Moving Beyond Persuasion: Glimpses of the Sublime in Hebrews 12:18-29 Open Access

Holmes, Christopher Timothy (2016)

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This study analyzes the form of Hebrews 12:18-29, its fit within its literary context, and its function within the epistle as a whole. Additionally, it considers the effects of the passage's imagery, diction, and emotion. To appreciate better both the form and effect of this passage, the study takes up a treatise that has been largely undervalued for the task of New Testament interpretation, De Sublimitate. Although ancient and modern theorists regard persuasion as the goal of rhetoric, the treatise provides a compelling account of a form of rhetoric that "moves beyond persuasion." By tracing the transformative and ecstatic effects of discourse, the perspective of De Sublimitate gives clearer understanding of Hebrews as a "word of encouragement" (Hebrews 13:22) and offers an alternative way to understand the distinctive rhetoric of the New Testament. The study's introduction surveys ancient and modern attempts to account for the nature of New Testament rhetoric. Chapter one conducts a preliminary reading of Hebrews 12:18-29 and a survey of its former interpretations. Chapter two introduces De Sublimitate, highlighting its particular emphasis on the nature and effects of hypsos--the treatise's central term. Since the treatise overlaps with topics typically discussed in ancient handbooks, the third chapter relates the treatise to ancient theories of style and to broader considerations of the powerful and non-rational effects of discourse. Chapter four returns to Hebrews 12:18-29 in order to show how the form of the passage displays characteristics of sublime rhetoric. The fifth chapter examines the moving and stirring effects of sublime rhetoric in Hebrews 12:18-29 and how these clarify the function of the passage in particular and of the epistle more broadly. An epilogue and appendix complete the study.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Chapter One: Problems and Prospects in Hebrews 12:18-29. 8

A Moving Vision: Considering the Place and Form of Heb12:18-29. 9

A Distinct Moment. 9

An Embedded Moment. 15

Previous Approaches to Hebrews 12:18-29. 18

Interpretations Based on Cultural Context. 19

Symbolic and Theological Interpretations. 20

Ethical and Spiritual Interpretations. 21

Attending to God's Speech. 22

Accounting for the Verbal Artistry of Hebrews 12:18-29. 23

Ancient Views of the Style of Hebrews. 23

Modern Interpreters and the the Style of Hebrews. 24

(i) Discussion of Style in Commentaries. 24

(ii) Discussions of Style in Articles and Monographs. 26

(iii) Walter Jennrich. 27

(iv) Michael Cosby. 28

The Epistle to the Hebrews and Ancient Rhetorical Theory. 29

Hebrews and the Limits of Persuasion. 31

Chapter Two: A Reading of De Sublimitate. 34

An Orientation to De Sublimitate. 34

The Author of the Treatise. 34

Considering Caecilius. 36

Terentianus: Student or Patron. 38

Summary. 39

Approaching the Subject: Describing ὝΨΟΣ . 39

The Effects of ὝΨΟΣ and the Limits of Persuasion (Subl. 1.3-4). 40

Failed Attempts to Achieve ὝΨΟΣ (Subl. 3-5). 44

Toward a Translation of ὝΨΟΣ. 45

The Five Sources of Sublime Rhetoric and their Effects. 47

Impressive Ideas and their Effects (Subl. 9.1-15.12). 48

(i) Nobility of Mind. 48

(ii) Imitation. 51

(iii) Imagination. 52

Stirring Emotion. 53

Figures that Move the Hearers (Subl. 16-29). 58

Words that Captivate (Subl. 30-38). 59

Enchanting Word Arrangement (Subl. 39-43). 61

Longinus and the Philosopher (Subl. 44). 63

Sublime Rhetoric and the Limits of Excellent Style. 65

Conclusion. 66

Chapter Three: De Sublimitate, Theories of Style, and the Power of

Language. 69

De Sublimitate and the Ancient Analysis of Style. 70

Components of Style. 71

Classifying Types of Style. 75

(i) Aristophanes: The Grand and the Not-Grand. 76

(ii) Demetrius: Four Characters but Two Styles. 79

(iii) The Appearance of Three: The Plain, Elevated, and Middle Styles. 81

(iv) The Three Styles in Cicero. 82

(v) Dionysius of Halicarnassus: The Triumph of the Mixed Style. 83

Sublime Rhetoric and/as the Grand Style. 88

Stylizing Religious Experience. 92

Language and/as Religious Experience. 93

Gorgias of Leontini: Speech as Sacred Magic. 94

Plato and the Danger of Inspired Poetry. 95

Aristotle: Poetic Emotion and Catharsis. 99

Plutarch: Purging Poetry for Philosophy. 102

Philo of Alexandria: Reading and/as Religious Experience. 104

Conclusion. 108

Chapter Four: Hearing and Responding to God's Speech at the

Mountain. 110

Orientation to Hebrew 12:18-29. 111

Locating God's Speech: Exegesis of Heb 12:18-29. 114

Experiencing the First Location of God's Speech (12:18-19a). 116

The Response of the First Hearers (Heb 12:19b-21). 120

The Description of the Second Location (Heb 12:22-24). 126

The Response to be Avoided (Heb 12:25-27). 138

The Appropriate Response (Heb 12:2829). 141

Further Glimpses of Sublime Rhetoric. 149

Imagination, Imitation, and the Idea of God's Speech. 149

Moving the Hearers: Connecting the Earthly and the Ideal. 151

Conclusion. 153

Chapter Five: Hebrews 12:18-29 and the Effects of Sublime

Rhetoric. 156

Moving the Hearers to the Place Where God Speaks. 157

Dislocating the Hearer. 158

The Place Where God Speaks. 160

(i) Overhearing God's Speech to the Son. 161

(ii) Heeding God's Speech in the Wilderness. 162

(iii) Seeking God's Speech Outside the Gate. 165

(iv) Summary. 166

The Place to Which the Hearers Have Come. 167

(i) Protecting the Integrity of the Place. 168

(ii) Respecting the Leaders of the Place. 169

(iii) Tending to the Center of the Place. 170

(iv) Summary. 170

Moving the Hearers to Persevere. 171

Apathy and the Effects of Sublime Rhetoric (Subl. 44). 171

(i) Moving the Hearers to Wonder. 172

(ii) The Nature of Apathy (ῥαθυμíα). 174

(iii) Addressing Apathy. 177

The Hearers' Need for Endurance. 179

(i) Rousing the Hearers to Keep Moving. 180

(ii) Refusing to Shrink Back. 182

(iii) Following God's Voice into the Wilderness. 184

Sluggishness and a Zealous Response. 186

(i) The Nature of Sluggishness (νωθρóς). 186

(ii) A Response Lacking Zeal. 188

(iii) Suffering Maturity. 190

Conclusion. 191

Epilogue. 192

Appendix: De Sublimitate and the Sublime. 195

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux: Locating the Sublime in Discourse. 196

John Dennis: The Sublimity of Religion. 199

Edmund Burke: The Sublime as Terror. 201

Immanuel Kant: The Sublime and the Mind's Infinity. 203

Jean-François Lyotard: Presenting the Unpresentable. 209

Conclusion. 210

Bibliography. 212

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