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


Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Definition of recitation.

Below are the various kinds of recitation, with an example for each.

(a) Replication of exact words of another written text: Recitation may present a "photocopy," an exact duplicate of words in another written text. An example is Mark 7:10a: For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother." The quotation itself (not "For Moses said") presents the exact string of eight Greek words that stand in common between Exodus 20:1 and Deut 5:16 (Dean-Otting and Robbins 1993:111). This is an exact, verbatim word-string that people easily and regularly commited to memory in antiquity. Attributing the quotation to Moses ("For Moses said") signals the awareness of a written text that was probably read regularly to people in the synagogue. When the text includes "For Moses said," it creates a "chreia" (pronounced "kray-a"). A chreia is a brief statement or action with aptness attributed to a specific person or something analogous to a person (Mack and Robbins: 11). A chreia may have the form of a "sayings" chreia, an "action" chreia, or a "mixed" chreia that attributes both speech and action to a particular person (Hock and O'Neil: 85-89). Creating a chreia using words from a previously written text is a common characteristic of rhetorical culture. The New Testament contains many "chreiai" (the plural of "chreia," pronounced "kray-eye") attributed to Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others. As noticed in the previous chapter, narration may or may not attribute voice to specific characters in the narrative. Attributing speech to a particular person or text from the past evokes an explicit image of a person or text in the world outside the inner texture of the text. Attributing speech directly to a person creates a vividness and specificity that encourages the reader to accept the "reality" of this person in the world outside the text. For this reason, chreiai are innately intertextual--they evoke traditions, events, texts, and people in the world outside the inner texture of the text being interpreted.

(b) Replication of exact words with one or more differences: Recitation may present "almost" an exact copy, differing only one or more ways from another written text. An example is John 2:17: His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." In Psalm 69:9 the text reads, "Zeal for thy house has consumed me."

(c) Omission of words in such a manner that the word string has the force of a proverb, maxim, or authoritative judgment: Recitation may leave certain words out to make the statement brief and crisp. An example is 1 Corinthians 1:31: Therefore, as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." This verse is an abbreviation of:

"But in this let him who boasts boast, understanding and knowing that I am the Lord who does mercy and justice and righteousness on the earth; for in these things are my will," says the Lord (Jer 9:24)

When the text of 1 Corinthians omits the many words that it does, it creates a statement that functions like a forceful proverb or maxim: "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."

(d) Recitation of a saying using words different from the authoritative source: An instance of this exists in Paul's recitation of the command of the Lord "that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). This exists in other written texts in the following form:

[Jesus said,] For the laborer is worthy of his food [or: reward] (Matt 10:10 [Luke 10:7]).

This is an instance where a Pauline text recites a saying of Jesus "in different words" than the words with which other people recite it when they attribute it to Jesus. Paul claims to be reciting "a command of the Lord," But the words in the text are common words Paul, rather than Jesus, used. The verb "to proclaim" does not occur regularly in early Christian language outside of Paul's writings, and the noun "gospel" does not occur in the earliest layers of sayings attributed to Jesus (Kloppenborg 1988:220; Mack 1993). The verse in 1 Corinthians 9:14 uses "Paul's words" in this "quotation" of the Lord Jesus. Pauline discourse does not so freely use different words when it is reciting written biblical text; rather, it freely "omits" and rearranges words but usually does not substitute entirely different words.

(e) Recitation that uses some of the narrative words in the biblical text plus a saying from the text: It is natural to tell a story in a manner that uses a few of the same words the Old Testament text uses to identify the people in the story and to present basic action that leads up to a dramatic recitation of a saying attributed to a person. Acts 7:30-32 reads as follows:

Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look.

The text that tells this story in Exodus 3:2-6 is much longer than the text in Acts 7:30-32. The text in Acts uses its own words (influenced by words elsewhere in the Bible) to tell the story briefly, and it recites some exact words (underlined) that appear in Exodus 3:2-6.

Acts 7:30-32 presents "recitation both of narrative and of saying in an abbreviated form," a skill that Theon thought students should learn during the first century CE (Hock and O'Neil 1986:100-101). In other words, the recitation not only abbreviates the narrative wording, but also the wording of the saying. In Exodus 3:6 the saying of the Lord reads:

I myself am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

The recitation of the saying in Acts omits many of the words, presenting only the underlined words: "I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob." This abbreviated recitation suggests the presence of the expanded written version somewhere in the vicinity where the person wrote the version in Acts. The abbreviated account does not vary "factually" from the written version. There is no special concern to duplicate extended word strings in exact form, but neither is there any embarassment about repeating words exactly. There is freedom to use one's own words to recite the account in a manner that gives the recitation an appropriate function in its context (Robbins 1991b). This kind of recitation is frequent in Luke and Acts.

(f) Recitation of a narrative in substantially one's own words. Mark 2:25-26 is an example:

And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and the ones with him were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions."

Words that occur in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 are underlined. The remaining words are different from the biblical text. A remarkable feature of this recitation is that it does not get the story quite right (Mack and Robbins 1989:114-17; Dean-Otting and Robbins 1993:97-103). This is an abbreviated recitation in rhetorical culture that reveals no close relation to the written version. This recitation replicates only words that are easily transmitted in oral transmission apart from any "authoritative" version of the text, and it contains a significant number of variations from the written text that a "literary" culture would consider to be "errors."

(g) Recitation that summarizes a span of text that includes various episodes. The full text of Luke 17:26-27 reads:

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

This recitation presents a summary of the biblical text in Genesis 6:1-24. There is no reference to "eating and drinking" in the biblical account. This appears to be a result of the characterization of the Son of man's "eating and drinking" (Matt 11:19/Luke 7:33). The reference to "marrying and being given in marriage" summarizes Gen 6:2-4, which emphasizes the marrying between "sons of God" and "daughters of men." In addition, the biblical text features Noah and all of his household entering the ark (Gen. 7:1, 7), while the recitation focuses on Noah alone. There is no evidence of direct interaction between the wording in this saying attributed to Jesus and wording in the biblical text of the account. The wording of the saying is characteristic of oral expansion in a rhetorical culture, without concern for wording in the actual written text of the account.

From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), pp. 41-44.

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