Spectrums of Scripture: Quotations and Allusions

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

apostle-paul-preaching-on-mars-hillQuotations involve four or more significant terms.[1] Significant terms are distinguished by their uniqueness to a text,[2] as in the case of 1 Clement 25:2’s mention of the φοίνιξ (the phoenix). A Thesaurus Linguae Graecae search reveals this term applies to a bird in only in Hesiod and Herodotus prior to 1 Clement, making it rather likely that Clement’s use of this term reflects one of those authors.[3] General terminology—such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions, extremely common verbs, and non-specific nouns—does not necessarily weigh heavily when considering verbal correspondences. Common phrasing and word order might prove helpful, though these factors are ultimately secondary in importance given the relative fluidity of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac sentence construction.[4] In spite of the fact that several ancient authors reflected on the practice of literary quotation—including Aristotle, Quintilian, and Longinus—“no clear theory of quotation emerges from the [ancient] handbooks.”[5] Verbal quotation does, however, given the impression of conveying meaning to an audience,[6] even in cases of modified verbal characteristics of the quotation.[7]

Allusions are constituted of two or three terms, enough to inform an educated reader or hearer of the source utilized.[8] Many scholars posit that allusions signal intentionality on the part of the author.[9] In late antiquity, allusions were used to expand readers’ horizons, signaling other backgrounds or information which inform the meaning of the text.[10] Of course, not every ancient audience recognized every allusion, just as they a parable’s hearers did not necessarily interpret it properly.[11] However, Allison rightly remarks that “significant textual meaning can be, like the foundations of buildings, out of sight…. [and] ancient audiences, with their much smaller textual world, may very well have been more accustomed to paying keener attention to linguistic details than most of us….”[12]


[1] Steve Moyise, “Quotations” in As It Is Written: Studying Paul’s Use of Scripture (ed. S.E. Porter and C.D. Stanley, Atlanta: SBL Press, 2008), 15. Devorah Dimant, “Use and Interpretation of Mikra in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. M.J. Mulder and H. Sysling, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 385, 401. van den Hoek, 228-229. Gordon D. Fee, “Text of John in Origen and Cyril of Alexandria: A Contribution to Methodology in the Recovery and Analysis of Patristic Citations,” Bib 52 (1971): 362. Osburn, 317-8. Bart D. Ehrman, Gordon D. Fee, and Michael W. Holmes, The Text of the Fourth Gospel in the Writings of Origen (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), 22. Particularly insightful are Flint’s classifications for discerning the differences between “quotations” and “citations,” which include the following: Q1 50%+ lexical correspondences, with citation formulae but no clear delimitation; Q2 50% lexical correspondences, identified with specific figure or previously known writing; C 50% lexical correspondences, no citation formula; Ala less than 50% lexical correspondences, correspondence with hapax legomenon; Alb less than 50% lexical correspondences, apparent syntactical relationship; Alc less than 50% lexical correspondences, appearance of more commonly used phrase; Ald less than 50% lexical correspondences, other factor suggesting identity. See Peter W. Flint, “The Interpretation of Scriptural Isaiah in the Qumran Scrolls: Quotations, Citations, Allusions, and the Form of the Scriptural Text” in A Teacher for All Generations: Essays in Honor of James C. VanderKam, Volume One (ed. E.F. Mason et al, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 394-5. [2] Wolf-Dietrich Kohler, Die Rezeption des Matthäusevangeliums in der Zeit vor Irenäus (Tubingen: Mohr: 1987), 13-4. Gregory and Tuckett, 73.  Kohler’s criterion arises out of a conversation with Edouard Massaux (The Influence of the Gospel of Matthew on Christian Literature before Irenaeus, 3 Volumes [trans. Arthur J. Bellinzoni and Neirynck, Macon, G.A.: Mercer University Press, 1990].) and Helmut Koester (Synoptische Uberlieferung bei den Apostolischen Vatern [Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1957].). Massaux’s “principle of simplicity” proposed that if a passage demonstrates verbal identity with one text over any other known texts, that passage is best understood to rely on said text. Koester argues that, “literary dependence on the finished form of a text is to be identified only where the later text makes use of an element from the earlier text that can be identified as the redactional work of the earlier author or editor.” Translated Gregory and Tuckett, 71. Both perspectives are problematic, as Massaux claims attribution of texts too easily, and Koester makes it nearly impossible to demonstrate anything but clearest uses. [3] Hesiod Fr.171.4, Antiph.175. Herodotus, Histories 2.73. [4] Moyise, 17. [5] Ibid., 19. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.15, 2.21. Quintilian, Inst. 1.8.12, 2.7. Longinus, Subl. 13.4, 14.1. [6] Moyise, 23, 25-7. Christopher Stanley suggests that Paul expected his readers to take quotes at face value. See Christopher D. Stanley, Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 38-61. Meir Sternberg argues that quotes always served a disturbing function in the ancient texts into which they were inserted. See Meir Sternberg, “Proetus in Quotation-Land: Mimesis and the Forms of Reported Discourses,” Poetics Today 3 (1982): 108. [7] Young, 97-116. Ehrman, Fee, and Holmes, 22. On Josephus’s high regard for the sacred texts and (remaining) willingness to engage in stylistic changes and corrections, see Louis H Feldman, “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Writings of Josephus” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. M.J. Mulder and H. Sysling, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 466-70, 476-81. Allison notes that, “ancient writers did not typically borrow in order to show off or add surface ornamentation…most ancient authors were…accustomed to borrowing from the well-known classics in order to add meaning. Hence identification of their precursors is part of the task of interpretation.” See Allison, Intertextual, 19. [8] Porter, “Allusions and Echoes,” 30-3. van den Hoek, 228-9. Dimant, 409-10. Osburn, 318, 335-6. Robert de Beaugrande and Wolfgang U. Dressler, Introduction to Text Linguistics (London: Longmans, 1981), 186. Hays (20) writes, “Allusive echo functions to suggest to the reader that text B should be understood in light of a broad interplay with text A, encompassing aspects of A beyond those explicitly echoed…. Metalepsis…places the reader within a field of whispered or unstated correspondences.” [9] Porter, “Allusions and Echoes,” 34-5. Peter D. Juhl, Interpretation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literary Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 58. Jeannine K. Brown, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 107-9. [10] Allison, Intertextual, 2, 13, 21. Porter, “Allusions and Echoes, 33, 35-6. [11] Stanley, “Paul’s Use,” 132-6. Stanley notes that, for allusions to work, readers must a) recognize them, b) recall their wider literary contexts, and c) discern the proper meaning of those references. He further argues that most ancient audiences could not be expected to perform all three tasks and that allusions, instead of conveying wider meaning, were taken at face value. This perspective, however, does not seem to accurately reflect the literary worldview of the ancients. Perhaps for contemporary readers it would be impossible to detect these allusions, but for ancient readers who essentially only (or at least primarily) interact with a considerably smaller subset of texts, it seems far more likely that allusive knowledge was sufficient for signaling reference and expanding meaning. [12] Allison, Intertextual, 14.

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