Community as Author part 2

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As the communities became distinct their needs became distinct from one another. The Gospels were written, not as an attempt to set in stone a history that historians were researching, but as sermons to answer the needs of the community. The Gospels are more like sermons than history books.


Cullman, The New Testament (24) "It must be noted that the needs of preaching, worship and teaching, more than biographical considerations, were what guided the early community when it wrote down the tradition of the life of Jesus. The apostles illustrated the truth of the faith they were preaching by describing the events in the life of Jesus. Their sermons are what caused the descriptions to be written down. The sayings of Jesus were transmitted, in particular, in the teaching of the catechism of the early Church."


It was be a mistake to think that the situation was neat and controlled. The growth of the church was rapid, haphazard, and groups were breaking out all directions, as stated above. Under these conditions the Gospel material was less controlled, but the early transmission of it was controlled to some extent.


Luke Timoney Johson,br>

The evidence of the NT does not suggest that after the resurrection there was a long period of tranquil recollection and interpretation carried out under the tight control of a single stable community that , having forged the memory of Jesus into a coherent and consistent form, transmitted it to other lands, languages, and cultures. The evidence points in the opposite direction: there was not a long period of tranquility; the first community was from the beginning harassed and persecuted; the spread of the movement was carried out by many messengers and required flexible adjustment to new circumstances. The growth of a community's self -understanding and its memory of Jesus were mutually shaping influences."(Ibid.)



I agree with Johnson. My argument is not that the oral tradition was controled to such an extent that they were able to pass on word for word with no changes. My argument is, rather, that they controlled it enough to bring the basic story line to a point where everyone knew this is the way it was and no one could change it. But the actual details of the wording and the pericopes and subplots were flexible and probably do show some embellishment.

Oral tradition is not just haphazard rumors spreading at random, but is a carefully controlled process. The Jews understood how to learn the words of their teachers and preserve them just as they were spoken. All oral cultures understand how to control the process.


III.Oral Tradition Trustworthy


Fewer changes if tradition is controlled


"No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, unless the tradition has been rigidly formulated and has been learned with careful safeguard against the intrusion of error" (Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, p.250)

Tradition was controled.

Neil adds in a fn: "This is exactly the way in which the tradition was handed on among the Jews. IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method.

See also M. Dibelius... Neil goes on to say that there is some "flexibility" in the transmission, but nothing that would change the basic facts or the thrust of the teaching otherwise, "But there is a vast difference between recognition of this kind of flexibility, of this kind of creative working of the community on existing traditions, and the idea that the community simply invented and read back into the life of Jesus things that he had never done, and words that he had never said. When carried to its extreme this method suggests that the community had far greater creative power than the Jesus of Nazareth, faith in whom had called the community into being." (Ibid.).


Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans* (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus(NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):

"...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated, [22] the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditioned 'teaching'. [23] In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions.*

"Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples.[24] In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.(53-55)(corrosponding fn for Childton and evans")
*


Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:

"Under the influence of R. Bultmann and M. Dibelius the classical form criticism raised many doubts about the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels, but it was shaped by a number of literary and historical assumptions which themselves are increasingly seen to have a doubtful historical basis. It assumed, first of all, that the Gospel traditions were transmitted for decades exclusively in oral form and began to be fixed in writing only when the early Christian anticipation of a soon end of the world faded. This theory foundered with the discovery in 1947 of the library of the Qumran sect, a group contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus and the early church which combined intense expectation of the End with prolific writing. Qumran shows that such expectations did not inhibit writing but actually were a spur to it. Also, the widespread literacy in first-century Palestinian Judaism [18], together with the different language backgrounds of Jesus' followers--some Greek, some Aramaic, some bilingual--would have facilitated the rapid written formulations and transmission of at least some of Jesus' teaching.[19]" (p. 53-54)



N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:

"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently.N.T. Wright, "Five Gospels But No Gospel," Authenticating the Activities of Jesus,Netherlands Knoinklijke Brill ed. Bruce D. Chilton, Craig A. Evans, 1999, 112-113


"Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation.

"Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the like of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told.


In the Handbook of Biblical Social Values (2000), Jerome Neyrey says,

The people in the bilbical world are dyadic. This means that individuals basically depend on others for thier sense of identity, for their understanding of their role and status in society, for clues to the duties and rights they have, and for indications of what is honorable and shameful behavior. Such people live in a world which is clearly and extensively ordered, a system which is well known to members of the group. Individuals quickly internalize this system and depend on it for needed clues to the way their world works. . . The tradition handed down by former members of the group is presumed valid and normative. . . Group orientation is clearly expressed in the importance given to authority. (p.94-7)


see also
- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics, and Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel on John.
- See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva. The Context Group publications are listed here.

"And the stories about Jesus were nothing if not important. Even the Jesus Seminar admits that Jesus was an itinerant wonder-worker. Very well. Supposing a woman in a village is suddenly healed after a lengthy illness. Even today, even in a non-oral culture, the story of such an event would quickly spread among friends, neighbors and relatives, acquiring a fixed form within the first two or three retellings and retaining it, other things being equal, thereafter. In a culture where storytelling was and is an art-form, a memorable event such as this, especially if it were also seen as a sign that Israel's God was now at last at work to do what he had always promised, would be told at once in specific ways, told so as to be not just a celebration of a healing but also a celebration of the Kingdom of God. Events and stories of this order are community-forming, and the stories which form communities do not get freely or loosely adapted. One does not disturb the foundations of the house in which one is living."[B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998) p. 113-115.]



I agree with Johnson tha the fast pace and haphazard growth of Christian communities effected the way the story was told. That does not mean, however, that it just became a runaway mythology fest divorced from the truth of the original events. We can seek to understand in what ways the telling would be affected.

(1) The story began to be told in Greek, Johnson himself points this out. Greek would mean dissemination to a wider audience. Alhtought it might also mean changes in the shades of meaning.

(2) The story would be written down. that would be a major change and it was intended to preserve the memory. The question is then, how much change was introduced in the totally oral period? I'm sure the oral period over lapped with the written period. They didn't all just stop the oral retransmitting on the day the first author wrote the first MS. But over several decades they no longer told things orally and the early documents such as Q were no longer reproduced when the canonical Gospels included the material with other things in an impressive compendium such as the Gospel of Luke. In the famous quotation from Papias, the one in which he mentions "Elder John," he says that he prefers to hear the human voice rather than read the words on paper. That tells me that at that point (early second century, maybe 120) there was still some oral tradition hanging on, bu that written sources had totally taken over as the primary source. Thus the overlap period was pretty long, probably about sixty years.


(3) Narratival form: combining sayings lists (which preceded narratival Gospels) with a story line made it easier to remember and created a context for the sayings; that form was probably born out of the needs of communties.

One thing we can be somewhat sure of is that one way in which the story was not effected was that it didn't chage dramatically. We know this because there is just one story. There is only one version of the Jesus. Myths always prliforate into many versions, but everyone knew the basic storyline was factual and could not be changed.

What we need to keep in mind is the agreements, those things that all the communities included because they all agreed they were factual.


The four faces of Jesus

by Robert K. McIvern
(Ph.D biblical studies, Andrews U.)

college and Universeity Dialoague


"Most significantly, all four Gospels share in the conviction that the most important thing to know about Jesus is the events surrounding His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. They all agree that the significance of the cross lay in who Jesus is, and that what happened there was the result of GodÂ’s will and not blind fate. All the Gospels note the link between the cross and the Passover, and that Jesus was crucified as king of the Jews, which is rather ironic, because the cross did in fact inaugurate the kingdom of God. Further, they all stress that Jesus was raised with a real body, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus provide the impetus for the missionary activity of the earliest (and latest) Christians. These concepts, and more, are shared by all four Gospels. Yet each has a distinctive view of Jesus."



As the communties became distinct their needs became distinct from one another. The Gospels were written, not as an attempt to set in stone a history that historians were researching, but as sermons to answer the needs of the community. The Gospels are more like sermons than history books.Cullman, (24)

"It must be noted that the needs of preaching, worship and teaching, more than biographical considerations, were what guided the early community when it wrote down the tradition of the life of Jesus. The apostles illustrated the truth of the faith they were preaching by describing the events in the life of Jesus. Their sermons are what caused the descriptions to be written down. The sayings of Jesus were transmitted, in particular, in the teaching of the catechism of the early Church."It would be a mistake to think that the stiuation was neat and controled. The growth of the church was rapid, haphazard, and groups were breaking out all directions, as stated above. Under these conditions the Gospel material was less controlled.Luke Timothy Johnson,

I agree with Johnson. My argument is not that the oral tradition was controlled to such an extent that they were able to pass on word for word with no changes. My argument is, rather, that they controlled it enough to bring the basic story line to a point where everyone knew this is the way it was and no one could change it. But the actual details of the wording and the pericopes and subplots were flexible and probalby do show some embellishment.Oral tradition is not just hazard rumors spreading at random.

Oral tradition is a carefully controlled process. The Jews understood how to learn the words of their teachers and preserve them just as they were spoken. All oral cultures understand how to control the process."No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, (Stephen Neil, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964, p.250)Neil adds in a fn: IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method.See also ... Neil goes on to say that there is some "flexibility" in the transmission, but nothing that would change the basic facts or the thrust of the teaching otherwise, "But there is a vast difference between recognition of this kind of flexibility, of this kind of creative working of the community on existing traditions, and the idea that the community simply invented and read back into the life of Jesus things that he had never done, and words that he had never said. When carried to its extreme this method suggests that the community had far greater creative power than the Jesus of Nazareth, faith in whom had called the community into being."

Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. (eds.), (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):*Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently. [65] (p. 112-113)**In the (2000), Jerome Neyrey says,see also- Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, - See also John Pilch, Jerome Neyrey, and David deSilva.

The Context Group publications are listed here.I agree with Johnson that the fast pace and haphazard growth of Christian communities effected the way the story was told. That does not mean, however, that it just became a runaway mythology fest divorced from the truth of the original events. We can seek to understand in what ways the telling would be affected. Johnson himself points this out. Greek would mean dissemination to a wider audience. Although it might also mean changes in the shades of meaning. that would be a major change and it was tend to preserve the memory. The question is then, how much change was introduced in the totally oral period? I'm sure the oral period over lapped with the written period. They didn't all just stop the oral transmitting on the day the first writer wrote the first MS.

But over a couple of decades they no longer told things orally and the early documents such as Q were no longer reproduced when the canonical Gospels included the material with other things in an impressive compendium such as the Gospel of Luke. combining sayings lists (which preceded narrative Gospels) with a story line made it easier to remember and created a context for the sayings; that form was probably born out of the needs of communities.One thing we can be somewhat sure of is that one way in which the story was not effected was that it didn't change dramatically. We know this because there is just one story. There is only one version of the Jesus. Myths always proliferate into many versions, but everyone knew the basic storyline was factual and could not be changed.What we need to keep in mind is the agreements, those things that all the communities included because they all agreed they were factual.

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