[B-Greek] Paul as Stylist

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Sat Jul 3 14:21:06 EDT 2010

On Jul 3, 2010, at 12:27 PM, Bart Ehrman wrote:

> Colleagues,
>        Apologies if this issue has been broached on the list before.
> Marius Reiser, in his article “Paulus als Stilist” (SEÅ 66 [2001] 157) tries
> to explain Paul’s unusual Greek, characterized by hyperbata (which he
> defines specifically as forms of parentheses), anacoloutha , and incomplete
> sentences, by claiming that it is representative of spoken rather than
> written Greek.  Moreover, he insists that Paul is the first author of record
> to have written texts as if he were speaking them (different from anything
> in the papyri he insists; different from dictated letters; different from
> speeches of rhetoricians; and so on).
>      As he puts it: 
> Die ‘ungefeilte Sprache’ des Paulus hat nämlich etwas auf das Papier
> gebracht, was vor ihm niemand je zu Papier bringen wollte: gesprochene
> Sprache; nicht unbeholfenes Schreiben in ungefügen Sätzen, wie es zahllose
> Papyri bieten, sondern gesprochene Sprache eines kompetenten Sprechers mit
> den typischen Erscheinungen der spontanen Rede.   (emphasis his)
>      I’d be very interested in any reactions/responses to this claim.  (For
> what it’s worth Armin Baum uses it to explain why the Greek of the Pastorals
> – which he takes to be authentic -- differs from that of the “undisputed”
> Paulines: the Pastorals were planned as written texts and are not
> “Paul-as-if-speaking.”   But that view, I think, is less relevant to the NT
> Greek list.  I’m interested in the stylistic claim of Reiser in se).  Many
> thanks,

Well, such a claim should be based upon a pretty good familiarity with all
extant earlier and contemporary Greek literature; I wonder how deep that
familiarity really is. On the surface of it, this assertion regarding Paul's style
strikes me as highly questionable. I don't question the characterization of
Paul's style, although it does seem to me that there's a considerable variation 
of "Stilhöhe" from the rhetorically elaborated passages of 1 Corinthians and
Romans to the more colloquial flow of parts of Galatians and other letters.
Nevertheless, I would question just how "unusual" Paul's style is; it doesn't 
seem to me so very distant from the discourses of Paul's near-contemporary 
Epictetus, supposedly taken down more or less verbatim by his pupil, Arrian.
Cicero's letters in Latin display much the same stylistic features.
In prose, one may raise the question whether Plato's dialogues -- and Xenophon's
perhaps even more so -- don't reflect pretty much the conversation of 
Athenian citizenry. In verse, there's the comedy of Aristophanes which
surely represents standard features of Athenian colloquial discourse, and
there's the whole genre of Mime, and there's Theocritus, who appears to
be representing in his bucolic poems the colloquial talk of rustics
of his native Sicily, but who also, in Idyll 15, the so-called Ἀδωνιαζουσαι
[ADWNIAZOUSAI] "Women at the Feast of Adonis," marvelously depicts
the colloquial speech of middle-class Greek women in Alexandria on an
adventure at the Ptolemaic palace for the feast of Adonis.

So, for what it's worth, I'm skeptical about the assertion -- but I haven't read
and don't, I think, have access to the article in question. But I would question
the proposition that the style of the undisputed Pauline letters is really so
unusual. I tend to be skeptical too of efforts to prove or disprove the 
authenticity of parts of a literary corpus on the basis of style. One might,
on that basis, doubt that Henry James could have written both "Portrait
of a Lady" and The Ambassadors."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

More information about the B-Greek mailing list