Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A literary reading of the texts for this week

New Testament intertextuality—the meaning of texts are shaped by other texts, especially from the Old Testament—has received sustained attention in the work of Richard B. Hays, especially in his Echoes of Scripture in the Letter’s of Paul, and The Conversion of the Imagination. Leaders interested in doing more in-depth preparation for this week of Advent would be well-served by reading one or both books.
Hays’s work stands out because most students of intertextuality attend to quotations and direct allusions, of which there are many in the New Testament, but then stop there. Hays, however, goes even further, arguing that the New Testament can be understood better and more richly by attending also to other subtle intertextual “echoes” (which he terms metalepsis) and resonances.
Although this may seem somewhat esoteric, it actually links up nicely with the season of Advent, where intertextuality abounds (think, for example, of Christ’s double advent in his Nativity and the Parousia, both of which are celebrated in this season). The season implicitly offers echoes of Christ’s first and second comings in such a way that one cannot be read or thought apart from the other. Advent appears to teach us precisely how our imaginations might be converted so that we keep in mind asynchronous texts that metaleptically resonate.
Mark 1:1-8 exemplifies this theme, for although Mark says, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,” the actual quotation is a mash-up of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Students of intertextuality invite us to see if the texts before or after a direct quotation have any shaping influence on the context in which the quotation is actually utilized. In this case, for example, Isaiah 4:1-2, although not quoted, offers encouragement to comfort God’s people. Mark 1:1 proclaims the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, Isaiah 40:4-11 emphasizes that the people are like grass, the playing field will be leveled, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Similarly, Mark 1:4-8 portrays John the Baptist as one who forgives sin, brings everyone to the same level at the river, and says, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me” (1:7). A look at the texts surrounding Malachi 3:1 will produce similarly fascinating resonances and echoes. Participants in this session will be fascinated by such echoes, and will likely be excellent at finding even more echoes than the leader. 

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