But how does the contemporary reader of an ancient work come to perceive such exchanges? Or, more simply, when is an allusion an illusion?Anyone familiar with the critical literature on the New Testament knows that the discovery of allusions is an uncertain enterprise. Surely John 15:1 (‘you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”) adverts to Jacob’s ladder and Gen. 28, but is Rom. 8:32 (God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us”) a reminiscence of Gen. 32 and the Akedah, the sacrifice of Isaac? The text is silent, and scholars disagree. How then does one decide? All concur that the New Testament books, bot unlike “The Waste Land” of T.S. Elliot, constantly elicit tradition through the device of allusion. Yet whereas Eliot condescended to footnote his poem, the New Testament writers did not add scholia. As modern readers of the Bible are we not in the position of the college student struggling to understand Dante or Milton in an old edition, one without annotations? Every phrase has something in it, much more than initially perceived; but how can we perceive it? Time removes us from all texts and subtexts and so cripples our ability to detect tacit references, which is why, as history marches on , annotated editions of the classics, including the Bible, become longer and longer. With time once transparent allusions become, to quote William Empson, “delicate cross-references that are now the discoveries of the learned.”
Dale C. Allison Jr., Studies in Matthew:Interpretation Past and Present, 119.