Reviews of

Composite Citations in Antiquity

In Bloomsbury, Composite Citations, Early Christianity, Graeco-Roman Backgrounds, Jewish Backgrounds, Quotations, R. Jarrett Van Tine, Sean A. ADAMS, Seth M. EHORN on May 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm


2018.05.07 | Adams, Sean A. and Seth M. Ehorn, eds. Composite Citations in Antiquity: Jewish Graeco-Roman, and Early Christian Uses. Vol 1. London; New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Reviewed by R. Jarrett Van Tine, University of St. Andrews

This work is the first of a two-volume set addressing the curious literary technique of composite citation (CC). Although CCs appear fairly regularly in the New Testament, a thorough understanding of the method has lagged since “there has been very little work focused on this citation technique within the broader Jewish, Graeco-Roman, and early Christian milieu” (p. 1).

The purpose of this first volume, then, is to understand better the use of CC in its ancient context (c. 350 BCE–c. 150 CE) in order to shed further light in the second volume (April 2018) on its use in the New Testament. Editors Sean A. Adams and Seth M. Ehorn provide the following as a working definition of CC: “a text may be considered a composite citation when literary borrowing occurs in a manner that includes two or more passages (from the same or different authors) fused together and conveyed as though they are only one” (p. 4).

Against this backdrop, Chapters 2–5 seek to establish the nature and function of CCs in Graeco-Roman literature. Sean Adams leads off by surveying how Greek authors amalgamated Homer’s texts into singular citations. Examining a variety of examples—derived from Plato, Xenophon, Ps.-Plutarch, Porphyry, Lucian, Heraclitus, and Longinus—Adams concludes that the creation of CCs was a recognized literary practice used for a variety of purposes. In the examples provided the use of CCs enabled the author to efficiently summarize a section, to create a custom argument or example, or to demonstrate the author’s literary prowess. Adams then turns toward the question of how this admittedly odd (to the modern reader) technique became so widespread. He concludes on the basis of data from school papyri that students would have been exposed to such textual pairing during their educational training (pp. 29–30). In the next chapter on the use of CCs in Plutarch, Seth Ehorn arrives at similar conclusions regarding the nature and function of CCs: they are intentional, often based upon verbal and/or thematic similarity, and could serve multiple purposes.[1]Notably, observes Ehorn, Plutarch sometimes customized the wording of his CCs in order to fit his broader rhetorical aims (p. 56). Finally, Margaret H. Williams looks more broadly at literary citation within elite Roman society as expressed in the epistolary writings of Cicero, Seneca, and Pliny. This chapter does not contribute as much vis-à-vis CCs (as defined above) except to say that “very few instances of this type of citation are attested in their literature” (p. 59).[2]

As we transition to Jewish literature, it should be noted that, explicit CCs aside, Williams’ essay raises (implicitly) a critical question concerning the distinction between micro citations/quotations (1-2 words) and allusions that will be dealt with more directly in the following chapters.  She notes that informal citations in these authors can be extremely brief: “Large numbers of citations consist of no more than half a line of verse and in some cases the writer supplies no more than one or two trigger words, leaving to the reader the task of completing the (generally unattributed) quotation” (p. 59). Williams’ comments have relevance for what Adams and Ehorn call “composite allusions” (p. 4), a subject that, although admittedly relevant in relation to explicit CCs, the editors chose (rightly) not to broach due to space and focus considerations (p. 2). As we turn towards the next four essays on ancient Jewish literature it will become apparent just how intertwined—and potentially disruptive—the question of “composite allusion”[3]is for defining the phenomenon of CC.

James R. Royse leads off this next group by highlighting the difficulty in distinguishing between citations, allusions, paraphrases, etc. in the writings of Philo. One key point in this regard is the absence of modern linguistic indicators available at the time to distinguish direct quotation from other forms of allusions/citation (pp. 75–81). Jonathan D. H. Norton goes on to focus on CCs in the Admonition of CDA. As with Williams (implicitly) and Royse (explicitly), Norton takes issue with the working definition of composite citations (pp. 92–94). Rather than treating CC as a subset of explicit citation, Norton argues that the former is better placed within “the larger exegetical (and halakhic) enterprise that constitutes the composition of the Admonition” (p.110). Norton’s point is that the Admonition as a whole is a tight conglomeration of reused scripture; it is a thoroughly composite work, and thus its use of composite citations must be treated as a subset of this broader phenomenon. When approached in this manner, Norton suggests, the traditional distinction between citationallusionsechobreaks down (p. 115). Adams and Ehorn then return to explore examples of CC from the Septuagint Apocrypha.[4]Finally, Garrick V. Allen closes this group by studying CC in Jewish Pseudepigraphic works.[5]In each case, Allen summarizes, the authors linked legal traditions across differing contexts on the basis of their “shared legal referent and linguistic overlap”—a technique characteristic of “legally minded scribal experts” (151). Allen’s discussion of the mechanics of CC in these writings (pp. 151–52) reiterates Norton’s point: the technique may be better categorized within the realm of allusion rather than explicit citation. In this veinAllen concludes by noting that, although the use of explicit CCs in the literature addressed is rare, “the un-signaled combination of scriptural elements is ubiquitous” (p. 156) throughout nearly every piece of Second Temple literature.

I noted a potentially significant difference between the first two groups of essays. The authors writing on CCs in Jewish literature (with the exception of Ehorn and Adams) were compelled to address virtual/unmarked/implicit composite citations (and allusions) in detail, whereas the contributors on Graeco-Roman use were not. This raises the question of how the nature and function of CC might differ between the two—a gap which Philip Bobichon’s next essay on CC in the writings of Justin Martyr immediately begins to fill.

Transitioning to the realm of the early church, Bobichon observes that while CCs are present in Justin’s Apologyand his Dialogue(e.g. 1 Apol. 32.12; Dial. 27.3), there are some fundamental differences in the compositional techniques of each work vis-à-vis citation. The former, written for a pagan public, follows a more traditional mode of reference common to Greek(Christian) authors; that is, “its formulation is always very didactical and explicit” (p. 177).  In addition to its Greco-Roman qualities, however, the Dialogueexhibits a mode of argumentation and citation characteristic of rabbinic exegesis. Bobichon writes:

Initially a passage is quoted in extensor(almost systematically in the first third of the treatise). Subsequently, it reoccurs several times, as an implicit or explicit citation and, in a manner similar to that of rabbinic exegesis, the lexical reminders stand for the whole verse…In its different reoccurrences in the Dialogue, it is once more associated with other verses drawn from scriptural passages and previously reproduced in extenso. (p. 180)

He makes the important point that, for Justin, such passages “are‘composite citations,’ since they refer to several scriptural passages and to their various commentaries” (p. 177; emphasis added). Furthermore, he notes that Justin’s Jewish opponent, Trypho, recognized this interweaving of implicit citations/allusions and their import, and even took them into account in his responses (pp.162–163). Thus, Bobichon’s work here provides a unique contribution in regard to the questions of intended rhetorical effect and reception of CCs, explicit and implicit, particularly for Jewish audiences shortly after the close of the Second Temple period.

Finally, Martin C. Albl rounds off the study of CC in antiquity by demonstrating the potential importance of testimonia for identifying the nature and use of CCs in the early church. Specifically, he argues that, at times, early Christian authors employed a common core of scriptural testimonia quotations, taken from larger collection(s), in crafting their arguments. One key implication from his study is that a CC may not have been forged by the author himself but drawn from an earlier collection.

Christopher D. Stanley concludes the work by synthesizing the main insights from each chapter concerning the nature and function of (explicit/marked) composite citations. Although how authors learned the technique is still unclear, he reiterates, composite citation was clearly an established literary technique in antiquity. CCs were created by conflating or combining verses from a variety of sources (e.g., source book, testimonia collction, memory), usually on the basis of verbal and/or ideological linkages between them, for a variety of purposes (e.g., summarizing/condensing, rhetorical flourish, supporting an argument). Finally, the levels of composite artistry amongst CCs varies, as does the amount of knowledge of the source text presupposed by the author.

Composite Citations in Antiquity is well-researched, well-argued, and provides a firm foundation from which to engage CCs in the NT. The work also raises questions for further study concerning the nature and function of composite allusions/implicit citations in antiquity, especially amongst Jewish authors.

Jarrett Van Tine
University of St. Andrews
RJV3 [at]

[1] Such as condensing/summarizing, proving, exhorting, or convincing.

[2] She still highlights a few instances, such as Seneca’s Ep. 94.28 and 82.16.

[3] Terms used to express various aspects within this concept include “un-marked/signaled,” “implicit,” and “virtual” composite citations. These are to be distinguished from the explicit use of CC as defined in the introduction.

[4] These authors examine examples from 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, 2 Maccabees, and Baruch. Their findings align, for the most part, with their studies of CCs in Graeco-Roman literature.

[5] Allen provides several examples of CCs from the The Letter of Aristeas, Jubilees, and the Temple Scroll.


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