Jerome H. Neyrey, «"First", "Only", "One of a Few", and "No One Else". The Rhetoric of Uniqueness and the Doxologies in 1 Timothy», Vol. 86 (2005) 59-87
The distinctive way of honoring gods or God was to celebrate
what is unique about them, that is, praise of persons who were the "first",
"only", or "one of a few" to do something. Rhetoric from Aristotle to Quintilian
expounded the theory of "uniqueness", which the authors of Greek hymns and
prayers employed. One finds a Semitic counterpart in the "principle of
incomparability" describing Israelite kings. "Uniqueness" pervades the New
Testament, especially its doxologies. In them, "uniqueness" was richly expressed
in rhetorical mode, as well as by predicates of negative theology which elevated
the deity above those praising.
64 Jerome H. Neyrey
In his funeral oration, Lysias (459-380 BCE) follows a convention
whereby people were praised in terms of geography, generation and
gender (12). When celebrating Athens as the polis of the deceased,
he implies that the dead whom he eulogizes share its virtues. His
encomium for the fallen, then, is based on praise of their geographical
mother, Athens, and the generational ancestors who ennobled the city.
It was natural to our ancestors ... to fight the battles of justice, for the
very beginning of their life was just.... They were the first and only
(prwtoi kai; movnoi) people in that time to drive out the ruling classes ...
and establish a democracy (Funeral Oration 17-18, emphasis added).
Ancestors of these dead fought for Athensâ€™ freedom, just as their
descendants now have; but these recently fallen are uniquely
honorable: they were the first and only to fight (Funeral Oration 23)
in these circumstances. No Greeks elsewhere (oujdeiv") would dare to
attempt the deliverance of others. Nowhere else in Greece could one
find a government such as Athens had; no other peoples enjoyed such
freedom; no one else lived in a democracy. About the fallen, Lysias
continued, â€œit was one thing for them to share their death with many,
but prowess with a fewâ€ (Funeral Oration 24). Thus men of Athens
past and present are honored as the â€œfirst and onlyâ€ or â€œone of a fewâ€.
Thucydides (455-400) praises Athens as the geographical source
of nobility of those commemorated in his funeral oration (2.35). In
praising those who fell in the Peloponnesian War, he amplifies their
greatness by extolling that of Athens, who is the mother of heroes
because she is a uniquely noble city:
Athenians alone regard the man who takes no part in public affairs,
not as one who minds his own business, but as good for nothing
we alone confer benefits without fear of consequences, not upon a
calculation of the advantage we shall gain, but with confidence in the
spirit of liberality which activates usâ€ (2.40.5).
And finally, he states:
For Athens alone (movnh) among her contemporaries ... is superior
(kreisswn) to the report of her, and she alone (monh) neither affords
to the enemy who comes against her cause for irritation at the
(12) See B.J. MALINA â€“ J.H. NEYREY, Portraits of Paul. An Archeology of
Ancient Personality (Louisville, KY 1996) 3-4, 113-125; see also NEYREY, Honor
and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, 78-80 and 94-97.