Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Question of Method: on requiring the presence of exact verbal correspondence for qualification as an allusion

From Scot McKnight, via Deinde (my future virtual home?) "The bread of the Synoptic accounts is nearly always called artos and not azuma, the more specific word for 'unleavened bread' " (p.269), Jesus and his Death. Scot notes this as part of his argument that John, not the synoptics, is more correctly or more exactly detailing the sequence of the Last Supper in relation to Passover.

Two specific problems arise if we rely too heavily on the lack of direct parallels to disprove allusions: (1) We don’t know the origin of such allusions, and often have no access in any case to the Gk translation from which the writers were working. This is due to the shifting of the LXX in its various recensions—perhaps in response to Christian and NT usage; or in an effort to improve accuracy, or bring into line with more popular translations. (2) In at least Matthew’s case he often simply translated from Heb/Aramaic on his own, so that there is no guarantee his Greek reference/allusion will match any that we presently have.

In such cases, thematic and theological parallels are all we have to rely on. Therefore, as a matter of method I’m not convinced that a failure to find any significant, exact verbal correspondence can necessarily indicate a failure to find an allusion. It’s no stretch to imagine in Scot’s example above, that Mark and Matthew simply didn’t know enough Greek to come up with azuma; or that Mark didn’t bring it to mind (in foreign language it’s frequently easier to come up with the most common word, even when a more technical term would be more precise), and it didn’t seem out of place when Mt/Lk copied it. Or perhaps the LXX copies used by the synoptic writers (or just by Mark!) was a relatively impoverished translation which didn’t use this word.

If any of this is the case, it’s also easy to see how John, with his PASXAL emphasis, might pay more attention to an exact term than Mk/Mt. Finally, the synoptics are interested in linking the Last Supper to the feeding of the multitudes in Mk 6, 8 and parallels, where artos is present (is it Mark who links this scene verbally as well? Take, bless/thanks, broke, give). Thus the lack of verbal correspondence in the synoptics in this instance could have another explanation altogether.

There is a tendency for NT scholars to over-rely on common (thus borrowed, according to the argument) vocabulary as an indicator of the presence of an intentional verbal allusion. I suspect this as I’m reading through Nolland’s commentary, as he attempts to stab at possible allusions and “echoes”; although let me hasten to add I’m enormously grateful that he is trying, and that he has paid attention to the narrative turn in biblical and matthean studies, though without abandoning his redaction critical roots. All part of the danger and excitement of living in a post-Hays world, I suppose, where scholars regularly stretch texts by intertexting (I coin a verb) to within an inch of their lives.

But here’s my present point: I’m not sure the lack of a certain LXX verb can prove an allusion is not present. I’m not judging Scot’s point—I find it interesting—just noting a methodological problem. Am I wrong on this one?


Blogger J. B. Hood said...

Recall that Matthew is capable of citing a “passage” that actually lacks any significant verbal correspondence, yet carries for Matthew profound thematic significance: “He will be called a Nazarene."

Consult also all the various citations in Mt 2 in their MT, LXX, DSS locations to see the problem at work. There's a massive range of correspondence, from tight to nearly none. And "thematic" correspondence (typological or otherwise) seems as though it can be as strong or even stronger for Matthew than "verbal" correspondence.

What's good for citation may also be good for allusion.

9:48 PM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Danny Zacharias said...

Good thoughts to a complex and often misunderstood question. It is astonishing to see how often in NT commentaries and articles a citation or allusion is attributed to the LXX because only one word corresponds. The thought doesn't seem to occur to people that there was often stereotypical translations of Hebrew words and the translation could be due to the gospel writer, not the LXX. There's a good book by Tim McLay on this matter, called "The Use of the LXX in NT Research".

Having said all of that, I think Scot's overall argument is quite strong, and the one (very minor) point about the Greek word for bread is a cog in the chain, so to speak. It definitely is not decisive, nor is a primary argument on which the case is built. By itself it is quite weak, but together with the other points, I think its legitimacy is a little stronger.

Now stop posting here and come join us!


2:37 PM, June 02, 2006  

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