Wide Angle

James Taylor Quartet

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Aim THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY is to reconstruct as accurate a picture as possible of the women prophets in the church of first-century Corinth. I am interested in their behavior, daily and occasional, their position in society and the church, and their values and theology. Broad studies are available on women in the Greco-Roman world1 and women in the ancient church 2 recently eyen on women in the Pauline churches3 But these wide-angle views are more suggestive than conclusive because the specific texts they depend on have not been analyzed with reconstructing the women's lives in mind. The next step is to read and reread the key texts until they yield all they have to say about the women4 . As one stage of this process I take up Paul's first extant letter to the Corinthians, focusing attention on the women who prophesy. Second Corinthians, Acts, and 1 Clement speak of the same community in the same half century. But it is 1 Corinthians that refers repeatedly to the women, addresses them at times, and works to persuade the community and its women. As such it offers the best opportunity for reconstruction. Method Due to the nature of this source document, the historical and sociological methods commonly used to reconstruct a social group are not immediately useful. Gerd Theissen has proposed that reconstruction can proceed both from direct social statements in a text and from the social implications of norms, events, and symbols within the text.5 But even the most explicitly social statements in 1 Corinthians, such as Paul's "not many I of you were wise by standards of the flesh, not many powerful, not many 1 prominent" (1:26), cannot be taken as objective evidence about people's status because it is part of Paul's defense as he begins an argument. The question is whether we can know anything about the Corinthian community beyond the writer’s viewpoint. Groups such as the women prophets who come in for Paul's criticism would seem most likely to elude our grasp. This impasse diverted me into the study of rhetoric, the art of persuasion. If Paul's intent is to persuade rather than to describe the Corinthians, can Paul's rhetoric lead to the people he is trying to persuade? Paul's rhetoric is not a new area of study.6 Rhetoric was one of the pillars of classical advanced education. On a popular level, Paul's hometown of Tarsus was known for its lively public debates. 7 And the rabbinical system Paul was apparently educated in taught a wisdom generated and preserved in oral sayings and dialogues. Paul's own letters, oral both in their writing and reading (1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; 1 Thess. 5:27), seem to have functioned as speeches in absentia. Rhetorical analysis could be applied in studying these letters to try to reconstruct how Paul understood his own speech. Such a study would begin with the Greek and Jewish canons of rhetoric Paul may have studied, and the question of Paul's education and self-conscious application of rhetorical methods would stand in the foreground. But my aim is narrower. Just as a child can speak her native tongue correctly without schooling, so a man can sell a horse or a conviction very persuasively without reflecting upon how he does it. In Paul's case the data we have is this persuasion itself. Even his reflections on his own speaking and how it is received are an integral part of his effort to persuade. So the question whether Paul composed with conscious rhetorical technique or analyzed in retrospect the way he had spoken can be set aside. His argument can be the focus of this study and the proper and sufficient access point to his audience. I look to the modern revival of classical rhetoric for my primary analytical tools in this task, the movement called in Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca's comprehensive description "The New Rhetoric."8 The major distinctions made in the ancient discipline are retained. For example, the writer's self-presentation (ethos) is expected to dominate the introductory part of a speech, the rational argument (logos) often including a narration of the case - is anticipated in the body of the discourse, and direct appeals to the audience (pathos) are looked for in conclusions9 . The names given to specific arguments are often translations of their Greek or Latin titles. But the study of rhetoric has changed significantly; its scope is both broader and more clearly delimited than before, and there is a concomitant change in the precision of its work. Today, rhetorical analysis takes as its province all persuasive discourse, recognizing that its major contribution is not in generating or dissecting proper speeches but in illuminating how words function to persuade. Once we focus on function it is clear that all argument-some say all speech- is shaped for an effect and works to persuade. This means that the ambiguous position of Paul's letters as written discourse orally given and received is no longer a methodological problem, since the words function to persuade in any case. And by its functional definition modern rhetoric has been able to delimit its field of inquiry. It does not deal with certain strictly declarative or per formative speech acts such as lists, chants, and curses, nor with what the philosopher calls self-evident or incontrovertible truth. Rejecting modern philosophy's obsession with self-evident logic and conclusive proof since Rene Descartes, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca choose to study the broad world between what is arbitrary and what is necessary, where most of human life is lived. Here some things are better than others in some ways, and it falls to rhetoric to study how people deliberate in this world. Rhetoric observes how people who have any freedom use it to persuade each other, "to induce or to increase the mind's adherence to the theses presented for its assent."10 This world of reasoning, standing in contrast to self-evident truth, may seem like shifting sand upon which to built a historical reconstruction. But the fact that Paul is arguing his case indicates that he operates in this world. The best procedure is to use the technology of rhetorical analysis that is appropriate to this sandy soil of argument. The precision of the new rhetoric comes from its axiom that all argument serves the function of persuasion. In no detail can a persuader afford to ignore those who are to be persuaded. Because everything spoken must be shaped for them, the measure of the audience as the speaker knows it can be read in the arguments that are chosen. It has taken the computer generation to discover the precision with which one person speaks to another in human communication, drawing on elaborate "programs" that both share. These programs tell far more about an audience than the occasional descriptive comment. A rhetorical analysis of 1 Corinthians can give us accurate information about the Corinthian women prophets as Paul knew them by reading Paul's letter as an attempt to persuade in a particular argumentative situation in which they play some role. Granted they are often hidden within a generic address, only occasionally spoken about, and still less often spoken to but their repeated appearance shows that they are not without a role within the rhetorical situation. This rhetorical or argumentative situation includes both the goals of the speaker and the counterarguments that are anticipated as the speaking progresses. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca define it as "the influence of the earlier stages of the discussion on the argumentative possibilities open to the speaker."11 Access is gained to it through the text, .no other readings about first century Corinth, and it offers much more specific knowledge of the person who is writing and of those who are intended to receive a text than other sources. Here rhetoricians are suggesting that an argumentative text does not give only one side of an argument- unless the speaker is completely incompetent-because to argue is to gauge your audience as accurately as you can at every point, to use their language, to work from where they are in order to move them toward where you want them to be. So what we have is not just one individual's viewpoint but a window into a volatile situation, volatile yet not amorphous because certain points of agreement are clear in premises taken and authorities cited; certain points of conflict vanish by one argument while others congeal into Gordian knots. In classical rhetoric the three types of discourse were distinguished by the audience's role in each case: forensic speech before those who judge right from wrong concerning past actions, deliberative speech before those who weigh good and bad proposals for future action, and epideictic speech before those who celebrate or censure present values. But these three settings of court, assembly, and cult seldom appear in pure form; and struggling to classify more diverse texts into one of these categories may not be fruitful. 12 Modern rhetoric has given up the prescriptive side of classical rhetoric with its canon of the single-function speech, but this has intensified its sensitivity to the key role of the rhetorical situation in which the speaker and audience are related as that which shapes the argument at each point. Granted, this is the audience as seen by the speaker, and any evidence, of blind spots in the speaker's vision must be watched for. But the more intent the speaker is to persuade, the less he or she can afford to misjudge the audience. An accurate reading of the audience is integral to the self-interest of any persuader, all the more so when part of the audience stands in opposition. This suggests that those in clear disagreement with Paul should be the ones most accessible through his rhetoric. But even so, is it possible to call a reconstruction based largely on rhetorical analysis a historical reconstruction? Rhetoricians evade this question by limiting themselves to reconstructing the rhetorical situation and disclaiming any interest in history. Recently, literary critics have, created an entire hierarchy of figures-from the real author to implied author to narrator to narrate to implied reader to real reader-in order to insulate fiction's fragile world from the heavy hand of history. 13 But Paul's letter is as close to history as writing can get-a proxy for his presence in a specific historical context. Historians cannot ignore this fact. Where others see history as a monolithic reality set in a determined past outside the literary creation, historians know history is a piecing together of fragile textual and material remains. Modern historians study texts with the same tools as do the literary and rhetorical critics in order to determine the interests of writers and intended audiences. They find this data as crucial for historical reconstruction as whatever the text says about particular events or social institutions. It is plain what a significant historical source 1 Corinthians is when read along with Jerome Murphy O'Connor's recent collection. of texts about ancient Corinth.14 This letter does not simply describe the place as the geographers do. It attests a struggle in a particular community as it occurs and from within, the author himself being implicated in the conflict and at work persuading other parties by appeal to common assumptions and attacks on certain conduct. Of course, this data cannot be generalized to apply to all Corinthians or to all early Christians the social implications depend on wider local evidence and on careful use of social models from comparative contexts but the historian willing to settle for the reconstruction of a particular conflict in a particular year can only see this source as a bonanza. When each ancient text is read with attention to its rhetorical situation the result can be a more intricate and accurate kind of history drawn from the mutual informing of the rhetorical situations of all extant texts. Literary scholars may call this "intertextuality" and deny any interest in reconstructing what was going on at the time. The literary critic's peelings make the historian's banquet! To reconstruct a group that is part of a larger group to whom an author writes is a project in social history. The social questions asked of the text must tailor themselves to the data available through rhetorical analysis. As this method of reconstructing social history is developed it may come to have tools of its own, but in the meantime I adapt social models from, various quarters. For example, in his argument Paul gives multiple indications of how the Corinthians perceive their social status. Therefore I analyze their status at the time of the letter writing using a multifactor approach that charts status for each variable independently (see excursus to chapter 3). These results can be compared to indications of the social status they had before entering the community as it is found in Paul's argument and in data from other sources on Greek women of the time. On this basis the change in their social status can be compared to social status changes of others in this community and society. Theissen's proposed analytic methods of social reconstruction are useful, particularly the focus on conflict as it exposes structures of communal life and the caution that in conflict situations norms, events, and symbols may indicate a situation opposite to what they say. 15 Victor Turner's studies and Bruce Lincoln's work on initiation rituals suggest some ways to read the different experiences of baptism in the Corinthian church.16 Mary Douglas in her study of trance states in the Nuer and Dinka societies makes observations that have implications for Christian prophecy.17Her "group-grid" structure can be used in social reconstruction of an argumentative situation (see chapter 9). 18 For example, Paul's efforts to persuade the Corinthian church to strengthen its group boundaries could indicate relatively weak existing group boundaries. Bruce Malina's work on the use of challenge and riposte in the Mediterranean world makes some of Paul's rhetoric clearer.19 Comparative models of group life, drawn from the ancient Roman East, are particularly important as, for example, Wayne Meeks and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza apply them.20 No one study can pursue all these approaches it is their integration that will eventually make an effective social reconstruction of early Christianity. Finally, a feminist must defend herself against charges of special pleading in the use of rhetorical analysis. Since almost all extant texts from the ancient world were written by men from their viewpoints, women have a special interest in finding ways of reconstructing the viewpoints of those who were not writing or whose writings were not preserved. The rhetorical method, which reconstructs the audience's conduct and views in its understanding of a writer's argument, deals with women's views where they had a significant role in an audience. The work that women do on this front is parallel to the work of other groups today who seek out their own history and thereby extend the knowledge of the past. When priests kept the records, the records listed the priests. When history was written in the courts of kings, history was about kings. When the educated men of the cities began to write, they wrote their own political and economic history. The new, broader social history reflects today's authors. In this context, women's research proposes to bring to light the other half of the human race. This is not in any new sense a work of the imagination, since women were as active as men in all the societies of the past and have left their mark. But the methods a new group develops to reconstruct its history are part of the act of taking power. I say this not to take them 1 out of the arena of criticism, but to underline the need to meet this ,criticism with solid argument if power is to be gained by persuasion rather than by force. Women who have in the past lacked the personal power of the pen and the institutional power to preserve their own writings will "reconstruct their past by reading given texts and artifacts in new ways, particularly by recovering embedded oral traditions, interpreting scattered pieces of data about women, and identifying and mining texts that women provoked men to write. In the latter case we will be making a double contribution. The aim will be an accurate and full picture of the women in that rhetorical situation. The by-product will be a clearer picture of the author's act of writing in the rhetorical situation that gives us our only access to these women. Procedure Two different approach are useful to better understand a particular text as argument. On the one hand, specific arguments can be identified and traced as they appear and reappear throughout the document. The arguments that prove to be most characteristic of the text, especially when seen to be distinctive among parallel texts of the time and other writings of this author, can reveal what the writer considered most persuasive to the intended readers. I begin with this analysis in chapter 2 because it provides an overview of the key arguments and certain indications of the situation for which the letter was written, meanwhile accustoming us to hear the text as persuasion rather than as dogma, historical record, or imaginative literature. The simplicity artificially created by separating a recurring argument from the mass of argumentation in a text also helps to distinguish and name types of arguments. I call the result of this kind of analysis the textual rhetoric of 1 Corinthians because it is argumentation characteristic of this particular text. 21 A comprehensive textual rhetoric of I Corinthians is not possible within the scope of this study, but the thread of certain arguments can be traced through the fabric and their colors seen as they recur, provoking certain theses about the Corinthian, women prophets. A second approach to the same arguments is to work on one unit of the text at a time as in chapters 3-9. Here all arguments in the context are important as they are interwoven in one effort to persuade, yielding much fuller implications about the people being addressed or mentioned. This can be called the letter's structural rhetoric because unit by unit the structure of the combined arguments becomes visible until the structure of the whole is apparent. The integration of warp and woof-gauge, color, texture, and weight together- give the text its whole impact and allow whatever reconstruction of the situation is possible. To catalogue Paul's textual rhetoric in 1 Corinthians I follow Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca's distinction of four kinds of argument. 22 Their classification rejects the traditional view that all arguments are either inductive or deductive, and particularly the modern prejudice in favor of incontrovertible arguments deduced from self-evident axioms or built up inductively from empirical evidence. They consider the latter of minor importance among the multiple grounds for adherence to one view rather than another. In place of what some call deduction they speak of two kinds of argument, quasi-logical arguments and arguments based on the structure of reality. By quasi-logical they mean having the logic of common sense: wholes are made up of parts, contradictions exclude each other, things the same or similar are to be treated as such. Arguments from sacrifice and justice, derive from such assumptions. The second, more general kind of deduction they call argument from the structure of reality. These arguments appeal to relations of cause and effect and relations people have to their acts, the latter including arguments from authority, custom, and other more symbolic kinds of coexistence. Arguments of a third class that seek to establish the structure of reality do not deduce from common sense or from assumptions about how reality is structured but work to establish this structure. Here the argument moves from the particular to the general: examples seek to prove a rule; illustration is satisfied to highlight a rule; models or anti-models stand for more than themselves; analogy and metaphor speak through particular images. The fourth and final type of argument Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca call the dissociation of concepts. Here assumed structures of reality are broken I apart to provoke new understanding, as when reality is dissociated from appearance, the concrete from the abstract, or the divine from the human. When analyzing Paul's textual rhetoric in these categories (chapter 2), and Paul's structural rhetoric in each unit of the letter (chapter 3-9), I ask my primary question about the Corinthian women prophets at every point. Normally, when the text is in motion, an author's argument is not interrupted to ask for the implications of what is said for problems that may not be the primary focus of the writer's attention. This means that the way the author argues at each stage is seldom factored to decipher what is indicated about the groups or issues more marginally referred to. Because this loss cannot be made up by sweeping conclusions at the end, I will pursue the question at each step. This interruption can be tolerated if particular attention is given to the author's point in each argument and care is taken to make the distinction between what is focusing the pupil of the writer's eye at the moment and what is in the wider field of vision. I use the analogy of vision to explain what is meant by "factoring" for the role of these women within the argumentative situation. An argument is like a stare that focuses on one point but incorporates a wide background, all in relation to the focal point. The interpreter's eye can therefore choose a different focus and consider what this arrangement indicates about a peripheral element. For example, this is done in the best theological reading of Paul's letters where the interpreter focuses on a reference to God used in the background of an argument. Another useful analogy drown from hearing is suggested by the title of Michael Polanyi's book, The Tacit Dimension. He proposes that knowledge is largely unvoiced background to the little that we think we know. 23 I suggest that hearing the background silence is possible if its relation to our conscious knowledge is never abandoned as the key to our access. My word, "factoring," comes from an analogy to the algebraic equation that answers its own questions but can be reorganized to define the peripheral "x" This is possible because the relation between all the elements is given within the original equation. The danger of this analogy is that it might be thought to claim something like empirical or, in the case of argument, historical validity for what is factored, whereas the validity is restricted to the relations between the elements in the rhetorical equation. The integrity of a rewritten equation depends upon its faithfulness to the initial statement's data, not upon correspondence to the world at large so too, any implication for women drawn from Paul's arguments has its integrity within his argument as a whole. Whatever correspondence Paul's arguments have to the reality of the Corinthian women is a different question depending strictly on the level of Paul's openness to the situation, his skill in argument, and the firmness of his intent to persuade real people in Corinth. To state my assumptions should be useful in evaluating the adequacy with which this "factoring" is done. First, Paul is writing this letter to persuade the Corinthians. Everything he says and the way he says it must be understood according to its function in this aim. Second, whatever Paul says about human beings, Corinthians, believers in Christ, women, and prophets is a possible resource for understanding the women prophets in Corinth's church. But nothing he writes can be considered reliable unless it serves his purpose of persuasion. In other words, everything spoken as description or analysis is first of all an address to the intended readers. Third, on whatever points Paul's persuasion is insistent and intense, showing he is not merely confirming their agreement but struggling for their assent, one can assume some different and opposite point of view in Corinth from the one Paul is stating. Fourth, the women prophets in Corinth's church have a place in the group Paul is addressing, some role in the rhetorical situation. If this role were know from the start, the significance of Paul's arguments for a reconstruction of these women could be determined. Because this is not initially known, it must be discovered in conjunction with its use in reconstructing whatever we can know about them. This role could be presented as a hypothesis and tested for its adequacy in helping lay out a comprehensive understanding of Paul's argument. But because research in this area is still at a beginning stage I am neither able to do this nor would it be convincing to hear something so new presented as fait accompli. To avoid some reality and the appearance of manipulation of the text, 1 work simultaneously to determine what place these women have in the developing event of persuasion that is 1 Corinthians and whatever light this' sheds on themselves, testing both by their adequacy in helping to provide an account of Paul's argument . It needs to be stated that the Corinthian women prophets are only one part of Paul's audience; other parts could also be reconstructed in this way. A parallel study of some group of men in the Corinthian church would be particularly helpful for comparative purposes. This is discussed briefly at the end of chapter 3 in the excursus on the Social Status of the Corinthian Women Prophets and of Paul. Argument and Authority The appropriateness of rhetorical analysis to scriptural texts is not self evident. Rhetoric can be seen as embellishment or even distortion of the truth, not to be credited to biblical authors. Even when rhetoric is taken as the language of persuasion, there is hesitancy in describing the New Testament defense of the gospel as rhetoric. We may say, "To the unbeliever it may be persuasion, but to us it is truth." It is necessary to respect I this position and the problem that lies behind it if room is to be made for rhetorical study of these texts, whose analysis is carried out largely within believing communities. Granted, rhetoric is not concerned with demonstrating absolute truth, scientific or dogmatic, but with argument concerning what is probable, aiming to increase adherence to theses presented for approval. In so far as biblical authority is taken in the popular sense as the absolute authority of the biblical writer's point of view, there is no experience of Paul's letter as rhetoric. Respect for biblical authority presupposes that Paul is right and excludes the possibility of weighing his arguments in the balance. Because an argument Paul makes cannot be rejected as unconvincing, it also cannot convince. In this way the authority we attribute to Paul prevents him from persuading us. This dogmatic reading of Paul's letters is present as much in the academy as in the pulpit. Particularly in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions where Paul's theology is absolutized because it was persuasive to the Reformers, every study begins and ends with assumption that Paul's view is normative. In spite of the great advances Paulme research the historical-critical study of 1 Corinthians, extending from Friedrich Christian Baur to Johannes Weiss to Hans Conzelmann,24 Paul's opponents are still seen as no more than the contrasting background to his own exemplary humility. At the same time, all these people recognize that Paul was not understood in his own time as the standard of valid Christian faith and that, in all cases, his major opponents are also believers in Christ. Yet our interpreters remain bound by their heritage in Protestant Orthodoxy to cast these opponents negatively in order to affirm Paul. It is as if every opinion the interpreters hold is Pauline and every opinion of Paul's their own. This has put Paul in the straitjacket of each generation's self understanding; those who begin from the foregone conclusion that Paul's viewpoint is authoritative read Paul in the way that justifies him by their own standards. Paul's contemporary, Philo, may seem arbitrary or sexist in his allegorical exegesis; Josephus may be seen as an opportunist vis-a-vis his Roman patrons-all without disparaging the great gifts of each writer. But Paul is required to be pristine, our Protestant alter ego. !his not only does great disservice to the memory of Paul. It has taken Paul s letters out of the public domain where argument is in order and where Paul's strong arguments could have social impact. Those reacting against this domestication of Paul tend to avenge themselves by seeing Paul as the devil incarnate or by ignoring his arguments altogether.25 Understanding Paul's letters as argument may be possible m the church only when there is a shift in its view of the Bible's authority. To standards for determining_ a text's authority are the way it claims authority and the authority it actively exercises with the receptive reader. Paul claims a hearing on the basis of insistent arguments from God's calling, from revelation, from hard work, and from modeling Christ. The letters do not claim to be authoritative in their own right or this argument would be redundant. For Paul, such intrinsic authority belongs to God alone. Paul's letters' authority depends on free assent to Paul's arguments because they are convincing. The same point applies to the authority that the text exercises with the thoughtful reader. Again, any independent determination of a text's authority, works against hearing the arguments in the text because it sets up an alternative authority to the conviction won by the arguments given. This explanation is not a sleight of hand to cancel out the authority of the text. It is a necessary defense of authority that operates through persuasion as found in the form and functioning of Paul's letters. If we fake on the role of the reader that Paul sets up and locate the Bible's authority not in given dogmas or individual authors but in the event where the persuasive word meets conviction, this event may occur where we do not expect. The book of James may win an argument against Paul the Corinthian women prophets may convince us at a point where Paul does not; voices from outside the canon may speak with authority. None of these would surprise Paul or he would not put such effort into persuading. Paul's reader is programmed to be involved in a debate that believers are carrying on about the issues he discusses, not to be a non- believer seeking enlightenment nor a new believer receiving training (if these passive stereotypes have ever appeared in the flesh). Paul expects controversy-provokes it in fact-and he is confident that the best argument will win. The way he writes challenges the reader not to memorize I verses but to fearlessly weigh what he says against other views. It is a competitive market: "Do you not know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one takes the prize? So run that you seize it!" (1 Cor. 9:24). If a runner only becomes as good as his or her competition requires, that says something about both Paul and his opposition in Corinth. A view of biblical authority emerges that has more the form of witness and debate than of a party line. This is appropriate to the biblical canon whose witness is already a lively debate, one that can reach its full stereophonic sound only when the silenced voices within and around it are recovered. This also says something about human community, about the freedom we can allow each other to have, though we do not have agreement on the most crucial issues. It assumes that none of us is God and yet that the authority to hear God and to speak for God can come to us in the human task of effective persuasion.