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Religious Studies Department, SCU
 
 
 
 
  Rhetorical Criticism

  Definition
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.  Rhetorical criticism is the study of that art.  The rhetorical critic assumes that the final composer of a sermon or literary work has a perspective informed by the culture at that time but also uniquely articulated by that author, and that the author seeks to persuade his/her contemporaries of that perspective.  The rhetorical critic seeks to discern the authorís perspective by analyzing the authorís argument and assessing its impact on its audience.
 
The literary work you analyze should be a homily or speech, or some other literary form that is by nature persuasive.

  Method
To examine such a speech as a rhetorical critic would, follow this procedure:
  1. Determine the problem to which the author is responding.  This will usually be addressed in the opening section of the work.
     
  2. Outline the speakerís arguments.

    1. Isolate the main points - read the entire piece to get a sense of its general shape.  Locate those themes which the author develops most extensively.  There could be anywhere from one to five (roughly) for any given piece.

    2. Isolate the supporting arguments - under each point, the author will suggest supporting arguments or "proofs" of his position.  These can be proofs from scripture, nature or logic.  List these under the respective main points.

    3. Collate the supplementary metaphors the author uses to spice up his/her argument.  These will be images drawn from warfare, nature, trade etc. which the author uses descriptively to justify his/her supporting arguments.   List these metaphors under the appropriate supporting arguments.
     
  3. Analyze the argument.

    1. Authorities - what biblical texts and events does the speaker invoke as his authorities?

    2. Order of argument - do the speakerís points demonstrate a progression (e.g., from strongest to weakest, weakest to strongest)?  Does the argument seem to climax at any given point?

    3. Rhetorical techniques - a list of commonly utilized rhetorical techniques is attached to this exercise.   Examine your work for evidence of these techniques.

  4. Re-assess the problem to which the author is responding.

    1. Gravity - how bad is it, given the quantity and nature of the authorís arguments?

    2. Determine the stakes - what is at stake for the author?  What is he afraid of losing, and how might this fear shape his argument?

  Rhetorical Terms and Techniques
Technique Definition Example
antistrophe repetition of the same word at the end of successive clauses
arsis idea first stated negatively, then positively
asyndeton omission of connectives
diaporesis pretense of doubt
ekphraseis extended descriptions; function not as diversion but as a rest for audience before returning to the main theme; purpose was to delight audience
enthymeme a statement or assertion followed by a supporting reason; a common feature of deductive argument "You shall not make for yourself a graven image...for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation."
epanaphora repetition of the same word at the beginning of a series of clauses, sentences; often phrased in the form of rhetorical questions
hyperbole, exaggeration
metaphors and similes often hack figures drawn from athletics, military, sea, pastoral life, medicine; metaphors often "heaped up" for effect
oxymoron combination of two or more terms that normally contradict one another
parachesis two words of different roots but with similar sound
paradeigmata examples drawn from myth, nature, and life; a common feature of inductive argument parables of Jesus (frequently)
paraleipsis pretense of passing over a point in silence, while emphasizing that very point
parison a string of parallel phrases; verbs parallel in sound; a series of clauses, similar words or prepositional phrases
paronomasia similarity of sound with dissimilarity of sense
polysyndeton accumulation of connectives

  Bibliography
Resources
Aristotle.  The Art of Rhetoric, trans. H. C. Lawson-Tancred.   New York: Penguin, 1991.
 
Kennedy, George Alexander.  Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times.  Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
 
Lanham, Richard A.  A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms: A Guide for Students of English Literature.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.
 
Porter, Stanley E.  Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period (330 B.C.-A.D. 400).  Leiden: Brill, 1997.
 
Method
Benson, Thomas W.  Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Criticism.   Davis, California: Hermagoras, 1993.
 
Classen, Carl Joachim.  Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament.  Leiden: Brill, 2002.
 
Hock, Ronald F. and Edward N. O'Neil, eds.  The Chreia and Ancient Rhetoric: Classroom Exercises.  Atlanta/Leiden: Society of Biblical Literature/Bill, 2002.
 
Kennedy, George Alexander.  New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism.  Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
 
Robbins, Vernon K.  Exploring the Texture of Texts: A Guide to Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation.  Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1996.
 
Watson, Duane F. and Alan J. Hauser.  Rhetorical Criticism of the Bible: A Comprehensive Bibliography with Notes on History and Method, Biblical Interpretation Series.  New York: E. J. Brill, 1994.
 
Applications
Campbell, Barth.  Honor, Shame, and the Rhetoric of 1 Peter, SBLDS 160.  Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998.
 
DeSilva, David A.  Perseverance in Gratitude. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000.
 
Eriksson, Anders, Thomas H. Olbricht, and Walter Ubelacker, eds.   Rhetorical Argumentation in Biblical Texts: Essays from the Lund 2000 Conference, Emory Studies in Early Christianity.  Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 2002.
 
Given, Mark Douglas.  Paul's True Rhetoric: Ambiguity, Cunning and Deception in Greece and Rome, Emory Studies in Early Christianity.  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2001.
 
Harvey, John D.  Listening to the Text: Oral Patterns in Paul's Letters.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1999.
 
Kern, Philip H.  Rhetoric and Galatians: Assessing an Approach to Paul's Epistle, SNTSMS 101.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
 
Kim, Johann D.  God, Israel, and the Gentiles: Rhetoric and Situation in Romans 9-11, SBLDS 176.  Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000.
 
Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs.  "Corinthian Women Prophets and Paul's Argumentation in 1 Corinthians."  In Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation.  Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl (ed. Richard A. Horsley; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000).
 
Lenchak, Timothy A.  "Choose Life!": A Rhetorical-Critical Investigation of Deuteronomy 28:69-30:20, Analecta Biblica 129.   Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1993.
 
Noegel, Scott B., ed.  Puns and Pundits: Word Play in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Literature.  Bethesda, Maryland: CDL, 2000.
 
Porter, Stanley E. and Dennis L. Stamps, eds.  The Rhetorical Interpretation of Scripture: Essays from the 1996 Malibu Conference, JSNTSup 180.  Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.
 
Renz, Thomas.  The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel.   Leiden: Brill, 1999.
 
Welborn, L. L.  Politics and Rhetoric in the Corinthian Epistles.  Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1997.
 
Witherington, Ben, III.  The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997.
 
--------.  Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
 
--------.  The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.   Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.
 
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