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Review of Smith, The Rhetoric of Interruption

Review of Smith, The Rhetoric of Interruption

What follows is a brief review of Daniel Lynwood Smith, The Rhetoric of Interruption: Speech-making, Turn-taking, and Rule-breaking in Luke-Acts and Ancient Greek Narrative (BZNW 193; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012).

This monograph is a revision of Smith’s doctoral work completed under David Aune at the University of Notre Dame. In it, Smith examines the occurrence of interrupted speech in ancient Greek narratives with a view to better understand its possible rhetorical value in Luke-Acts where it is used comparatively more often.

Since extant ancient writings on rhetoric do not have discussions of speech interruption, Smith turns to modern conversation analysis theory to help define and establish criteria to identify interruption.

…a speech or other discourse may be characterized as interrupted if there is evidence of a claim of interruption, that is, a claim that the speaker’s rights have been violated. Occasionally, the narrator will flag interruptions clearly (“he interrupted him”), or a character will make a claim (“neither is it fitting to interrupt”). Typically, though, this claim will consist of a closing formula that describes the violation, or involuntary completion, of a speaker’s turn by suggesting that the speaker was still speaking (or still being heard) at the time of interruption. (p. 23)

Smith finds both intentional interruptions of hearers (where narrative conflict is usually brought out) and external interruptions by narrated events (where narrative drama is heightened) present in ancient authors from Homer to Josephus. No author examined uses it more frequently than Luke, however, whose two narratives include eight interrupted discourses each.

Smith notes ways in which Luke’s use of interruption stands out and is used consistently in the Gospel and Acts, especially in regard to key themes of Christ’s resurrection/exaltation and salvation to the Gentiles.

…intentional interruptions underscored references to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:41; 7:57; 26:24) and to the availability of salvation to the Gentiles (Luke 4:28; Acts 13:48; 22:22; 26:24). In essence, Luke uses interruption to highlight the proclamation of God’s saving action through Jesus Christ and the availability of this salvation to all. (p. 247)

Smith is to be commended for presenting a well-founded and convincing general thesis, collating helpful data from ancient sources (nicely presented in chart-form in the appendices), and filling a gap in Lukan scholarship.

With thanks to De Gruyter for making this volume available to me for review.

One Response to Review of Smith, The Rhetoric of Interruption

  1. Thanks, Joshua. That’s fascinating. I hope this book comes to my library soon.

    Is it true to say that, in Luke-Acts, the interrupted person is usually a believer, and the interrupter(s) is/are usually opponents of the faith? What are the implications for Acts 18:14 and 19:34? Should we conclude that Luke is portraying Gallio as unsympathetic towards Paul? Can we also infer that Alexander was a believer who was known to the intended audience of Acts? Does Smith address these questions?

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