Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul's Letters

Scholars concerned to relate the New Testament writings to their first-century context have long been intrigued by the insights of comparative studies. In particular, there has been a concentrated effort to uncover parallels between Scripture and contemporary secular works, especially through the application of rhetorical criticism and the analysis of other epistolary literature. A significant but often overlooked aspect of these studies involves identifying the methods of communication adopted by writers in a predominantly oral culture. John Harvey offers here a comprehensive study of these methods as they appear in the Pauline Epistles.
The first two sections offer a useful introduction to the field as well as a historical survey of the growth of interest in rhetorical studies and the investigation of oral patterning. In particular, the author explores their application to Greco-Roman literature and the Old Testament. Harvey describes and illustrates eight rhetorical forms: chiasmus, inversion, alternation, inclusion, ring-composition, word-chain, refrain, and concentric symmetry. In a semiliterate culture, such methods were particularly well suited for communicating the author's message and encouraging its memorization and continuing influence. Their identification can now assist interpreters in identifying both the overall structure of a document as well as those particular aspects that the author intended to emphasize.

The third and central section of the work is devoted to the study of the Pauline Epistles. While other scholars have noted Pauls use of particular rhetorical methods in limited sections, Harvey's work is the first to consider a broader range of Paul's writings and to investigate the uniquely oral nature of the patterns. He considers seven letters on which there is little debate concerning Pauline authorship (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) and identifies the oral aspects of each. In the process, he illumines elements of Paul's thought that can be traced to his Jewish heritage as well as ways in which Paul adopted Greco-Roman rhetoric to structure the content of his letters and to emphasize certain points. He also suggests practical exegetical conclusions that can be drawn from the application of such studies.

This volume is the first in the new Evangelical Theological Society Studies series, edited by David W. Baker.

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