Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Circular reasoning

Based on the notion that persuasive speech is tailored to its presumed audience, we can learn something about cultural perceptions of the gods by examining the rhetoric addressed to them. Rhetorical strategies in the namburbi hymns suggest a view of these gods as king-like figures granting an audience to the beneficiary with the intercessor’s help. The deities are offered the gifts of food, drink, incense, praise, and other elements of protocol adapted from the human court to the needs of the ritual and the gods (including the setting and props such as portable altars). In these acts we see the assumption that the gods, like kings, are motivated by glorification and offerings. The praise concentrates on those aspects of the divine personality that the intercessor and supplicant wish to enhance: compassion and love toward humanity and a sense of responsibility for the supplicant’s well-being. Apparently, the deities are assumed to want to stay true to the glorious reputations broadcast in these hymns. The praise-vow in Text 1 indicates Šamaš’s assumed desire for human adherents. Additionally, the ritual structure presupposes a divine interest in following protocol. We see orderly, quasi-legal processes in the juridical language in the hymns as well as in the causative speech acts formally establishing a substitute in Text 1’s second oral rite. The implied success in the progression of ritual steps suggests the view that the deities are, for the most part, accommodating to the intercessors’ efforts and the supplicant’s needs.

The rhetoric of the causative and hybrid speech acts presents a somewhat different image of the gods. Rather than appealing to the gods’ personal reasons for desiring the ritual’s success, here vivid analogies are designed to entice the gods into transforming reality in the ways depicted. The gods are assumed to recognize and validate the conventional associations on which the persuasive analogies are based. There is a circular process here: the gods are understood to have given humans rituals containing verbal techniques and references that the gods themselves would find particularly compelling. This circularity supports the view that the gods desire the rituals’ success.—Forestalling Doom pages 229–30

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