What I Do I will also Continue to Do! (Rhetoric from the Edge in 2 Corinthians 11:1–6, 12–15: A Dalit Reading): Part I

Dominic (1)

1. Introduction


The rhetoric of the marginalized … demonstrates that …

the ‘humblest’ do not only ‘stand forth’ in order to persuade;

by persuading, they are also ‘standing forth,’ assuming agency.1


These words of Jacqueline Bacon aptly capture the yearning that expresses itself in the rhetoric of the marginalized. Their yearning is for agency and it stems from their lived experience of being relegated to the periphery. This paper aims to underscore one such episode in the New Testament. 2 Cor 11:1–6, 12–15 depicts Paul lamenting the easy submission of the Corinthians to the message of his opponents whose “cunning” left the community “deceived” (cf. 11:3).2 In as much as Paul sees his opponents holding sway, it could be construed that Paul perceives himself relegated to the periphery. His discursive response therefore exhibits his earnestness to regain his apostolic authority. As such, his response in the chosen pericope can be read as “rhetoric of the marginalized” – rather, rhetoric from the edge.

The paper begins by stating the problematic: the abrupt shifts from 2 Cor 10 and how they inform the forcefulness of Paul’s rhetoric or the lack thereof. A short list of representative scholarly responses to the said problematic is then presented. With an aim to appreciate Pauline arguments, Dalit reading is suggested as a viable interpretive strategy. After a brief introduction to Dalit literature, especially their dominant literary features such as resistance, ridicule and reversal,3 the chosen text (2 Cor 11:1–6, 12–15) is re-read with a particular focus on Paul’s apostolic resistance, ridiculing sarcasm, and novel reversals. These together help appreciate the apostle’s response as rhetoric from the edge. The paper then ends by listing a few gleanings from the proposed reading.

2. The Question of Pauline ‘Rhetoric’

Literary Context: 2 Cor 11:1–6, 12–15 forms a significant part of the introduction (vv.1–21) to the so-called “Fool’s speech” (11:22–12:10).4 Scholars situate the speech within what is considered a lost “letter of tears” (chaps. 10–13; cf. 2:3–4, 9).5 A new tone marks the beginning of ch.10. Coming on the heels of “the warmhearted appeals of chaps. 8 and 9, the change of tone at 10:1–2 to vigorous and sustained self-defense, self-assertion, and polemic comes as ‘a bolt from the blue.’”6 The language marks a unique shift as well. Personal pronouns abound here. Contrast to their modest 23 occurrences in chaps. 1–9, they total to an impressive 94 in chaps. 10–13!7 The pericope is also unique for its Pauline new terms: “super-apostles” and “pseudo-apostles.”8

While these shifts in tone and language can become obvious to a careful reader, the content of the speech arrests the attention of even a cursory reader. A striking inconsistency seems to be at play here. For example, Paul delineates the rules for boasting in ch.10 and assures that he will not “boast beyond limit” (10:13). And even if he has to, he will only boast of his weakness (cf. 11:23; 12:5). But he seems to break his very rule when he declares: “whatever anyone dares to boast … I also dare to boast” (11:21). Going further, his detailed list of sufferings (11:16–29) and the visions and revelations he was privy to appear to be yet another breach in his self-restraint. As regards “comparison,” Paul sees his opponents doing it and so shuns it (cf. 10:12). But when he asserts that he is “not in the least inferior to these super-apostles” (11:5), he seems to throw his very guidelines to the winds.9 How can we meaningfully account for these shifts and inconsistencies? Much scholarly energy has been spent to appropriate these shifts within the broader context of Paul’s use of rhetoric.

3. Scholarly Appropriations

How persuasive is Pauline thought-flow in chaps.10–13? Or, more to the point, how does the logic of Paul fare in comparison to the rhetoric of his time? Scholarly answers hardly point to a consensus. For example, William R. Baker perceives in Paul “a shy school boy” who hesitantly “climbs on to the stage, eyes downcast, stammering, fidgety, embarrassed, cautiously opens his mouth to speak, determined to be bold, but out comes a squeaky-voiced apology.”10 Baker locates Paul’s lack of confidence in the fact that the apostle was forced (cf. 12:11) to break his very guidelines concerning boasting, comparison, etc.

On the other hand, Ryan S. Schellenberg is convinced of the impressive rhetoric of chaps. 10–13 and therefore suggests that any reader who is interested in Pauline rhetoric must first go to these chapters because here is a “brilliant piece of text,” “magnificent composition,” and therefore “Paul’s rhetorical tour de force.”11 While the images of a “shy school boy” and “rhetorical tour de force” present two extreme views, other scholarly options position themselves somewhere along the continuum. For Duane F. Watson, Paul was “a man who works within the conventions of his time, but in new and often surprising ways proffered by his new Christian perspective and values.”12 Polemics provides the clue for Peter Lampe.13 Other scholars resort to terminological nuances to account for the apparent inconsistency in Paul’s logic. While Murray J. Harris distinguishes between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” boastings,14 Jan Lambrecht differentiates between “self-commending” and “boasting.”15 This list of scholarly options is by no means exhaustive nor can any single view be sufficient to account for the shifts and the rhetorical force of the chosen text. Acknowledging that every attempt can at best be provisional, this paper proposes to read 2 Cor 11:1–6, 12–15 as rhetoric from the edge.

At this juncture, a note on “rhetoric” and “edge” is in order. By “rhetoric,” the focus is on the persuasiveness of Pauline logic. A detailed Rhetorical Critical reading is beyond the scope of this paper. “Edge,” on the other hand, points to speaker’s perceived position. Relegated to the periphery, Paul constructs his counter-discourse. Such discourses from the edge are often characterized by dominant literary features such as resistance, ridicule, and reversal. Because Dalit literature is an apt contemporary example, a brief introduction to the Dalit literary features are delineated below which will serve as point of departure to appropriate Pauline discourse as rhetoric from the edge which demonstrates his apostolic resistance, ridiculing sarcasm, and novel reversals.

4. Dalits and Dalit Literary Features

“Indian society is divided into numerous castes and sub-castes, numbering roughly over four thousand.”16 Within this birth-based caste system, Dalits are relegated to the lowest rung.17 “Dalit” is often rendered as “ground down or broken to pieces”18 or “downtrodden.”19 These renderings bespeak centuries of denied equality and human dignity to Dalits. Relegated to the periphery of society, perceived as polluting and polluted, and thus deemed untouchables, Dalit history bears witness to their experiences of trauma.20 And such lived experiences express themselves in their literature which is marked by dominant features such as resistance, ridicule, and reversal. Also a violent and protesting tone dominates Dalit literature because the writers “attempt to be true to their lived experiences … Their vehicle is often brutal, coarse and crude language of the slum.”21 Dalit counter-narratives are their arsenal to demolish the dominant paradigm of the high caste people. By means of their resistance, ridicule, and reversal, Dalit literature not only subverts hegemonic metanarratives but also, in the process, constructs and affirms Dalits’ otherwise fragmented identity.

4.1. Resistance

“Dalit literature is one of the major sites of their resistance and creativity.”22 Dalit discourse is an excellent example of Resistance Literature because of its two-fold aim:

Dalit writers regard themselves as inserting their previously silenced voices into the hegemonic canon of Indian literary history through the twin projects of creating a body of new literature along strict theoretical and aesthetic principles and turning their own critical gaze on canonical Indian literary texts.23

An illustrative instance occurs in their depiction of “gods and goddesses [who] condemn caste and preach a religion of common human values.”24 Such audacious but imaginative portrayals effectively resist hegemonic myths that legitimize the relegation of Dalits to the periphery. Further still, such resistive acts subvert even the very logic of the caste system.

4.2. Ridicule

As a counter-discourse, Dalit literature embodies a tone of ridicule, scorn, or mockery. Such belittling rendition goes hand in hand with its protest tone. For example, the Marathi Dalit literature “refers to … the legend of Dyaneshwar, who produced the sacred Vedas [Hindu Scriptures] from the mouth of a buffalo.”25 Since buffalo is associated with lower caste people, such a bold depiction makes a mockery of the Hindu notion of eternal Vedas.

4.3. Reversal

If resistance and ridicule undercut the dominant worldview, reversal simultaneously critiques and constructs. Dalits construct “their identity by reversing the symbols that defined them as low and/or polluted into symbols of their culture and positive identity.”26 For example, drum has been largely associated with Dalit community. Hence, high caste people cast a condescending look on drum and drum-playing. But Dalit literature has constructed counter-discourses that extol drum and drum-playing.27 Similarly, within the South Indian society, beef-eating is seen a sign of pollution and therefore a characteristic mark of an outcaste. Various legends try and explain as to how the Dalits came to this despicable state. However, a Dalit community has created counter-discourses that applaud their habit of beef-eating.28 These three dominant literary features together bear witness to Dalit literature as rhetoric from the edge. The following section endeavours to read the chosen text from a similar vantage point.

 5. A Dalit Reading of 2 Cor 11:1–6, 12–15: Rhetoric from the Edge

At the outset it must be acknowledged that compared to the lived experiences of Dalits which include denied equality, denigrated subjectivity, and dehumanizing exclusion, Paul’s situation appears to fare better. All the same, there are points of contact because of which both the discourses – Dalits’ and Pauline – can be meaningfully seen as rhetoric from the edge. As its founder, Paul felt sidelined when the Corinthian community submitted readily to the message of his opponents (cf. v.4). In as much as the apostle felt relegated to the periphery, Paul’s ethos and pathos are comparable to that of Dalits. And so, semblances of Resistance Literature can be readily perceived in the discourse of Paul, to which we turn now.


Dominic S. Irudayaraj, PhD in Biblical Studies



  1. Jacqueline Bacon, The Humblest may Stand Forth: Rhetoric, Empowerment, and Abolition (South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), 235. 
  2. Unless stated otherwise, all Bible quotes are from the NRSV. 
  3. Elsewhere I have drawn upon these three literary features to read an Isaian text in order to underscore the prophetic reclamation of the identities of a ‘defeated’ deity, dispersed people, and a decentered prophet. See Dominic S. Irudayaraj, “Idol-Taunt and Exilic Identity: A Dalit Reading of Isa 44:9–20,” in Myths of Exile: History and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, ed. Anne K. Gudme and Ingrid Hjelm, Copehhagen International Seminar (New York: Routledge, 2015), 125–36. 
  4. For an introduction to and exposition of the Fool’s speech, see Jan Lambrecht, “The Fool’s Speech and Its Context : Paul’s Particular Way of Arguing in 2 Cor 10–13,” Biblica 82, no. 3 (2001): 305–24. 
  5. A suggestion already made in the late nineteenth century by Adolf Hausrath and James H. Kennedy. See Raymond F. Collins, The Power of Images in Paul (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2008), 194. For an exposition on “The Four-Chapter Hypothesis,” see Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), 34–42. While historical inquiries view 2 Corinthians in “composite” terms, rhetorical readings suggest a “unified letter approach.” See Dennis C. Duling, “2 Corinthians 11:22: Historical Context, Rhetoric, and Ethnic Identity,” in The New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context, ed. John Fotopoulos (Boston: Brill, 2006), 65–89. 
  6. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 661. 
  7. Such perceivable changes are often interpreted as sure signs that the letter was written by Paul himself. See E. Verhoef, “The Senders of the Letters to the Corinthians and the Use of ‘I’ and ‘We,’” in The Corinthian Correspondence, ed. Reimund Bieringer (Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1996), 424. 
  8. Collins, The Power of Images in Paul, 210. 
  9. For an exposition on the rationale for such breaches, see Duling, “2 Corinthians 11:22: Historical Context, Rhetoric, and Ethnic Identity,” 76–82. 
  10. The author perceives the unconfident tone in 11:1 which begins with an unattainable wish. See William R. Baker, Second Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College, 1999), 369. 
  11. For details on these complied insights, see Ryan S. Schellenberg, Rethinking Paul’s Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 59. 
  12. For Watson, situation holds the key: Pauline logic has “the standard content and exhibits usual techniques for mitigating self-praise with the audience.” See Duane F. Watson, “Paul’s Boasting in 2 Corinthians 10–13 as Defense of His Honor: A Socio-Rhetorical Analysis,” in Rhetorical Argumentation in Biblical Texts, ed. Anders Eriksson, Thomas H. Olbricht, and Walter Übelacker (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 2002), 260–61. 
  13. In polemics, “no difference is made between persons and views.” See Peter Lampe, “Can Words be Violent or Do They only Sound that Way?,” in Paul and Rhetoric, ed. J. Paul Sampley and Peter Lampe (New York: Continuum International, 2013), 226. 
  14. See Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 729–30. 
  15. See Jan Lambrecht, “Dangerous Boasting: Paul’s Self-Commendation in 2 Cor 10–13,” in The Corinthian Correspondence, ed. Reimund Bieringer (Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1996), 325–46. 
  16. Pradeep K. Sharma, Dalit Politics and Literature (Delhi: Shipra, 2006), 1. 
  17. For a case study, see Arun Joe Chockalingam, Constructing Dalit Identity (Jaipur: Rawat, 2007), 9. 
  18. Anupama Rao, “Who is the Dalit? The Emergence of a New Political Subject,” in Claiming Power from Below: Dalits and the Subaltern Question in India, ed. Manu Bhagavan and Anne Feldhaus (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 11. 
  19. “Dalit”, for some scholars, has a curious parallel in the Hebrew root דַּל (dal cf. Exod 23:3; Lev 14:21). See M. E. Prabhakar, ed., Towards a Dalit Theology (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1988), 1. 
  20. For a historical survey on Dalits and their struggle, see Mamta Rajawat, History of Dalits, vol. I, Encyclopaedia of Dalits in India (Delhi: Anmol, 2005). To situate Dalit struggle in the context of denied human rights, see Prem Kumar Shinde (ed.), Dalits and Human Rights: The Broken Future (Delhi: Gyan, 2005). For a case study on Dalit struggle, see R. Elangovan, “Attrocities against Dalits and Human Rights Violations in Tamil Nadu,” in Human Rights Challenges of 21st Century, ed. Viswanathan V. N. (Delhi: Gyan, 2008), 283–88. 
  21. Raj Kumar, “Dalit Literature: A Perspective from Below,” in Dalit Assertion in Society, History, and Literature, ed. Imtiaz Ahmad and Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay (Delhi: Deshkal, 2007), 127–28. 
  22. Omprakash Valmiki, Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life, trans. Arun Prabha Mukherjee (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), xxxii. 
  23. For details, see Laura R. Brueck, “Marking the Boundaries of a New Literary Identity: The Assertion of ‘Dalit Consciousness’ in Dalit Literary Criticism,” in Religion and Identity in South Asia and Beyond, ed. Steven E. Lindquist (New York: Anthem, 2011), 350. 
  24. See John D. H. Downing, ed., Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media (California: SAGE, 2010), 154. 
  25. Sanjay Paswan and Paramanshi Jaideva, eds., Encyclopaedia of Dalits in India (Delhi: Gyan, 2002), 30. 
  26. For a case study on the Paraiyars of South India, see Chockalingam, Constructing Dalit Identity, 3–4. 
  27. Dalit Christology draws on this literary nuance when it interprets Christ as drum. See Peniel Rajkumar, Dalit Theology and Dalit Liberation: Problems, Paradigms and Possibilities (Vermont: Ashgate, 2010), 48. 
  28. See Chockalingam, Constructing Dalit Identity, 213–27. 

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