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Ethos and the Use of Citation as Revision
Tom Reedy

       Many times in the history of philosophy and religion, paradigm shifts occur as notable personalities engage and transform the traditions of their day through a process of revision, involving the citation of foundational texts or concepts that are imbued with a new meaning. The success of such revision of traditional texts is dependent upon the ethos of the individual. If their ethos is deemed high enough, such personalities can modify the tradition or begin a new tradition out of the premises of the old, thus becoming, in the terminology of Foucault, transdiscursive authors.

       Judaism experienced such a revisionist movement with the advent of Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth revised through citation the meaning behind the traditional text. While Jesus maintained that he did not come to do away with the foundations of Judaic tradition (in fact, he states he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them--Matt. 5:17); nevertheless, he fulfills or "fills full" the old text with new revisionist meaning. Since at the heart of Judaism is obedience to the letter of the Law, with its attendant blessing for doing right and curses for doing evil, by changing the focus to matters of motivation of the heart, Jesus is subverting the understood paradigm of the religion of his day, a religion that Jesus himself was faithful in observing.

        Later in his ministry, as his ethos (reputation of power and wisdom) increased, Jesus would speak of the abandonment of the Judaic system because of its reluctance to change. His parable of "the wineskins" and the "new patch and old garment" are tantamount to declaring that the tradition of Judaism must yield completely to the new paradigm. He boldly declares to the teachers of Judaism that the kingdom of God was taken away from them (Matt. 21:43). And yet he gives the illustration that a "scribe [teacher] of the kingdom" will bring out from his storeroom [heart or mind] old and new treasures, implying that the new paradigm is not incompatible with the "revised" traditions of the old (Matt. 13:2).

       Jesus, in part, was able to accomplish this because of his high ethos among the people. Mark's gospel states "The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching--and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.' News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee" (Mark 1:27-28).

       In more contemporary society, an example of "revision through citation" may be found in the "Book of Mormon" which is claimed to be "another testament" of Jesus Christ. There are parallels with the New Testament, and yet there is additional material that "revises" the concepts and history of the first century church.

      Some of the most successful paradigm shifts have occurred by building on previous knowledge, yet diverting the direction or modifying the knowledge to establish a new point of view. In a sense this "citation function" of revision involves "meaning making" and a repositioning of the old within a new context. The end result is oftentimes a subverting or a reformation of the old in favor of the new. Because there is a cognitive gap (Iser's "gap of indeterminacy) between the signifier and the thing signified, these spaces become a Barthian "playground" which at first comforts the auditor/reader with the old (familiar) while interjecting the new into a more relaxed mindset. In short, citation as revision is an effective tool of persuasion.

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