A Rhetorical Cognitive Linguistic Investigation of Torrey v. Harnack in the Question of Priscilla as the Author of Hebrews

In 1900 Adolf von Harnack argued that Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, authored the Epistle to the Hebrews. Although Harnack’s proposal did draw some immediate support, in 1911 Charles C. Torrey challenged Harnack’s argument so effectively that the hypothesis that Priscilla might have authored Hebrews was considered to be all but discredited. Yet, upon closer examination, we will see that while Torrey’s argument has the appearance of a logical rebuttal of Harnack, in fact, it harnessed disanalogous elements that reframed, but were not actually present in, Harnack’s own argument. In short, Torrey refuted the proposition of Priscilla’s authorship through powerful cognitive mental imagery, formed by introducing “straw man” input spaces, that ultimately clashed with the proposed female gender of the role of the author. The result, a pseudo- reductio ad absurdum, opened the way for commentators to become increasingly explicit in rejecting the most contentious aspect of Harnack’s conclusion: the suggestion that a “female mind” might have produced the elegant rhetoric of Hebrews. While the authorship of Hebrews remains an unsolved question, and the intent of this paper is not to argue for or against Harnack’s hypothesis, by employing conceptual blending theory, we will unveil Torrey’s rhetorical slight-of-hand to better understand the dynamics of mental imagery in argumentation.