Interpolations in Context
- To: WSW
Cc: GPG, Crosstalk
On: Interpolations in Context
If memory serves, I published in 1998 an accretional analysis of the
Analects of Confucius, which sought to show in detail how that text was
built up by successive additions, made by successive heads of the School of
Confucius in Lu, and also how that growing text was itself supplemented now
and then, in its earlier portions, by those same School heads, so as to
maintain contact and consistency between the older and the newer material.
Exception was taken to the very idea of such interpolation by certain
reviewers, who professed themselves offended on behalf of the text so
treated, and did not stop short of such sensationalistic terms as "rape" to
describe, and by implication to disrecommend, the purported process.
All of which is beside the point. The reason for adding material to a
previous text, one's own or someone else's, whether Homer's Iliad or the
Platonic Corpus or some mediaeval monastic charter, is to render that text
more agreeable to its later audiences, or more adequate to its later
devotees, or more serviceable to its later proprietors. The fundamental
process is not one of violation, but one of respect. The interpolation would
indeed be pointless, it would not have worked and it would not have been
attempted, without the assumption of ongoing respect for the text. This is
brought out very well in a comment by Anderson and Giles (2005) in
discussing the Samaritan interpolation of late parts of Genesis or Exodus
into early parts of Genesis or Exodus, or of parts of Deuteronomy into parts
of Numbers or the reverse, or of adding wholly new material to the
Pentateuch at large, by no means excluding its most sensitive segment, the
They say (p27), "The expansions unique to the [Samaritan Pentateuch] give
the text a distinct theological and literary focus. Presumably for political
or sectarian reasons, they were accomplished to set forth more clearly the
group's agenda without altering or violating reverence to the sacredness of
the words of the received text. One of the key passages to invoke this
interpolation technique is the Decalogue of Exod 20."
Just so. It is in exactly this spirit, as it seems to me, that the filial
piety passages were added to the otherwise early and authentic Confucian
sayings of LY 4 (date: c0479), the most sensitive portion of the Analects,
sometime in the late 04c, in order to present the historical Confucius as
already acknowledging what by then had come to be seen as essential
Confucian doctrine: the continuity between familial and public virtues.
Nothing could be more normal or natural than such retrospective extensions,
in terms of the way the ancients themselves seem, at need, to have handled
their own venerated texts: their constitutive documents, their charters of
identity and right thinking.
But what do we get in Sinology, in response to such highly precedented and
normal proposals? Indelicate language. Facial rubidity. Banging on the table
with one's shoe, à la Khrushchev. Screams of "You're taking Confucius away
from us!" Tantrums. Playpen behavior.
Is it asking too much, that those who profess to be certified to speak in
and for Sinology should have some slight modicum of acquaintance with what
is standard method and common knowledge in Sinology's older sister sciences?
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst