Behind the Gospels - understanding the oral tradition

#1
Review: Behind the Gospels -- Understanding the Oral Tradition, by Eric Eve

http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc...270&cn=403

EXCERPT: [...] Eric Eve has set as his task to try to understand the oral tradition from which the New Testament works must have come. In a scholarly and important book he reviews the recent scholarship that has to do with the oral tradition of the first century drawing on work done in anthropology, media contrast, form criticism, memory, and the reliability of eye witness accounts. He considers many current works by specialists in these disciplines - presents their arguments, offers criticisms, and assesses the success of the conclusions. [...]
#2
(Oct 23, 2014 04:20 AM)C C Wrote: Review: Behind the Gospels -- Understanding the Oral Tradition, by Eric Eve

http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc...270&cn=403

EXCERPT: [...] Eric Eve has set as his task to try to understand the oral tradition from which the New Testament works must have come.

I guess that Mark, the earliest gospel, was written roughly 30 years after Jesus' death. That's not a huge amount of time. While Mark doesn't seem to have been an eye-witness to Jesus himself, there were people still alive when he wrote that were.

Quote:In a scholarly and important book he reviews the recent scholarship that has to do with the oral tradition of the first century drawing on work done in anthropology, media contrast, form criticism, memory, and the reliability of eye witness accounts. He considers many current works by specialists in these disciplines - presents their arguments, offers criticisms, and assesses the success of the conclusions. [...]

It's an interesting topic, no doubt. But my guess is that it will turn out to be awfully speculative too.

If somebody wants to write about oral tradition, they should address the Buddhist writings. These didn't start to appear in written form until something like 400-500 years after the time of the Buddha. As one would expect, there's abundant evidence of these having been oral traditions prior to that. There are all kind of formal devices to aid in memorization visible in the Pali canon, including the sutra form itself. And it isn't particularly difficult for scholars to perceive earlier and later strands of tradition. There's already an abundant scholarly literature on how the traditions that went into these writings evolved, but once again, everything ends up being extremely speculative.
#3
(Oct 25, 2014 06:11 PM)Yazata Wrote: If somebody wants to write about oral tradition, they should address the Buddhist writings. These didn't start to appear in written form until something like 400-500 years after the time of the Buddha. As one would expect, there's abundant evidence of these having been oral traditions prior to that. There are all kind of formal devices to aid in memorization visible in the Pali canon, including the sutra form itself.

I sometimes like to entertain that any accelerating burst in the shrinking of our brains over the last 20,000 years (specifically during the last 6000 years) was due to "farming" our memory out more and more to graphic symbols and written records -- replacing dependence on oral storytelling and ritual performances with such. But the overwhelming majority of people were still illiterate during that span, so theories like the "domestication", "idiocracy", and "efficiency" are the viable ones.
#4
(Oct 26, 2014 01:24 AM)C C Wrote: I sometimes like to entertain that any accelerating burst in the shrinking of our brains over the last 20,000 years (specifically during the last 6000 years) was due to "farming" our memory out more and more to graphic symbols and written records -- replacing dependence on oral storytelling and ritual performances with such. But the overwhelming majority of people were still illiterate during that span, so theories like the "domestication", "idiocracy", and "efficiency" are the viable ones.

I've speculated about that too.

Up until the 15th century, books were laboriously hand-written and hence were rare treasures. Students in universities often had to write out their own copies of texts, as readers slowly read them from a lecturn in front of class. (British universities still have an academic rank called 'reader'.) Even large libraries might only have a few hundred volumes.

So students tended to read a much smaller number of texts than students read today, but they read them very intensely, often memorizing them word-for-word. Interestingly, Tibetan Buddhists have preserved this medieval style of education in their monasteries until the present time, where student-monks learn a small number of so-called 'root-texts' by heart.

When the printing press was invented, we saw reading democratized, extending down into the middle classes. And we saw the rise of book-shops full of books on many subjects. So people gradually started reading more books than anyone had previously, while reading them far more superficially. There was no need any longer to memorize them, and it got to the point where it was hard for people to even remember the titles of the books they had read, let alone what was in them.

Today electronic media seem to be working a similar revolution. People are reading fewer and fewer paper books and book-shops everywhere are closing. And my sense is that it isn't just a movement to reading books on e-readers either. We used to see people reading books all over, in parks, cafes and public transit, but how many people do you see using e-readers? My feeling is that people just aren't reading full-length books nearly as often as they did twenty years ago. When they aren't watching videos or texting on their cell-phones, they are reading text in short little snippets, at most a few paragraphs long.

One clear pattern that I see in all that is a reduction in attention span. There just seems to be less interest (and ability?) in focusing one's attention on a single subject for an extended period of time. People are always jumping around from this to that.

And as you say, there's no need to memorize anything. If anyone needs information, pull out your cell-phone and do a search. There it is, in nice little bite-sized pieces that fit the tiny screen.

I'm getting the impression that people today have access to more information on every subject than people could even dream about in the past. But at the same time, people today lack the laboriously earned intellectual context that people once had for understanding what they read.

There's more and more information available every day in a huge gushing torrent, but inevitably everything is shallower, superficial and transitory.

All of this is inevitably going to have an impact on the intellectual skills that people learn and on how they exercise and train their brains. Longer-term, it might have an evolutionary effect as well, as cognitive skills that once aided in survival aren't necessary any longer.      

 


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