Spectrums of Scripture: Formal Authority and Name Dropping

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.

it-is-writtenWhat then are the various forms of authoritative correspondence? On one end of the authoritative spectrum are formal quotations, commentaries, and translations. Formal quotations denote the highest level of attributed authority within general literary works, while commentaries and translations reveal the importance of a text through sustained treatment of that text.[1] In contrast to scholars who argue that quotation does not indicate what an author thought of the work being quoted or that quotations were surface embellishments,[2] formal quotations consistently carry authoritative weight in arguments.[3]

Particular kinds of formal quotation were especially indicative of authority. For example, Plutarch’s use of λέγεται indicates his reception of traditional and weighty materials.[4] In early Jewish and Christian literature, forms of γράφω and references to prophetic speech indicate the divine origins and scriptural status of a writing.[5] 1 Clement 4:1’s formal citation of Genesis 4:3-8 (LXX), introduced by Γέγραπται γὰρ οὕτως, stands as a prime example of this method of authoritative attribution.[6] In sum, formal quotations in ancient literature point toward an authority beyond that of the author.

The next level of authoritative correspondence involves name dropping. Character sketches and general moral reflections often transferred “biblical material in various mimetic ways to the subject of the discourse.”[7] Some writers were more prone to engage in name-dropping than others. Perhaps no one was better than Plutarch, who appealed to some 497 names in his extant corpus, citing their authority 6840 times.[8] In 1 Clement 12:1-7, the author draws Rahab as an example of hospitality, offering an extended account of her interactions with the spies of Israel. Although Clement’s narrative takes language from Joshua 2, he nowhere locates that writing as the source of his information. Rather, he is content to let Rahab’s name do the heavy lifting in appealing to the Corinthians to live hospitably with one another.


[1] Machiela, 319. Young, 103. [2] Penner, 62. Stanley, “Rhetoric,” 54-5. [3] Young, 101, 137. [4] Brad L. Cook, “Plutarch’s Use of Legetai: Narrative Design and Source in Alexander,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 42 (2001): 329-331, 335. [5] Bruce M. Metzger, “Formulas Introducing Quotations of Scripture in the NT and the Mishnah,” JBL 70 (1951): 300, 306. Penner, 78. Fitzmyer, 299-300. Metzger (“Formulas,” 306) explains, “so habitual was the identification of the divine Author with the words of Scripture that occasionally personality is attributed to the passage itself. On the other hand, both the Mishnah and the NT recognize the instrumentality of human authors in the production of the Scriptures which each quotes.” [6] Ehrman, 40-41. [7] Young, 107. [8] William C. Helmbold and Edward N. O’Neil, Plutarch’s Quotations (Baltimore: APA, 1959). van den Hoek, 228.

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