Strasbourg in the Spring—A Perfect Time for a Rhetoric Conference

Strasbourg UniversityWhen I received an invitation to be a speaker at the “Saint Paul and Rhetoric” conference hosted by the classics faculty at the University of Strasbourg in France, I found it impossible to say no. Throughout the years, I have continued periodically to write on rhetoric, and this remains a topic of interest to many New Testament scholars.

This conference was organized by Jonathan Thiessen, a doctoral student nearing the end of his degree at Strasbourg. Jonathan did a great job of implementing the conference, but also providing a welcoming atmosphere for all involved.

On the first day, we had four papers. I spoke on “Paul among the Rhetoricians and Epistolographers.” In this paper I weighed whether Paul should be considered a rhetorician or a writer of letters. I continue to find it unconvincing to argue—as have some New Testament scholars—that Paul was a rhetorician in the full sense of the word. In other words, Paul was not a trained rhetor, even if he made use of some elements of rhetoric (what I call microrhetoric) in his letters. And his letters are certainly not speeches with epistolary openings and closings attached. I find it nearly impossible to believe that such a view is still found these days—but it is. If Paul is a rhetorician at all, it is only on the basis of the use of his speeches in Acts. If one accepts these speeches, then Paul may have displayed basic rhetorical ability. Nevertheless, Paul is not a rhetorician when he is writing letters, but one of the great letter writers of the ancient world.

The other papers on the first day were each very interesting. Marc Philonenko of Strasbourg spoke on a particular Greek metaphor used in Paul and some extra-biblical texts. Roy Jeal, a fellow Canadian from Manitoba, used a version of the ever-developing socio-rhetorical criticism to discuss Paul’s rhetoric in Colossians. Thiessen offered a very stimulating paper, in which he took a look at some of Paul’s self-deprecatory statements about his abilities, and found parallels in other ancient rhetoricians who wish to downplay their acumen.

On the second day, we heard a well-developed paper by Christos Kremmydas on emotions and argumentation in the Pastoral Letters. This paper offered much insight into how to go about thinking of emotions and how they are conveyed. Ian Henderson, another fellow Canadian, this time from Montreal, discussed the rhetorical relationship between 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Jaqueline Assaël from Nice addressed some of the issues of Paul’s rhetoric in 2 Corinthians. The final paper, by Jean-Noël Aletti of Rome offered a recapitulation of progress in discussing Pauline rhetoric over the last thirty years.

Indeed, since Pauline rhetoric still attracts the interest of scholars, this conference promises to make a contribution to the discussion. Many of the authors looked back with honest eyes at the contributions of their predecessors, and there was widespread common opinion that, whereas some of the earlier advocates of Pauline rhetoric got caught up in the enthusiasm and perhaps overstepped the limits of the evidence, there are some new and alternative ways of discussing rhetoric that might reinvigorate the field.

The papers of the conference are scheduled to be published by the University of Strasbourg Press, and will provide both a record of the conference and a number of papers with positive proposals to encourage further research.

For those who have not experienced the beautifies of Strasbourg, let me simply say that this is one of the most enjoyable and beautiful places to hold a scholarly conference. The food during the conference, as well as outside of it, was outstanding in every way. Even more enjoyable were the people of the city, as well as the camaraderie of the fellow participants in the conference.

— Stanley E. Porter

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