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that Aha Moment


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Jesus in Matthew takes on multiple and rich roles. Matthew has him take over the narrating at many points, and there's often his use of what rhetoricians today the enthymeme. That is, the speaker and the audience share a premise, an implicit and silent and unstated prior point of agreement, and then the conclusion is profoundly forced upon them.


Chapter 21 includes a number of different parables, or comparison stories. Matthew himself functions as the narrator for some (as with the story of Jesus rebuking the fig tree), and so we readers are then the audience, where Jesus is cast in the role of the protagonist of the tale. Then Matthew gives Jesus that role of storytelling. The culmination of this chapter of stories, of comparisons, is punctuated by the realization of the audience members about whom the stories are told.


Sometimes listeners, audience members, spectators in a Greek play, have to be told that what they're hearing or overhearing or seeing and somewhat experiencing actually involves them. Aristotle, then, cautioned his own disciples against this sort of rhetoric. When talking about the parables of his teacher Socrates, he categorizes them as perhaps less effective than other means of rhetoric, that instead deal in fact, not in fiction. Here's Aristotle and a later translator of his Greek into our English:


παραδειγμάτων δὲ είδη δύο: ὲν μὲν γάρ εστιν παραδείγματος ειδος τὸ λέγειν πράγματα προγενομένα, ὲν δὲ τὸ αυτὸν ποιειν. Τούτου δὲ ὲν μὲν παραβολὴ ὲν δὲ λόγοι, οιον οι Αισώπειοι καὶ Λιβυκοί.


There are two species of example: one species of example is the narration of preceding events, the other inventing them oneself. Of these latter one is comparison, the others fables, like those of Aesop and the Libyan.


So I'm really interested in Matthew's prolific use of stories in Greek. Whether or not he's knowledgeable about Greek rhetoric and whether or not he himself is intentionally using these tales of fiction-as-fact in the ways Aristotle warned about, I don't know. 


I do think it's very interesting that Socrates wrote in Greek about his teacher Plato the way Matthew writes about this rabbi Jesus. Neither educator speaks or writes for himself. Both have their followers recording the things they do and, importantly, their rhetoric. That is, they convey for Plato and for Jesus the respective things they say. And they tell parables. Plato gets called platonic for telling famous stories such as The Cave in what we call the Republic. Jesus gets called Socratic because he engages his talmidim and his enemies, the religious experts, in the socratic method of dialectic. The parables are central and key methods of both.


So as not to reduce these methods as sophistic or rhetorical in only the Greek senses of them, I do want to recall how Jewish and Hebraic so called "parable" is. Reading Mt 21 through this morning got me rereading 2 Samuel 12. In the latter, the Hebrew scriptures are describing a huge leadership failure and a great national crisis. The King's head is so thick with power and pride, with lust and murder, that it takes a gentle advisor telling a "safe" story to get him to acknowledge his participation in and his perpetration of abuses of power. Nathan lures him into the story, gets him reacting viscerally, with deep conviction and with visible outbursts. But it's not enough. He has to say to his King, to this enemy of the state, something explicit. And so the writer of the story let's us Hebrew readers in on it too:


אתה האיש


The LXX translators can translate that one literally, "you are this man [in this story you're reacting so strongly about]":


σὺ εἶ ὁ ἀνὴρ


Matthew hopes his Greek readers will be as quick on the uptake as Jesus's enemies are. After he records Jesus alluding to all the unbelief of characters in his many parables he records for him, for us, Matthew just straight up tells us how they get their Aha Moment:


45 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι τὰς παραβολὰς αὐτοῦ ἔγνωσαν ὅτι περὶ αὐτῶν λέγει·


Implicitly then we are part of this story and of these many stories, when we are found in them, when we get some Aha Moment in them.






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"and there's often his use of what rhetoricians today the enthymeme."



and there's often his use of what rhetoricians today call the enthymeme. 

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