Oral Transmission

In the light of the above we can begin to sketch in the likely process of traditioning in the case of the Jesus tradition. The fact that it coheres so well with the 'in principle' sketch of §6.5 and the a priori considerations of §§8.1-2 is significant.

263. Draper also argues that the thesis of some of Jesus' sayings 'created entirely de novo . . . conflicts with the processes of oral transmission. Such entirely innovative "words of the Risen Jesus" are inherently unlikely' (Horsley and Draper, Whoever 183). Horsley however assumes that prophets would have been responsible for the celebration of the tradition (Who-ever 300-310) without enquiring what the role of teachers might have been.

264. B. W. Henaut, Oral Tradition and the Gospels: The Problem of Mark 4 (JSNTS 82; Sheffield: JSOT, 1993) is tendentiously concerned to argue the virtual impossibility of recovering any oral tradition behind the Gospels: all differences, no matter how great, can be explained in terms of literary redaction, and oral tradition was wholly fluid and contingent on the particularities of each performance. But his conception of the oral tradition process is questionable — as though it were a matter of recovering a history of tradition through a set of sequential performances (e.g.^18; here we see the problem in talking of 'oral transmission' — above §8.3f at n. 162). And he gives too little thought to what the stabilities of oral remembrances of Jesus might be as distinct from those in the epics and sagas studied by Parry and Lord. H. W. Hollander, 'The Words of Jesus: From Oral Tradition to Written Record in Paul and Q', NovT 42 (2000) 340-57, follows Henaut uncritically (351-55): he has no conception of tradition as reflecting/embodying the impact of anything Jesus said or did; and he thinks of oral tradition as essentially casual, without any conception that tradition could have a role in forming community identity and thus be important to such communities.

a. In the Beginning

In the beginning, already during Jesus' own ministry, as soon as disciples began to gather round him, we can envisage initial impressions and memories being shared among the group. 'Do you remember what he when he . . . ?'

must have been a question often asked as the embryonic community began to feel and express its distinctiveness. No doubt in similar ways their village communities had celebrated their identity and history in regular, even nightly gatherings. And as soon as the disciples of Jesus began to perceive themselves as (a) distinctive group(s) we may assume that the same impulse characteristic of oral and village culture would have asserted itself. As Jesus' immediate group moved around Galilee, encountering potential and then resident groups of disciples or sympathisers in various villages, the natural impulse would be the same. We can assume, of course, that Jesus was giving fresh teaching (as well as repeat teaching) all the while. But in more reflective gatherings, or when Jesus was absent, the impulse to again what had made the greatest impact on them would presumably reassert itself.266

Three features of this initial stage of the process are worth noting. First, if Bailey's anecdotal accounts bring us closer than any other to the oral culture of Galilee in the second quarter of the first century CE, then we may assume that the traditioning process began with the initiating word and/or act of Jesus. That is to say, the impact made by Jesus would not be something which was only put into traditional form (days, months, or years) later. The impact would include the formation of the tradition to recall what had made that impact. In making its impact the impacting word or event became the tradition of that word or event.267 The stimulus of some word/story, the excitement (wonder, surprise) of some event would be expressed in the initial shared reaction;268 the structure, the identifying elements and the key words (core or climax) would be articulated in oral form in

265. Cf. Funk, Acts of Jesus: 'The followers of Jesus no doubt began to repeat his witticisms and parables during his lifetime. They soon began to recount stories about him...' (2).

266. Keck objects to speaking of Jesus as starting a 'movement' — 'an anachronistic modern invention, the "secular" alternative to the idea that Jesus founded the church' {Who Is Jesus? 48-50). But he is over-reacting to claims that Jesus sought to reform society and hardly does justice to the group dynamics set in motion by a mission such as Luke reports (Luke 8.13). Was the impact made by Jesus always individual and never involved groups other than the core disciples? Keck evidently envisages only a latent impact triggered into effect by subsequent post-Easter evangelism.

267. Cf. C. K. Barrett, Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (London: SPCK, 1967): '. . . the tradition originated rather in the impression made by a charismatic person than in sayings learnt by rote'; 'it was preserved because it could not be forgotten' (10, 16).

268. Or should we be determined, come what may, to find a Jesus (reconstruct a 'historical Jesus') who neither stimulated nor excited?

the immediate recognition of the significance of what had been said or happened. Thus established more or less immediately, these features would then be the constants, the stable themes which successive retellings could elaborate and round which different performances could build their variations, as judged appropriate in the different circumstances.269 Subsequently we may imagine a group of disciples meeting and requesting, for example, to hear again about the centurion of Capernaum, or about the widow and the treasury, or what it was that Jesus said about the tunic and the cloak, or about who is greater, or about the brother who sins.270 In response to which a senior disciple would tell again the appropriate story or teaching in whatever variant words and detail he or she judged appropriate for the occasion, with sufficient corporate memory ready to protest if one of the key elements was missed out or varied too much. All this is wholly consistent with the character of the data reviewed above.271

It also follows, second, that those accustomed to the prevalent individualism of contemporary culture (and faith) need to make a conscious effort to appreciate that the impact made by Jesus in the beginning was not a series of disparate reactions of independent individuals.272 Were that so we might well wonder how any commonality of tradition could emerge as individuals began to share their memories, perhaps only after a lengthy period. Postmodern pluralism would have been rampant from the first! But tradition-forming is a communal process,

269. Funk agrees: under the heading 'Performance as gist; nucleus as core', he observes the 'general rule in the study of folklore that oral storytellers reproduce the gist of stories in their oral performances . . . [the Synoptic Evangelists] tend to reproduce the nucleus of a story — the core event — with greater fidelity than the introduction or conclusion. ... As a consequence, historical reminiscence is likely to be found in the nucleus of stories, if ... ' (Acts of Jesus 26). See also above, n. 262, and cf. B. Witherington, The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 7-22.

270. It is hardly realistic to assume that the only initial memories were of Jesus' teaching, and thus to deduce that stories about events during Jesus' ministry were not part of the Jesus tradition from the first and only emerged as a subsequent 'narrativization' of themes from the sayings tradition; pace W. Arnal, 'Major Episodes in the Biography of Jesus: An Assessment of the Historicity of the Narrative Tradition', TJT 13 (1997) 201-26.

Crossan argues that the continuity between Jesus and his subsequent followers was 'not in mnemonics but in not in remembrance but in imitation' ('Itinerants and

Householders' as though the two formed an antithetical either-or, and as though the mimesis recalled a lifestyle somehow independent of the teaching which had provided the theological rationale for that lifestyle. There is more substance, however, in his subsequent observation that 'it is the continuity of life-style between Jesus and itinerants that gives the oral tradition its validity' (16).

272. Cf. Horsley's scathing critique of Liberalism's focus on the individual and of Mack's Lost Gospel (Horsley and Draper, Whoever 15-22). Elsewhere Crossan (Birth of Christianity 49-93) and Funk (Honest 244) also seem to think of oral tradition solely in terms of individuals' casual recollection.

not least because such tradition is often constitutive of the community as community.273 As it was a shared experience of the impact made by Jesus which first drew individuals into discipleship, so it was the formulation of these impacts in shared words which no doubt helped bond them together as a community of disciples.274 'Already the pre-Easter circle of disciples was a "confessing community" (Bekenntnisgemeinschaft) of committed disciples (nachfolgenden Jüngern), who confessed Jesus as the final revealer and interpreter of the word of God'.275

At the same time, the points made in §6.5 should not be forgotten. The character of the tradition as shared memory means that in many instances we do not know precisely what it was that Jesus did or said. What we have in the Jesus tradition is the consistent and coherent features of the shared impact made by his deeds and words, not the objective deeds and words of Jesus as such. What we have are examples of oral retelling of that shared tradition, retellings which evince the flexibility and elaboration of oral performances. There is surely a Jesus who made such impact, the remembered Jesus, but not an original pure form,276 not a single original impact to which the historian has to try to reach

273. Strecker reminds us that the concept 'Sitz im Leben' ('setting in life') is primarily a sociological category: 'The "Sitz im Leben" of a text is generally to be sought in the life of the community, especially in the worship and in the catechetical instruction. In distinction to the literary tradition (Tradition), the oral tradition (Überlieferung) is primarily prescribed for performance in the Christian community and structured accordingly' ('Schriftlichkeit' 163; also 169); cf. Kloppenborg's recognition that the concerns of Q were community-oriented ('Literary Convention' 86-91).

274. This is not to deny that stories about Jesus would have circulated outside the early Christian communities. But I reject the implication of Trocmé and Theissen (chapter 6 n. 104) that Mark or others had to go outside the Christian storytelling and traditioning processes in order to find miracle stories about Jesus; so explicitly Theissen — 'Their "tellers" are not a special group within the Christian community, but people in the community at large . . .' (Gospels in Context 103). But absence of 'specifically Christian motifs' need indicate only that the tradition was maintained without 'specifically Christian' elaboration through the time that it was written down.

275. Schürmann, Jesus429; followed by Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie44-45. In his most recent contribution on Q, Kloppenborg Verbin explicitly accepts 'the fundamental conservatism of the compositional process' (in debate with Kelber and Schröter), agrees that ancient composition was 'consistently oral and collaborative' (citing Downing), and speaks of 'the "canon" of what was sayable of Jesus' ('Discursive Practices in the Sayings Gospel Q and the Quest of the Historical Jesus', in Lindemann, ed., Sayings Source Q 149-90 [here 169-74]).

276. If Jesus told at least some of his parables and delivered some of his teaching on more than one occasion, then neither was there a single original context for such teaching. J. Liebenberg, The Language ofthe Kingdom andJesus (BZNW 102; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2001) points out that the polyvalency of the parables subverts all attempts to identify an original meaning or context (508-13); see also his earlier crtitique of Bultmann's concept of an original back to in each case.277 The remembered Jesus may be a synthesis of the several impacts made on and disciple responses made by Jesus' earliest witnesses, but the synthesis was already firm in the first flowering of the tradition.278

Third, it follows also and is perhaps worth repeating that the traditioning process should not be conceived of as initially casual and only taken seriously by the first disciples in the post-Easter situation. As just implied, community formation was already at an embryonic stage from the first call of Jesus' immediate circle of disciples; 'formative tradition' would have had an indispensable part in that process.279 To the extent that the shared impact of Jesus, the shared disciple-response, bonded into groups of disciples or adherents those thus responsive to Jesus' mission, to that extent the dynamics of group formation would be operative. In that process it is scarcely conceivable that the shared memories of what Jesus had said and done (already 'Jesus tradition'!) did not play an important part, both in constituting the groups' identity (what other distinguishing features had they?), and in outlining the boundaries which marked them off as groups (however informal) from their fellow Jews (here, no doubt, the pronouncement and controversy stories had an early, even pre-Easter role; why not?).

Nor should we forget the continuing role of eyewitness tradents, of those rec form or selbständige Traditionsstücke 'as if one could pinpoint elements in the synoptic tradition which were originally created to exist in and for themselves' (432-48). He also challenges the 'dictum in New Testament scholarship that the first transmitters of these stories [parables] were unable to understand them and therefore almost by necessity had to change them in order to make them intelligible for themselves and/or their readers/listeners' (82). But he does not give enough weight to the degree to which parables' narrative structure and context of use (as well as what he calls their 'generic-level structures') evidently functioned to limit their polyvalency and to provide the communities with guidelines on how the parable should be heard (cf. particularly 445-46, 499-503).

277. Kloppenborg speaks appropriately of the 'performative diversity at the earliest stages of the Jesus tradition' ('Sayings Gospel Q' 334).

278. A. Goshen-Gottstein, 'Hillel and Jesus: Are Comparisons Possible?', in J. H. Charlesworth and L. L. Johns, eds., Hillel and Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997) 31-55, notes the lack of biographical interest in rabbinic tradition in regard to the rabbis the Teacher of Righteousness at n. 15 above), who were not remembered for their lives or example, and whose teaching was remembered only as part of a much larger, collective enterprise. In contrast, it is evident that Jesus was remembered as the beginning of a new line of tradition (not just as one sage among others), and the impact of his life as well as his teaching resulted in his actions as well as his words being remembered and gave the Jesus tradition a biographical dimension from the start (see also above).

279. Cf. the picture which P. S. Alexander, 'Orality in Pharisaic-Rabbinic Judaism at the Turn of the Eras', in Wansbrough, ed., Jesus 159-84, adduces for the disciple-circle round a rabbi in the early tannaitic period forming a small, quasi-religious community, eating communally, sharing a common purse, and being taught by the rabbi a picture which may not be as anachronistic as might at first appear ognized from the first as apostles or otherwise authoritative bearers of the Jesus tradition (§8.Id). Such indications as there are from the pre-Pauline and early Pauline period suggest already fairly extensive outreach by such figures, both establishing and linking new churches, and a general concern to ensure that a foundation of authoritative tradition was well laid in each case.280 In focusing particular attention on the communal character of the early traditioning process we should not discount the more traditional emphasis on the individual figure of authority respected for his or her own association with Jesus during the days of his mission.281

Within the Jesus tradition itself we should recall the clear memory that Jesus sent out his disciples as an extension of his own mission (Mark 6.7-13 pars.).282 Mark tells us that the twelve were chosen 'to be with him and that he might send them out to preach ...' (Mark 3.14). What would they have said when they preached? The implication of the text is clear, and the inference from the fact of a shared mission hard to avoid, that their preaching would have at least included teaching which Jesus had given them.283 Also that Jesus would have taught them what to say — not in a verbatim mode, but in a mode which would convey the disciple-effecting impact which they themselves had experienced. We may be confident that a good deal at least of the retellings of Jesus tradition now in the Synoptic Gospels were already beginning to take shape in that early pre-Easter preaching of the first disciples.284

280. Paul himself provides the best evidence in each case: he is able to take it for granted, as widely accepted, that an 'apostle' is a church-founder (particularly 1 Cor. 9.1-2); the implication of such passages as Acts 9.32-43; 15.3 and Gal. 1,22 is that the earliest churches already formed a network; and the indications of such passages as 1 Cor. 11.2; 15.1-3 and Gal. 1.18 confirm the importance of basic instruction in what was already designated tradition.

281. In personal correspondence Richard Bauckham emphasizes the significance of Byrskog's work at this point.

282. On historicity, see particularly Meier, Marginal Jew3.154-63. We noted earlier that a strong body of opinion regarding Q sees the earliest stage of its collection/composition (Q1?) as intended to provide guidance for itinerant missionaries on the pattern of Jesus' own mission (chapter 7nn. 96-97); similarly Schürmann, 'vorösterlichen Anfänge'; and see later (§ 14.3b).

283. Theissen envisages the disciple missionaries as messengers of Jesus because they passed on Jesus' words ('Wandering Radicals' 42-43).

284. The point has been argued by E. E. Ellis on several occasions, most recently in 'The Historical Jesus and the Gospels', in J. Ädna, et al., eds., Evangelium — Schriftauslegung — Kirche, P. Stuhlmacher FS (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997) 94-106, reprinted in his Christ and the Future in New Testament History (NovTSup 97; Leiden: Brill, 2000) 3-19; also The Making of the New Testament Documents (Leiden: Brill, 1999) 20-27; but he weakens his case by unnecessarily questioning whether there was an initial oral stage of transmission {Christ 13-14) and arguing for 'at least some written transmission from the beginning' {Making 24), that is, already during Jesus' ministry (Christ 15-16; Making 32, 352). Similarly A. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time ofJesus (BS 69; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2000) argues that notes may well have been made by one or more of the literate among Jesus' hearers which could have

This is not to accept Theissen's thesis that the Jesus tradition was the preserve of wandering charismatics, and that they were primarily responsible for maintaining and circulating it. As already observed, community formation and tradition formation go hand in hand. And the Q material, on which the thesis is principally based, itself betrays settings for the tradition in towns and villages.285 In this particular phase of discussion, there is a danger of thinking of the tradition in effect simply as 'gospel' and of its transmission simply in terms of evangelistic preaching.286 But as early form critics recognized, the Jesus traditions are traditions which have come down to us because they were in regular and repeated use. That is, the principal conduit for their transmission was not a single, once-only proclamation by evangelists in missionary situations, but the communities which had been called into existence by such preaching, which identified themselves by reference to such tradition, and which referred to the tradition in their regular gatherings to inform and guide their common life and in relation to their neighbours. It was this breadth of tradition which provided the context of reception for individual performances of items of the tradition, shaping the congregation's 'horizon of expectation' and enabling them to fill in the 'gaps of indeterminacy',287 This I believe is a fair statement of what must have been the case, which remains persuasive even if we do not know how extensive was the body of Jesus tradition held by individual communities; the influx of new converts, the reception of further tradition and the creative reworking of the tradition already received need not modify the basic picture to any significant extent.

Did Easter and the transition from Galilean village to Hellenistic city, from served as sources for Mark (223-29); though he also observes that Paul shows no awareness of any written records of Jesus' mission (211). Ellis's conception of oral transmission is very restricted to a choice between 'folkloric origin' and the 'controlled and cultivated process' of the rabbinic schools (Christ 14-15; cf. Millard, ReadingandWriting 185-92); and neither seems to be aware of Bailey's contribution. See also n. 264 above. I have already pointed out (n. 138 above) that Byrskog's use of 'oral history' as an analogy to the process resulting in the Gospels seems effectively to ignore the likelihood or character of an oral stage such as is envisaged here.

285. Peter Richardson concludes his study of 'First-Century Houses and Q's Setting', in D. G. Horrell and C. M. Tuckett, eds., Christology, Controversy and Community, D. R. Catchpole FS (NovTSup 99; Brill: Leiden, 2000) 63-83: 'Q was set naturally in towns [and cities?], not within the activities of wandering charismatics' (83).

286. To be fair, Crossan in particular sees 'the primary crucible for the tradition of Jesus sayings' in 'the delicate interaction between itinerant and householder' ('Itinerants and Householders' 24); but insofar as the thesis applies to Q, the hypothesized tension between itinerants and householders is provided more by the hypothesis than by the text.

287. See also Vouga, 'Mündliche Tradition' 198-202, who draws particularly on Van-sina's Oral Tradition as History. Liebenberg consistently speaks of different 'performances' of the parables — e.g., of the sower (Language 350-414).

Aramaic to Greek not make any difference, then? Yes, of course it did. Easter shaped the perspective within which this first tradition was remembered. The transition from village to city shaped the tradition for changing circumstances. The transition from Aramaic to Greek (already implied by the description of 'Hellenists' = Greek-speakers in Acts 6.1) would introduce the shifts in nuance which any translation involves.288 But the oral Jesus tradition itself provided the continuity, the living link back to the ministry of Jesus, and it was no doubt treasured for that very reason; the very character of the tradition, retaining as it does so many of its Galilean village289 and pre-Easter themes,290 not to mention its Aramaic resonances makes that point clear enough. Here again we may learn from emphasis on the reception rather than the composi tion of text. If it is indeed the case that the hearer fills in the 'gaps in signification' from the tradition that an audience interprets a particular performance from their shared knowledge then we can be fairly confident that the Jesus tradition was an essential part of that shared knowledge, enabling the hearers in church gatherings to 'plug in' to particular performances of the oral tradition and to exercise some control over its development. We see this happening, I have already suggested, in the variations Paul plays upon several elements in the Jesus tradition which he echoes in his letters (§8.1 e above).

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