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The Rhetoric of Luke’s Passion

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Luke’s Use of Common-place to Amplify the Guilt of Jerusalem’s Leaders in Jesus’ Death

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Working from Mark’s Passion Narrative, Luke shapes much of his own Passion account according to the headings of the ancient rhetorical technique “common-place,” as described in the progymnasmata tradition. The headings of common-place include the opposite, comparison, way of thinking, pity, final headings, and ekphrasis. Luke employs this technique because it is designed to amplify the guilt of those who have committed crimes—in this case, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, especially the Temple authorities, regarding Jesus’ execution. Thus Luke paints a positive portrayal of the opposites against which the leaders have offended (Jesus the sage and Jewish hero, and Jesus’ service-based kingdom); presents a comparison with the Jewish leaders and four other questionable individual or groups, always to the Jerusalem authorities’ disadvantage; attacks the leaders’ way of thinking, especially by noting its alignment with Satanic will; makes an appeal to pity to his listeners through Jesus’ words and actions after being condemned; paints Jesus’ execution as a thorough affront to the final headings of justice and expedience; and not only retains but also augments ekphrastic elements from Mark’s Passion. The sum effect is a Passion Narrative which turns the rhetorical screws, amplifying the guilt of Jerusalem’s leaders regarding Jesus’ death. Luke likely shapes his rhetoric in this way at least in part as a response to the polemical context in which he writes his Gospel, responding especially to problems of theodicy.

Affiliations: 1: Baylor University, USA


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