Sermon on the Plain, Via Epideictic Oratory

Pray Codex: Funeral Oration and Prayer
Image via Wikipedia

For my NT Rhetoric Class. Rough Draft. Blah Blah. The deal is, is that the question is posted, I write a response, and we wade through that for a week. So, this may not be the final word, or summation, but more than likely, it’s all I’m going to post. I thought that I might summarize and react to Carey’s article, so as to present a chance to correct a deficit in my thinking, before I get to the Sermon on the Plain. The pages are from the Kindle version and may not be accurate.

Carey opens his article with the idea that the historical separation of the “spheres” of argumentation predates Aristotle, which may allow the reader to assume that these spheres, are near a universal constant, or at least in (near-)Western literature. Here, the author will write on epideictic oratory, a speech of displays which allows the speaker to issue praise or blame. Some of the most well-known speeches under this form were the funeral orations. Perhaps, the Gospels were apologeticum crucis, they may be considered, on the other, a funeral oration, in praise of Christ, casting blame upon his opponents, and as in Acts 2, the hearers/readers. One of the interesting notes is that the speeches delivered in this sphere have “inherent principles of form and over trends in content” although as Carey notes, they aren’t clearly stated, but understood by the speaker and the audience. This idea that the speaker and the audience come together to bring forth the speech is an interesting one.

Carey quotes Aristotle in saying that when people, either in offering private advice or speaking in public regarding civic issues, will engage in either exhortation and/or dissuasion and this, according to the ancient rhetorician is similar to the speeches delivered as display, in that the concern “is partly praise and partly blame.” I interpret this to mean that in praising one, another may be used as an example, to highlight the goodness of the first. The second one, then, is the one who doesn’t measure up. It is not about, then, guilt or innocence, but about the establishment of the good of the person. Carey notes that unlike deliberative or judicial speaking, display has “no immediate practical outcome.” This form of speaking is sometimes derided, as we note from Isocrates, but he may have been biased, as display, as he understood it, focused more on the performance. This idea of display and performance is interesting, again, in taking the Gospels as a whole, especially if, as some scholars (Richard Hayes, for one) believe, that the Gospels were written for performance, for display. If so, then this comports with the idea that the display presents Christ as praiseworthy, at least in Mark. (I separate Luke from this, because of the Lukan announcement of Righteous/Innocence by the Centurion.)

I note Isocrates’ quote (238) which commends the proper use of this oratory to those who could carry out the speech. Also of note is Carey’s history lesson, in that with the rise of the book trade, display’s influence rose. The author notes that with the rise of books, the technique shifted a little to include speeches created “entirely for a reading audience.” In Paul’s letters, especially in Galatians, he pits himself against the ‘Judaizers’ who need not be real, allowing himself to be counted as praiseworthy, while seeking to persuade the people in those churches that he had the true gospel. (Carey notes on 238 that persuasion was indeed a part of epideictic rhetoric.) Paul was in competition with others, as was Lysias who noted that while his speech were about the recent dead, his real force was directed against those who had previously issued speeches. I note here, then, Luke’s introduction to his gospel, who notes that while others have written accounts, he alone had undertaken research to write a “more orderly account.” (Luke 1.3) Here, I note Carey’s statement that while “the outcomes of epideictic oratory have none of the urgency of the other two categories” the personal stakes remained high for the speaker, and I would contend, for the recent dead in the funeral oration.

Of special interest is Carey’s examination of the funeral oration, especially when he begins to deal with the writing of such speeches long after the speech was supposed to have taken place. In examining Thucydides writing down Pericles’ speech, the author notes that “we do not need to hold to ‘Pericles’ to every word, merely to accept that the broad tenor of the speech has been reproduced.” (242) Thus, this combines with earlier comments about the expansion of epideictic rhetoric into written form. If the tenor could be maintained, and delivered to a written audience, for a purpose, especially for a funeral oration, we have some semblance to the nature of the Gospels (and Acts), which were written down long after Christ and the Apostles, capturing the broad tenor of the words, in written form, for performance, but not detailing a transcript of every word.

Of another interest is Carey’s assertion that the epitaphios logos is “more for the living than for the dead.” He writes that these speeches become “an act of collective self-definition and self-assertion.” Isn’t this the goal of good rhetoric, and of the Gospels, to have the hearer/reader/viewer self-identify with Christ? I note then the role of Baptism in Romans 6, which includes self-identification with Christ, as well as the role of suffering in Revelation. Here, Carey gives us more room to explore the connection of the Gospels with epideictic rhetoric, in that he writes that the goal of these funeral orations, of that of the dead warriors, was to assure the culture that it was worth the price which was paid, that the living was worth the dead – that the living were praiseworthy.

Carey notes at least twice that display had certain political uses (248 and 249).

Notes on Aristotle III.13-19

According to the Aristotle, the speech as two parts: statement of case and proof. If so, then one must expect that good epideictic oratory will include some manner of persuasion, but what is persuasion? It is then to the praise or blameworthiness of an individual or other identified subject. Breaking this down further, he notes that in the Introduction, a subsection of the first part, one must have a subject, but that there is freedom to “travel far” from it. This introduction contains advice, of what to or not to do, and may on the surface be paradoxical; however, the introduction can be dismissed if the subject is not long enough. Further, these introductions are “popular with those who case is weak, or looks weak.” It might, then, behoove the speaker to make his case stronger by not including an introduction.

The speech is an “appeal to the hearer” and again uses the character of the speaker. Further, the receptor will feel connected if he or she is able to be touched by something in the speech. Perhaps it is using a well-known example, or speaks to the situation experienced by the audience. This is necessary, because as Aristotle says, the receptor may have a “weak-minded tendency” to turn away if the point is not about him or her.

“Narration in ceremonial oratory is not continuous but intermittent,” the ancient orator relates. He recommends categorizing the needed facts into mini-narratives. Thus, it is simple and easy to follow, and keeps the interest of the audience. He recommends that the narrative tackle character and gives the indication of moral purpose. He recommends that moral purpose be held to a higher example in display than intelligence. Perhaps, because it would be more easily touched by the common receptor, as they would more easily associated with morality than intellectualism. To this end as well, Aristotle calls for the use of emotions in display. Again, perhaps because the common receptor can more easily grasp this, than the dryness associated with manuals. Aristotle, to this point again, uses Isocrates as an example of how to break up the narration in display with “bits of episodic eulogy.”

Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6.17-49.

What is noticed first is that Jesus doesn’t give a verbal introduction, but Luke does. Jesus has chosen his twelve disciples, after he had healed and a man with the paralyzed hand, and declared himself Lord of the Sabbath. Perhaps he may have been seen to given a declaration of his kingdom, shown his power, chose his royal court (or royal army, if twelve equals the twelve tribes of Israel who were called to surrender a certain number of men to the defense), and showed his intelligence in that he began to teach and heal. So, while there is verbal introduction to Jesus’ speech. What is interesting me, however, is that unlike Matthew, the Lukan Jesus comes down to a “level place” (HCSB). What does this tell us about the character of Jesus?

Jesus has been presented as one sent from God, from his birth, and given a humble origin. By now in Luke’s Gospel, he has already been seen to forgive and heal, and call his close associates. Further, Jesus has already been declared Lord through the vision in the wilderness. All of this has already happened in extended episodes, but in Luke 6, with the build up to the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is declared Lord again, heals, teaches, and once again chooses his close disciples. Perhaps this might qualify as one of Aristotle’s episodic eulogies, or at the very least, a break-up of the narrative. After all, Jesus again is demonstrated to have the moral purpose to issue the Sermon on the Mount, with a neatly re-categorization of his own character.

If taken as a display, then the audience must figure into this. As Aristotle said, the audience must be touched in some way. Jesus, by not having assumed the position of teacher (unlike Matthew), is on eye level, and is able to point, broadly, when he says ‘you… blessed’ and ‘you… woe.’ We have an established of a moral purpose as well as a connection to the audience. Further, in a time of socio-political upheaval, it would have been unfortunate to speak only of the good, but Jesus avoids this moment in which the audience would feel only slightly connected through hope as he addresses those who were currently putting the community through woe. Woe to the rich, the full, the jovial and to those who speak well about the poor, the hungry, and the sad, i.e., the hypocrites. This woe, v26, may have been a shield against the audience accusing Jesus of being such. Aristotle notes one should examples to deflection from assured, wrongly made comparison. Jesus had promised an end to poverty, hunger, mourning and oppression, and had criticized those who said the same thing. This is an appeal to the hearer.

What is lacking in the speech itself, if we were to examine it as epideictic, is narration which seems to be essential to epideictic. It is simply Jesus speaking. There are no parables or examples easily seen. It would not be uncommon for sinners to not act like the law, so it might be difficult to assume that Jesus had anyone particular in mind (although the term sinners as a representative of a particular group does appear in other documents of the time). The one example of narration seems to be in v48 in which Jesus describes a careless homebuilder.

The beatitudes, 6.20-26, can create images of being praiseworthy or blameworthy, but Jesus doesn’t include any examples of whom he is speaking about. While the audience would have no doubt supplied their own examples, epideictic oratory must provide examples so as to draw comparisons. If we were to take 6.20-22 as a whole, we would see that Jesus is speaking to the audience and declaring them praiseworthy in 6.23. Minutely then, this may be epideictic, with 6.24-26 serving then as a point of comparison.

On the persuasiveness of the Sermon on the Plain, I find that like 6.23, the elements of persuasion can be found. In 6.23, the idea is to be patience for the visitation, in which everything would be turned on its head. Further, twice the connection between the audience and the ancient prophets, the renowned dead, is made (6.23, 26), in that they, the modern audience, are of the same qualities as the prophets, perhaps even Moses, therefore, they most continue and wait. To this end as well, the audience is compared to the sinners (6.33) and to the Father (6.36), in that the audience is warned not to be like the former, but to be like the latter. Further, they are told not to judge like the hypocrites (6.42). They are given the comparison between the good man and the evil man (6.43-45) and finally, they are told to be watchful and careful in not doing the things which Jesus is telling them. Here is the greatest act of persuasion. Jesus begins the speech with simple comparisons, but not an introduction, and moves to specific situations, telling the audience how not to respond to them, but at the end, the warning is given that if they do not heed his words, they will come crashing down.

Can this speech be classified as epideictic? As a whole, I would say not. It is still overly concerned with ethical, and as Aristotle reminds us, politics and ethics go hand in hand. However, I do believe that the Gospels, and thus this speech, were intended as performance. Jesus signals this, I believe, when he comes down from the mountain, to a level place with the people. Further, I am unsure that the amount of narration is sufficient. I do believe that there are the elements of display, such as praising and blaming, as well as a few examples, although not specific as Isocrates might give. There is the indication of moral purpose, however, in 6.23, to ensure that the community survives to rejoice in That Day.

On the other hand, perhaps the entire Gospel could be classified as epideictic in that it serves as a funeral oration of Jesus. Taken in this view, there is the introduction, the narrative, the “episodic eulogies”, display, performance, praise, blame, judicial acquittal and the connection between Jesus and the audience in that they were worth dying for.

Enhanced by Zemanta

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.