Influence and Intertextuality

The following is part of a paper I wrote on influence, intertextuality, and James 2’s interpretation of the akedah (the binding of Isaac). It may be relevant to my Fishbane paper.
There are at least two models that are relevant to readers in their attempts to understand James’ interpretation of the akedah: the model of influence and that of intertextuality.1 For the influence model, influence occurs when one unity or tradition is applied to another context, as when an author consciously borrows images from a specific source for her own work.2 The influence model tends to focus on the author (her background, biography, ideas, etc.) and her agency in shaping the borrowed images that she employs.3 According to Michael Baxendall, an author as an agent can use a source in a variety of ways, including quotation of the source, misunderstanding of it, parody, reaction against it, and agreement with it.4 Under the influence model, scholars seeking to grasp James’ reading of the akedah would hunt for possible sources that he used as keys to understanding the intentions of James the author.5 Weaknesses some have identified in the influence model include the difficulty of distinguishing genuine influences from images that are commonplace in the author’s culture and its tendency to exalt authors over readers.6

Unlike the influence model, the model of intertextuality focuses more on the reader, who brings to the text her own questions, experiences, cultural motifs, and knowledge of other texts, all of which affect her reading (and thus transform the text’s meaning).7 Rather than emphasizing texts that could have influenced the author, the intertextuality model allows readers to read texts in light of other texts, regardless of which one has historical priority.8 Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein treat intertextuality as the continuation of previous literary approaches that undermined the importance of the author: New Criticism, which regarded the work as an autonomous unit independent of the author, and post-structuralism, which viewed authorial intention as a mere link in a chain.9 Intertextuality still seems to address the author, however, in that it asserts that an anonymous cultural text authorizes or produces what writers do, an approach that possibly views the author as an unconscious receptor of anonymous cultural images.10 The problem some have identified in the intertextuality model is that it makes every text the potential intertext for all other texts, since it appears to impose no controls on the associations readers can make.11 The intertextual model can be useful in considering James as a reader of the akedah story, for (as we shall see) the interpretations of his culture play a role in how he reads the story and perhaps transform it into something slightly different.

1 There is some diversity in both approaches, but what follows is some attempt to generalize and clarify the differences between the two.
2 Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein, “Figures in the Corpus: Theories of Influence and Intertextuality,” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History, ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991) 3.
3 Clayton and Rothstein 5-6.
4 Clayton and Rothstein 6.
5 Clayton and Rothstein 9.
6 Clayton and Rothstein 5, 12.
7 Clayton and Rothstein 16-17, 20, 22.
8 Clayton and Rothstein 12.
9 Clayton and Rothstein 7, 9.
10 Clayton and Rothstein 3, 11, 29.
11 Clayton and Rothstein 23.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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