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"Jesus Said to Them . . .": The Adaptation of Juridical Rhetoric in John 5:19-47

From: Journal of Biblical Literature
Volume 132, Number 2, 2013
pp. 415-430 | 10.1353/jbl.2013.0021



More than simply a speech crafted to fit the specific situation that Jesus' miracle creates, John 5:19-47 resonates with the larger themes of the Gospel and its characterization of Jesus. This article utilizes rhetorical categories present in the Gospel's milieu to analyze Jesus' speech. There are noticeable points of connection with rhetorical conventions mentioned in handbooks, progymnasmata, and found in rhetorical practice. These similarities include (1) prosopopoiia, or the manner in which authors created believable speeches in their narratives; (2) ethos, or the orator's construction of his/her own character as a part of the method of persuasion; (3) instructions concerning the use of testimony in the ancient world; and (4) methods of refutation. There are, however, also significant points of contrast with these same categories, which serve to highlight the specific rhetorical goals of the Fourth Gospel. By employing rhetorical conventions, the evangelist makes use of common expectations regarding speech, even while undermining them, in order to emphasize the unique character of his subject.

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