The new reauthors of PJesus use an existing pattern in the mind of the audience, their audience which they know quite well, and rebuild the main character and his story in such a way as to effect something in them. For Lucan, it was the hope of the Republic. For the Evangelists, they sought to renew their communities in PJesus (which no doubt is why Mark seems to have something of Paul in his story. It’s about Plato’s patterns, after all).

For those unconvinced that PJesus existed, there is really no hope for you.

December 1st, 2011 by Joel Watts

What does Plutarch have to do with Deutero-Pauline?

Plutarch, greek historian.

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Plutarch (46 – 120 AD) records that the great orator Gorgias delivered a speech to the Greeks regarding concord, a detractor replied,

This fellow is giving us advice about concord, and yet in his own household he has not prevailed upon himself, his wife, and maidservant, three persons only, to live in concord… A man therefore ought to have his household well harmonized who is going to harmonize State, Forum, and friends.” (Plutarch, Mor. 144B-C)

The author of 1st Timothy writes, of the Church leadership,

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of  overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, bthe husband of one wife, ctemperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine 1or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of athe church of God?), (1Ti 3:1-5 NASB)

Considering that Timothy is written to a church leader, with some focus on concord, there is a connect here, I think (at least in the supporting culture). Anyway, this caught me as interesting in the reading this morning!

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