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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?"


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 at least the third revision of the author's published original. The earlier revisions are probably not so easy to identify, so we'll focus on this one.

First note the appositive phrase: 
one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Note the separate elements:
one nation 
under God
with liberty and justice for all.
Note the theme of unity/equality found in:
one nation
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. See #4. Although the pledge was composed by 

Hard to decide? Well, I'll give you the answer. "Under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a Flag Day, 1954 act of Congress, in response to a grass-roots movement spear-headed by Lewis Bowman of the Sons of the American Revolution, and finally passed with the support of 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.

*UPDATE 2017: Justice Kagan indeed took her seat on the Supreme Court, refusing to recuse herself from a case in which she had earlier, as Solicitor General, defended the government's position; but the point relevant to this discussion is that, in her defense, she did consider under God to have been interpolated into the text of the Gettysburg Address--as it appears indeed to have been, but spontaneously, by the author, before releasing it to publication--and thus beyond the reach of would-be correctors of the future. Whether or not President Lincoln intended to say "under God" or not, the fact is that he did
And things get even more complicated, because the earlier postwar pledge of allegiance--the one already in use in public schools before socialist activist Francis Bellamy, with the help of the NEA, began pushing for the adoption of his godless version, and which continued to be revised and used until eventually merged with Bellamy's pledge when it received official sanction in 1923--did mention God:
"We give our heads and our hearts to God and our country. One country, one language, and one flag."
Various versions of both pledges continued to circulate in the three decades that intervened between the publication and official sanction of Bellamy's pledge, and each tended to influence the other. The tendency to mention God, found both in the original pledge and in subsequent conflations with that of Bellamy, could not be long suppressed. Indeed, i
n the very year following the publication of this post, it found official sanction from the very Court in which Justice Kagan had taken her seat, when the Supremes allowed to stand a ruling of the First Circuit Court of Appeals to leave the words in place, thus putting to an end a legal battle which had stretched out over a decade.

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