Purdue University Graduate School
Gellis_Encounters with the Divine in the Hebrew Bible.pdf (1.02 MB)

Encounters with the Divine in the Hebrew Bible

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Version 2 2023-04-20, 18:41
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posted on 2023-04-20, 18:41 authored by Elizabeth GellisElizabeth Gellis


My dissertation demonstrates the Jewish tradition’s significance for rhetoric by analyzing Biblical ‎encounters with the divine—the ultimate Other. Thus, this dissertation responds to calls such as Steven B. Katz’s to continually redefine what ‎‎“rhetoric” means to us (“Hebrew Bible” 134). In the past several decades, there has been ‎increasing interest in rhetorics that challenge ‎our preconceived notions of what constitutes ‎‎“rhetoric,” both loosening the Greeks and Romans from a skewed reception history and calling ‎for definitions of rhetoric to move “beyond the Greeks” (Lipsom and Binkley). Both these ‎approaches highlight the need for a more diverse understanding of rhetoric—an understanding ‎that better foregrounds the import of the Other. The still-germinal field of Jewish rhetorics has ‎emerged as one response to these calls to diversify and decolonize the rhetorical tradition. As ‎such, this dissertation is also a reclamation of a Jewish tradition that has been—inadvertently ‎and explicitly—ignored, misunderstood, and suppressed.‎

I argue that representations of divine ‎encounters in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) offer a rhetorical framework for encountering the ‎Other—human and divine—as holy. Neither appropriative nor obeisant, this framework offers a ‎uniquely Jewish perspective on encountering the Other—one that has not received adequate ‎academic attention. In a moment where the imperative to engage with Others is so pressing, I ‎address that call to action by bringing together a breadth of scholarship in Jewish studies, ‎rhetorical theory, and Biblical studies to develop a Jewish rhetorical framework for encountering the Other—human and divine—as holy, which I call a “covenant rhetoric.”

This covenant rhetoric, I ‎assert, is not reserved for encounters with the divine, but is also applicable to human rhetorical ‎interactions. My dissertation thus offers a rhetorical model for encountering as holy the human ‎Others with whom we share our existence. As our diverse society continues to wrestle with the ‎ethical imperative towards the Other, I show how the Tanakh prompts us to reconsider the ‎rhetorical potential of encountering Otherness as holiness. In the process, I demonstrate ‎rhetoric’s centrality to religion, to spirituality, and to living an ethically-informed life. ‎


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Thomas Rickert

Additional Committee Member 2

Jennifer Bay

Additional Committee Member 3

Richard Johnson-Sheehan

Additional Committee Member 4

Steven B. Katz

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