Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Oral-scribal intertexture

Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Definition of oral-scribal intertexture.

To take the discussion of intertextual analysis a step further, let us turn to Richard Hays' recent work. He excludes the resources characteristic of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule from his analysis. He is interested in reading the letters of Paul 'as literary texts shaped by complex intertextual relations with Scripture' (Hays 1989: xi). For his particular approach, he uses John Hollander's investigations of 'echo' in literature as a major resource (Hollander 1981). Hays considers the following criteria to underlie his judgments about the presence of echo in a text:

  1. Availability. Was the proposed source of the echo available to the author and or original readers?...
  2. Volume. The volume of an echo is determined primarily by the degree of explicit repetition of words or syntactical patterns ...
  3. Recurrence. How often does Paul elsewhere cite or allude to the same scriptural passage?...
  4. Thematic Coherence. How well does the alleged echo fit into the line of argument that Paul is developing?...
  5. Historical Plausibility. Could Paul have intended the alleged meaning effect? ...
  6. History of Interpretation. Have other readers both critical and pre-critical, heard the same echoes?...
  7. Satisfaction. With or without clear confirmation from the other criteria listed here, does the proposed reading make sense?...

    (Hays 1989: 29-31)

Functioning within these criteria, Hays in fact analyzes a whole range of uses of scripture in Pauline discourse almost without discrimination. Intertextual analysis needs a more systematic approach if interpreters are going to use it in place of conventional historical-critical practices. Socio-rhetorical criticism offers a refinement of analytical practices. First, it distinguishes between oral-scribal and cultural intertexture. Hays' work collapses the two into one. I will argue below that both reference and echo represent cultural rather than oral-scribal intertexture. Second, socio-rhetorical criticism expands intertextual analysis beyond oral-scribal and cultural intertexture to social and historical intertexture. For analysis of oral-scribal intertexture, which is the particular topic of this section, socio-rhetorical criticism explores the following spectrum in a text:

  1. recitation;
  2. recontextualization;
  3. reconfiguration.

This terminology refers to the rhetorical use of other texts in a text. Third, socio-rhetorical criticism expands echo beyond the confines of scripture to literature within the Hellenistic-Roman world. We will see this expansion in the work of other interpreters as we explore intertextual analysis further in this chapter. At present, however, the task is to introduce rhetorical procedures for analyzing oral-scribal intertexture in a text.


From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 101-102.

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