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t-m]

Vigiliae
Cnristianae

BRILL

Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2013) 117-136

lirillxom/vc

Nailing Down and Tying Up: Lessons in Intertextual


Impossibility from the Martyrdom of Poly carp
Candida R. Moss
Department of Theology
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN46556. USA
candida.moss@nd.edu

Abstract
This paper addresses scholarly approaches to the function of allusions and intertextuality in the Martyrdom ofPolycarp. It argues that scholarship on this question has operated with and been hampered by unspoken assumptions about the historicity and
authenticity of the account, the development of canon, the use of scriptural sources,
and the function of allusions. Attention to the function of intertextuality in the account
reveals both that it is difficult to identify concretely the sources of the account and that,
as a result, it is impossible to speak authoritatively about the author's intent with
respect to the use of these sources.
Keywords
reception history, intertextuality. Gospels, Martyrdom of Polycarp, scripture in the
early church

Introduction
A constant theme in the study of the literature of the Jesus movement and
early church is the relationship of embryonic Christianity to the rest of the
ancient world, including the relationship of Christian ideas to non-Christian
ideas and Christian texts to other texts. In the latter case a cottage industry
has sprung up around the identification of intertextsthose sources, literary, conceptual, and cultural, embedded in, lying behind, or suffusing an
early Christian text' There is, however, strikingly little reflection on, let
" The term "intertextuality," originally coined by Julia Kristeva, has been adapted and borrowed by many to the point that it does, in many cases, represent a more critically affluent
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alone consensus about, the scholarly models used to identify intertexts or


even how intertextuality works.^ While some ancient writers helpfully
trumpet their self-conscious use of other authors with citation formulae,
this is but one form of intertextual gesture. Even as New Testament scholars have labored to reify citation and allusion as separate species of intertextuality, they have run aground when it comes to articulating the function
of these respective intertextual forms.^ Unfixed and unspoken assumptions
about what qualifies as an intertext, how they are identified, and how the
relationship between text and intertext works underwrite scholarly discussions ofthe less explicit forms of intertextual gesture. The effect is that even
as studies of intertextuality and, more recently, the reception of Biblical
literature continue to proliferate, often the pragmatic payoff of these
synonym for allusion. The notion of a text employed here is adapted from that of Julia
Kristeva, Desire in Mnguage:A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (New York: Colum-

bia University Press, 1980), hut this paper is neither limited to, nor dependent upon, Kristeva
for its particular perspective. The wealth of literary-critical studies of intertextuality since
Kristeva demonstrates the enduring importance ofthe term. While Biblical scholars have
often presupposed an ontological difference between cultural influence {e.g., the influence
of Platonic metaphysics on early Christian cosmology) and literary influence (e.g., the influence of Plato's Timaeus on the Apocryphon of John), this binary isas we shall seeundercut by the common scholarly argument that literary influences are "in the air" Where the
evidence for literary dependence falls short, scholars frequently resort to the notion of
atmospheric influence as a defensive rhetorical measure.
2' For an overview of various theoretical approaches to the function of intertextuality with
respect to allusion, see Joseph Pucci, The FuH-Knowing Reader: Allusion and the Power ojthe
Reader in the Western Literary Tradition (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998),
3-50; William Irwin, "What is an kWusion?" Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59 (2001):
287-97. Efforts to isolate the functionality of intertextuality in New Testament literature,
especially in the Pauline epistles, include Richard B. Hays's classic Echoes of Scripture in the
Letters of Paul (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), and more recent studies of
Steve Moyise, Paul and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use ofthe Old Testament
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2010) and Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Stanley, As it is
Written: Studying Paul's Use of Scripture (Atlanta, Ca.: Society of Biblical Literature Press,
2008).

^* In recent studies of intertextuality in the New Testament, quotation and citation have
been sharply demarcated from allusion. See, for example, J. Ross Wagner's summary of
intertextuality in "Paul and Scripture," in The Blackwell Companion to Paul, ed. Stephen
Westerholm (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 154-71 [166]. The distinction between allusion
and citation depends, as Christopher Stanley notes, on whether the issue is treated as a
question ofthe author's intent or the reader's cultural vocabulary (Christopher D. Stanley,
Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 34).

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projects goes undiscussed. As ever-expanding footnotes of potential allusions breed in the alcoves ofthe academy, the intellectual benefit of such
allusions for the study of ancient literature is rarely discussed."*
This article is an attempt to think more precisely about the limits and
possibilities for this kind of analysis in the study of early Christian literature. The difficulties surrounding scholarly studies of intertextuality are
even more acute in non-canonical literature, like early Christian martyrdom literature, in which the identification of canonical intertexts is often
implicitly deemed more important than their use in noncanonical texts.^
Given a stated interest in utility and practice, this article focuses on a central example. It takes as its case study the Martyrdom ofPofycarp, a narrative about the death ofthe second-century bishop of Smyrna that is widely
acknowledged to be saturated with scriptural and cultural intertexts. It will
argue that the study of intertextuality in early Christian texts has been
encumbered both by scholarly interests in canonicity and authenticity and
by untheorized assumptions about how intertexts function.^ It will propose
*' where methodology is engaged it often assumes a statistical or quasi-scientific form. In
their influential two-volume study ofthe New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, Andrew
Gregory and Christopher Tuckett propose evaluating the presence of allusions or citations
ofthe NT and Apostolic Fathers using a sliding scale of certainty (see Andrew Gregory and
Ghristopher Tuckett, eds.. The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007] and Trajectories Through the New Testament and the
Apostolic Fathers [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005]). Similarly, Richard Bauckham
attempts statistically to analyze instances of intertextuality in the Acts of Peter in
"2 Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter" in The Fate ofthe Dead: Studies on theJewish and Christian Apocalypses, ed. Richard Bauckham, Supplements to Novum Testamentum (Leiden:
Brill, 1998), 290-303. The rhetorical power of statistical analysis and quantifiable "grades"
seems to be an effort to formalize and regulate the ambiguities and limitless possibilities of
intertexuality. Gregory and Tuckett openly acknowledge the problem of identifying citations with any certainty in Reception ofthe New Testament, 2.
=' This is by no means always the case. See Michael Holmes's article on "The Martyrdom of
Pofycarp and the New Testament Passion Narratives," in Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2005), in which he conceptualizes the relationship between the
gospel tradition and the Martyrdom ofPofycarp as "interpretation," 407-32 [422-26]. See also
Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, Volume 1 (LCL; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 2003), 1-16.
^' I do not mean to suggest that the interest in canonicity is irrelevant, merely that it
has shaped the ways in which intertextuality in the Martyrdom ofPofycarp has been discussed in the past. To be sure, argumentssuch as this onethat raise the issue of the
unknowability of authorial intent and source texts cause problems for projects dependent
upon those ideas. These problems lie beyond the scope ofthis paper and may, in any case.

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C.R. Moss / Vigiliae Christianae 6j (2013) 117-136

that a more carefully conceptualized notion of intertextuality, which


acknowledges the limits of intertextual analysis, is a necessary precursor to
any study of intertextuality.

Previous Scholarship
The death of Polycarp, as related by Pseudo-Pionius and Eusebius, is a locus
classicus for the study of intertextuality in the early church.'' The protagonist is self-consciously represented as an imitator Christi. Polycarp's conduct and death are each characterized as taking place "according to Gospel"
and the parallels between the death ofJesus and the death of Polycarp are
apparent to even the most cursory of readers. Those that are most often
be insurmountable. For a recent study of this problem with respect to text criticism see
Bart D. Ehrman, "Intentional Fallacies: Scribal Motivations and the Rhetoric of Critical Discourse" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the SBL, Atlanta, Ga., November 2003).
" Studies of intertextuality and textual reception in the Martyrdom ofPotycarp include
Boudewijn Dehandschutter, "The New Testament and the Martyrdom of Pofycarp" in
Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, ed. Andrew F. Gregory
and Christopher M. Tuckett {Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 395-406. For a discussion of the relationship between Polycarp and the passion narratives, see G.E. Steitz,
"Der Charakter der kleinasiatischen Kirche und Festsitte und die Mitte des zweiten Jahrhunderts,"Jahrbuchir deutsche Theologie 6 (1861): 102-41; M.-L. Guillaumin, "En marge du
'Martyre de Polycarpe': Le discernment des allusions scripturaires," in Forma Futuri: Studi in
onore del Cardinale Michle Pellegrino {Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1975), 462-69; B. Dehandschutter, Martyrium Folycarpi: Een literar-kritische Studie, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 52 {Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1979), 241-54; Victor Saxer,
Bible et Hagiographie: texts et themes bibliques dans les Actes des Martyrs authentiques des
premiers sicles (Bern: Lang, 1986), 27-33; Gerd Buschmann, Das Martyrium des Polykarp,
Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vtern 6 {Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998);
Judith M. Lieu, image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century {,\nh\xx^: T & T Clark, 1996), 59-63; and Michael W. Holmes, "New Testament Passion
Narratives," 407-32. That the Martyrdom of Polycarp is the subject of two essays in Gregory
and Tuckett's Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers witnesses to
scholarly interest in intertextuality in this account. See Boudewijn Dehandschutter, "The
New Testament and the Martyrdom of Polycarp," 395-406, and Michael W. Holmes, "The
Martyrdom of Polycarp and the New Testament Passion Narratives," 407-32.
^* For lists of parallels see the critical editions of Bastiaensen, Atti e Passioni dei Martiri 601605 and Bihimeyer, Dei4poso/sc/ien Vter, 162. Fora recent study of imitation see Majella
Franzmann, "Imitatio Christi: Copying the Death of the Founder and Gaining Paradise," in
A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Sean Freyne, ed. Zuleika Rodgers, Supplements to
the Journal for the Study of Judaism 132 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 367-83.

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cited include: the delay in being handed over to the authorities (1.2); the
distance from the city at the point of arrest (5.1); the protagonist's prophesy
of his own death (5.2; 12.3); the betrayal of the protagonist by "someone
close" to him (6.2); the participation of a character named Herod in the
events that lead to the death of the protagonist (6.2); the invocation of robbery as a motivating factor in the arrest and trial (7.1); the apprehending of
the protagonist at night (7.1-2); the obedience to the will of God (7.1); the
entrance into the city on an ass (8.1); the Roman authorities' equivocation
over the sentence of death (9.3-11.2); the intervention of the bloodthirsty,
Jewish crowd (12.2-13.1); the stabbing and flow of blood (16.1); and the timing of the protagonist's death around Passover (21.1).
In academic treatments of the Martyrdom ofPofycarp intertextuality has
been employed in two related scholarly agendas: canonicity and authenticity. With respect to this first interestthe identification and attestation of
scriptural sourcesa great deal of attention has lighted on the author's
library and his familiarity with the texts that eventually came to form part
of the canon. In the first half of the twentieth century, fierce debate surrounded the author's use of the Gospels of Matthew and John. Arguments
have been advanced in favor o the Martyrdom ofPofycarp's dependence on
one Gospel or the other, with few allowances being made for the possibility
of multiple Gospel intertexts. Efforts to isolate a "pure" intertextthat is, a
single textual tradition on which the author is literarily dependentbetray
a commitment to canonical literature. Implicit in this particular debate are
concerns about the dating of canonical texts and the development of the
New Testament canon. \i Pofycarp can be shown to be reliant exclusively
upon one Gospel passion narrative or another then we canit is thought
establish both the status ofthat individual Gospel in the early church and a
terminus ante quem for its composition. At stake in this specific kind of
study of intertextuality, therefore, is an interest in the role that non-canonical texts such as the Martyrdom of Pofycarp can play in establishing the
dating and status of canonical texts.
The second scholarly trend has been the broader tendency to see intertextuality and historicity as contradictory. The self-conscious representation of Polycarp as an imitator Christi, accompanied by the numerous
allusions to scriptural narratives of Jesus's death, casts some doubt on the
text's status as an eyewitness report. That events and characters in Pofycarp
mirror those of the passion narratives has meant that, since the nineteenth
century, scholars have challenged the authenticity of the events and, thus.

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the status of the account as an eyewitness report and even the date of the
text itself. In responding to this challenge Joseph Barber Lightfoot argued
that the literary ties between Pofycarp and the passion narrative are forced.
His primary reason for viewing the parallelism between Jesus and Polycarp
as historical (rather than as an example of intertextuality) was his conviction that the parallels are unpersuasive. He wrote, "a fabricator would have
secured a better parallel. We may say generally that the violence ofthe parallelism is a guarantee of the accuracy ofthefacts."^ Lightfoot's argument
has cast long shadows over later generations of scholars who have subscribed to the view that the parallels do not detract from the authenticity of
the account'**
Yet Lightfoot makes a number of assumptions about the function of parallelism that are no longer persuasive. In the first place, we may infer from
Lightfoot that he assumes that if the parallels were not historically accurate
then the details ofthe narrative would by necessity be the invention of the
author. He writes that the artificiality ofthe parallels "afford[s] sufficient
evidence that the narrator was dealing with historical facts and not with
arbitraryfictionswhich he might mould as he pleased. A writer, for instance,
who had carte blanche to invent and manipulate incidents at discretion,
would never have placed himself in such constraints."" Lightfoot himself
seems here to gloss the notion of "moldingfictions"with the concept of
invention.'^ In other words, either the author invented these parallels himself or the events actually happened. There is no room either for a moderate display of creative license, in which events are interpreted by the author,
or for the idea that there were accumulating interpretative traditions of
^* Joseph Barber Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Company,
1889), 1.614. emphasis original
'' Judith Lieu similarly remarks "if the similarities between Jesus and Polycarp were the
intention of the author we would have expected him to make the point far more clearly"
(Lieu, Image and Reality, 61). Similar statements are made by Leslie W. Barnard, "In Defense
of Pseudo-Pionius' Account of Saint Polycarp's Martyrdom," in Kyriakon FestschriJohannes
Quasten, ed. Patrick Granfield and Josef Jungmann {Mnster: Aschendorff, 1970), 192-204
[ig5] and Kirsopp Lake, who remarks ofthe parallels, T h e coincidences are remarkable, but
none are in themselves at all improbable" {The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 2 [Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1992], 319).
'" Lightfoot, 1.613.
'2' While the concept of molding could imply simply reshaping traditions, this does not
appear to be Lightfoot's meaning. Not only does he go on to provide an author with a hypothetical carte blanche, but he uses the term fiction (rather than, say, tradition), it is difficult
to imagine that Lightfoot thinks that the author could have knowingly used fiction.

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which the author made use.'^ Implicit in this argument is a model of composition in which an author works directly with a literary text. He or she is
not influenced by contemporary interpretations of traditions, by liturgical
re-readings of scripture, or by other thinkers or authors. The author works
in a cultural and intellectual vacuum with a text composed, potentially, a
hundred years earlier, yet remains unaffected by the opinions or traditions
of others.
Second, Lightfoot assumes that an author wishing to portray one character as another through the use of narrative allusion will replicate the original tradition without augmentation or elaboration. Allusion, in this
understanding of intertextuality, serves no aesthetic or interpretive function; it merely duplicates the thing to which it refers. One example given by
Lightfoot is the use of the name Herod. Lightfoot writes that "there is only
a faint resemblance between the position of the Smyrnaean captain of
police, who takes Polycarp into custody, and the Galilean king...Here
again a fabricator would have secured a better parallel."''* This argument
makes sense only if the goal of the fabricator is to secure the best parallel,
rather that to use that parallel to make any additional point. Given the antiJewish sentiment of the text as a whole it is possible that the 'inferior parallel' serves an interpretive purpose. By identifying the captain with Herod
the author tarnishes those arresting Polycarp by aligning them with the
Jews while simultaneously equating the Biblical Herod with the (comparatively) lowly Roman police force.'^ Implicit in Lightfoot's assessment of
intertextuality in Polycarp is the assumption that deviation from the model
of the intertext is a sign of historicity. If a parallel is anything less than precise, implies Lightfoot, then it is not a literary flourish, it is a historical fact.
In this particular scholarly debate the winner is either history or literature,
either science or the arts, either truth or fiction. A perfect parallel is for
Lightfoot a duplication of the original narrative. We must infer from this
that an ideal parallel would be nothing less than a direct quotation; and yet
to set quotation above allusion shows a willful disregard for the function

'' In the study oiPolycarp, the first notable exception to this is Boudewijn Dehandschutter's dissertation Martyrium Polycarp: Een literair-kritische Studie, BETL 52 (Leuven: Peeters,
1979)- Yet even for Dehandschutter quotation and canonicity linger in the background of his
work.
"" Lightfoot, 1.613-614.
'^' See Candida R. Moss, "On the Dating of Polycarp: Rethinking the Place of the Mariyrdom
ofPolycarp in the History of Christianity," Early Christianity 1:4 (2010): 1-37 [16].

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C-R- l^oss / Vigiliae Christianae 6j (2013) n/-i36

and aesthetics of allusion. If allusion is always treated as a pale, inadequate


version of quotation then it is never engaged on its own terms.*^
Not all scholars subscribe to the history/literature binary that underwrites Lightfoot's magnum opus. Yet even in more recent scholarship quotation lingers as an intertextual ideal. The magisterial work of Boudewijn
Dehandschutter describes allusions to the passion narratives as "biblical
reminiscences" and concludes, on this basis, that Pofycarp must have been
composed early.'^ It is precisely the lack of precise quotations or formulaic
citations that leads Dehandschutter to this conclusion. For, he argues, the
absence of these explicit forms of intertextual reference implies that at the
time the account was composed the passion narratives were not authoritative. Dehandschutter's logic is hereflawed.While the explicit designation
of a text as scripture indicates its elevated (perhaps canonical) status, the
opposite is not the case. The absence of quotation formulae does not indicate that a text was not scripture but merely that that form of reference is
not being employed in the instance in question. Implicit in Dehandschutter's argument is the assumption that if a text were canonical it would be
cited as a function of its canonicity. There is a clear hierarchy of intertextual forms at work here in which quotation is always privileged.
The fascination with citation or replication is equally clear in the work of
other scholars. Holmes's essay on ties between the passion narratives and
Pofycarp restricts itself to those instances in the text in which "evidence of
'*'' I do not mean to imply here a structuralist definition of allusion, in which allusion is
both categorically different from citation and functionally uniform. Lightfoot is, of course,
not to be faulted for being unaware of Kristeva or deconstructionist notions of "intertextuality" or failing to utilize the concept and language of allusion. But, like those who have followed him and precisely because he has been so influential, he is open to critique for
working failing to recognize that Biblical paradigms are adapted and altered by later authors.
This much was recognized with respect to Biblical "types" as early as the apostolic fathers
themselves.
''' Dehandschutter first argued this in his 1977 dissertation published as Martyrium Potycarpi: Een Uterair-kritische Studie (BETL 52; Leuven: 1979). The early date ofthe text was tied
to the fact that scriptural texts were not yet authoritative. He reaffirms this relationship
between intertextual form and authority in a 2005 essay in which he describes the intertextual phenomenon as follows: "earlier Christian documents being 'received' in the form not
of quotations but of allusions, implying the common basis of a written text but without
'scriptural authority.'" {Boudewijn Dehandschutter, "The New Testament and the Martyrdom of Polycarp," in Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers [eds.
Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], 395406 [401]).

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125

the knowledge or use of specific gospel texts or documents" has been


argued.'^ While Holmes himself demonstrates that in some cases gospel
parallels "cannot be linked with a specific gospel," the terms of the discussion are set in terms of replication and singular literary dependence on a
particular canonical text.'^ The implied goal, not only in the work of Holmes but also in that of reception historians in general, is almost always to
demonstrate dependence upon a specific text. When this, upon occasion,
proves impossible, scholars often link this impossibility to the limitations
of the evidence. The Triple Tradition, for instance, is frequently and woefully cited as the complicating factor in the identification of intertexts.^"
Arguably the most fascinating instance of scholarly debate about the
source of a specific intertextual gesture in Pofycarp is the presumed reference in the sentence "We do not praise those who hand themselves
over since the gospel does not so teach" {Pofycarp 4). The reference to
"gospel" (or, perhaps, "Gospel") has been variously used to debate the
author's view of the canonical or scriptural status of the gospels. This
debate assumes, of course, that this teaching s/iou/ci be found in the canonical gospels themselves and has led to a number of unsuccessful attempts
to identify the source as Matt 10:23.^' Holmes notes that this is an "odd line
of interpretation," given that Matt 10:23 provides instructions to flee from
'*' Holmes, "Martyrdom of Polycarp and the New Testament," 408. Holmes explicitly relies
upon the work of Andrew Gregory, who acknowledges the methodological difficulties posed
hy the use of allusion. See Andrew F. Gregory, The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period
before Irenaeus: Looking for Luke in the Second Century (WUNT 2/169; Tuhingen: Mohr
Sieheck, 2003), 5-20.
i= Ihid.
^' See, for example, the discussion in Andrew F. Gregory, Reception of Luke, 7-15. Interestingly, Gregory does not treat Polycarp as a place in which Luke is cited despite those places
where the author might he reading the Triple Tradition.
^" Edouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature
before Saint Irenaeus, ii: The Later Christian Writings (ed. A.J. Bellinzoni; Louvain: Peeters,
1992), 48. Massaux here follows Dehandschutter, Martyrium Pofycarpi, 244 and Buschmann,
Das Martyrium, 126-8. The same claim is made, somewhat differently, hy W.-D. Khler, Die
Rezeption des Matthusevangeliums in der Zweit vor Irenaiis (WUNT 2.24; Tbingen: Mohr
Siebeck, 1987), 489. Both these works are structured as studies of the interpretation of the
Gospel of Matthew in the period prior to Irenaeus and, thus, it is unfair to chastise these
authors for their selective interest in the first Gospel. At the same time, however, this is
precisely my point. It is the scholarly interest in tracing the interpretation of canonical texts
that shapes our interpretation of Polycarp. I do not mean to suggest that this task is either
unimportant or ill-advised; my point is that the manner in which these tasks are undertaken
shapes the discussion in such a way that conceals as much as it reveals.

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C.R. Moss / Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2093) uj-i^

persecution. This, he notes, is at odds with the statement in Pofycarp 1.2


that Polycarp waited to be handed over. Holmes's critique is that because
the Polycarp does not accurately replicate Matt 10:23 it is not dependent
upon it. That such great efforts should be taken to identify the presumed
source of this citation in the canonical gospels illustrates the extent to
which the debate is committed to a canonically grounded method. That
the terms of this debate hinge on Pofycarp's accurate replication of the
meaning of the intertext demonstrates the extent to which interpretation is assumed to work as citation. Perhaps, in this Instance, the author
0Pofycarp wishes to reshape rather than reproduce his audience's understanding of Gospel traditions about flight in times of persecution. If this is
the case then perhaps Matt 10:23 's precisely the sort of text that he has
in mind.
This argument might initially seem flimsy. After all, if there is no presumed relationship between the meaning of the text and the meaning of
the intertext then the task of identifying the intertext is both pointless and
impossible. At the same time we might compare Pofycarp 4.1 with other
rhetorical appeals to the teachings of the gospel that seem to inaccurately
reflect the content of their sources. A fourth-century council of bishops in
Elvira (Spain) ruled that Christians who died during attacks on idols and
pagan temples should not be treated as martyrs because "such actions cannot be found in the Gospels."^^ It is unlikely that the members of the council were unaware of the claims of their contemporaries that in destroying
temples they were imitating the actions of Jesus overturning the tables of
moneychangers in the temple.^ While we might conclude that the bishops
simply don't know their scripture, a more probable explanation is that they
are suppressing a particular exegetical tradition that maintained that the
destroying of pagan temples was in accordance with scripture. Hotmes's
statement that Pofycarp 4.1 does not accurately reflect the meaning of
Matt 10:23, therefore, assumes that there was no early-Christian scripturally
^^* The full text is as follows, Can. 60: si quis ido(afregerit et ibidemfiterit ocdsus, quatenus
in Evangelio scriptum non est eque invenitur sub ApostoUs unquamfactum, placuit in numero
eum non recipi martyrum (Eckhard Reichert, Die Caones der Synode von Elvira, Hamburg
1990,182). The date of the council is debated. On the rhetorical appeals to the Gospel in the
dissemination ofldeas of toleration see Harold A. Drake, "Lambs into Lambs: Explaining
Early Christian Intolerance," Past and Present 153 (1996): 3-36.
^^' On appeals to the example of Jesus in martyrdom stories concerned with the destruction of sites o f pagan" worship see Candida R. Moss, The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in
Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom {New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 59-60.

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127

informed conversation about the significance and meaning of this passage


with respect to early Christian martyrdom.
Deeply embedded in these treatments of intertextuality in the Martyrdom ofPolycarp are three assumptions:first,that the intertexts are pure
the author utilized single texts or traditions directly and with respect for
their integrityand that deviation from a pure intertext is either the independent innovation ofthe author in keeping with the genre ofthe martyrdom account or the hallmark of historicity;^'* second, that intertextual
forms can be used as a gauge for canonicity and thus for dating; and third,
that intertextuahty is at odds with authenticity. Each of these assumptions
is tied to a scholarly agenda preoccupied with canonical texts. It is in part
an interest in dating canonical texts that puts a premium on intertextual
purity. Similarly and conversely, it is the interest in preserving the authenticity and, thus, the early date, oi Polycarp that is scuttled by acknowledging a wider range of narrative allusion in the text.
What is absent from the two methodologies described thus far is a robust
theory of how intertextuahty works. Not only has Polycarp, like other noncanonical literature, been subordinated to canon and to the kinds of questions that arise from a focus on canon and chronology, but intertextuality
itself has been treated as mere duplication.^^ This problem is in part related
to the competing methods by which intertexts are identified and interpreted. In positing a scholarly argument about the presence of an allusion,
one has to make a case for the philological or conceptual similarity of text
to intertext. Moreover, in order to justify the importance of this idea one
might also feel the need to show the insufficiency of other scholarly arguments pertaining to intertextuality. These arguments are often made by
showing narrative or conceptual differences between the text one is discussing and those intertexts suggested by others. In the case o Polycarp,
some have used this methodology in order to demonstrate the author's
2*' Even in places where scholars openly acknowledge the role of tradition in the shaping of
Polycarp they will nonetheless insist that this tradition is dependent on a single Gospel. See,
for example, the argument of Massaux that the tradition is based "on the first gospel,"
Influence ofthe Gospel ofSaint Matthew, 187.
^^' This difficulty has been, to an extent, highlighted by the editors of the 2006 volume
Beyond Reception, who note that in scholarship the language used to describe the association between two texts itself envisions a particular kind of inescapable relationship between
them. See David Brakke, Anders-Christian Jacobsen, and Jrg Ulrich, eds.. Beyond Reception:
Mutual Influences between Antique Religion,Judaism, and Early Christianity, Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity 1 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006).

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exclusive knowledge of either the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of


John.26 Imphcit in this process is the assumption that allusion works by
replicating the meaning of the intertext There is no room in this process
for adaptation or hybridity, much less subversion: the strongest case is
always made by demonstrating absolute consonance between text and
intertext.^^
In order to illustrate this point, we will examine a key moment for analyses
of intertextuality in Pofycarp. The ambiguities inherent in this passage will
demonstrate some of the limits of current approaches to the question.

Reassessing Intertextuality in Polycarp


In discussions of intertextuality in Polycarp, the critical moment has
always been the supposed rupture with Ghristty imitation in the binding
of Polycarp. The juncture at which Polycarp refuses to be nailed to the
stake and is instead bound (13.3) can and has been understood as a break
in the imitatio Christi motif. The divergence from the Gospel script might
be read, as Lightfoot would have us do, as a "violent parallel" indicating
the authenticity of the event. Polycarp declines to be nailed because the
historical Polycarp really was bound. This reading, however, would disregard the narrative impact of Polycarp's binding in the account. Polycarp
^^' On the flow of blood from the side ofPolycarp and the Gospel of John 19:34 see Steitz,
"Charakter," 117-20. On the dove from the side ofPolycarp and Matt 3:16 see Bidez, "Description," 579-624. The methodology employed here is that these two incidents in Pofycarp can
be tied only to the Gospels of Matthew or John, thereby demonstrating reliability on those
texts. In these arguments it is Pofycarp's presumed replication of the Gospel motif that demonstrates the author's reliance on that text. This is of course a standard method in the identification of intertexts, but It places us in a methodological bind as it assumes that the
character of the relationship is one of replication.
" ' While this difficulty is slightly mitigated by Jonathan Z. Smith's argument about triangulating comparisons, even in this case the argument is expressed in terms of similari.ty and
difference. Seejonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison o/Earfy Christianities
and the Religions of Late Antiquity, Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion 14 {London:
School of Oriental and African Studies; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, lggo), 51: "'x
resembles y more than z with respect to...;' or, 'x resembles y more than w resembles z with
respect to..." That is to say, the statement of comparison is never dyadic, but always triadic;
there is always an implicit 'more than,' and there is always a 'with respect to.' In the case of
an academic comparison, the 'with respect to' is most frequently the scholar's interest, be
this expressed in a question, a theory, or a model, recalling, in the case of the latter, that a
model is useful precisely when it is different from that to which it is being applied."

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is not bound by accident but as the result of his own request; he states,
"Leave me as I am; for he who enables me to endure the fire will also enable
me to remain on the pyre without moving, even without the sense of security which you get from the nails." Polycarp's ability to stand unfettered in
some respects trumps the position and experience of the canonical Christ.
Unlike Jesus, Polycarp does not require fortifying nails to hold him steady.
Michael Holmes concludes that this "non-parallel" serves "to reinforce the
difference between the suffering Christ and his disciples."^^
A number of scholars have pointed out the way in which the endurance
of Polycarp both here and elsewhere in the narrative casts him as a philosopher and assimilates him to Socrates.^^ The similarities between Polycarp
and Socrates, long noted, include: their age {ApoL 17D, Crito 52E; Polycarp
9.3) and nobility (Phaed 58D; Polycarp 2.1; 2.2; 2.3; 3.1; 3.2);3o their refiasal to
flee to escape prosecution {Phaed. 98E-99A; Polycarp 7.1); that they were
both charged with atheism {Euth. 3B; Polycarp 3.2; 12.2) and refused to persuade others of the veracity of their claims [ApoL 35D; Polycarp 10.2); their
prayers before death {Phaed 117C; Polycarp 14.1-3); the use of sacrificial terminology to describe their deaths {Phaed 118A; Polycarp 14.1); and the
exemplary function of their deaths {Phaed 115C; Polycarp 1.2; lg.i).^' Leaving
aside the problems of "indirect influence" from the death of Eleazar in
2 Maccabees 6 or even the Gospels, the argument for Socratic assimilation
certainly has some merit and complicates the way in which we understand

^*' Holmes, "Martyrdom ofPofycarp," 424. Holmes appears to overlook the way that if the
deaths of Polycarp and Jesus are here contrasted, Polycarp appears to outperform Jesus.
23' See Johannes Geffcken "Die christlichen Martyrien," Hermes 45 (1910): 481-505 and Christel Butterweck, "Martyriumssucht" in der Alten Kirche? Studien zur Darstellung und Deutung
frchristlicher Martyrien (Beitrge zur historischen Theologie 87. Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck,
1995). 8-22 This argument has recently been revived by L. Stephanie Cobb in "Imitatio Socratis: The Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Noble Death Tradition," paper presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 2009, New Orleans. On Polycarp and gymnosophist philosophy see Jan N. Kozlowski, "Polycarp as a Christian Gymnosophist," Studia Patristica 51 (2011): 15-24.
^'" While nobility is included among the parallels between Socrates and Polycarp it should
be noted that it is the martyrs in general who are described as noble, not Polycarp in
particular.
^" For a discussion of the influence of Socrates on early Christians and early Christian martyrdom see E. Benz, "Christus und Socrates in der alten Kirche," ZAW43 (1950/1): 195-224; Klaus
Dring, Exemplum Socratis. Studien zur Sokratesnachwirkung in derkynisch-stoischen Popularphilosophie der frhen Kaiserzeit und imfrhen Christentum, Hermes Einzelschrift 42 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1979).

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C.R. Moss I Vigiliae Christianae 6j (2013) 117-136

intertextuality to work in the account^^ Imitatio Christi and imitatio Socratis may be interwoven and fused. It is interesting to note, however, that in
articulating the relationship between Polycarp and Socrates, scholars have
taken a methodological step that was not in view when Polycarp was compared to Jesus, namely, the intertexts have been blurred and mixed.^^ The
documentation for the parallels between Polycarp and Socrates is drawn
from multiple literary sources: the Apology, the Crito, Euthyphro, and Phaedo. The iconic death of Socrates from which these parallels are adduced is
not found in a single literary text. Moreover, the memory of Socrates was
mediated and shifted through the writings of Greco-Roman moralists and
philosophers.^ That the figure of Socrates was diffused through four hundred years of culture only makes the situation more complicated. There is
no way to distinguish cultural portrait from literary depiction. If we want to
argue that there is an allusion to Socrates in this account, then it must be to
a composite cultural portrait. If a member of the audience understands the
allusion to Socrates, it is because he or she has a non-literary image in his or
her mind.
We might compare this to notions of the infancy narratives. The dominant contemporary narrative of the birth of Jesus incorporates angels,
shepherds, animals, and magi. The image is indeed derived from literary
sources, but it cannot be found in one single biblical text. The performance
of the infancy narrative fuses distinctive elements together into a novel
text that operates with a principle of inclusivity even as it creates a new
^^' Some have argued that the Martyrdom of Polycarp was influenced by Maccabean
accounts that, in turn, were influenced by the figure of Socrates. So, e.g., David A. deSilva, 4
Maccabees, Septuagint Commentary Series (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 150. For the influence of
Socrates' death on the passion narratives see Adela Yarbro Collins, "Finding Meaning in the
Death of Jesus," The Journal of Religion 78/2 (1998): 181; eadem, "From Noble Death to Crucified Messiah," NTS 40 (1994): 482-83.
^3* This is, of course, the approach that we should take to all texts canonical, apocryphal, and
non-Christian. The fact that scholars of early Christianity do not feel the need to argue for a
dependence on a particular Platonic text or adjudicate between Xenophon, Plato, and later
readers of these stories indicates that a different set of standards is being employed with
respects to canonical texts than non-Christian ones. A "divergence" from the canonical story
{binding, rather than nailing) is the grounds for scholarly interest in Socratic or philosophical
parallels, but divergences between Polycarp and Socrates demand no such exploration or
discussion (Butterweck, Martyriumssucht; Cobb, "Imitatio Socratis"; Kozlowski, "Polycarp as
Gymnosophist").
^''* On the cultural reception of Socrates see Dring, Exemplum Socratis, 1-18; Emily R.
Wilson, The Death of Socrates (London: Profile, 2007).

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master narrative. It seems as if a similar process could underlie the Martyrdom of Pofycarpthe question is, why has this intertextual model been
used to articulate only the relationship between Polycarp and Socrates and
not equally that between Polycarp and Jesus? The answer is that the comparison between Polycarp and Socrates is not constrained by the interests
in dating and canonicity that plague comparisons between Polycarp and
Jesus. This is, of course, the approach that we should take to all texts canonical, apocryphal, and non-Christian. The fact that scholars of early Christianity do not feel the need to argue for a dependence on a particular Platonic
text or adjudicate between Xenophon, Plato, and later readers of these stories indicates that a different set of standards is being employed with
respects to canonical texts than non-Christian ones. A "divergence" from
the canonical story (binding, rather than nailing) is the grounds for scholarly interest in Socratic or philosophical parallels, but divergences between
Polycarp and Socrates demand no such exploration or discussion.
Moreover, we might ask whether it is even necessary to locate those elements of the death of Polycarp that resonate with Socratic traditions so
concretely within the Platonic literary legacy, since these elements also
gesture toward much broader Greco-Roman constructions of masculinity.
Polycarp's self-control speaks to a worldview in which pain and emotion
were associated with femininity.^^ A particularly striking example of masculine self-control is found in Cicero's discussion of the "true man" in the
Tusculan Disputations. Cicero relates, by way of example, the story of one
Gaius Marius, "a rustic man, but a man indeed" {rusticanus vir, sed plane
vir) who refused to be placed in restraints while an operation was carried
out on his leg.^^ After this display of valor, Gaius insisted on an operation
on his second, unaffected leg. Gaius Marius's display of fortitude embodies
the philosophical division between the natural, mere man {homo) and the
heroic man {vir) whose conduct surpasses his natural state.^^ Cicero's
35' On this point with respect to early Christian literature see Colleen M. Conway, Behold
the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008);
L. Stephanie Cobb, Dying to Be Men: Gender and Language in Early Christian Martyr Texts,
Gender, Theory, and Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Gail P.C. Streete,
Redeemed Bodies: Women Martyrs in Early Christianity (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John
Knox, 2009).
^^' Cicero, Tuscutanae disputationes 2.22.53.
^'' For the construction of masculinity in the Roman Empire see Maud W. Gleason, Making
Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
Press, 1994)- On the ways in which various cultures construct "real" as against biological

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C.R. Moss I Vigiliae Christianae Sy (2013) H/-136

example strikes a chord with the depiction of Polycarp, whose refusal of


restraints and easy embrace of sufFering mark him as a heroic man. The
heavenly voice that urges Polycarp to "play the man" in 9.1 is greeted with a
muscular display of Christianity. In short, there is more than one way to
read Polycarp's self-control in light of Greco-Roman values and sensibilities; we need not necessarily retreat to the iconic Socrates.
The notion that the representation ofthe self-controlled Polycarp breaks
with the death ofJesus rests on the assumption that there is a stable narrative ofthe crucifixion of Christ.^^ It assumes that the author interacts exclusively with a canonical passion narrative script in which Jesus is nailed,
rather than with a plethora of cultural motifs including apocryphal traditions, interpretations ofthe passion narratives and other scriptural texts,
and the cultural significance of nailing and binding in general, all of which
augment our understanding of this scene.^^ If we look beyond the canonical passion narratives that have dominated discussions of intertextuality
in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, however, it is clear that Polycarp's selfrestraint is not without precedent. Other re-readings ofthe passion narrative insist on masculinizingjesus through the eradication of pain, fear, and
emotion. Luke's re-reading of Mark, for instance, certainly characterizes
the passion narrative as philosophical death.**** The death of Jesus in the
late second-century Gospe/q/"/*eier casts Jesus as keeping silent during his
crucifixion "as one feeling no pain" (4.11). In many respects, the vision of
Jesus mirrored in Polycarp is in good company with these texts. Polycarp's

manhood see David Gilmore, Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity {New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, iggo), 11.
3^* By "sthle narrative" here 1 do not mean a single intertext or specific Gospel, hut rather
the idea that there was a set {usually literal) interpretation of those common elements in
the canonical passion narrative to which the interpretation ofthe author o Pofycarp can be
compared. In actual fact, as we will see, the meanings of even the most foundational aspects
of the passion narrative were constantly heing interpreted. Without knowing precisely
which of these traditions our author was familiar with, we cannot offer a firm interpretation
of his relationship to prior traditions.
^^' The focus on the nailing and hinding reveals this assumption of a stable narrative perfectly. Only changes to a detail found in all four ofthe canonical passion narratives invite
this kind of scrutiny and appraisal. Of course, the omission of certain details without the
introduction of novelty might be similarly important and deliberate, as has been aptly demonstrated in text criticism. See Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The
Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1993).
"^^ Greg Sterling, "Mors Fhilosophi: The Death of Jesus in Luke," HTR 94:4 (2001): 383-402.

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manly self-control can and perhaps should be treated as part of a secondcentury reading tradition that cast Jesus as the philosophical sage.
Even if we can speak confidently about the manner in which Polycarp
"plays the man," we cannot draw simple conclusions about how the author
augments his intertexts. That is, we cannot say with any certainty whether
or not the author intends to usurp, trump, or eradicate narratives in which
Jesus is nailed to the cross, because we cannot say with certainty that the
author utilized those accounts or held those narratives in view when he
wrote his account. What we can imagine is how the Martyrdom ofPolycarp
would have been understood by audience members familiar with various
other early Christian traditions.
Nor can we assume that the focus of the author or the audience members would have rested upon the supposed "break" with the crucifixion.
Another way of viewing the assimilation to Christ is to focus not on discontinuity with the canonical passion narratives but on continuity with other
early Christian motifs. One function of Polycarp's binding is to assimilate
his death to the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. For some early Christians the akedah served as a prototype of the sacrifice of Jesus and as an
example of faithfulness in God."*' Interweaving akedah and crucifixion in
this way, therefore, is part of a traditional Christian reinterpretation of the
binding of Isaac as a prototype of God's sacrifice of Jesus.*^ When read in
light of the narrator's description of Polycarp as a splendid ram in 14.1, it
seems that the binding ofPolycarp serves to draw together sacrificial interpretations of his death with a tradition that connected Isaac and Christ.
The reference to the binding of Isaac does not undermine the allusion to
the crucifixion, because the two accounts were linked in Christian typological constructions of history. The binding of Polycarp does not break
down the imitatio but rather reinforces it; Polycarp is inserted into the cycle
of history alongside Isaac and Christ as another typos of the innocent sacrificial victim. Read in this way, the binding of Polycarp serves a concrete
exegetical and theological purpose. What is impossible for us here is to
decide between these two readings of the binding event in the Martyrdom
of Pofycarp. We can imagine how various hypothetical ancient readers
might come to these conclusions, but we cannot definitively exclude one in
favor of the other.
*" See Heb 11:17-19; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.5.4.
*2' Allusions to the binding of Isaac have been posited with varying degrees of success for a
wide variety of first- and second-century texts. See Moss, The Other Christs 59.

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Conclusion
In scholarship on the Martyrdom ofPofycarp, discussions of scriptural and
cultural intertexts have been marred by two sets of legitimate scholarly
agendas: a preoccupying interest in the historicity of events and a canonical commitment to the idea that intertexts must be "pure" and replicated
without augmentation. Following Samuel Sandmel's criticism of "parallelomania" in 1962, the method by which intertexts are identified has been
sharpened and focused on the idea of singular intertexts.'*^ After all, in
order to persuade one's colleagues that one has happened upon an important intertext, one lists exclusive parallels between the primary text and
the newly recognized intertext. The manner in which one convinces others
of the viability of one's posited source rests on the idea that one has discovered the single ancient text that can illuminate some otherwise inexplicable element in the object of one's study. Scholarly comparisons of Polycarp
with Socrates andjesus have illustrated this quite nicely. Polycarp has been
cast as Socrates because the comparison with Socrates can illuminate elements of the text that comparisons with canonical passion narratives cannot Yet, as we have seen, the situation was much more complicated.
Although the comparison with Socrates does indeed illuminate our understanding of Polycarp, it does not do so definitively; similarly, recourse to
comparisons with the passion narratives adds much to our interpretation
of the text, but comparisons with Jesus also present only one analytical
thread. The solution is not merely to add and subtract potential intertexts
until every divergence in the story is accounted for, but rather to leave open
the possibility of a multiplicity of readings by authors as well as audiences,
both partial and whole.'*'* Even if the allusion to a single literary description
'*3' Samuel Sandmel, "Parallelomania.V^- 81 (1962): 1-13.
**' Studies of intertextuality that do not focus on the author often have an ideal full-knowing reader as the object of study. The erudition of this posited audience member is perhaps
matched only by the scholars who shape her. It stands to reason, though, that just as modem
scholars havepresumably because of their own interests and literary fluencyfocused
on one or another intertext as the determinative influence on Pofycarp, so too ancient readers would have understood Polyearp in their own distinctive ways. The comparison between
modem and ancient readings is instructive because scholarly descriptions of ancient audiences use elite modem notions of "education" to distinguish between different kinds of
readers. Thus it is usually the well-educated audience member who is assumed to be able to
catch the pertinent allusions. While education may be an appropriate category for modern
scholars working in the environs of a research university, in the ancient world many other
factors would have affected an audience member's cultural frame of reference. We should

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of Socrates could plausibly explain every aspect of the characterization of


Polycarp, we could not rule out other cultural and literary intertexts merely
because they are not, strictly speaking, necessary. Occam's razor is not
especially helpful when it comes to the ways that multiple individuals
interpret texts.
This study o Pofycarp has tried to reveal just how difficult it is to identify
specific literary intertexts to the exclusion of all other infiuences. The difficulty of ascertaining the precise intertexts for the binding of Polycarp poses
a challenge for discussions of intertextuality in general and, more specifically, for the artificial differentiation of cultural and textual appropriation.
The ambiguity in the Polycarp story directs us to the ultimately unsustainable distinction between culture and text. Literary intertexts are no more
fixed and solid than cultural intertexts. This blurred line is exposed in the
tendency of scholars to argue that intertexts and infiuences were "in the
air" rather than held in the hand. Impossible to prove or disprove, this
recourse to atmospheric infiuence is perceived to be a stronger rhetorical
posture than literary dependence. This rhetorical sleight of hand skims
over the diverging commitments to authorial intent and audience response
embedded in notions of infiuence and intertext, respectively. What the
recourse to atmospheric intertexts reveals is the impossibility of identifying one single pure intertext.
Not only is it difficult to eliminate intertexts, it is increasingly difficult to
speak definitively about the relationship between text and intertext
because it is impossible to assert with certainty what combination of ideas
is being evoked. The account of Polycarp's martyrdom explicitly identifies
its hero as a model to be emulated and imitated and specifies the Gospel as
a key component of his martyrdom. Yet deviation from or correspondences
with the gospels cannot be definitively said to affirm, subvert, or trump the
gospels because the author may be working not only with multiple textual
portraits of Jesus but also with interpretive traditions, cultural tropes, and
non-Christian exemplars. Simultaneously and merely by its translocation
to a new narrative setting, the model presented by Pofycarp recreates the
Jesus narrative itself, and we find ourselves with a range of new and perhaps distinctive interpretative possibilities.'*^ The recognition that interassume, for Instance, that geographical location, wealth, profession, and social status would
have been just as important as education.
'*^' In other fields concerned with intertextuality, for example literary or film theory, the
notion that the meaning of a text can he replicated or copied from one text to another is

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textuality is complicated, indeterminate, and well-nigh impossible to nail


down does not mean that authors did not work with specific intertexts in
mind. Yet even in those rare cases where texts are accurately and directly
quoted, only the identification of the intertextnot its meaningcan be
confidently asserted. We cannot assume, in those cases where texts are
directly replicated In the form of quotation, that the "original meaning" of
a text is being preserved by a later author. Meaning is always unsteady,
constantly reproduced, and indeterminate.

widely regarded as a fallacy. See for example, Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation
{New York; Routledge, 2006).

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