In the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 62.2 (353–69), Greg Goswell contemplates “Reading Romans after the Book of Acts.” According to the abstract,
The Acts-Romans sequence, such as found in the Latin manuscript tradition and familiar to readers of the English Bible, is hermeneutically significant and fruitful. Early readers had good reason to place the books together, for the visit of Paul to Rome (Acts 28) is the one anticipated in the next chapter (Romans 1). The Letter to the Romans appears to pick up and develop key themes in the preceding book, and prefixing Romans with Acts promotes a certain reading strategy for the head-letter of the Pauline corpus. The adjoining of Acts and Romans suggests that the accusations made against Paul in the final chapters of Acts (and summed up in Acts 21:28) set the agenda for Romans, in which Paul shows that he does not speak against the people, the law, and the temple. Paul’s gospel proclaims that God will be faithful to the promises made to Abraham, so that Jewish privileges are preserved, the law is exonerated, and a community consisting of believing Jews and believing Gentiles is brought into being.
This collection of essays by Carol A. Newsom explores the indispensable role that rhetoric and hermeneutics play in the production and reception of biblical and Second Temple literature. Some of the essays are methodological and programmatic, while others provide extended case studies. Because rhetoric is, as Kenneth Burke put it, “a strategy for encompassing a situation,” the analysis of rhetoric illumines the ways in which texts engage particular historical moments, shape and reshape communities, and even construct new models of self and agency. The essays in this book not only explore how ancient texts hermeneutically engage existing traditions but also how they themselves have become the objects of hermeneutical transformation in contexts ranging from ancient sectarian Judaism to the politics of post-World War I and II Germany and America to modern film criticism and feminist re-reading.
At first glance, rhetoric and hermeneutics are quite different things.1 Rhetoric deals with argument and persuasion, hermeneutics with examination and understanding. But, if we look more closely, they comingle in a way that makes them inseparable.
To begin, both rhetorical and hermeneutical reflection take the form of considering existing practice (21).2 Already in the earliest surviving rhetorical theory from Plato and Aristotle, the theoretical discussion takes the form of reflection on rhetorical practice (21–22). Similarly, the Sophists and Socrates both manifest a concern for an “art of understanding,” even if this is not a full-fledged hermeneutical theory in its own right (22).
In addition, “the theoretical tools of the art of interpretation (hermeneutics) have been to a large extent borrowed from rhetoric” (24). Characteristically, rhetoric “defends the probable” and refuses to admit for acceptance only what can be fully proven empirically (24). And such too is the nature of interpretation.
Rhetoric is everywhere and even directs empiricism, as when science finds in “usefulness” a reason for taking up a particular line of research (24).3 And “no less universal is the function of hermeneutics” because “everything … is included in the realm of ‘understandings’ and understandability in which we move” (24–25).
In this way,
the rhetorical and hermeneutical aspects of human linguisticality completely interpenetrate each other. There would be no speaker and no art of speaking if understanding and consent were not in question, were not underlying elements; there would be no hermeneutical task if there were no understanding that has been disturbed and that those involved in a conversation must search for and find again together. (25)
Understanding comes about by dialog, even if it is only a dialog among oneself, a text, and the tradition that mediates between these two. Even here, as we seek to move past disruptions in this dialog and explain well what we observe, we expose a fundamentally rhetorical character of that dialog.
Page numbers by themselves indicate citations from H.-G. Gadamer, “On the Scope and Function of Hermeneutical Reflection,” in Philosophical Hermeneutics, trans. and ed. David E. Linge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 18–43. ↩
In a helpful 2003 essay, David Aune discusses “the use and abuse of the enthymeme in New Testament scholarship” (New Testament Studies 49, no. 3, 299–320). According to the article’s abstract,
Though the enthymeme is usually defined as a truncated syllogism, that definition does not go back to Aristotle. By the first century CE there were four ways of understanding the enthymeme in both Greek and Latin rhetorical theory, of which the truncated syllogism was just one. Aristotle’s theory of the enthymeme had little effect on the subsequent history of the enthymeme, just as his Rhetorica had only a restricted circulation and impact from the first century BCE on. In light of these considerations, the work of seven scholars who have used the enthymeme to understand argumentation in the NT is reviewed and critiqued.
Materially, the essays biggest contribution is Aune’s analysis of the formalist perspective on “enthymemes” that he found in the literature he surveyed. Another area of repeated concern is how easily it is for New Testament scholars to fall into incompletely outlining arguments.
For subscribers or users at subscribing institutions, see the essay in NTS, ProQuest, or other similar providers.
Much ink has been spilled in attempting to define the enigmatic category of “enthymeme” that plays such an important role in Aristotle’s rhetorical theory. Aristotle calls enthymemes “the body of proof” (Aristotle, Rhet. 1354a [Freese, LCL]; σῶμα τῆς πίστεως), but nowhere explicitly defines the category.
The typical “textbook definition” tends to try to define enthymemes around either (a) their formal incompleteness in missing one or more premises or (b) their use of more tenuous premises. In his 1959 essay in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, however, Lloyd Bitzer helpfully situates the enthymeme by comparison to other types of syllogisms that Aristotle discusses. Bitzer suggests that
(1) Demonstrative syllogisms are those in which premises are laid down in order to establish scientific conclusions; (2) Dialectical syllogisms are those in which premises are asked for in order to achieve criticism; (3) Rhetorical syllogisms, or enthymemes, are those in which premises are asked for in order to achieve persuasion. (405; underlining added).
Thus, on Bitzer’s reading, the distinguishing features of the enthymeme are not its completeness or incompleteness or the kind of premises it involves. Rather, what sets apart the enthymeme is the manner in which and purpose for which the argument’s premises are obtained.
Texas Christian University’s open, online thesis repository contains John Burkett’s treatment of Book III of Aristotle’s Retoric. The project is a commentary-style work on that book that strives to complete the project that William Grimaldi began with Books I and II. According to the abstract,
This new commentary on Aristotle’s Rhetoric III serves the purpose which the text held at the Classical Lyceum: elucidating Aristotle’s theory of style (lexis) and arrangement (taxis) for scholars, teachers, and practitioners of rhetoric. This commentary provides a much needed update because the last commentary, written by Cambridge classicist E. M. Cope in 1877, is now understood as a misinterpretation that reads Aristotle Platonically, takes seriously only rational appeals, assumes a mimetic theory of language that depreciates style, and misdefines central concepts like the enthymeme and common topics. Providing a new interpretation, this commentary may be summarized by three adjectives: Grimaldian, rhetorical, and accessible. First, this Grimaldian commentary applies the new rhetoric philosophy of William M. A. Grimaldi, S.J., which he explicates in Studies in the Philosophy of Aristotle’s Rhetoric (1972) and in his two-volume Commentary (1980-1988), wherein Grimaldi develops an integrated and contextual interpretation of the Rhetoric. Second, this rhetorical commentary observes the rhetoric in the Rhetoric since Aristotle typically practices what he teaches: writing with enthymemes, defining by metaphor, clarifying by antithesis, and arranging units by thesis, analysis, and synthesis. This commentary observes how Aristotle applies his three rhetorical appeals (êthos, pathos, logos), his theories of propriety (prepon), exotic (xenos), and virtue (aretê) in style, and the systems of Greek imagery, all of which develop a unified and interactive theory of invention, style, and arrangement. Attention is given to Aristotle’s creative theory of metaphor, being a tropos (turn) and a topos (place) of invention, functioning as a stylistic syllogism for creating knowledge with quick, pleasant learning. Arrangement also functions creatively with localized topical procedures for responding to the particular needs of each part of a composition. Third, this accessible commentary features text, translation, comments, and glossary for readers who may not be familiar with Aristotle’s idiom but who have an interest in his rhetorical theory and technical terms. Finally, incorporating recent scholarship, this commentary provides insights from classical rhetoric and new rhetoric, showing their interrelationship and how contemporary research in rhetoric builds on and helps to elucidate Aristotle’s expansive rhetoric as a general theory of language.
For the project’s full text, see TCU’s repository. On a personal note, I had the privilege of working for John while he was working on this project. Discussions with him about some of the more problematic approaches to Aristotle’s Retoric that are noted above proved quite enriching, helpful, and informative, and I’m delighted to see that his project is openly available for interested readers’ consumption.