Spectrums of Scripture: Conclusions

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.

Open BibleThis series has sought to begin developing a common methodological language for discussing ancient textual borrowing. Building from blocks of common concerns within the subfields of the study of late antiquity, I have outlined a methodological framework for approaching ancient literary citations and for offering arguments about what these uses indicate. My central contention has held that a composite methodology for understanding uses of one ancient source in another requires considerations of the verbal, thematic, and authoritative schemata through which ancient authors viewed and redeployed the sources available to them. In constructing the method, I have employed a “three dimension Cartesian coordinate system.” In this system the verbal correspondence axis has outlined a range from quotation to echo. The thematic correspondence axis considered thematic uses from explication to echo. And the third axis examined authoritative correspondences from formal quotations to unknown uses.

There are numerous advantages provided by the spectral model. Perhaps most importantly, this approach allows for more holistic plotting than previous studies of reception in late antiquity. Furthermore, this model provides for more specific plotting of receptions of source texts than previous studies by paying attention to the varying ways—and concerns guiding—how ancient authors conceived of and utilized sources. In wider application, this method enables comprehensive studies of specific pieces of literature—for example, reception practices in 1 Clement—as well as “nodal” studies of shared types of textual use across sources—for example, summaries of Israel’s story in literature from the first and second centuries CE. Spectral methodology also enables substantial comparative opportunities, both within and among sources. It is no longer possible to neglect the complexities of ancient literature and offer flat, monochromatic explanations of how ancient authors employed the sources available to them.

Moving forward, there are a number of possibilities that this methodology opens up. First and foremost, further refinement of this method is in order. By no means does this method in its current form represent its final nuanced manifestation. At the very least, scholars from other sub-fields of late antiquity must weigh in on the value of the interdisciplinary grammar offered here. Second, this methodology may open up further points of interdisciplinary dialogue, especially surrounding reception history and intertextual conversations. Additionally, scholars of late antiquity who foreground theological positions make possible the discussion of connections beyond the intent of the author and reception of an audience in light of distinct cultures and canons.[1] Third, this method commends itself to integration with the growing field of digital humanities. The visualization of spectrums and ancient writings’ place on them offers a prime opportunity for advancement of imaging and organizational technology.[2] Finally, no methodology is complete without the move from the abstract to the concrete. Thus, the spectral model offered here must find application in a substantial project, such as a consideration of the receptions of the Gospel of John in Christian literature before Irenaeus. Only then may this approach display its full mapping capabilities.


[1] Hays, Echoes, 32-3. [2] On this important topic, see Emma England, “Digital Humanities and Reception History; or the Joys and Horrors of Databases” in Reception History and Biblical Studies: Theory and Practice (ed. E. England and W.J. Lyons, London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 169-184.

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