Adaptation and alienation : persuasive strategies and audience responses in the rhetorical handbooks, Polybius, Josephus, and the Acts of the Apostles.


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This dissertation evaluates the rhetorical strategies and persuasive impact of speeches in the Acts of the Apostles and select other ancient Greek historical narratives against the template provided by Greco-Roman rhetorical theory regarding the ways in which orators should adapt their speeches to suit their particular audiences. It further seeks to demonstrate that ancient historians (including Luke) employed the presentation of speeches as important vehicles whereby they sought to convey well-adapted didactic/persuasive content to their own authorial audiences. The study commences with a survey of ancient rhetorical guidelines concerning the ways in which considerations related to the audience should influence the composition and delivery of speeches. The essential guiding principles that emerge from this material are, positively, that orators should strive to curry favor with their hearers by expressing sentiments that conform to the audience’s distinctive values, opinions, temperament, and experiences, and, negatively, that orators should refrain from harshly criticizing their listeners or making claims that conflict with the audience’s values and opinions in order to avoid alienating their hearers and thus failing in their persuasive task. Careful examination of the speeches in Polybius’s Histories and Josephus’s Jewish War reveals that the degree to which speakers in these works observe or flout the conventional prescriptions regarding adaptation and alienation is frequently a meaningful predictor of rhetorical success or failure. Yet these authors also display pronounced individual tendencies in their respective depictions of the interplay between speakers and audiences and of the factors that most heavily influence the outcomes of attempts at persuasion. These tendencies, in turn, shed light on the didactic/persuasive aims of the historians themselves. Likewise, the rhetoric of Jesus’s witnesses in Acts is characterized by a distinctive, paradoxical pattern in which speakers display considerable skill in adapting their arguments to their audiences, yet nevertheless repeatedly alienate a significant proportion of their listeners. By means of this narrative-rhetorical pattern, Luke seeks to persuade his authorial audience that the gospel message is universally applicable and highly adaptable, and yet that its uncompromising demand that its hearers should demonstrate a corresponding willingness to adapt will often cause alienation.



Acts of the Apostles. Speeches. Ancient rhetoric. Greek historiography. Herodotus. Thucydides. Polybius. Josephus.