Textual excavation.

How to do what I call textual excavation.


And welcome to the online experiment that I call .

The purpose of this site is to delve deeply into the extant texts of the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition. This deep delving into the texts is what I like to call textual excavation. (For the sake of consistent reference, is the name of this site, while textual excavation is the name of the research and methodology that is supposed to take place on this site.)

My focus is the foundational generation of Christianity, that of Jesus and the apostles. The texts that I shall examine are those that may shed light on that time period, whether those texts be Jewish or Christian. Each text must be examined with two goals in mind:

  1. To determine its meaning for its own generation.
  2. To determine its meaning for the first Christian generation.

Each text, therefore, serves as a window both into its own time and into the time of Jesus and the apostles. We must never forget the former as we excavate the texts, but our focus is the latter.

Which leads us to the important question...:

What is textual excavation?

I derive the term, of course, from the field of archaeology (though this metaphor for textual study is hardly my own invention). An excavation is a dig, and the purpose is to find artifacts, or items of historical interest.

But the archaeologist never stops at the finding of an artifact. He or she also presents the findings of the expedition to the rest of the archaeological world.

Similarly, the purpose of textual excavation is twofold:

  1. Discover the phenomena latent in the text.
  2. Publish these phenomena in easily accessible form.

The web is, in my judgment, an ideal medium for both of these steps. There is a number of sites and applications that can help with the second step, presenting textual data on the web, and there are even more sites and applications that can help with the first step, searching the texts.


Sifting through the extant texts is the first step in textual excavation. The archaeological excavator uses shovel and trowel. The textual excavator uses concordance, lexicon, monograph, article, and dictionary.

He or she can also use, as never before, computers and the internet to help with some of the research, including but not limited to online texts in the original or in translation, search sites and software, and the results of the study and scholarship of others on the web.


Presenting the results of sifting through the texts is the second step in textual excavation. The archaeological excavator uses journal and book. The textual excavator can use the same means, but the web is quickly becoming by far the best medium for information exchange on any topic, including study and scholarship pertaining to the roots of Judeo-Christianity.

It is for this reason that I have developed the TextCoder and the TextDoctor. And there are other conversion tools available on the web, as well, which will considerably ease the process of presenting ancient texts on the web in readily accessible form.


Between the poles of discovery and publication lies methodology. For the archaeological excavator the methodology involves stratification, relative and absolute dating, and historical reconstruction. For the textual excavator the methodology involves intertextuality.

I define intertextuality as the phenomenon or set of phenomena that becomes apparent when two or more texts are set alongside each other for comparison and contrast1.

With this definition in mind, consider how discovery and publication relate to intertextuality. Discovery is deciding which texts to set alongside each other. Publication is deciding how to present those aligned texts.

(This kind of dissection of the texts, of course, can mislead the excavator if he or she is not careful, or can be done hypercritically or uncritically, or for purely deconstructive, purely apologetic, or other wayward purposes. Any worthwhile pursuit has its code of ethics and principles, and textual excavation is no exception.)

I am convinced that intertextuality is one very important key in the study of the ancient texts, for at least the following reasons:

  • Intertextual study encourages an attitude of immersion in the literature. We take the meaning of certain phrases, motifs, or even thematic arrangements for granted in our own culture simply because we have been immersed in that culture since childhood.
    The ancient authors, too, took certain things for granted, and immersion in the literature that they left is virtually our only way of deciphering them.
  • George Leigh Mallory, when asked why he wished to scale Mount Everest, answered famously: "Because it is there."
    Likewise, intertextuality is there. Patterns emerge from intertextual study that can hardly be ascribed to coincidence. The possible causes may be outright copying, literary borrowing, literary allusion, common oral tradition, or cultural or cross-cultural motif, and must be assessed case by case, but the patterns are there, and their ongoing discovery and study may yield much fruit.
  • Perhaps most importantly, intertextuality is a profitable course of study because the ancients themselves studied intertextually. We have in our extant texts various lists, or catenae, of passages on a particular topic culled from ancient scriptural sources. The authors have, in other words, performed their own textual excavations on their sources and set the relevant passages alongside each other.
    (I am convinced that, even without listing texts explicitly, they often wrote under the influence of intertextuality. But such a point must await further demonstration.)
    We moderns have presentation options at our disposal, such as tables and graphs, that the ancients did not much use, but the idea is the same. There is a certain power in the setting of distinct passages side by side.

There are other considerations2, but these ought to suffice for now.

1I mention two or more texts in my definition, but actually intertextuality may be present, in a limited fashion, in a single stretch of text, since the author had to make certain decisions on how he or she would present the data, and one passage may interpret the next in sequence, or vice versa.

More commonly, however, intertextuality will involve the side-by-side comparison and contrast of two distinct passages, whether they be extracts from the same book, or from different books by the same author, or from different books by different authors of the same era, or from different books from different eras or even cultures.

2One of these other considerations might well be that intertextuality is the literary incarnation of culture. Just as culture is an intertwining of themes and motifs, images, thoughts and feelings, laws, mores, and events both mythical and historical, so a literary text, especially a foundational one, can be viewed as an intertwining of interrelated themes and motifs, images, and so on.

And, just as any given culture is difficult to define until one experiences it in the land and amongst the people, so any given instance of intertextuality can be difficult to define until one encounters it in the text. Simply stating that two or more given texts are interrelated in some way is a poor substitute for actually displaying them in such a manner as to render the interrelationship apparent.