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Sandmel: Parallelomania

Samuel Sandmel’s paper, “Parallelomania” (JBL 81 [1962] 1-13) is available for free download at biblicalstudies.org.uk. Originally delivered as his 1961 presidential address to the Society of Biblical Literature, this is a watershed paper on what can (and cannot) be said about the New Testament in light of other early Jewish sources. It was required reading in Dr. David Garland’s “Jewish Backgrounds” seminar at Southern Seminary.

I encountered the term parallelomania, as I recall, in a French book of about 1830, whose title and author I have forgotten,1 in a context in which there were being examined certain passages in the Pauline epistles and in the Book of Wisdom that seem to have some resemblance, and a consequent view that when Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans, a copy of the Book of Wisdom lay open before him, and that Paul in Romans copied generously from it. Three items are to be noted. One, that some passages are allegedly parallel; two, that a direct organic literary connection is assumed to have provided the parallels; and three, that the conclusion is drawn that the flow is in a particular direction, namely, from Wisdom to Paul, and not from Paul to Wisdom. Our French author disputes all three points: he denies that the passages cited are true parallels; he denies that a direct literary connection exists; he denies that Paul copied directly from Wisdom, and he calls the citations and the inferences parallelomania. We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction.

The key word in my essay is extravagance. I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist. I am not seeking to discourage the study of these parallels, but, especially in the case of the Qumran documents, to encourage them. However, I am speaking words of caution about exaggerations about the parallels and about source and derivation.

(H/T: Charles Halton)


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