Religious Studies Faculty Publications

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Biblical Research


Much of the history of scholarship on “hell” has been devoted to tracing genetic relationships between older texts and more recent ones, typically based upon generic elements or the specific features of hell’s landscape. This paper suggests a new direction for classics and New Testament study, focusing instead on the rhetorical function of hell in antiquity. This paper argues that the ancient conventions of descriptive rhetoric were at work in the depictions of Hell that we find in the Jewish and early Christian apocalypses. It begins with a definition of these rhetorical devices by examining the Progymnasmata as well as Quintillian’s work on rhetoric and discusses the role of the rhetoric of description in the overall Greek and Roman programs of paideia. Next, this paper demonstrates that these rhetorical devices were at work in various ancient depictions of Hades (with examples chosen from Greek and Latin authors such as Homer, Plato, Virgil, Lucian and Plutarch). Finally, this paper shows that this rhetorical technique was also at work in the early Christian apocalypses and concludes that apocalyptic authors, like the Greeks and Romans before them, used these rhetorical techniques to “emotionally move” their audiences toward “right behavior.”



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American Theological Library Association



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