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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
Print version ISSN 0259-9422

Herv. teol. stud. vol.64 n.1 Pretoria Mar. 2008





Heil, J P 2007 – Ephesians: Empowerment to walk in love for the unity of all in Christ
Publisher: Society of Biblical Literature. Pages 355. Price: $21.00
Reviewer: Dr Estelle H Dannhauser (Johannesburg)

John Paul Heil is a professor of New Testament Studies at the Catholic University of America. His previous publications show that the study of rhetoric and an audience-oriented approach to texts hold his interest and these he applied to Luke-Acts, Mark, 1 Corinthians and Matthew 26-28.

The reader reaps the reward of a carefully chosen title as it offers a blueprint of the content. Encapsulated in each word of the title is a part of the message the author believes the Letter to the Ephesians wants to convey to its audience. The introduction motivates the selection of each consecutive word of the title, as well as the inter-relatedness of the words of the title as a whole. It then very briefly touches upon the author’s premises concerning authorship (he opts for the historical apostle Paul as author), audience (“the holy ones in Ephesus”, in all probability including believers of both Jewish and Gentile origin), and method (literary-rhetorical and audience-oriented).

In Chapter 2 the reader is briefly familiarized with the nature of macro- and microchiastic structures. The author suggests nine criteria which should be rigorously applied to all possible chiastic structures within the text, thereby eliminating subjective super-imposing of structures as far as possible. The theory is that the application of these criteria to the text of the Letter to the Ephesians will lead to the detection of precise verbal parallels, allowing a natural division of the text into “15 distinct literary units” (p 16). The methodology and thought processes leading to these conclusions are explained for the benefit of the reader, followed by an illustration of how the 15 units combine to form a macro-chiasm with as unparalleled pivotal unit Ephesians 4:1-16. The author believes to have detected precise verbal parallels (7 pairs of parallel units) that combine to form a macro-chiastic structure through the text as a whole.

As is obvious from the author’s choice of title, “love” is central to his thesis. He discovers this theme to be permeating the whole, with explicit terms for love in ostensibly deliberate and functional positions within the rhetoric and most noticeably at the centre of the macro-chiasm.

In the remaining chapters the author seeks to plumb the intended response to the rhetoric strategy by means of the rather intricate chiastic patterning he discovered within the text. He believes that Paul (implied author) presupposes common tradition-ground (Jewish, Christian and Gentile) which he draws upon in order to empower the congregation of believers into participating in the “… central theme of love that pervades the Letter to the Ephesians” (p 10).

To be taken on a guided tour through the text in question by means of the possible mnemonic patterns and persuasive devices within the rhetorical and literary encoding, is rewarding. This approach to a text ostensibly intended as Rundschreibe to be performed, heard, comprehended and internalized, offers much to be recommended. Moreover, the overall precision and lucidity of reasoning and presentation ensure that the tour is a pleasant one and most of the front-runners in the field are invited along to further elucidate the particular approach to the text.

However, the fact that other perusals of Ephesians have discovered other chiasms sounds a warning bell indicating how difficult it is to avoid the pitfalls of subjectivity when attempting to reconstruct patterns and devices in our quest for a better understanding of ancient texts.

Confusion may sometimes arise as to the author’s use of “micro-” and “macrochiasm”. Furthermore, the question why the analysis did not yield other prominent terms such as “peace” alongside “love” could be asked and one might ask for more substance being given to the introductory topics, such as authorship and audience.

On the whole, however, the book is recommended for providing an example of a detailed literary-rhetorical, audience-oriented approach, for contributing to an appreciation for and insight into the Letter to the Ephesians and for highlighting the importance of the theme of “love” within it, shown to be underlined and supported by the careful structuring of this text.

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