Text to Text Pours Forth Speech: Voices of Scripture in Luke-Acts

Text to Text Pours Forth Speech: Voices of Scripture in Luke-Acts

Gowler, David B

ROBERT L. BRAWLEY, Text to Text Pours Forth Speech: Voices of Scripture in Luke-Acts (Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature; Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995). Pp. xii + 178. $27.95.

In this book Brawley uses current literary theory to demonstrate how the sustained interplay with Scripture in Luke-Acts is constitutive of the narrative. His intertextual reading of selected passages begins with Luke 4:1-13, where he argues that two ideas underlie Luke-Acts: a theocentric appropriation of Scripture, and God’s promise to Israel to bless all the families of earth. B. then claims that the parable of the tenants (Luke 20:9-19) is a mise en abime-a miniature replication of the story in Luke-Acts-that revises readers’ expectations on the basis of the intertextual echoes of Isaiah 5:1-7. The owner now destroys only the wicked tenants and preserves the vineyard for other tenants.

Brawley next appropriates the work of Mikhail Bakhtin to argue for the presence of carnivalistic overtones in the Lucan passion narrative. By calling forth voices of Scripture, the author of Luke-Acts resists the carnivalesque attempt by Jesus’ opponents to reduce his crucifixion to utter absurdity. In Acts 1:15-26 the carnivalesque is then actually employed in concert with voices from Scripture to reduce Judas to absurdity, whereas Jesus’ resurrection vindicates him from the degradation of the crucifixion.

In his concluding chapters, B. utilizes the social script of honor and shame, as well as aspects from labeling and deviance theory, to examine how, in Acts 2, Jesus is rehabilitated and Scripture is used to make Pentecost understandable. In Acts 3-4 Scripture is boldly revised so that Jesus is interpreted as the one who brings God’s promise of blessing all the families of earth, and in Acts 13 this rehabilitation is extended by the reversal of negative social evaluations: Scripture is used to present Jesus and his followers as prominents and their opponents as deviants.

Brawley makes a significant contribution to our present discussions of methodology. On a literary level in general and with intertextuality in particular, this book is clearly a breakthrough, and it increases our understanding of the role of the voices of Scripture in Luke-Acts. Yet an unclear methodological framework and some of B.’s conclusions leave much to be desired and raise many interpretive questions. B. only partially unmasks the narrator’s monologic discourse and does not really struggle with the unitary and dispersive tendencies of the voices that contend for dominance in these texts.

Brawley’s use of Bakhtin’s work on the carnivalesque is a case in point. B. ignores Bakhtin’s argument that carnivalistic overtones are included in ancient Christian literature only at the expense of the dialogic element. In essence, Luke-Acts does include a plurality of voices, but it is not because of the narrator; it is in spite of the narrator-something B. seems to admit at times (e.g., on pp. 99-101, 117). B. correctly and consistently argues that the author of Luke-Acts appropriates Scripture with a dominant theocentric perspective, but he vastly underestimates the impact of that perspective on the other voices in the narrative. In fact, he consistently claims that Luke-Acts is “polyphonic” in that it “speaks with a plurality of voices”-one example of B.’s many anachronistic tendencies.

Brawley begins to illuminate the dynamic complex of dialogic relations in these texts, but he downplays the narrator’s attempts at monologic discourse. By literary analysis of the narrator’s rhetoric one can remove the privilege of that monologic discourse and can illuminate both the heteroglossia, diversity of social languages, and the heterophony, diversity of voices, that often are not heard. If Brawley had taken this step, perhaps he could have seen more clearly how the monologic discourse of Luke-Acts supersedes the heteroglossia of the Hebrew Bible, without appearing to “overcome” it. In my view, this interaction with precursors is crucial, because it illuminates the varying amounts of privilege given to, or withheld from, traditions in the narrator’s attempt at a monologic and privileged discourse with Christianity as the inheritor of God’s promises to Israel.

Brawley correctly expands our concept of intertextuality, although he does so sometimes to the point of parallelomania, but in many places his notion of intertextuality is too limited and his approach to cultural, social, and historical intertextures is too inconsistent. B.’s intertextual boundaries, for example, vary in his divergent discussions of the roles of the Jews and Gentiles in Luke-Acts. B.’s use of socialscientific criticism is also helpful, although at times he is unfamiliar with some of its nuances. These observations reinforce the impression that the book is partially adrift without a methodological anchor.

Literary analysis should exhibit the rhetorical strategies of a narrator who attempts to blur heteroglossia, silence heterophony, and facilitate single-voiced readings. B. attempts to listen to these other voices, but he is ultimately seduced by the narrator’s sirenlike voice. We are in B’s debt, however, because he continues a much-needed dialogue in which, as Bakhtin would say, there is no last word. May the dialogue continue, and may these voices be heard once again.

David B. Gowler, Chowan College, Murfreesboro, NC 27855

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Jul 1997

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved