The Synoptic Tradition as Oral Tradition Narratives

We certainly do not know enough about oral traditioning in the ancient world to draw from that knowledge clear guidelines for our understanding of how the Jesus tradition was passed down in its oral stage. Any inquiry on this subject is bound to turn to the Jesus tradition itself to ask whether there is sufficient evidence of oral transmission and what the tradition itself tells us about the traditioning process. We need to bear in mind, of course, that the only evidence we have is already literary (the Synoptic Gospels) and therefore also the possibility that the mode of transmission has been altered. On the other hand, Kelber readily acknowledges the oral character of much of Mark's material, and the boundaries between oral Q and written Q seem to be rather fluid, as we shall see. We shall therefore focus on Mark and Q material in the next two sections (ยงยง8.4-5).

For convenience we will look first at the narrative traditions. Here at least we do not have the problem of deciding whether such traditions came from Jesus (as we inevitably ask in respect of sayings attributed to Jesus). At best such traditions derive from those who were with Jesus and who witnessed things he did and said.

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