Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period : 330 B.C.-A.D. 400

By Stanley E. Porter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
HOMILY AND PANEGYRICAL SERMON*

Folker Siegert

Institutum Judaicum Delitzschianum, Munster University, Germany


I. DEFINITIONS

There is no specific term for “sermon” in the classical languages. The Greek

and the Latin sermo, both meaning “conversation”, may be used to refer to a religious speech, but more often they do not bear this meaning. We are dealing with a phenomenon which made its way gradually into ancient culture from its fringes. Teachers of rhetoric, as they were normally pagans, did not take note of it; so it does not appear in their terminology.

“Sermon” may be defined as “public explanation of a sacred doctrine or a sacred text”, with its Sitz im Leben being worship. It is a remarkable fact of the history of religions that of all religious cults known in antiquity, only Jewish worship as it took place outside the Temple in the synagogues—and Christian worship which imitated it—demanded a speaker's rhetorical activity.

Ancient religious celebrations normally kept worship separate from teaching. Religious cult, including the worship done in the Jerusalem Temple, consisted of processions, performing symbolic acts, singing, praying, burning incense, slaughtering animals for sacrifice (in paganism also: observing prodigies), and so on. There was no occasion for teaching.1

In order to adapt rhetorical terminology to the known phenomena of public religious teaching, the following distinctions may be made:

* Thanks are due to Mr. Ross McDonald, to Mr. Martin Dorn, and to the editor
of this volume for correcting this chapter.

1 When no services were going on, temples may have served as a place for teach-
ing: see the setting of Plutarch's Pythical Dialogues, one of Dio Chrysostom's Orations
(36), etc. But this does not define a specific text type.

-421-

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