04 February 2013

A Book with no Quotations?

by Dr Philip Church

The New Zealand Herald Canvas magazine contains a list of questions each week under the heading “Brain Trainer.” I usually read them and try out my general knowledge. Question 5 on 26 January 2013 had me stumped, “Which huge-selling book contains no quotations?” I expected that the answer may be the Bible (although I was unsure that it was accurate). I turned to the answers on p. 31, and sure enough, my suspicion was confirmed. According to Tony Potter who compiles the questions each week, the Bible contains no quotations.

This answer is wrong, something that makes me doubt all his other questions and answers, for if the one I know a little bit about is wrong, what does that say about those I know nothing about? In fact the idea of a book with no quotations, while not impossible, is really difficult to imagine. No book, not even the Bible, is written in a vacuum. Or as one literary critic put it, “no text is an island.” The Old Testament was written in an ancient Near Eastern milieu, and the New Testament emerged from the literary cauldron of Second Temple Judaism. It is almost unthinkable that some of the literature from these contexts is not reflected, and even quoted in the Bible. And this is not to mention the places where a later biblical author quotes an earlier one.

So what sorts of quotations do appear in the Bible? I am not sure where Tony Potter started his research, but my NRSV has quote marks on the very first page. Now while Hebrew orthography has no quote marks, the translators no doubt have it right in Gen 1:3 where the author quotes God as saying, “Let there be light.” It is unlikely that this appeared in any other ancient text, since the notion of creation by divine speech was unique to the religion of Israel. But it is still a quotation. God spoke, and the author recorded what he said.

A couple of other quotations in the Old Testament come to mind. Psalm 2:7-9 reads “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession ...’” These words were probably spoken to the Davidic king at his coronation, perhaps by a court prophet. The new king quotes the prophet’s words to him as part of a rebuke to the schemers who wish to take advantage of the interregnum (Ps 2:1-3). Another instance, probably also from a coronation liturgy, is Ps 110:1, “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Again the king quotes the prophet’s words to him.

These quotations begin with what is called a “citation formula” identifying the source. But this is not always the case. Sometimes readers recognise a quote where there is verbal agreement between texts. This is the case with Isa 2:2-4 and Mic 4:1-3 where there is substantial verbal agreement. While the two prophets could have both said the same thing, it is more likely that one was quoting the other, and indeed, some scholars suggest that both are quoting some earlier work. If so, we have two biblical authors quoting material from outside the Bible. While these quotes can be identified it is difficult to identify biblical quotations of material from the ancient Near East, especially given the practice of sometimes omitting a citation formula. But it is almost certain that such quotations exist, especially in Proverbs where there are reminiscences of ancient Egyptian Wisdom literature and in Proverbs and Psalms, which contain material strikingly similar to texts found at Ugarit at Ras Shamra on the Mediterranean coast of modern day Syria. These texts contain coronation liturgies strikingly similar to some of those in the Bible. There are probably quotations of material long since lost.

The situation is similar when we turn to the New Testament. Most scholars consider that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and since over ninety percent of Mark appears in Matthew, surely Matthew is quoting Mark. Further, In Matt 1:20-21, Matthew quotes the angel who appeared to Joseph and then in 1:23 Matthew quotes Isa 7:14, noting that the birth of Jesus was to fulfil the word spoken through the prophet.

Then there are the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament. A Bible that puts such quotations in bold type or italics shows how pervasive this phenomenon is. Quotations appear on almost every page. This is what scholars refer to as “inner-biblical exegesis.” The New Testament authors take words applied in the first place to some ancient person or event, ratchet them up a bit and apply them to Jesus or his church. This is a tradition that ultimately goes back to Jesus himself. For example, in Mark 12:36 he quotes Ps 110:1 addressed to the ancient king of Israel and applied it to himself. Later, Paul and the author of Hebrews took hold of this same text and used it to help their readers understand resurrection and ascension of Jesus, reading it as referring to his enduring reign over the universe. What was applied to the king, perhaps as a piece of ancient Near Eastern royal court hyperbole, was fulfilled and filled up in Christ.

Not only is the OT quoted in the NT, but occasionally other literature appears. Some have argued that Paul quotes an ancient Christian hymn in Phil 2:6-10, although since there is no citation formula this is not certain. However, in some places it is quite clear that other literature is quoted. Jude 14-15 reads, “... Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones ...’” The quote is from 1 Enoch 1:9, a work probably from the third century BC, attributed to Enoch, but almost certainly not written by him. While 1 Enoch did not make it into either the Protestant or the Catholic and Orthodox canons, it is considered canonical in the Ethiopic Church, although Mr. Potter may not be aware of that. Then in Titus 1:12 Paul refers to “their very own prophet” as he cites words which can be identified as from the Cretan poet Epimenides. He quotes Epimenides again in Acts 17:27 alongside Aratus, both identified as Greek poets with whom the Athenians would have been familiar. The use of citation formulas here make it clear that other (non-biblical) texts are being quoted.

Tony Potter got it wrong when he suggested that the Bible contains no quotations. God is quoted, angels are quoted, pagan authors are quoted and a Jewish work wrongly attributed to Enoch is quoted. There are numerous instances where later biblical authors make use of earlier texts, sometimes without identifying the source, but often doing so and using the earlier text to help their readers understand who Jesus is and what he does. And I haven’t even touched on the use of the Bible by others. Surely texts like “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10) can also be classified as quotations (found) in the Bible.

Disclaimer and Policy