An Open Notebook

Inner-Biblical Allusions


Identifying inner-biblical allusions has always been a tricky equation. What evidence is necessary to establish a claim? Jeffery Leonard describes this process in “Identifying inner-Biblical allusions: Psalm 78 as a test case.”

“….[How are] textual allusions to be confidently identified in the first place and then evaluated in terms of their direction of dependence.

What evidence is needed to establish a link between one biblical text and another text or tradition?…

What evidence is necessary to demonstrate an allusion? Are names, themes, and resemblances sufficient? Can the evidence be meager, or does it have to be overwhelming—literary Cartesianism before we accept an allusion? At what point do we depart from our skepticism?

Leonard proposes eight principles to clear the waters:

  • Shared language is the single most important factor in establishing a textual connection.
  • Shared language is more important than nonshared language.
  • Shared language that is rare or distinctive suggests a stronger connection than does language that is widely used.
  • Shared phrases suggest a stronger connection than do individual shared terms.
  • The accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase.
  • Shared language in similar contexts suggests a stronger connection than does shared language alone.
  • Shared language need not be accompanied by shared ideology to establish a connection.
  • Shared language need not be accompanied by shared form to establish a connection. In the discussion that follows, I clarify the import of each of these principles.

Ordinary readers may be relatively unfamiliar with some of the formulas, allusions, and citations, but that does not detract from their presence. And, I suspect, to familiar Bible reader, the allusions are more accessible if one thinks a bit more conceptually.

One simple example of how subtle allusions can be is if I use the phrase, “It was the best of …, It was the worst of …” We don’t even need to supply the term ‘time’ to demonstrate the formula designates Charles Dicken’s famous book, “Tale of Two Cities.” Hebrew literature likely operates much the same.

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