Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

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Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Echo in Mark 4:1-34

Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Definition of echo.

An important argument for the existence of echo in a chapter of New Testament text has been Burton L. Mack's analysis of paideia (instruction on how to live a successful life according to the values of Greek society) in the planting of the seeds in Mark 4:1-34. He presents the following Greek and Latin texts to support his case:

The views of our teachers are as it were the seeds. Learning from childhood is analogous to the seeds falling betimes upon the prepared ground (Hippocrates, III).

As is the seed that is ploughed into the ground, so must one expect the harvest to be, and similarly when good education is ploughed into young persons, its effect lives and burgeons throughout their lives, and neither rain nor drought can destroy it (Antiphon, fr. 60).

Words should be scattered like seed; no matter how small the seed may be, if it once has found favorable ground, it unfolds its strength and from an insignificant thing spreads to its greatest growth (Seneca, Epistles 38.2).

If you wish to argue that the mind requires cultivation, you would use a comparison drawn from the soil, which if neglected produces thorns and thickets, but if cultivated will bear fruit (Quintilian, V.xi.24) (Mack and Robbins: 155-56; Mack, 1988: 159-60).

Again, interpreters regularly may disagree over the presence or absence of cultural echo in a text. No single text undeniably lies in the background to negotiate the dispute. The echo of paideia in Mark 4 represents the kind of "cultural" intertexture Abraham J. Malherbe has exhibited in 1 Corinthians 8-9 with the relation of Pauline discourse to both Hellenistic-Jewish and Greco-Roman moral philosophical discourse (Malherbe 1995; cf. 1987, 1989).


From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), p. 60.

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