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Rhetorical analysis and sociological analysis in historical Jesus research

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In this article I suggest ways in which rhetorical analysis can complement sociological analysis of early Christianity. On the basis of a universally acknowledged saying of Jesus ("blessed are you poor"), I suggest that those who use social scientific perspectives need to clarify more accurately the levels of data from which they are working (i.e., when they are working with probably early material, possibly the words of Jesus himself, and when they are working with the later elaboration of the traditional material) and to identify the rhetorical value of each level. I then show how, contrary to sociological analysis that depicts Jesus as merely proclaiming reversal, the historical Jesus proclaimed a reversal that had already happened but one that was away from God's intended order: what the historical Jesus was calling for was a future restoration to a state that existed before the reversal. Attention to the rhetorical nature of his follower's use of this proclamation, however, shows that when the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Lukan Acts of the Apostles uses the language of reversal and restoration, he now does so to describe what was happening not primarily vis-à-vis "the world" but in their own, now Christian communities. Jesus' message of reversal of the fate of the poor becomes in this way the Lukan message of the apostolic governance of that reversal, that is, the broker's (the apostolic leadership's, after the model of Jesus) dispensation of the patron's (God's) resources.

Affiliations: 1: St. Paul University, Ottawa


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