Text Typology
Interpolated Texts

Pileated Woodpecker's Nest

Interpolation is found in many types of texts, and in these Text Typology pages, most interpolations are noted as an extra feature of texts which have another primary classification, or as a detail accompanying a larger process. Many interpolations, for example, are part of a Layer or a subsequent Extension to a text. But there are texts, or passages, whose main interest consists of an interpolation feature. Some examples of these local situations are listed below.

If you can without long reflection distinguish your finger from a splinter in your finger, or tell at a glance the woodpecker from the wood, you are not going to have major trouble with the concept of interpolation. The typical interpolation is a piece of text placed within the previous text. The standard signs of an interpolation are the inconsistency or discontinuity it produces when in place, and the fact that if the suspected interpolation is removed, the surrounding text becomes once again consecutive. Recognition becomes more difficult if the interpolator has smoothed the join of the interpolated passage to its new context, or (as with certain passages in Mark) if more than one insertion of similar tendency has been made in the same text, each tending to validate the other as original, or (as with some of the Pauline letters) if the inserted material is from a different document by the same author as the surrounding material. This is merely to say that a forgery written on genuinely old paper is harder to detect than one written on modern paper. The difficulty differs, but the principle is the same.

Material added at the end or beginning of a text may be a later intrusion, with the same purposes as any other intrusion; such material does not fall outside the concept of Interpolation. But it sometimes has a special function, and most examples of this subtype are treated in these lists as Framing devices or Extensions; see also Juxtaposed. It is also useful to distinguish the unintentional Incorporation of extraneous text.

Chinese Examples

Analects 9:1 is one of the most famous cruxes in the literature of Sinology; efforts to solve it, or to explain it away, have been made since the Sung dynasty. The passage says among other things that Confucius "seldom spoke of [the virtue] rvn," whereas it is well known from the rest of the Analects that Confucius often spoke of rvn, and at least sometimes spoke of it as a centrally important quality. It turns out from an examination of the texture of paired sayings in LY 9 that 9:1 is a later addition to the chapter. This changes the direction of the investigation; we now need to ask, not How can we explain this in context, but rather Why was this intruded into context? Further examination of the whole Analects (for word philology versus text philology, as applied to this particular passage, see Brooks Word) discloses that rvn is indeed a central value for Confucius, but only in the early stretch of chapters LY 4-9, whereas it is absent in the next few chapters, and returns still later, but only to be often subordinated to li "ritual propriety." More generally, it seems that the Confucian school of Lu, which at first was led by a succession of disciples, was taken over in c0400 by lineal descendants of Confucius, the Kung family, who had nearly opposite philosophical ideas. The Kungs (and especially the first of them, Confucius's great-grandson Dz-sz) heavily criticized the disciples who had been most prominently praised in the earlier chapters. LY 9:1 was thus an addition to the early or "rvn" Analects, made by the proprietors of the later or "li" Analects, in order to counter the implicit claim in those early chapters that Confucius himself had prized rvn. The usual word for such retouchings is "revisionist." LY 9:1 is an example of revisionism in a small space.

Shan Jing. The character counts still found at the ends of SHJ 1-5 did not protect that core from interpolations, since the present SHJ 1-5 character counts exceed those figures. If we continue to consider these first chapters separately as the Shan Jing, then our present version of that core work is an Interpolated text. The fantastic nature of the interpolations marks them as a harbinger of the later wholesale additions to the same text (see in Extended), and helps us to understand the larger dynamic which operated on that text over time. Compare next.

Mencius Interviews. As in the above example, the twelve transcripts of genuine Mencius interviews with contemporary rulers (see under Accumulated) were eventually improved by adding to the sequence some wholly fabricated interviews which present Mencius in a much more masterful light, taking no nonsense from the depraved rulers of his time. In between come some paragraphs added to the ends of two genuine transcripts, 1A3 and 1A5. The accusatory nature of these additions not only sits uncomfortably with the generally respectful tone of what precedes, as with any interpolation, but in larger contexts it prefigures the style of the more ambitious free compositions that were later added to MC 1. All the material together implies a general aggrandizing process, and helps to remind us that the original transcripts themselves may not have been precisely stenographic, but may already have been selective in a direction favorable to the image of Mencius which they might be thought to convey.

Both additions, the final added paragraphs and the independent added interviews, tend to disfigure the groundplan of the original set of twelve interviews. In a figurate or closely textured original, interpolations will always be made at some aesthetic cost. One can only say that this cost was willingly paid with those who possessed an overriding motive (whatever it may have been) to alter the text, or its implications for later readers (see our classic statement of this position in our rejoinder to the Analects review of one Mansvelt Beck). In the case of the Mencius interviews, the alterations were undoubtedly made by one or another head of the posthumous Mencian school, and with the intention of conveying to the later Mencians a more dignified image of their founder and preceptor. That is, they are in effect identity support for the later members of the school. That Mencius's career was a later embarrassment, especially the part of it where he recommended to the ruler of Chi a disastrous war policy toward Yen, is manifest all over the later Mencian writings, which about with sometimes grotesquely reasoned arguments showing why Mencius was right to say what he said, and to leave in the way he left. The motive for the tiny additions to MC 1A3 and 1A5, once recognized, helps us to read the text of the Mencius as a whole, with greater sensitivity to the psychological pressures which were at work in its composition. Any solved part of the text, however small, can assist in the solution of the next part of the text, however obscure.

Other Examples

Deborah. The song with which Deborah recounted the defeat of Sisera (Judges 5) has been much praised for its unique literary excellence and power, and these qualities have been further thought to authenticate it as a genuine composition of Deborah. Its superiority to the surrounding text, like any other difference from the surrounding text, might rather be thought to impugn its authenticity. Further evidence tending to impugn its authenticity are the facts that in many details the song departs from the preceding prose account of the same event (Judges 4), and that it is inserted into the middle of a standard chapter-closing formula (let the viewer join Judges 4:24 with 5:31b, and compare the result with Judges 3:30). Both kinds of inconsecutivity mark this undoubtedly excellent composition as intrusive in context.

Mark 16:7, technically an interpolation, may be taken as one instance of the accretion process in this text. Mk 16:7 meets the classic tests of an interpolation; it is ignored by what comes after it, and its removal yields a perfectly consecutive narrative. It refers back to Jesus's promise to meet his disciples in Galilee, a promise that had been made in Mark 14:28. But Mk 14:28 also meets the classic tests of an interpolation. The two passages together, neither of which is firmly situated in its context, and one leaning for validation on the other, constitute a unit of growth in the text. They were probably meant to provide scriptural grounding for the claim that Jesus not only rose from the dead after his crucifixion, but had predicted this event to his disciples during his lifetime. This foreknowledge is one aspect of the gradual divinization of Jesus in the Gospels.

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