The 'Powers' of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans

The 'Powers' of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the... 386 Review of Books / Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010) 366-438 The ‘Powers’ of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans. By Joseph R Dodson. (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentli- che Wissenschaft und die Kunde der ältern Kirche 161). Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xi, 263. Cloth. €99.95. ISBN 978-3-11-020976-1. Dodson has developed his doctoral dissertation into an insightful comparison of a specific rhetorical tactic used for discussing theodicy in both Wisdom and Romans 5-8. The tactic is personification, which he defines as “the attribution of human characteristics to any inanimate object, abstract concept or impersonal being” (30). Throughout the book any phrase which has an abstract concept as the sub- ject paired with a verb usually associated with human action qualifies as a personi- fication. Such phrases function as a particular type of metaphor which is more than a simile but less than an independent personality. Dodson proposes that per- sonifications may function rhetorically to decorate or amplify speech, clarify a point, motivate or manipulate the hearers’ response, encourage additional insights into a matter, or deflect attention away from an unwanted perspective (41-50). Having set up these propositions in the first quarter of the book, Dodson then applies his model in turn to the personifications of death, wisdom, the cosmos, creation, logos, and wrath in Wisdom . Next, the personifications of sin, death, law, grace, righteousness, creation and the Holy Spirit in Romans 5-8 are explored. The third section of the book is a comparison of the overlapping usages between the two texts. Dodson concludes that in Wisdom foolish or wicked humans col- lude with personified death and wrath to bring evil and suffering into the world. In Romans, sin and law replace wrath as the partners of death causing evil and suf- fering. In both works these combinations of personifications serve to distance God from responsibility for evil in the world. Meanwhile creation, cosmos, and wis- dom in Wisdom and grace, righteousness, creation, and the Holy Spirit in Romans, are personified agents of the deity offering hope for overcoming the metaphorical axis of evil. This usage intends to encourage the afflicted pious to look forward to an eschatological resolution of their plight (221-222). The strength of Dodson’s presentation lies in his clear definitions and transparent methodology. His arguments adhere to the stated terms consistently throughout. One may still argue that a few items are not clear exemplars of personification. For example, ὁ νόμος λέγει (Rom 3:19) is translated as the personified “Law speaks,” rather than the more usual translation of the phrase, “the law says.” (141) One might also question Dodson’s decision to consider the Holy Spirit in Romans as a personification. Still, the vast majority of the statements of personi- fication which Dodson marshals clearly fit his definition and their cumulative force establish a compelling case. LaBron Chance Florida State University © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/157006310X503720 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal for the Study of Judaism Brill

The 'Powers' of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans

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BRILL
Copyright
© 2010 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
ISSN
0047-2212
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1570-0631
D.O.I.
10.1163/157006310X503720
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Abstract

386 Review of Books / Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010) 366-438 The ‘Powers’ of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans. By Joseph R Dodson. (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentli- che Wissenschaft und die Kunde der ältern Kirche 161). Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xi, 263. Cloth. €99.95. ISBN 978-3-11-020976-1. Dodson has developed his doctoral dissertation into an insightful comparison of a specific rhetorical tactic used for discussing theodicy in both Wisdom and Romans 5-8. The tactic is personification, which he defines as “the attribution of human characteristics to any inanimate object, abstract concept or impersonal being” (30). Throughout the book any phrase which has an abstract concept as the sub- ject paired with a verb usually associated with human action qualifies as a personi- fication. Such phrases function as a particular type of metaphor which is more than a simile but less than an independent personality. Dodson proposes that per- sonifications may function rhetorically to decorate or amplify speech, clarify a point, motivate or manipulate the hearers’ response, encourage additional insights into a matter, or deflect attention away from an unwanted perspective (41-50). Having set up these propositions in the first quarter of the book, Dodson then applies his model in turn to the personifications of death, wisdom, the cosmos, creation, logos, and wrath in Wisdom . Next, the personifications of sin, death, law, grace, righteousness, creation and the Holy Spirit in Romans 5-8 are explored. The third section of the book is a comparison of the overlapping usages between the two texts. Dodson concludes that in Wisdom foolish or wicked humans col- lude with personified death and wrath to bring evil and suffering into the world. In Romans, sin and law replace wrath as the partners of death causing evil and suf- fering. In both works these combinations of personifications serve to distance God from responsibility for evil in the world. Meanwhile creation, cosmos, and wis- dom in Wisdom and grace, righteousness, creation, and the Holy Spirit in Romans, are personified agents of the deity offering hope for overcoming the metaphorical axis of evil. This usage intends to encourage the afflicted pious to look forward to an eschatological resolution of their plight (221-222). The strength of Dodson’s presentation lies in his clear definitions and transparent methodology. His arguments adhere to the stated terms consistently throughout. One may still argue that a few items are not clear exemplars of personification. For example, ὁ νόμος λέγει (Rom 3:19) is translated as the personified “Law speaks,” rather than the more usual translation of the phrase, “the law says.” (141) One might also question Dodson’s decision to consider the Holy Spirit in Romans as a personification. Still, the vast majority of the statements of personi- fication which Dodson marshals clearly fit his definition and their cumulative force establish a compelling case. LaBron Chance Florida State University © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/157006310X503720

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Journal for the Study of JudaismBrill

Published: Jan 1, 2010

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