New College, University of Edinburgh

Composite Citations in Antiquity

Over 20 percent of Paul’s quotations are composite. More than 17 percent of the citations in the Synoptic Gospels are composite. Despite these relatively high percentages, there has been surprisingly little research focused on composite citations in the New Testament. Until now. The fundamental premise of our two volumes, Composite Citations in Antiquity, is that the New Testament authors were embedded within their Graeco-Roman literary environment. Therefore, we set out to study examples of composite citations across a range of texts. The first volume, Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Early Christian Uses, was released in 2016 and the second, New Testament Uses, is expected for release in early 2018 (but look for it at the 2017 SBL in Boston).


In volume one we offered a working definition of composite citations as follows: ‘a text may be considered a composite citation when literary borrowing occurs in a manner that includes two or more passages (from the same or different authors) fused together and conveyed as though they are only one’. We also identified several functions of composite citations. First, some composites, especially condensed citations, have a summative function, allowing the author to draw upon material from one passage while excising irrelevant or potentially distracting material. Second, we saw that some composite citations allowed the author to create a tailored saying by combining two or more passages or authors. In these examples the author brings together two disparate texts to create a new phrase/line that specifically fulfills the quoting author’s needs, providing a more appropriate soundbite to advance an argument. Third, composite citations were used to show off the literary knowledge and prowess of the author and to improve the reading experience. In some cases, the reader might be expected to catch crafted stylizations, while at other times the author explicitly highlights what is being done, drawing the reader’s attention to such literary creativity.


In a substantive conclusion in volume two, we discuss several findings of significance for scholars of antiquity, including the difference between composite citations and text-clustering (or chain-linking), the relationship between primary and subsidiary texts within composite citations, and techniques for condensing citations. The chapter also closes with some implications and suggestions for further research. First, we offer some recommendations for how composite texts are presented in critical editions and derivative translations. What do features such as bold, italics, ellipsis, and inverted commas—later editorial additions that re-divide composite citations—suggest to modern readers? Second, we suggest that our study may be fruitful for studying composite citations in non-literary texts such as inscriptions and amulets, composite allusions, and conflation(s) of scriptural narratives (e.g., so-called Rewritten Bible). We plan to pursue some of these lines of research in the future.


It will be of interest that the key idea for these books began to take shape while we were both at the University of Edinburgh. Both of us spent a lot of time reading primary sources and it was through shared conversations that we realised that both of us were questioning some scholarly assumptions. Regular participation in the CSCO classics reading group fertilized our thinking on this topic and, in some cases, provided us with specific data that we incorporated into the book.


Written by Dr. Sean Adams and Dr. Seth Ehorn


For purchasing, click here.

First Published in 2016


  • CSCO Team,
  • 23rd March 2017


Add comment