Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions To The Neo-Assyrian Lion Motif -- By: Gordon H. Johnston

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:631 (Jul 2001)
Article: Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions To The Neo-Assyrian Lion Motif
Author: Gordon H. Johnston


Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions
To The Neo-Assyrian Lion Motif*

Gordon H. Johnston

[Gordon H. Johnston is Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

* This is article one in a three-part series, “The Rhetorical Use of Allusions in the Book of Nahum.”]

Few portions of Scripture rival the literary art and rhetorical skill displayed so dramatically in the Book of Nahum.1 One of the major rhetorical devices in Nahum is literary allusion. This article describes how literary allusions in general work and then examines Nahum’s allusions to Assyrian lion motifs, focusing on their rhetorical significance.

How Literary Allusions Work

Features And Functions Of Allusions

An allusion is a subtle reference by an author or speaker to a statement, theme, or motif from another source.2 Both allusions and quotations draw on a source text, but allusions do so in a manner different from quotations. Quotations are explicit, while

allusions are subtle; quotations are signalled by introductory quotation formulas, whereas allusions are signalled by more subtle means.3

Successful allusions are characterized by six elements.4 (1) The author must have a literary or cultural tradition from which to derive source material. (2) The audience, or at least a portion of it, must be aware of the source material so that it can recognize the allusion made by the author. (3) The author must “echo” enough familiar elements from the source material for the audience to pick up on, that is, the allusion must contain a “signal” that “points” to the source material. (4) The allusion must “activate” the source material in a way that creates some kind of rhetorical effect. (5) The alluding text must make a subtle change in meaning or referent from the source material to create some kind of rhetorical effect. (6) The allusion must be subtle enough to surprise an unsuspecting audience—if it is too explicit, it will lose its rhetorical impact (just as a joke falls flat if the punch line is too obvious).

Allusions are used for a variety of reasons: to prove an argument by appealing to an authoritative text; to illustrate, clarify, or explain a subject; to enhance the literary quality of a text; to foreshadow the outcome of a plot; to produce irony; to highlight a reversal; to depict poetic justice; to convey sarcasm, mockery, criticism, or ...

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