The Persuasive Appeal of the Chronicler: A Rhetorical Analysis (JSOT Supplement 88; Bible and Literature Series 25)

Written by R. K. Duke Reviewed By Martin J. Selman

One of the most intractable problems raised by the interpretation of Chronicles concerns the identity of the audience and the author’s aim in writing to them. Unfortunately, the nature of the compilation of Chronicles does not allow the modern reader anything more than an informed surmise about these issues, but one way of approaching them is to investigate the ways in which the author communicated with his original readers. This is in fact where Duke makes his contribution. He has set himself the task of analysing the manner in which the Chronicler has attempted to persuade his first readers about the validity of his message. Working on the assumption that Chronicles was written as literature that was intended to persuade, Duke has adopted the rather novel approach of examining it in the light of the theory of rhetoric advocated by Aristotle.

The justification for using Aristotle as a basis for comparison is that rhetoric is a universal phenomenon and that Aristotle’s work on the subject towers above all others from the ancient world. Rhetoric is defined in this context with Aristotle as ‘the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion’. In the light of Aristotle’s detailed treatment of the subject, Duke concentrates on the manner of the Chronicler’s argumentation and the persuasive appeals through which the argument is expressed. The latter are analysed with Aristotle as the Chronicler’s rational appeal (logos), his ethical appeal, that is, based on the character of the speaker (ethos), and the appeal to the emotions of the audience (pathos).

The result of this analysis is to highlight a number of interesting aspects of the way in which the Chronicler communicated with his readers, even though we are still no nearer being able to identify who they were. Probably the most valuable conclusions are found in the chapter which deals with the ethical mode of persuasion. Since it is not of course possible to examine the author’s direct impact on his readers, Duke attempts to assess why they might have treated his message as worthy of serious consideration. In the Chronicler’s favour, for example, are his use of traditional material from Samuel/Kings which allowed him to make his appeal through that which was already familiar to his readers, or his use of external sources which indicated his objectivity and reliability. Similarly, the frequent appearance of direct speeches in Chronicles is seen as consistent with the author’s authenticity and also with his authority.

In spite of these insights, however, the presentation as a whole falls some way short of being entirely convincing. Nagging doubts remain, for instance, about whether it is really appropriate to analyse a piece of literature from one culture through a method which arose in a quite different context. Aristotle’s study of rhetoric was really based on his observations of spoken communication, and his categories are only transferable to written Hebrew literature with some difficulty. It is perhaps significant that the most accessible and potentially fruitful chapter in the book is not overloaded with the application of Greek technical terms to Hebrew narrative. The author’s argument is also not helped by a rather narrowly focused commitment to seeing the Chronicler’s purpose as encouraging his readers to seek God for his blessing. Though this is certainly part of the Chronicler’s intention, Duke is neither aware of Begg’s influential article on this subject (Louvain Studies 9, 1982) nor does he seriously consider the impact of other possible aims on his thesis. In fact, the theological dimension of the Chronicler’s work is neglected here, and this leads to a failure to appreciate the pervasive role of themes such as the Davidic covenant. Though Duke’s work contains elements of real value and interest, it is therefore a more open question whether either his chosen method or the conclusions resulting from it will carry widespread conviction.

Martin J. Selman

Spurgeon’s College, London