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Biblical Allusions in Dr. MLK Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham J

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Ell Shep

on 28 January 2016

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Transcript of Biblical Allusions in Dr. MLK Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham J

Allusion is an indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea that holds literary significance but requires prior outside knowledge in order to be recognized and understood.

A biblical allusion follows these same characteristics yet it comes directly from the bible.
What is an allusion?
What devices were used?
Who was Dr. King's audience & what was his purpose?
Dr. King's letter from Birmingham jail is directly intended for the eight Clergymen who criticized his actions, those who find their case to be valid, and the self-proclaimed "Christian church". Dr. King's letter is also indirectly intended for the nation as whole.

King wrote this letter to support and defend, himself and his actions of non-violent protests as acceptable despite the criticisms of the clergymen. Dr. King also intended to stir up the churches of America to do their jobs and not turn a blind eye to the injustices before them and to gain sympathy and support from the rest of the nation.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chose this strategy in order to solidify his argument and give examples of reverential men of the bible who spoke of or did works in the same manner and mindset as himself. These men justify King’s actions as well as give King a credibility that is based upon the bible, a holy and infallible standard.
How does this relate to Dr. King's Letter?
Presented by Ellington, Matt, Gabby & Lily
Biblical Allusions
in Dr. MLK Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail

King’s letter uses biblical allusions in order to create analogies between himself and biblical figures in the hope of defending his non-violent protest and solidifying his argument that he, unlike them, is fore filling the will of God.
Our Thesis
Quote #1
“Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.” Pg 262, paragraph 4.
King alludes to the Apostle Paul in order to best convey his desires to spread freedom as Paul did, influencing areas beyond Birmingham to bring an end to racial oppression. King believes he should respond to the “call for aid” by preaching for nonviolence. He connects to the Clergymen by referring to a common ground they share in their knowledge of biblical texts. He addresses them. King believes that he must respond to the town and the nations call for a solution to racial tensions and discrimination. For this reason, the Clergymen likely responded with understanding to his eagerness for a peaceful resolution.
Quote #2
Pg. 271 at the end of paragraph 40:
But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven”, called to obey God rather than man.
In this text, Dr. King alludes to the biblical passage of Act 5:27-29 which says,
“The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”

Quote #2 part 2
In the paragraph 40, Dr. King is speaking on how the church has changed and how the current church must influence society rather than reflect it. He goes on to speak of the early Christians and how they were convicted to do the will of God. He then alludes to the passage in the book of Acts where Peter and other disciples were preaching the Gospel of Christ against then orders of the high priests, religious officials. Peter goes on to say that it is more important to him to do what is right which is the will of God and offend men in the process, than to obey the unjust rulings of men and offend God.

Dr. King alludes to this strategy in order to show his mindset as well as the fact that he is obeying God’s word. This allusion also forms an analogy, the high priest are the clergy who find fault in Dr. King’s message and methods while Dr. King is St. Peter himself. Dr. King would much rather offend these church officials and proceed in doing what is right, fighting for equality in Alabama, than back away in the fear of stepping on their toes.

This strategy is effective because without directly pointing fingers, doctor kind successfully shows the clergymen their faults and who they are acting like as well as give biblical reasoning why he must do what he is doing. The clergymen may respond in a way similar to the high priest of this time, by calling Dr. King disrespectful and blasphemous for comparing himself to Peter and them to the crucifiers of Jesus Christ.

Quote #3
Quote #3
"In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime --- the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immortality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his envirnment." (pargraph 31).
Quote #4
-Lily B.
"Was not Jesus an extremist for love:" "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" Pg.269 (Paragraph 31)
"Was not Jesus an extremist for love... Was not Amos an extremist for justice...? Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel...? Was not Martin Luther an extremist...And John Bunyan?"

Martin Luther King uses multiple types of allusions throughout the letter to allow the audience to create connections for themselves. the connections lead to understand exactly what King is trying to suggest.
- A statement that refers to the bible without directly mentioning it.
For example, King refers to Bible verses throughout the
letter and its stories inside

- A statement that indirectly refers to the other well known literary work.
For example, the Bible is a well known being the book of

-A statement that refers to history
For example, King alludes to the Nazi Resistance and
Boston Tea Party

In this particular paragraph (31) King is disappointed but at the same time he is moving forward. King alludes to what Jesus is preaching in order to create an analogy so he can gain followers. He is comparing what he is stating to Jesus compassionate ideas to convince his audience that they are extremists worth listening this. By alluding to such a powerful figure, Jesus, King is connecting all of the nation with each other because most people worship Jesus. He talks about him to make them listen when they hear his name. This method is extremely effective because it gets the audience attention and makes them look into Kings suggestions.

When King alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus, he is attempting to bring the audience's emotions into play, and indirectly stating that this event was unjust. When he does this, he somewhat trying to compare himself to Jesus in a way. He believes that his non-violent campaign is for the greater good of the nation, so people shouldn't turn him down like the two other crucified men were. this method is extremely effective because King forces the audience to sympathize with Jesus being crucified. Not only does this get the nation's attention, it causes many people to support King in this campaign in the Civil Rights Movement.
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