Most historians credit ancient Athens as the birthplace of rhetoric. Brilliant Greek philosophers such as Aristotle produced excellent works on rhetoric. Later on, rhetoric flourished in Rome when the Romans conquered Greece and began to be influenced by Greek customs and traditions. Cicero, a Roman and master rhetorician in his own right, also contributed to rhetoric's development. For a long time, however, many early Christian leaders were suspicious of rhetoric's so-called "pagan" heritage. Rhetoric and religion really came to a head when, in the summer of 386 A.D., a prominent teacher of rhetoric, Augustine of Hippo, converted to Christianity. Through his publication "On Christian Doctrine", he helped bridge the gap and dispose of any incorrect beliefs that religion and rhetoric were not to be placed in the same arena.
Because of certain characters in the scriptures, sometimes we give the ability to speak eloquently a bad rap. Such is the case in Jacob 7:4 where we read of Sherem. "And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil." We sometimes forget that the Lord wants us to learn to communicate effectively to enable us to take the restored gospel to the world. In Acts 19:8 we find Paul's missionary efforts. "And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God."
In contemporary religion, we find religious leaders, especially in the LDS faith, who are excellent orators, fully equipped with knowledge of the best rhetorical practices. Among the prophets, seers, and revelators in the church, we find lawyers, judges, CEOs, teachers, doctors, and scientists who know how to communicate with audiences ranging from one person to a million. They seek to fulfill their divine calling from the Lord by challenging all to repent and come unto Christ. Rhetoric is a wonderful tool to use if moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
Short Rhetorical Analysis
The prophet Jacob's task was to address two issues that had developed in the Nephite culture: the prideful pursuit of wealth and polygamous marriage. Rhetorically analyzing his sermon helps us understand how he went about fulfilling this mandate from the Lord.
Evenly spaced throughout his address are examples of degree, "a topic of invention that invites one to look at issues of 'more' and 'less.'" (Silva Rhetoricae) When he begins his speech in 2:3, he says, "I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been." Another example is found in 2:22 when he makes the transition from speaking about wealth and pride to speaking about Law of Chastity violations. "And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you." Finally, in 2:35, when comparing the Nephites to the Lamanites, he declared, "Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites."
Why does Jacob consistently implement this topic of invention (degree) over the course of his talk? He does it to appeal to the emotions of the audience (pathos) and establish a tone, and then to build up to a climax. In the beginning (2:3) he uses it to establish the seriousness of the topic he is about to address. He then uses it (2:22) to make the transition to the next issue and build upon the seriousness of the subjects at hand. Finally, at the climax of his speech (2:35), he uses degree as a powerful tool to demonstrate the Nephite wickedness by saying their iniquities exceed those of their enemies.
Another common element found in the details of his discourse is the usage of division, specifically enumeratio, or the "dividing a subject into its adjuncts, a cause into its effects, or an antecedent into its consequents." (Silva Rhetoricae) This can clearly be identified when Jacob explains the poor manner in which the Nehphite husbands have conducted themselves and the consequent tragic situation of the Nehpite wives and children. On the other hand, Jacob highlights the Lamanite husbands' devotion to their spouses and children and the resulting love that is found in their family units. Prevalent here is also the usage of comparison hand-in-hand with division. Another example of this division/comparison technique is when Jacob divides and compares those who are pure in heart with those who are not pure in heart.
Finally, in this great call to repentance, many other rhetorical devices and figures of speech are used to enhance the overall delivery and persuasive appeal of the message. Alliteration is used in verse six ("shrink with shame"). A certain metaphor is used frequently throughout the sermon ("wounds" are hurt feelings/consequences of sin). There are many appeals to the supernatural. My favorite examples of rhetorical influence in his speech are his use of rhetorical questions (erotema/anacoenosis) in verses 2:14, 20, and 21 and in 3:7 to engage the audience and to prompt thought and eventual action.