Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul's Letters

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul's Letters

Article excerpt

Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul's Letters, by John D. Harvey. ETS Studies 1. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Pp. xviii + 357. $24.99 (paper).

This is a study of structural aspects of Paul's seven undisputed letters, with special attention to what Harvey calls "oral patterning" structures, which he believes derive (directly or indirectly) from oral methods of composition. Such structures are identified in all seven letters, but with considerable variation in frequency.

It appears from the author's acknowledgments that this is his doctoral dissertation supervised by Richard N. Longenecker, who provides a foreword. Two chapters survey the literature on oral composition, especially in ancient times, with attention also to rhetorical analyses of Paul's letters. The next two chapters look for oral patterning in Greco-Roman literature and the LXX, and the fifth chapter defines eight such patterns, which Harvey identifies as chiasmus (within a sentence), inversion (involving more than one sentence), alternation, inclusion, ring-composition, word-chain, refrain, and concentric symmetry (involving relatively long and complex passages). Seven chapters follow, identifying these elements in each of the letters under review, and finally a summary that includes a discussion of possible exegetical implications. The book assumes a good command of Greek. There are extensive, untranslated quotations from the NT and other sources.

There is useful material here on structure. Harvey's chief interest is in the larger patterns, especially concentric symmetry; two-thirds of the chapter defining oral patterns is addressed to this single pattern, an emphasis also reflected in the analyses of Paul's letters. Perhaps most helpful are Harvey's critical analyses of "other suggested structures," most often structures for a letter as a whole; these occupy almost half of the pages Harvey devotes to Paul's letters. His own proposals are usually on a smaller scale: for instance, that 1 Cor 7:12-16 contains "a complex combination of chiastic inversions" (p. …

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