As a missionary serving in Brazil, rhetoric and religion surrounded me. I was often pushed away as I heard the yells of a preacher, calling down hell-fire to the congregation while crying repentance to the people. The persuasion in his voice spoke louder than the doctrine of the scripture. For a time I didn’t believe in rhetoric and persuasion in religion, because I’d seen it carried out to the extreme.
The tension between religion and rhetoric is an issue that has existed for thousands of years. Through ancient religious leaders, as well as modern, I have come to realize that if used correctly, religion and rhetoric can not only coexist, but can serve to build each other.
In book four of On Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine explored the relationship between Christian truth and rhetoric. Before his time, many would separate rhetoric and religion, holding to one or the other. Augustine didn’t condemn the use of rhetoric in scripture, but recommended the authors of the scriptures as some of the best models of eloquence; that they were better than many of the other rhetoricians, using the best form of wisdom and rhetoric. He wrote of how men ought to study the scriptures and learn them well, being diligent in studying, along with turning to God for direction in prayer. This produces the best form of writing and teaching.
Isaiah, one of the most profound rhetoricians in the bible, was quoted by Jesus Christ himself, who exuded the people to study and learn from his teachings. What makes Isaiah so powerful is his ability to speak with such persuasion and fire while spiritually expounding the revelations of God. He proves that it works.
Today, missionaries, teachers and pastors alike have the responsibility and privilege to combine religion and rhetoric. In LDS General Conference, listeners are more likely to pay attention to those speakers who are well versed in the art of speaking, capturing their attention, and then showering them with the spirit. An audience likes to be audibly pleased, as well as spiritually filled.
Short Rhetorical Analysis
Jacob is a rhetorical scripture power house. It is obvious to see that he understands many different types of persuasion. He organizes his “speech” to the people in such a precise way as to cut to the core of the hearts of the people.
A common set-up is to have a strong ethos, but Jacob digs deep to show his sincere desire to reach out and touch the hearts of the people. In the beginning, he reminds the people of his responsibility from God, as well as his anxiety for the welfare of his brethren. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” (Theodore Roosevelt).
Branches of Oratory: Epideictic Oratory
Jacob is speaking in the moment of here and now. His “speech” to the people clearly displays the blame they hold. His words in the first few verses he powerfully states the seriousness of what they are doing at that time. He “admonishes [them] according to [their] crimes, which are continually occurring. According to Aristotle’s conception of Epideictic Oratory, “The present is the most important; for all speakers praise or blame in regard to existing qualities, but they often make use of other things, both reminding [the audience] of the past and projecting the course of the future.” (Aristotle Rh 1358b). Jacob uses reminders of the past and talks about the children (the future) to magnify the importance of recognizing what is going on now, and how it must change.
Topics of Invention: Degree
Throughout these two chapters, Jacob uses degree to compare these people, the Nephites, to their brethren, the Lamanites. What makes this so powerful is the wicked reputation of the Lamanites. The Lamanites are usually known as the most sinful, animal like people that exist, and yet Jacob is saying that “Ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, [their] brethren…” Again in verse 5 he continues saying “the Lamanites… are more righteous than you”. The comparison and degree really pushes them to recognize just how wicked they have become.
Schemes: AnadiplosisIn chapter 3 verse 7 Jacob, in speaking of the love within the Lamanite families, uses anadiplosis to demonstrate a point. He states, “their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children”. The repetition of using the last word to begin the new phrase allows the reader to recognize the ordering of the phrase. First, husbands need to love their wives, and wives will naturally love their husbands. He is speaking first and foremost to the husbands. As husbands love their wives, their wives will love them, and then they will both love their children. First wife, then children. Loving their wife solves the problem. His whole speech is based on having one wife. It’s powerful that the answer to their problems can be shown in such simple rhetoric.