The Construction of Subversive Speech in the Latter Prophets and in Plato’s Socratic Dialogues
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Schwartz, Ethan Frank
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CitationSchwartz, Ethan Frank. 2020. The Construction of Subversive Speech in the Latter Prophets and in Plato’s Socratic Dialogues. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation compares “subversive speech”—i.e., speech that challenges and destabilizes otherwise recognized authority—in the Latter Prophets of the Hebrew Bible and the early-to-middle dialogues of Plato. The biblical prophets have long been associated with subversive activity, such as critique of cult and king, which the corpus prominently thematizes in a variety of ways. Most historical-critical biblical scholarship has treated these issues only as windows onto the development of Israelite institutions or ancient social dynamics. Without denying these connections to historical realities, I argue that more attention ought to be paid to how subversive speech is literarily constructed—how biblical authors and redactors used it to theorize prophecy. These literary constructs, I suggest, are themselves historical data even if they do not correspond to “actual” prophetic figures and activities.
I make this case through a sustained comparison to Plato’s presentation of Socrates, which is relevant for two reasons. First, Socrates’s philosophical challenges to Athenian society are perhaps the closest ancient Mediterranean analogue to subversive prophecy. Second, the “literary turn” in recent Plato studies, which treats Plato’s Socrates as more a fictive character than a historical figure, provides a model for studying literary construction within a historical-critical framework. Ultimately, while acknowledging the important cultural, historical, and generic differences between the biblical prophetic literature and Plato’s dialogues, I argue that both corpora use subversive speech to problematize authority and to develop their respective orienting ideals: tôrâ in the biblical material, philosophy in the Platonic.
The introductory chapter sets forth the problems that subversive prophetic speech poses, reviews previous approaches to these problems, and makes the case for addressing them through a historical-critical comparison with Plato. Each of the subsequent three chapters explores one mode in which both of these corpora construct subversive speech. Chapter 2, “From ‘Athens and Jerusalem’ to ‘Delphi and Deir ʿAlla’: The Divinatory Construction of Subversive Speech in Micah 6:1–8 and in the Apology,” argues that both corpora present subversive speech by coopting and transforming ancient Mediterranean divinatory phenomena. Chapter 3, “Subversive Speakers and Their Audiences: The Politics of Poetry in Ezekiel and in the Republic,” explores how they configure the poetic language of subversive speech in relation to its public function. Chapter 4, “The Subversive Construction of Superordinate Authority: Literary Framing in the Latter Prophets and in Socrates’s Last Days,” argues that both employ large-scale literary framing to contextualize subversive speech not as a transgression of authority but as an expression of a reconceptualized authoritative ideal. In the concluding chapter, I summarize my findings and suggest two potential avenues for further inquiry.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365541
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