Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 3

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 3 February 27, 2015


6) At one level you are arguing that if we pay attention to the broader OT contexts of the OT texts that are cited, paraphrased, alluded to or echoed, we will better understand what the Gospel writers are saying about Jesus and his ministry. That would seem to presuppose a very sophisticated audience that has ‘the requisite encyclopedia of reception’ (to use your phrase) for any or all of the canonical Gospels, or at least an audience with a few persons very knowledgeable of the OT who could explain it to others. How would you account for this if, for instance Mark is mainly writing to Gentiles (who need periodic explanations of Jewish customs), or say Luke is mainly writing to a particular Gentile, or John, who often has to explain Jewish customs and seems to be writing to Gentiles? Are they writing well over the heads of their majority audiences, or are their audiences considerably more sophisticated than most scholars think they are?

***Yes, I get this question a lot. I suspect the answer is threefold: (1) Yes, the Evangelists may be writing over the heads of (at least some of) their audience; (2) Yes, the dissemination of the Gospels may have presupposed the presence of preachers and teachers in the community who were able to help congregations understand more; (3) Yes, the audiences (at least some in the audience) may have been more sophisticated than we suppose. ….It ought to be noted that authors do not always write for the lowest common denominator. Authors who know Scripture in their bones will simply allude to Scripture without stopping to explain. And sometimes authors simply delight in intertextual echo, whether the audience will get it or not. Example: Tom Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God is full of echoes of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, etc. I have tested some of these passages on audiences and confirmed that for the most part these readers have no clue about these echoes, but they still love the book and can understand what Tom is arguing with or without the echoes.

7) One of the noticeable things about your reading of Mark and Matthew is that you seem to think that the reference to ‘the reader’ (ho anignoskon) refers to the audience, when it is far more likely it refers the singular lector who will read the document to a wider audience, many of whom are not literate. We see this clearly in the parallel usage in Rev. 1.3 where ‘the reader’ is clearly distinguished from ‘those who hear’ the reading. If this is correct, then we might hypothesize that what Mark and Matthew are assuming is that whatever points or allusions that might seem vague would be explained to the listening audience by the more learned, and Scripture savvy, lectors. Were you to accept such a view, how would this change your view of the ‘encyclopedia of reception’ in or of the audience?

***Interesting suggestion. This would correspond to point 2 in my answer to the previous question.

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