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Rethinking Paul's Rhetorical Education

Rethinking Paul's Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10–13

Ryan S. Schellenberg
  • Book Info
    Rethinking Paul's Rhetorical Education
    Book Description:

    Did Paul have formal training in Greco-Roman rhetoric, or did he learn what he knew of persuasion informally, as social practice? Pauline scholars recognize the importance of this question both for determining Paul’s social status and for conceptualizing the nature of his letters, but they have been unable to reach a consensus. Using 2 Corinthians 10–13 as a test case, Ryan Schellenberg undertakes a set of comparisons with non-Western speakers—most compellingly, the Seneca orator Red Jacket—to demonstrate that the rhetorical strategies Paul employs in this text are also attested in speakers known to have had no formal training in Greco-Roman rhetoric. Since there are no specific indicators of formal training in the way Paul uses these strategies, their appearance in his letters does not constitute evidence that Paul received formal rhetorical education.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-780-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    A century ago now, Adolf Deissmann observed, “The older study of Paul with its one-sided interest in its bloodless, timeless paragraphs of the ‘Doctrine’ or the ‘Theology’ of Paul did not trouble itself about the problem of the social class of Paul.”¹ Since that time, social-scientific methods have become standard fare in the guild, and study of the social history of early Christianity has proliferated: we have Malina and we have Meeks;² we have the Context Group; we cite the likes of Geertz, Bourdieu, and Mary Douglas. And what have we done with Paul?

    In one sense, we have made...

  5. Part 1: Paul’s Rhetorical Education in Recent Scholarship

    • 1 From Unschooled Tentmaker to Educated Rhetorician
      (pp. 17-56)

      For patristic interpreters, Paul’s social location was uncontroversial: he was a tentmaker. Paul was not “distinguished by great ancestors,” observed Chrysostom, “for how could he be, having such a trade?”¹ Moreover, Chrysostom and his peers had no difficulty inferring from Paul’s trade hispaideia—or, rather, his lack thereof: Paul was a “leatherworker (σχυτοτόμος), a poor laborer (πένης), ignorant (ἄπειρος) of outer wisdom” (Hom. 2 Tim. 4.3 [PG 62:622]); he was ἰδιώτης … χαὶ πένης χαὶ ἄσημος (Laud. Paul. 4.13). Indeed, in the social imagination of Paul’s early readers, to be a manual laborer was, by definition, to be devoid...

    • 2 Second Corinthians 10–13: A Historical and Literary Introduction
      (pp. 57-78)

      As C. J. Classen has remarked, since the work of Betz and Kennedy there has come such a flood of rhetorical-critical publications that not even the specialist can hope to master them all.¹ Clearly, then, it would not be practicable to attempt to evaluate all the evidence scholars have adduced of Paul’s knowledge of classical rhetoric. Instead, I will use 2 Cor 10–13, a text widely considered emblematic of Paul’s rhetorical prowess, as a test case.

      Those familiar with the history of the rhetorical criticism of Paul’s letters may be surprised by this selection. It was, after all, Hans...

  6. Part 2: Querying Rhetorical Criticism of 2 Corinthians 10–13

    • 3 Forensic Rhetoric, Epistolary Types, and Rhetorical Education
      (pp. 81-96)

      As we saw in part 1, in recent decades interpreters of Paul have concluded with increasing confidence that his letters attest to the sort of rhetorical sophistication that can only have been learned in school. This is, we noted, a reversal of what had been the dominant view until well into the twentieth century. Prior to the recent rise of rhetorical criticism, scholars were all but agreed that Paul’s letters, though forceful in their own peculiar way, differed markedly from those of the rhetorically trained literati, and thus that their persuasive force, such as it was, must be explained on...

    • 4 Paul’s (In)appropriate Boasting: Periautologia
      (pp. 97-122)

      Paul’s boasting in 2 Cor 10–13 has been a source of consternation for generations of pious readers. Not only has the passage given many the impression that he was “pathologically concerned about his own status,”¹ but in this text Paul appears to engage in precisely the sort of behavior of which he accuses his rivals. As Alfred Plummer notes, “seeing that he has just been maintaining that self-praise is no recommendation, it seems grossly inconsistent [that he should go on to describe his own accomplishments].”²

      Not surprisingly, the posture of preachers and exegetes has long been almost as defensive...

    • 5 Peristasis Catalogues: Rhythm, Amplification, Klangfiguren
      (pp. 123-140)

      There is no evidence that ancient rhetorical education involved training in the composition of hardship catalogues per se. Nevertheless, Paul’s lists of hardships are generally taken as evidence of his familiarity with contemporary rhetorical strategies, and, more specifically, with the propagandistic techniques employed by popular moral philosophers. Jerome Neyrey, for example, describes 2 Cor 11:23–28 as “a literary device known as aperistasiscatalogue” that attests “indubitably” to Paul’s knowledge of Stoic tradition.¹ An assessment of the extent of Paul’s familiarity with contemporary popular philosophy is beyond the scope of this study; however, insofar as his so-calledperistasiscatalogues...

    • 6 Not a Fool, a Fool’s Mask: Narrenrede and Prosōpopoiia
      (pp. 141-148)

      Hans Windisch’s 1924 commentary on 2 Corinthians spawned, or at least anticipated, a number of key features of the approach to 2 Cor 10–13 that predominates in current scholarship. Among the most influential of his proposals was his designation of the heart of the passage (11:21–12:11) as aNarrenredeor “Fool’s Speech.”¹ On this reading, the peculiarities of the passage result from Paul’s deliberate adoption of the role of the foolish braggart (ὁ ἀλαζών), a role presumably familiar to his audience from the mimic theater. In other words, Paul was self-consciously and ironically playacting: “Der ‘Narr’ [ist] für...

    • 7 Synkrisis in Corinth
      (pp. 149-168)

      The rhetorical features addressed in each of the previous three chapters have been seen, on closer examination, to have a very dubious relationship with the sort of ancient rhetorical theory Paul is alleged to have encountered in school. In fact, we have seen that threetermini techniciheld dear by exegetes of 2 Cor 10–13 are, to varying degrees, the invention of modern scholarship: neitherperiautologia, nor theperistasiscatalogue, nor theNarrenredewas discussed by rhetorical theorists prior to the time of Paul; onlyperiautologiawas discussed by ancient rhetorical theorists at all. Moreover, when we turn to...

    • 8 Not a Fool, It’s (Only) Irony
      (pp. 169-182)

      The assertion that Paul’s boasting is (only) ironic is all but universal in current scholarship, and it undergirds a number of the rhetorical-critical readings treated above.¹ Whatever rhetorical measures Paul must resort to, we are told, they cannot be taken at face value; no, it is the deeper ironic meaning of Paul’s rhetoric to which we must attend. From this perspective, Paul’s boasting becomes anti-boasting, a devastating critique of his rivals—who, one is left to imagine, prattle on shamelessly of their accomplishments, and do so without a trace of irony. In other words, interpreting this text as irony allows...

  7. Part 3: Rhetoric as Informal Social Practice

    • 9 Toward a Theory of General Rhetoric
      (pp. 185-200)

      As part 2 of this study has demonstrated, there is very little evidence to support the claim that Paul received formal education in Greco-Roman rhetoric. Second Corinthians 10–13 is the text most often cited as evidence of Paul’s rhetorical prowess, yet an examination of recent claims produced almost exclusively negative results. There are a few points of contact between Paul’s letter and ancient rhetorical handbooks and exemplars, but much of the evidence adduced simply does not withstand scrutiny. Moreover, when Paul is read alongside the rhetoricians, it becomes increasingly clear that they are not part of the same discursive...

    • 10 Attending to Other Voices
      (pp. 201-242)

      In part 2 of this study we saw that the bulk of the putative evidence for Paul’s conformity in 2 Cor 10–13 to the dictates of rhetorical theory did not withstand scrutiny. Nevertheless, I identified four ways in which Paul’s rhetoric does correspond to what was recommended and practiced among ancient orators. First, with regard to what later became known asperiautologia, Paul evidently shares his contemporaries’ belief that it is better to be praised by others than to praise oneself, and he concurs with Plutarch et alia that self-praise is less offensive when done in self-defense. Second, Paul...

    • 11 The Acquisition of Informal Rhetorical Knowledge
      (pp. 243-254)

      The acquisition of informal rhetorical competence is, in practice, inseparable from the acquisition of language itself.¹ We do not learn first to speak and then to speak persuasively. We learn to speak. This is, in short, because there is no speech in the abstract, only speech as social practice. Accordingly, it is as social practice that we learn the essentials of persuasion—that is, of rhetorical performance.

      In the previous chapter, I set forth evidence that the sort of rhetorical aptitude demonstrated by Paul can also be found among those with no formal schooling in rhetoric. In this chapter I...

    • 12 Ἰδιώτης τῷ Λόγῳ
      (pp. 255-308)

      There is no evidence in 2 Cor 10–13 that Paul received formal training in rhetoric. Many of the alleged correspondences between Paul and the rhetoricians derive from superficial or misleading treatments of the evidence; others are too general to be compelling, for we find the same figures, tropes, and rhetorical strategies among speakers who demonstrably have no training in formal rhetoric. To put it crudely, the presence ofprosōpopoiia, prodiorthōsis, elements of catalogue style, and sensitivity to charges of boastfulness in Paul’s letters tells us nothing more than that Paul was a relatively adept speaker, and that he had...

  8. Conclusion: “Where Is the Voice Coming From?”
    (pp. 309-324)

    When I began this project, I expected part 2 to be considerably shorter. I had done enough work with speakers like Red Jacket and Elia to know, as demonstrated in chapter 10, that many of the rhetorical figures attributed to Paul could securely be placed in the realm of “general rhetoric.” But what I did not expect was to find that much of the alleged correspondence between Paul and the theorists and practitioners of formal Greco-Roman rhetoric would turn out to be unsubstantiated and illusory. I did not expect to find blatant but pervasive misreadings of the ancient rhetorical sources,...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-372)
  10. Index of Ancient Texts
    (pp. 373-391)
  11. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 392-400)
  12. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 401-407)