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The Bible as Rhetoric: Studies in Biblical Persuasion and Credibility (review)

Mary Anne O'Neil

Philosophy and Literature, Volume 15, Number 1, April 1991, pp. 152-153 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/phl.1991.0069

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152Philosophy and Literature

reception of Diderot's dialogue brings out a significance that could not have
been intended by Diderot, Jauss treats this not as an error, but as an unfolding of the latent meaning of the work through history. Noting that Hegel's reading nevertheless seems to reduce Diderot's philosopher to a moment in a dialectic that transcends and subsumes him, Jauss closes his essay with a question: does the dialectic necessarily close off a continuing dialogue, or could it "allow new truth to arise from a polyphony of voices without garnering for the voice of the other the unhappy fate that awaits Diderot's philosopher in Hegel's interpretation" (p. 147)? Like Bakhtin's, Jauss's commitment to dialogue is based on respect for the
voice of the Other. His book is full of references to fellow scholars, in whose

work he almost invariably finds something valuable; it is refreshingly free of polemics. For all its imposing erudition,Jauss's discourse remains open, weaving together a chorus of voices, and always questioning.
University of OregonSteven Rendall

The Bible as Rhetoric: Studies in Biblical Persuasion and

Credibility, edited by Martin Warner; ? Sc 236 pp. London: Roudedge, 1990, $55.00. For the general topic of this eighth volume of the Warwick Studies in Philosophy and Literature, Warner has proposed "the ways in which persuasive (and related literary) procedures of the biblical writers cut across or reinforce their concern with truth" (p. 5). British and American scholars of religious studies, literature, and philosophy have responded in eleven essays that consider subjects as varied as biblical language, symbolism, structure, and the classification of biblical texts as historical or imaginative writings. Moreover, to elucidate the rhetorical techniques ofthe Bible, these essays adopt diverse critical perspectives: structuralist, deconstructive, feminist, intertextual, and reader response. The initial and final essays suggest strategies that allow us to experience the
Bible as both sacred truth and literary text. Lynn Poland's excellent "The Bible

and the Rhetorical Sublime" argues that the post-Romantic preference for symbolism over allegory has robbed the Bible of its affective power, while Cyril Barrett's "The Language of Ecstasy and the Ecstasy of Language" proposes the reading of mystical or prophetic texts as poetic metaphor, a language embodying truth, but not truth that is empirically verifiable. Three unrelated


articles challenge traditional interpretations of the Old Testament and Apocrypha. For John Barton, the enduring power of the prophets results not from their analyses of the moral decline of their nation, but rather from their skill in assimilating "the shortcomings of Israel and Judah to models which were generally held, in the ancient world, to cause divine displeasure" (p. 63). David Clines demonstrates that the Book ofJob gives no answers to the problems of suffering and moral retribution. In fact, the prologue and epilogue, as well as the protagonist's singularity, contradict the text's purported meaning. Margarita Stocker considers the Book of Judith another unstable text which anxiously portrays its heroine as both masculine and feminine, self and other. Part Two gains coherence by concentrating on the Gospels, Epistles, and the
issues of their claims to truth. Both Stewart Sutherland and Roger Trigg re-

affirm the importance of historical truth to any reading of the New Testament, with Trigg suggesting that we apply the criteria of law rather than those of science to our assessment of the evangelists' presentation of history. Warner aligns himself with them in his study of persuasion in the Fourth Gospel by
claiming that "the whole persuasive strategy of the Gospel depends on its being

subjected to rational controls at the levels of narrative judgment and sign" (p. 177). David Jasper and George Kennedy present the opposing view. ForJasper, the authoritative proclamations of Mark are a response to the early Christians' desire to "entextualize" themselves, that is to assert their identity and communal interdependence by means of a written text. Kennedy convincingly argues that Paul's proofs of Christ's divinity rely on interpretation and emotion rather than fact. They are "rhetoric," not "history." Finally, Michael Edward's insightful, almost lyrical, treatment of the Gospel of John tries to close the gap in this debate by considering the fourth evangelist as both historian and literary genius who retells actual events but places them in a narrative framework that reveals divine providence as the guiding force of human history.
The essays are preceded by a useful introduction in which Warner situates

and evaluates each essay in terms of current critical debates. He and the other essayists are well aware that, while the insistence upon the literary qualities of the Bible initiated by such works as Frye's The Great Code and Alter's and Kermode's The Literary Guide to the Bible has enriched our aesthetic sensibilities, it has also threatened the Bible's unique place in Western thought. These authors remind us that it is possible to read the Bible as both literature and philosophy. As rhetorical critics, that is, critics interested in the way language embodies the
truth as well as persuades us of the truth, they have opened up new avenues

to our understanding of the Old and New Testaments. Warner's volume is certainly an important contribution to literary criticism of the Bible.
Whitman CollegeMary Anne O'Neil