Getting (Bible) Logic and Rhetoric Right

I urge you, brothers, by God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living holy sacrifice pleasing to God. This is your reasonable [λογικὴν] service. And do not pattern yourselves after this age, but transform yourselves through a renewal of the mind, to study the nature of the will of God, what is good, and pleasing, and perfect.
–Paul, writing to Rome using Greek (not Latin) and addressing brothers who are Jews and Greeks (neither Romans nor barbarians)

This is the word [ῥῆμα] which was brought to you as gospel. Putting aside, therefore, all malice and treachery and hypocrisy and envious thoughts and calumnies, crave, like newborn babies, the guileless milk of reason [λογικὸν] …
–Peter, writing to various Greek cities using Greek (and quoting the Septuagint, as the scriptures, as he writes with such logic)

[O]ur beloved brother Paul has also written to you in the wisdom that has been granted to him, even as he speaks [λαλῶν] of these matters in all of his letters; but places in them are hard to understand, and these the ignorant and unstable distort, as they do the other scriptures; ….
–“Peter,” writing one of the most logically syllogistic and rhetorically enthymematic letters ever written, using Greek (and quoting the Septuagint, as the scriptures, as he equates them with Paul’s letters)

What’s more fascinating? That the Greek Bible really lacks the Greek word logic (λογική or λογικός)? Or that it actually does have the word twice?

Peter uses the word once, and so does Paul. See the epigraphs in this blogpost above. (The English is from Richmond Lattimore’s translation).

Why not more? Why isn’t logic in the Septuagint? Why don’t Jews using Greek after the Septuagint use the word more? Why don’t the gospel writers use it? Why don’t any of the other epistle writers use it besides Peter and Paul? Why don’t they use the word more than once a piece? And why do Peter and Paul use logic? What could they possibly mean by it?

An equally interesting question is why the entire Greek Bible (translated and/or written by Jews) completely lacks another Greek word related to logic: the word rhetoric (ῥητορική). Did the translators of Hebrew into Hellene just not know the word? Did Peter and Paul not understand rhetoric?

I’d like to suggest that the Jews knew logic and rhetoric very very well as they were translating their scriptures into Greek and writing using Greek . If the Hebrew Bible really was translated into Hellene (i.e., into Greek) in Alexandria, Egypt between the third and first centuries BC, then the translators surely knew the words logic and rhetoric. The words and the concepts associated with them were central to Alexandria. Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt and in whose name the great city was established, studied under one of the greatest scientists of logic and rhetoric ever: Aristotle. Aristotle’s political training was careful to spread the values of logic and rhetoric. For example, in The Politics, Aristotle wrote the following, something Alexander likely read:

And in old times whenever the same man became both leader of the people and general, they used to change the constitution to a tyranny; for almost the largest number of the tyrants of early days have risen from being leaders of the people. And the reason why this used to happen then but does not do so now is because then the leaders of the people were drawn from those who held the office of general (for they were not yet skilled in oratory [λέγειν]), but now when rhetoric [ῥητορικῆς] has developed the able speakers are leaders of the people, but owing to their inexperience in military matters they are not put in control of these, except in so far as something of the kind has taken place to a small extent in some places. (from Book V, Henry Rackham’s English translation with the Greek on the facing page, 1305a).

To be clear, I’d like to add that Aristotle made very clear what logic and rhetoric were. He didn’t just write for politicians, for generals who might become pan-Hellenic conquerers some day. Aristotle also wrote for the male citizenry who studied under him. In his treatise we call The Rhetoric, he wrote:

It is obvious, therefore, that a system arranged according to the rules of art is only concerned with proofs; that proof is a sort of demonstration, since we are most strongly convinced when we suppose anything to have been demonstrated; that rhetorical [ῥητορικὴ] demonstration is an enthymeme, which, generally speaking, is the strongest of rhetorical proofs and lastly, that the enthymeme is a kind of syllogism. Now, as it is the function of Dialectic as a whole, or of one of its parts, to consider every kind of syllogism in a similar manner, it is clear that he who is most capable of examining the matter and forms of a syllogism will be in the highest degree a master of rhetorical argument, if to this he adds a knowledge of the subjects with which enthymemes deal and the differences between them and logical [λογικοὺς] syllogisms. (from Book I, John Henry Freese’s English translation with the Greek on the facing page, 1355a).

Say what? It this really that “obvious”? Actually it is clear. Aristotle’s is perhaps one of the clearest and most obvious definitions of rhetoric using logic as there ever has been. So maybe another English language translation would help with these important Greek words. Here’s from the English of W. Rhys Roberts:

It is clear, then, that rhetorical study, in its strict sense, is concerned with the modes of persuasion. Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated. The orator’s [ῥητορικὴ] demonstration is an enthymeme, and this is, in general, the most effective of the modes of persuasion. The enthymeme is a sort of syllogism, and the consideration of syllogisms of all kinds, without distinction, is the business of dialectic, either of dialectic as a whole or of one of its branches. It follows plainly, therefore, that he who is best able to see how and from what elements a syllogism is produced will also be best skilled in the enthymeme, when he has further learnt what its subject-matter is and in what respects it differs from the syllogism of strict logic [λογικοὺς].

So does that help us get this right? Not so much? Let me assure you that the most recent English translation doesn’t really assist us so well either. Don’t believe me. Okay, then try George A. Kennedy’s rendering (and those brackets and italics and parentheses are all his, except for my adding in Aristotle’s Greek words rhetoric and logic again):

Since it is evident that artistic method is concerned with pisteis and since pistis is a sort of demonstration [apodeixis] (for we most believe when we suppose something to have been demonstrated) and since rhetorical [ῥητορικὴ] apodeixis is enthymeme (and this is, generally speaking, the strongest of the pisteis) and the enthymeme is a sort of syllogism [or reasoning] (and it is a function of a dialectic, either as a whole or one of its parts, to see about every syllogism equally), it is clear that he who is best able to see from what materials, and how, a syllogism arises would also be most enthymematic–if he grasps also what sort of things an enthymeme is concerned with and what differences ti has from a logical syllogism [λογικοὺς].

Didn’t help a bit, did it?

What I’m hoping to show is how technical, how careful, and how precise Aristotle is when defining rhetoric and logic as rather different. He’s said, in his Politics, that there are political consequences. And the Egyptians crushed by Alexander the Great felt that; while the Jews in Alexandria surely got it.

When it comes to translating Torah (and the Prophets, and the Psalms, and the ApoKrypha, and so forth and so on), the translators certainly knew their logic and their rhetoric too. If we consider Sylvie Honigman’s history of the history of the Septuagint, then we begin to think that the translators are resisting Aristotle’s clear Greek somehow. If we consider Naomi Seidman’s history of the Talmudic history of the Septuagint, then we start wondering whether the translators were rather tricky with their refusal to use logic and rhetoric. There are politics in the silences, likely, aren’t there? Aren’t there resistances to the Egyptian king, and the Greek conquerer, and his Greek words for his politics, with its logic and rhetoric? Doesn’t the one Creator God speak? Isn’t Moses a great Orator before the Egyptian royalty, and isn’t his brother? Won’t Esther use the arts of political persuasion? Hasn’t wise Solomon used more than mere sophistry (isn’t his knowledge “logic”)? So why the refusal to use the words logic and rhetoric?

So what about the other Jews in the first century AD, writing in Greek throughout the new empire? The Romans loved logic and rhetoric, and the likes of Cicero and Quintilian had turned Greek λογική and ῥητορική into Latinized words and practices.

And didn’t Saul of Tarsus know it? Didn’t he use Greek rhetoric on the Areopagus addressing the men of Athens? (Hadn’t he read what Aristotle wrote of this very place at the very beginning of his Rhetoric?) Didn’t this man play with Greek words, coining them, when writing in Greek to those in Phillipi, Greece? Didn’t he, when writing in Greek to those in Corinth, Greece, talk about how he spoke in tongues, in the language of angels, messengers of the skies? Didn’t he, taking the name Paul, the Roman citizen, also speak Latin (but not write it to Rome)? And when he wrote those in Rome (as Jews and Greeks, not as Romans!), didn’t he use that word logic? What politics are these?

And Peter (or someone pretended to be him) pens the famous second letter to equate Paul’s writings with inspired scriptures. But didn’t that same “Peter” also say Paul’s scriptures are difficult? (As difficult as Aristotle? As rhetorical? As logical?) Is Paul a trickster somehow, like Seidman’s Talmud’s Septuagint translators? So does Peter know what Paul’s logic to those in Rome means? What does Peter’s logic mean? Is he being like Paul, being like the Septuagint translators, avoiding the words rhetoric and logic for political persuasions?

Are they avoiding the very smell of Greek oratory and reasoning on the pages of their writings?

Who can get this right? Bible translators? Philosophers? Rhetoric scholars? Christian Theologians? Rabbis? Linguists? Poets? Comparative Rhetoricians? Contrastive Rhetoricians?

(Some books and blogs that may relate to the discussion of logic and rhetoric in the Bible and in political-religious Jewish cultures are here, here, here, here, here, and here. Please feel free to mention others.)


4 responses to “Getting (Bible) Logic and Rhetoric Right

  1. A small correction: “the guileless [λογικὸν] milk of reason…” should be “the guileless milk of reason [λογικὸν] …”

  2. noted, and now corrected. Thanks John [Ἰωάννῃ: Σας ευχαριστούμε]!

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