When An Allusion Isn’t, Except It Is

I had a peculiar dream the other night. Not, I mean, ‘peculiar’ in a narrative or ethical sense, but ‘peculiar’ in a rhetorical sort of way. As part of the dream, I was assigned to read one part of a four-part ‘Call to Worship’ (what one might classically call an Introit). Here’s what’s peculiar: In my dream, the call to worship was borrowed from something by Langston Hughes, and I recognised it as Hughes’s alluding to a biblical passage from the prophets — I was thinking maybe Ezekiel or Zechariah or another of the Twelve. Moreover, I was chuffed because I was pretty sure that others hadn’t recognised the allusion.

When I woke up I was eager to pin down the reference, so I searched first in my Bible search/analysis software; nope, nothing turned up. Try several different translations? No joy. OK, Google search? Nowt. This was getting weird, because even awake I was sure this was a biblical allusion.

So I searched first for the words along with “Langston Hughes”. Google responded, ‘It looks like there aren’t many great matches for your search’, and offered three results (none of which was anywhere near what I wanted). I already knew that Google didn’t think I had a biblical quotation. Where had my memory, or my imagination, come up with ‘A voice from the north; a voice from the south; a voice from the east; a voice from the west…’?

Then Google found it. Or something, anyway — definitely not anything I consciously remembered ever having heard, but it was exactly what the dream had included:

‘Will you despair now so many champions are coming to your help, and the trump of jubilee is sounding long and loud; when is heard a voice from the East, a voice from the West, a voice from the North, a voice from the South, crying, Liberty and Equality now, Liberty and Equality forever! Will you despair, seeing Truth, and Justice, and Mercy, and God, and Christ, and the Holy Ghost, are on your side? Oh, no—never, never despair of the complete attainment of your rights!”’

That’s American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, from An address, delivered before the free people of color, in Philadelphia, New York, and other cities, during the month of June, 1881, about the founding of a college in New Haven adjacent to Yale University, for people of colour. Not anything I have ever memorised, I don’t think, but exactly what my memory had recalled.

But wait! There’s more! Friends who have their 1st-century literature at the tip of their tongue will perhaps have recalled sooner than I did that Josephus reports (in the Judean War VII.12) a prophet named Jesus son of Ananus, whose only prophecy was

A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice to Jerusalem, and a voice to the temple, a voice to the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice to the whole nation.

Not exactly what my dream had produced, but I’m sure that this was the source for what I dreamed, and then found that Garrison had independently composed in his Address.

3 thoughts on “When An Allusion Isn’t, Except It Is

  1. If you were schooled in text criticism of the Hebrew Bible under Frank Moore Cross, you might start positing a previously- undiscovered manuscript / textual strand of the Hebrew Bible.

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