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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Part I, Introduction: Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation?

Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation? Well, to answer that question (and, to spare you the scrolling, I don't quite answer it in this post), we first have to answer the question, "What is an interpolation?"

From freedictionary.com:

1. To insert or introduce between other elements or parts.
2.       a. To insert (material) into a text.
b. To insert into a conversation. See Synonyms at introduce.
3. To change or falsify (a text) by introducing new or incorrect material.
4. Mathematics To estimate a value of (a function or series) between two known values.
 We deal here basically with #3: to change a text by the introduction of new material not intended by the original author.

Interpolation can happen very easily; in today's digital age, it is a common occurrence caused by careless use of the click-and-drag function of a mouse (an example of this very thing serendipitously occurred just prior to the previous paragraph).  But that's not the sort of thing we are looking at in the manuscript era. Interpolation was, at every stage, a deliberate process. But, it would also appear, it was typically done by people who had the very best intentions in mind. The reason for this is simple: it's hard to tell the difference between something added in one text, and the same thing deleted in another. The misguided soul who inserts an interpolation into a text, rather than thinking he is adding something new, instead supposes that he is restoring something that had inadvertently been omitted.

But not all interpolations are so innocent; some are knowingly deliberate. Take, for instance, the well-known Pledge of Allegiance to America's flag. Can you spot the interpolation in the following?

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I should clarify that the text under consideration is actually the second recension of the original. The first recension is probably not so easy to identify, so we'll focus on the second.

First note the appositive phrase: 
one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Note the separate elements:
one nation 
under God
indivisible
with liberty and justice for all.
Note the theme of unity/equality found in:
one nation
indivisible
with liberty and justice for all.
But totally absent from  under God.

Harry Gamble, in The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans: a Study in Textual and Literary Criticism, p. 137, gives a good summary of the features of texts that have been claimed to be composed of different parts which were later put together and claimed to be one. His list of the tell-tale features claimed by such 'partition theories' also applies to other literary interpolations. He thus argued that such 'partition theories' depend upon:
1. - abrupt changes in the subject matter;
2. - interruptions in an otherwise continuous train of thought;
3. - seeming inconsistencies or even contradictions that conflict with other material in the document;
4. - the presence of certain formulae in supposedly inappropriate or uncustomary contexts
5. - repetition of redundant elements ;
6. - perceived changes in tone or style;
7. - the assumption by the writer of different circumstances on the part of the intended audience.

Let's see how under God stacks up. 

1. Yes, this is a whole different subject matter. 
2. Yes. No theology at all anywhere else in the Pledge.
3. Maybe; hard to pin down in such a short text.
4. Maybe; Marilyn Murray O'Hare certainly thought it inappropriate, but the idea of a "nation under God" goes way back in America. We'd have to know more about the original author.
5. No.
6. Maybe; this is too subjective a criterion for such a short text.
7. No.

Hard to decide? Well, I'll give you the answer. "Under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a 1954 act of Congress, in response to a grass-roots movement spear-headed by the Knights of Columbus and approved by President Eisenhower. It's an interpolation: something added to change the text without the intent of the original author. 

But. . .

That very phrase, under God, was deleted from the text of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in a booklet published by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy--an organization in which soon-to-be Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan has played an influential role. This well illustrates the conundrum of those seeking to identify interpolations: sometimes the same exact text has been inserted into one document, but deleted from another.  It's seldom easy to tell which is which, especially as we roll back the years to a scenario that played out entirely in ancient times.

In Part II, we'll address the question of Interpolations in the Bible. 

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