A typology of literary relationships.

Dependence and independence, mutuality and directionality.


I have been mentally experimenting of late with the following fourfold typology for potential literary relationships between any two texts:

Directionality. Mutuality.
Dependence.
I.
Directional dependence.
Classic dependence.
III.
Mutual dependence.
Collusion, competition.
Independence.
II.
Directional independence.
Confirmation, disconfirmation.
IV.
Mutual independence.
Classic independence.
  1. Directional dependence is a literary relation in which the author of one text both knows and relies on the information from another text. It is directional because one text necessarily stands literarily prior to the other. It is a form of dependence because the latter text necessarily relies upon the former for its information.
    Example: Josephus, Antiquities, is directionally dependent upon the Old Testament for his information about early Jewish history. Josephus is literarily posterior to the Old Testament, and he necessarily relied upon it.

  2. Directional independence is a literary relation in which the author of one text knows the information from another text, but does not rely on it. It is directional because one text necessarily stands literarily prior to the other text. It is a form of independence because the latter text does not necessarily rely upon the former for its information. The second text can either confirm or disconfirm the information in the first text.

  3. Mutual dependence is a literary relation in which each author knows the text of the other and relies on it for information. It is mutual because there is no necessity that one text be literarily prior or posterior to the other. It is a form of dependence because both texts necessarily rely upon each other for their information. The respective texts can either collude with or compete with each other.

  4. Mutual independence is a literary relation in which the author of one text neither knows nor relies on the information from another text. It is mutual because there is no necessity that one text be literarily prior or posterior to the other. It is a form of independence because neither text necessarily relies upon the other for its information.
    Example: So far as I can tell, Suetonius and Tacitus are mutually independent of one another. Neither is necessarily prior or posterior to the other in a literary sense, and neither appears to have relied upon the other for his information.

I offer the following illustration by way of clarification:

At the water cooler one fine day in the office, the executive president and the executive vice president got into a heated argument over upcoming company layoffs. Employees in nearby cubicles were witnesses to this incident, but employees in more distant sections of the buildings would know nothing of it until the emails began to fly.

The two executive combatants, realizing the scene they were causing, decided to take their dispute into the presidential office on another floor of the building. Only someone stationed just outside the door would have been able to hear any of the argument.

Employee A was one of the cubicle denizens near the water cooler; he was an eyewitness to the first part of the argument. Employee B was the secretary to the president whose desk was right outside his office; she was an earwitness to the second part of the argument. Employee C was the office gossip who just happened to be near the water cooler when the argument began and just happened to follow the two executives to just outside the office where the argument continued; he was a witness to both parts of the argument. Employee D was out of the building when the events took place, getting back to work only after they were over; she was neither an eyewitness nor an earwitness of either part of the argument.

After the incident, employee A shot off email 1 to employees C and D, detailing the argument at the water cooler. Meanwhile, employee B shot off email 2 to employees C and D, detailing the argument in the presidential office. Employee C, who as company gossip of course had firsthand knowledge about both arguments, spotted what he regarded as inaccuracies in both emails. He decided to send employee D an email of his own, email 3, to correct some of the misinformation of the first two emails. Employee D, after receiving no fewer than three separate emails on the subject, now felt qualified to put everything together into another email message, email 4, for the benefit of several other employees who as yet knew nothing of the argument. Later on, employees A and B, realizing that they each had different halves of the whole story, decided to exchange information in a series of instant messages; each employee both asked questions of and answered questions for the other over the course of the better part of a business day.

In this little tale of office intrigue, emails 1 and 2 are mutually independent; neither employee A or employee B consulted the work of the other. Email 3 is directionally independent of emails 1 and 2; employee C consulted both of these email messages, but as a firsthand witness did not have to rely on either of them. Email 4 is directionally dependent upon the first three emails; employee D both consulted and had to rely upon these three prior messages for the information. Finally, the two halves of the instant message exchange are mutually dependent upon one another; employees A and B consulted each other collaboratively.

I first started experimenting with this way of examining literary interrelations because of the ever controversial relationship of the gospel of John to the three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It occurs to me that John may well have been independent of these three gospels and yet also consulted (one, two, or all of) them. I would describe such a relationship, according to the typology above, as directional independence.

I am not yet willing to absolutely commit to this view of Johannine gospel composition, but I would at least like the option to be available.