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Prophetic discourse and popular rhetoric in the Hebrew Bible. Jan Joosten. The historical books have the prophets deliver speeches in a court setting—think of Nathan accusing David of the murder of Uriah 2 Sam 12 , or of Micah ben Yimlah announcing defeat in the war against the Arameans 1 Kgs Likewise, in the prophetical books, the prophets are presented as public speakers addressing the King e.

Isa 7 or the assembly e. Jer 7. The style of oracles contained in the prophetic books agrees with this picture. Moreover, the oracles are full of rhetorical devices showing that they are rooted in oratorical practice.

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If the prophets were orators, and to the extent they were so, the question arises where they learnt their craft. Gitay, Isaiah and his audience. Essays from the Pretoria Conference ed. Porter, Th.


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Isa ; ; Hab Dion ed. Daviau, J.

Wevers, M. Whence comes this way of speaking, or writing? Is it a matter of genius, of innate talent? Did divine revelation go hand in hand with artistic inspiration?

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Certainly there is something to say for this. But even the greatest genius needs to be schooled, and training is needed to appropriate inspiration. The verbal skills manifest in Hebrew prophecies may at least partly have developed within a prophetic tradition. But we may speculate that everything having to do with inspired speech would have been treated there with utmost interest.

Prophetic literature too witnesses to such tradition. It is not rare that later texts quote or allude to earlier ones: Isaiah elaborates on motifs developed by Amos, Habakkuk follows Isaiah; Jeremiah picks up on Hosean themes, and so on. But the art of verbal communication attested in the prophetic writings draws also on another source.

The prophets, as it seems, borrowed elements from popular rhetoric, from the verbal exchanges between their contemporaries in day-to-day life.

PROPHETS AND PROPHECY.

Each nation possesses a set of stylistic and pragmatic conventions, a store of tropes and figures, an inventory of root metaphors making up its peculiar fashion of speaking and arguing. The oratory of the prophets links up with this typical rhetoric of their own people. Israelite rhetoric Confirming the link between prophetic speech and popular rhetoric is difficult for many reasons, not least because we hardly have access to the popular speech of Israelites in the biblical period. Fey, Amos und Jesaja. Schulz-Rauch, Hosea und Jeremia. These speeches, and many others, are not samples of real discourse pronounced spontaneously by Israelites on specific occasions, but artful constructs integrated into a larger literary whole.

Indirectly, this kind of material does give access to popular rhetoric.


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The speeches are not real, but they are verisimilar: the characters staged in the Pentateuch and historical books are credible human beings experiencing the same crises as do the audience of the stories. One may suppose that the authors have their heroes speak more or less the way an Israelite might have spoken if he or she had been in the same situation.

The rhetoric deployed in reported speech is subtle and complex. The narrators have a perfect feel for all these different registers of speech, and exploit them to literary ends. Direct discourse is an important tool by which they characterize their heroes. One gets to know each individual by the way he or she speaks.

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In spite of this discursive diversity, it is possible to observe a measure of constancy. Biblical characters as a group express themselves in ways that would not be fitting for the heroes of Homeric epic. They also speak in ways that would be uncommon in our modern world. Wherever it is possible to define precisely what is peculiar to discourses incorporated into biblical narrative, the rhetoric of the people that produced this literature stands revealed. Figures of speech shared by popular discourse and prophetic texts Convincing traits will have to be found in the realm of what is called elocutio in classical rhetoric: rhetorical style in the restricted sense.

The realms of argumentation inventio and composition dispositio may provide interesting analogies as well, but these analogies will typically become apparent only after prolonged analysis, thus weakening their probative force. Stylistic features, however, are visible on the surface of the text and can therefore easily be observed.

Let us consider an example. The same trope is found also in the book of Amos: Am I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, and it will devour the palaces of Ben Hadad.

Historical Phenomenon and Scholarly Concept

The parallel is striking, but the figure is not unique. In Homeric epic too, destructive battles are repeatedly presented under the image of fire Iliad The trope cannot serve as an instance of typically Israelite rhetoric. Take a more formal trait.


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  • Both prophecy and reported speech regularly use elaborate similes of the following type: 2S We will light on him as the dew falls on the ground Isa He shall spread forth his hands…, as he who swims spreads forth his hands to swim The syntax is the same in these two examples, and so is the stylistic effect. But again, the use of comparisons of this type is probably universal in human discourse, and in persuasive speech in particular. The presence of this feature in the two genres of biblical texts is not necessarily significant. One could multiply examples of this type without ever establishing that prophecy and popular discourse are directly related.

    Typical examples of biblical figures of rhetoric The family-relationship between these genres is to be illustrated with stylistic figures that are rare, striking, and well profiled. Fortunately, figures answering to these criteria do indeed occur in biblical literature. A fairly certain example is found in the book of Hosea: Hos I desire faithfulness, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Many critics have deduced from these verses that the numerous prescriptions on sacrifice contained in the Priestly Code were still unknown in the time of Jeremiah.

    A literal reading can easily lead to this conclusion. If, however, the negation in verse 22 is to be taken figuratively, as in Hos , the passage would state only that the commandments given after the Exodus were not intended to define the Israelite cult as much as they aimed to instill a sense of faithfulness to the covenant. The prophetic instances are confirmed and illuminated by the use of the same figure in reported speech. Thus in the book of Exodus, Moses says to the murmuring people: Ex Who are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.

    Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik. Eine Grundlegung der Literaturwissenschaft mit einem Vorwort von A. Arens; Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, Du kanske gillar. Meditations Marcus Aurelius Inbunden.

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    Inbunden Engelska, Spara som favorit. Skickas inom vardagar. Laddas ned direkt. A study of the phenomenon of prophecy as documented in ancient near eastern texts and the Hebrew Bible as well as Greek sources, from the twenty-first century BCE to the second century CE. Passar bra ihop.

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