Chreia,  plural   Chreiai   (KRAY-ah, KRAY-eye) 

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A brief anecdote focused on reporting a memorable saying or action associated with a prominent person. The Greek word referred to "what is useful (or needed)," especially in confrontations with others (war, business, debate). In Greek rhetoric it designated a narrative statement or story that could be cited to make a point.

The essential chreia consists of:

  • reference to a well-known person;
  • a striking comment or gesture.

The central person may be either active or passive: that is, the figure in the spotlight could be the agent who delivers the saying or action; or the recipient. As an oral form the chreia was flexible & could be expanded to include:

  • identification of others who encountered the central figure;
  • identification of the occasion or setting;
  • reaction by either the main character, those encountered or both.

Stoic philosophers favored chreiai as illustrations in long speeches; Cynic philosophers, on the other hand, collected chreiai as ammunition for social confrontations & as paradigms for Cynic social behavior, somewhat like Zen masters' use of the koan.

In current NT research many scholars describe the Jesus anecdotes used to compose the synoptic gospels as chreiai, since this term covers more of the stories & sayings than terms used in earlier analysis of the gospel texts (pronouncement story, paradigm, apophthegma). Some scholars argue that the synoptic gospels' use of strings of chreiai to present the story of Jesus points to social similarity (or even possible links) between the early Christian movement & wandering Hellenistic Cynics.

[For more information on the chreia & use of this form by Greek & Latin authors, see Patterns of Persuasion in the Gospels by B. L. Mack & V. K. Robbins (Sonoma: Polebridge Press, 1989), pp. 1-67].

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last revised 01 January 2018


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