Speech-in-character, diatribe, and Romans 3:1-9 : who's speaking when and why it matters.


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This project aims to resolve questions concerning Paul’s imaginary dialogue with an interlocutor in Romans 3:1-9 and to demonstrate how understanding the dialogue’s script matters in the letter’s larger argument. Advancing on the diverse diatribal evidence often referenced by scholars, I introduce the related but more consistent and methodologically sound primary literature on speech-in-character (prosopopoiia). I identify as central to speech-in-character the crafting and attributing of speech to an imaginary speaker that is “appropriate” to the characterization of that speaker. In diatribal dialogue and speech-in-character, however, attributed speech can be unmarked, making it difficult to determine whether the primary speaker or an interlocutor is responsible for speaking given lines in a discourse. This is true for every exchange in Rom 3:1-9. Speech-in-character’s convention of appropriateness to characterization permits a development in how to approach such dialogues. Because characterization usually precedes attributed speech, characterization can serve as a plumb line by which to measure whether a line belongs to a certain speaker. The premise is, if a line appropriately corresponds to the characterization of an imagined speaker, then it is possible for that line to be attributed to that imagined speaker. I demonstrate that this method proves useful on texts containing speech-in-character and on diatribal dialogues. I also argue that this method resolves the problem of who speaks which lines in the script of Rom 3:1-9. When Paul’s characterization of the interlocutor (Rom 2) serves as the measure for determining who speaks each line in 3:1-9, an "appropriate" arrangement develops. I conclude that, contrary to traditional (and some rescriptive) readings, speech-in-character’s convention of appropriateness to characterization strongly advocates for a reading in which Paul, in the role of diatribal teacher, consistently raises leading questions for his interlocutor to answer. This has significant theological import for Paul’s view of divine impartiality and anthropological equality, especially as these issues come to a head in Rom 9-11. Consequently, this project makes contributions to scholarship on the rhetorical figure of speech-in-character, diatribal dialogue, and Pauline studies.



Speech-in-character. Diatribe. Romans. Paul. Rhetoric. Impartiality. Equality. Israel.