Saturday, 18 April 2015

Memory and oral traditions

Bart Ehrman is going through a series of posts at the moment on his blog concerning his latest book project. He seems to have decided that he has spent many years - decades even - in the field of textual criticism and it is time to move on, and the field that has gripped him is memory.

That might sound a bit strange, moving from studying manuscripts to a field in psychology - why not just move into surfboard design? Of course, it is much more closely related than that! The reason why memory is such a fascinating topic is because some of our fellow human-beings of the first century, who became "followers of the Way" BEFORE anyone wrote anything down but AFTER Jesus was exalted back to the Father's side, relied on word of mouth for what Jesus said and did. So it is like Ehrman senses the need to push the boundaries of time back even further by looking into the way oral stories are transmitted and circulated from a more sociological perspective.

I am sorry to not hyperlink the exact post, you can only read it fully if you are a paid up member, like I am.

There was something that he said today that struck a chord of truth deep within me, so I decided to leave the following comment on his post today:

One of the most enlightening posts, and I didn’t even agree with it all! The line I think that seems so simple and yet speaks to me most profoundly is this: “you necessarily mould it to the audience you are addressing”.
Man alive, I think that is so obvious now, and yes I did believe the oral tradition myth. I even feel a bit convicted by it, because I even hear MYSELF tweak stories as I tell them according to my own audience!

With regard to the gospel narratives, I think it also goes without saying that a believer who cherishes their view of God’s sovereignty when it comes to communicating good news about his Messiah, could be fully in charge on the macro level of what essentially was to be retained. Right?

When I said "oral tradition myth", I was referring to one part of the post that articulates a point of view that many of us have heard (it is true) and believed because it seems to make sense (it is true) and so we have taught others (not sure I have, but I could have done): BECAUSE they did not have the means to document and record, oral cultures have always been especially careful and accurate in the way the recount significant stories - in our literate cultures we can simply compare two different texts to look for discrepancies, so do not have to be so careful when telling stories orally.

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