Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Rare Word Allusion

An allusion is only a mention of a word or phrase without indicating the source. As noted, Biblical writers did not have quotation marks available to them. What did Biblical writers do to solve this dilemma? “It is written” is a formula used by the Biblical authors to introduce a quotation. It is rare that the phrase is followed by the location of the quotation. Luke on one occasion in Luke 3:4 adds “in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet” and once in Acts 1:20 adds “in the book of Psalms.”

The question is thus posed, is there such a category as the rare word allusion? I mentioned that Luke used “kept-back” in Acts 5:1-11 that many scholars have asserted recalls the story of Achan in the Book of Joshua 7:1. Dennis Hou mentioned another example on . He stated: “Habakkuk ii, 16 uses a rare word found elsewhere only in Leviticus xix, 23, indicating the need for something beyond circumcision--a metonymy for the constitution of Israel--to deal with the problem of sin.”

I should note that in this instance the Revised Standard Version shows more modesty than the King James Version. The rare Hebrew word is translated by KJV as “let thy foreskin be uncovered” in Habakkuk and “count as uncircumcised” in Leviticus.

Is Luke making the same allusion in Acts 7:51 translated, from a not so rare Greek word? Luke states: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” My notes on Jubilees include this possibility as a source: “I shall circumcise the foreskin of their heart . . . .”

For an allusion, rare or common word or phrase, to be successful, the imagery evoked thereby needs to be powerful and known both by the author and the reader. Luke, by combining the concept of “stiff-necked people” and uncircumcised” into his phrase "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears” may have also alluded to Deuteronomy 10:16 and has provided powerful imagery that would not catch the attention of a Gentile but would grab the attention of Theophilus, the High Priest.

I will be looking for more rare word allusions as I attempt to understand allusions, echoes and formula quotations that are not exact quotations.

Comments as always are welcome.

Copyrighted 2005

Gospel of Luke


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