Intertextual Density, Quantifying Imitation


Hypertextual imitation means that a hypotext serves as a model for a hypertext in substantial, both qualitative and quantitative, ways: text A in a sense generates text B with regard to motifs, plot, and/or characterization. Hypertextuality may range from surface-text copying to deep-level emulation. Identifying the latter holds considerable analytical and interpretational problems.

The present article places under scrutiny Dennis R. MacDonald’s model of imitation and his thesis that the Gospel of Mark is emulating the Homeric epics. MacDonald presents an impressive number and range of parallels, but his hermeneutic concept of “bulk density” does not adequately address the critical quantitative issues at hand. Synoptic presentations of parallels should be used critically by weighing in quantitative parameters. An argument for imitation should not rely on a decontextualized bulk density.

The article examines the parameter of intertextual density within a quantitative and qualitative framework. Some suggestions are offered on how to deal with textual similarities and differences in a systematic fashion. It is argued that “relative density” is a key component in determining imitation (hypertextuality) on the textual mid- and macrolevel.