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James Watts – Ritual Rhetoric in Ancient Near Eastern Texts

  • According to Watts, ritual rhetoric was instrumental in determining the success or failure of rulers and nations, was often present in royal propaganda and provided the main rationale for criticizing the status quo (39).
  • Watts intends to consider ritual rhetoric for persuasive purposes in texts of a collection of cultures in the ancient Near East; he will then consider the persuasive function of ritual texts specifically.  To achieve this, he uses a Western definition of rhetoric a la Aristotle and Kenneth Burke because of their emphasis on persuasion toward the creation of mandates and prohibition of behaviors.  He claims that by starting with persuasion explicitly, this “cross-cultural rhetoric finds firm footing” (40).
  • Rituals are actions that “draw attention to, and make intentional, otherwise ordinary practices” in order to make them formalized and deeply meaningful.
  • Ritual rhetoric – “a wide range of statements that invoke either ritual behavior itself or the institutions that sponsor ritual behavior for persuasive purposes” (40).
  • Ritual rhetoric often served as a vehicle for political criticisms – when rituals weren’t met, losses in battle or ends of dynasties often were the result (49).
  • The rituals of temple cults often also served as the history-making entities of ancient times. . . so the rhetoric here described who contributed what and how to the glory of the gods.
  • Ritual texts were often used to advance the oral education process itself – this problematizes the theorizations oralityàliteracy provided by Ong and Havelock (59).
  • The ritual texts operates as an authority through appearance (no mind to who actually controls the texts!) (60).
  • “Study of ancient ritual rhetoric therefore provides insight into ancient peoples’ politican and social struggles, as well as their religious practices and beliefs” (64).

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