Why a paper on “Stock Phrases” in Christian Apocrypha?

8ara1How did I end up thinking about stock phrases, and in Christian apocryphal texts at that?

Well, I was (and still am) working on an introduction and translation to the First Apocryphal Apocalypse of John (1AAJn) for volume 2 of Burke & Landau’s New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures.

One of the things I wanted to do was take a more rigorous look at intertextuality. And by “rigorous” here I mean “write some code and compare a lot of data.” Based on way-old experimentation of mine from 10–15 years ago (anyone remember “tri-logs?”) and more recent popularization of n-grams by Google, I thought it would be interesting to compare ngrams (but form the n-grams based on Greek lemmas instead of the inflected forms in the text) between a base corpus of the LXX and NT and noncanonical works like 1AAJn. My straightforward theory was that there would be clusters of n-grams located in the noncanonical works and those would represent probable intertextual units.

It all seems well and good, and it even works out. Here’s a basic dump of the larger intertextual relations I found between the LXX+NT and 1AAJn (note LXX references use the LXX versification scheme, so Psalms is weird). The number in parentheses is the number of clustered n-grams from the LXX+NT reference in the 1AAJn reference.

  • 1AAJn 8.4 possible reliance on Psalm 88:45 (7x)
  • 1AAJn 8.4 possible reliance on Psalm 88:46 (5x)
  • 1AAJn 12.5 possible reliance on Psalm 102:15 (12x)
  • 1AAJn 12.5 possible reliance on Psalm 102:16 (6x)
  • 1AAJn 12.6 possible reliance on Psalm 145:4 (15x)
  • 1AAJn 13.7 possible reliance on 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (9x)
  • 1AAJn 15.6 possible reliance on Psalm 50:9 (7x)
  • 1AAJn 15.7 possible reliance on Isaiah 40:4 (11x)
  • 1AAJn 15.7 possible reliance on Luke 3:5 (16x)
  • 1AAJn 15.7 possible reliance on Isaiah 40:5 (4x)
  • 1AAJn 15.7 possible reliance on Luke 3:6 (4x)
  • 1AAJn 16.4 possible reliance on Matthew 24:30 (9x)
  • 1AAJn 19.4 possible reliance on Psalm 101:26 (8x)
  • 1AAJn 19.4 possible reliance on Hebrews 1:10 (8x)
  • 1AAJn 19.4 possible reliance on Psalm 101:27 (7x)
  • 1AAJn 19.4 possible reliance on Hebrews 1:11 (7x)
  • 1AAJn 21.4 possible reliance on Matthew 28:19 (4x)
  • 1AAJn 21.5 possible reliance on Psalm 9:18 (9x)
  • 1AAJn 21.6 possible reliance on Psalm 48:15 (5x)
  • 1AAJn 22.4 possible reliance on Psalm 17:42 (9x)
  • 1AAJn 22.5 possible reliance on Romans 2:12 (9x)
  • 1AAJn 23.3 possible reliance on Psalm 124:3 (5x)
  • 1AAJn 25.3 possible reliance on Psalm 36:29 (7x)
  • 1AAJn 26.2 possible reliance on Deuteronomy 32:8 (4x)
  • 1AAJn 26.2 possible reliance on Odes 2:8 (4x)
  • 1AAJn 27.6 possible reliance on John 10:16 (15x)
  • 1AAJn 28.2 possible reliance on Psalm 105:3 (6x)

This is all fine and good, and pretty much what I expected to find. What I didn’t expect to find was how several of the smaller or even single clusters represented some sort of common almost Bible-ese phrasing. Like “the heavens and the earth” or “the moon, the sun, and the stars” or even “upon the face of all the earth” (which happens frequently in the LXX and also in 1AAJn).

These smaller clusters of ngrams didn’t seem to have particular value in the exact reference or context; it was more like the phrasing of the canonical material was being (deliberately?) used in the noncanonical material. It was using biblical-sounding language to describe biblical sorts of things in noncanonical material. It could be a clue to register, or it might be an effort to make this noncanonical thing sound canonical, or it might just be using common language (a stock phrase?) to talk about common things. I’m not sure, but it was interesting enough it seemed like someone should look into it further. So I pitched the paper. And I’m still digging.

If you have books or articles to point me to, I’m all ears. Even better (especially for articles) if you can send along PDF too. Let me know in the comments.

 

Lexham Press to publish my Apostolic Fathers and Greek Apocryphal Gospels

It’s a long headline, but I’m not sure how to make it shorter. And it’s true; Lexham Press will be publishing my translation of the Apostolic Fathers and my introduction and translation of several Greek editions of Apocryphal gospels, manuscript fragments, and agrapha. They’re targeted for Fall 2017, which means they should be (fingers crossed!) on the tables at SBL in Boston along with other forthcoming Lexham Press titles.

I’m thrilled about this. My books are being published in the Lexham Classics series, which means my stuff is on the same page as works by Martin Luther, Louis Berkhof, and G.K. Chesterton. And the covers are pretty sweet too.

LexhamPressApostolicFathers-001

LexhamPressGreekApocGospels-001

These have been available for Logos Bible Software for while (see here and here), and they’ve been well received. When folks have asked me about print editions, I’ve had to direct elsewhere. Now I’m happy to finally be able to point to these Lexham Classics editions.

I’ll pass along more info when I have it. There are a bunch of other great books in the Fall 2017 Lexham Press Academic Catalog, so do give it a look.

SBL 2017 Paper: Sounding Biblical: The Use of Stock Phrases in Christian Apocrypha

Update (2017-09-11): Due to a family situation, I will not be attending SBL in Boston this November. This paper will likely be presented at a future SBL.


As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my proposal for the open Christian Apocrypha session was accepted. I described it to a friend like this: “Hey, I snuck a corpus linguistics paper into the Christian Apocrypha section!”

Here’s the abstract for those interested:

There are certain phrases that, due to familiarity and usage, seem biblical upon hearing or reading them. That is, they sound like language used in the Bible. Phrases like “in the beginning,” “all the creeping things that creep,” and “truly, I say to you.” This paper uses a variation on what are known as n-grams to isolate stock phrases and explore their use and effect in apocryphal works. The First Apocryphal Apocalypse of John (1AAJn), which the author is presently researching for volume 2 of the “More New Testament Apocrypha” project, is used as a test case. The entirety of the Septuagint and Greek New Testament are used to identify five-word clusters of shared vocabulary that repeat with some frequency in biblical literature (“stock phrases”). 1AAJn is then compared to the biblical literature to locate possible stock phrase usage within 1AAJn. If time and space permit, Greek editions of other writings (Apocryphal Gospels, Apostolic Fathers, possibly some non-Christian writings) will also be evaluated at a high level to determine use or non-use of stock phrases in composition.