The Relationship between the Biblical Prophet and Roman Orator: The Limits of Preaching and Prudence
35 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 26 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
This article argues that the biblical prophet and Roman orator represent two distinct types of rhetoric: the prophet represents a “rhetoric of purity,” or truthful speech uncompromised by practical concerns; the orator, a “rhetoric of prudence,” in which speech is accommodated to context. These two rhetorical paths point to the particular characters of these speakers' two societies. Because the religious character of Hebraic society dictated that wisdom is ultimately based on divine revelation, biblical prophets did not subordinate their speech or action to earthly wisdom or prudence. The Romans, in turn, were committed to human wisdom and practical, this-worldly ends, which impelled ancient orators to comport themselves with decorum and prudence. The contrasting approaches to speech adopted by prophet and orator yield diverse political results, with advantages and disadvantages to each. In their imprudence, the biblical prophets spoke forthrightly and uncompromisingly but rarely succeeded in persuading their kings or people to change their hearts or actions. Roman orators affected policy decision making primarily by moving the public with their words, but political necessity pressed the orators to strike a bargain between truth and deception, principle and expediency.
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