The 1948 Nobel Literature Prize laureate T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote the seminal essay titled “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1917). This short paper was a fire he shot that was to be eventually heard around the world within less than a century. As the title of the article shows, Eliot contrasts tradition and the individual talent; he questions individual genius in literature and stresses the significant role of literary tradition. To Eliot, literature is not individual writers’ ingenious works but a mere system of texts that are interrelated. To him, therefore, poetry is “a living whole of all the poetry written” (Eliot 1917:17). Although most of today’s intertextuality enthusiasts do not mention of him much, T. S. Eliot is the real progenitor of today’s intertextual movement (see O’Day’s excellent summary [“Intertextuality, 2010]).
What then does Eliot have to do with the Apostle Paul? It seems to me that Eliot’s downplaying of individual genius and inspiration in literary works has a perceived effect on our reading of Paul’s writings: Paul was not an innovative mind at all, according to Eliot and his following intertextual advocates, but a passive receiver and appropriator of the religious traditions of his time. Stowers, for example, asserts, “Paul is hardly radical or innovative” because he is no different from other Second Temple Jews (Stowers 1994:155).
I will try to write more about this. But I think that Paul was a truly innovative letter-writer who challenged the Judaism of his day.