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I was about to start a post on the last session of the Intertextuality and New Testament Interpretation section at SBL-AAR 2015 in Atlanta, when I realized that to appreciate the innovation of these papers, a status quaestionis needs to be described first. So for the benefit of those who are not that familiar with the theory and practice of intertextuality, here is a short primer or tutorial, especially in regards to the Pauline corpus.
Intertextuality, to coin the definition articulated by literary theorist Julia Kristeva, is the “shaping of a text’s meaning by (an)other text(s).” In regard to the New Testament, intertextuality usually refers to the biblical writer’s use of Old Testament quotations, but I would like to define the discipline more broadly to include Greco-Roman allusions as well. Those engaged in the task usually fall between two dialectical approaches: 1) the rhetorical approach, and 2) the narrative approach. At stake is the question: when Paul quotes or alludes to a particular [OT] text, does Paul allow the literary context or larger narrative unit in which the quotation/allusion is embedded to help shape the meaning of his own discourse?
If you follow Christopher D. Stanley, your answer would be “No!” Paul pays no attention to the original literary context of the Scriptural quotation but shapes the quotation to fit his own rhetorical purposes. So effectively, the quotation or allusion functions as an empty semantic shell into which Paul inserts his own meaning or reinterpretation of the OT text so that the quotation serves the line of argumentation in his letter. A quick example of this would be 1 Cor 9:9: For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? (NRSV). If you look at the original context in Deut. 25:4, it appears that God is concerned with oxen and the non-exploitation of the land, and not with the rights of an apostle to receive material help from his congregation.
But on the other side of the debate are those who would answer “Yes!” Paul does take into consideration the literary context of the OT quotation/allusion. Francis Watson, for example, believes that a quotation, echo, or allusion to the OT by Paul functions as a narrative metonymy for a larger text. So the quotation functions to point the reader to the larger context into which the excerpt is embedded. Paul might reinterpret the OT in light of the Christ event but his arguments would not make sense if the reader limited the text’s shaping of Pauline discourse to just what is quoted. The entire narrative in which the quotation is embedded must be accessed to make sense of Paul. Watson finds the larger narrative context especially important in Paul’s engagement with the role of Torah in Romans.
There is yet a third new(er) approach to intertextuality that does not really fit in the spectrum outlined above, and this method has been called 3) the rewritten Bible approach. Some scholars argue that rather than looking at each individual quotation of Scripture in isolation and trying to decipher Paul’s use of each quotation one by one, context by context, a larger story view perspective is needed. Take for example, Romans 9-11. In Romans 9 alone, in a successive flurry of OT quotations, Paul references: Gen 21:12, 18:10, 25:23; Mal 1:3; Exo 33:19, 9:16; Isa 45:9; Hos 2:23, 1:9-10; Isa 10:22-23, 1:9, 8:14, 28:16.
Rather than looking at each of the above texts individually, what’s important is how Paul strings all these quotations together to weave one story, i.e., a particular rereading of Israel’s history. If, for example, 1-2 Kings gives a raw version of Israel’s historical events and critique of the Davidic monarchy, while 1-2 Chronicles provides a much more idealistic perspective of the Davidic-Solomonic rule, we have other examples in Jewish literature that reread the history of Israel and give alternative versions of Israel’s story. Jubilees appears to give a more optimistic viewpoint of Israel’s covenant fidelity, while the Psalms of Solomon has a much more pessimistic perspective of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Josephus has his Antiquities as another example of rewriting the biblical account. Bruce Fisk has applied his work on Pseudo-Philo‘s rewritten Bible (L.A.B.) to Romans 11 (see his essay in this anthology).
The above approaches are the starting point for any new methodologies in intertextuality. In my next post, I will get to some of the innovations and new methods suggested by the paper presenters at the Paul-themed session by the Intertextuality and New Testament Interpretation section at SBL-AAR 2015 Atlanta. But for now, I wanted to give a guide by which to judge the newly proposed methods.